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Justify the Means

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The party marched out of the Brecilian Forest and toward the King's Highway, the events of the past few days weighing them all down as much as the muddy paths that trapped their feet. The sky above the trees was a leaden gray, and rain dripped off leaves to land on the grass and, every so often, splash Natia on the nose.

So much had changed in the six months since Natia had taken her first steps out of the Deep Roads and into a peaceful wood. Six months, since Duncan had gently teased her about not knowing what rain was. Well, she was sure familiar with it now. Duncan had warned her, but she could never have imagined... a lot of things, really. The devastation at Ostagar, long hot days spent trudging to Denerim and back, the horrors of Soldier's Peak and Redcliffe and the Circle of Magi, this mad scheme to recover a golem -- though Shale had proven useful, Natia would never deny that -- and now, to top it all off, this slaughter of the werewolves. This trip had brought one massacre after another, and far too often Natia was wielding her blades against enemies who felt like innocents.

She batted a raindrop away and looked up at Alistair, trudging along next to her, his eyes fixed on the ground. She hesitated to speak to him -- what if this was all in her head, what if she only imagined that things could have gone better? Sometimes she thought she saw a spark of concern in his eyes when he looked at Sera, and a few times he had spoken out against her plans. But so far, he'd always stopped short of moving to stop her. Would he be willing to take action if Sera went too far?

The only way to find out was to ask. She nudged him shyly with her elbow; he looked down at her with a surprised expression. "Yes?"

"Alistair-- can we talk for a second?" She shot a meaningful glance up to the head of the line where Sera walked with Morrigan. "Just the two of us?"

"Um, sure." Alistair glanced up ahead as well, then stepped off the path, taking shelter under the canopy of the trees. "About what?"

"I'm, ah. Getting a little concerned. About the way Sera is leading us."

"Ah." An expression somewhere between disappointment and relief flushed across Alistair's face. "That-- okay. I thought maybe-- never mind." He shook his head, the color already fading from his cheeks. "Tell me more."

"Maybe it's not my place to question, but..." Natia took another quick look around, falling silent as Leliana walked past, Dog at her heels and followed closely by Shale. She trusted Leliana, but not as much as Alistair; she hadn't had many opportunities to talk with the golem yet. Dog, of course, she trusted with her life, but smart as the mabari was, he couldn't help her with this particular problem. No, Alistair was the only choice for raising her concerns right now. He'd been kind to her since the beginning, friendly, even gave her a gift -- she still felt warm and flustered when she remembered the rose he'd picked for her. She'd started to wonder... but then he'd admitted that he was a royal bastard and started pulling away from Sera and Natia both. Just as well; thinking about Alistair sometimes got complicated. Better to keep things simple. She cleared her throat and continued. "Does it ever seem to you that Sera is a little... rash? A little quick to use violence to solve our problems?"

Alistair raised an eyebrow. "We're Grey Wardens. Violence is sort of our reason for existing, isn't it?"

"I suppose. And I know that sometimes we haven't got much choice but to fight. But other times it feels like there ought to be another way out, you know? Like... what just happened in the forest. With the werewolves." Natia lowered her eyes. "It just-- it seems like we ought to have been able to negotiate. Talk Zathrian into releasing the spell. Or find some way to force him into it. The werewolves were dangerous, but the Lady of the Forest seemed to really want to work things out." She sighed. "I don't know. Sera was a princess. She knows more about things like war and diplomacy than I do. But when she acts like that, all quick and decisive without stopping to figure out what people really want, what compromises they're willing to make, it bothers me. And I know you see it, too. You can't tell me you're happy about having to kill all those mages. Or with the way things went down in Redcliffe."

Alistair sighed and looked away. "I suppose that was hard to miss."

Natia had to let out a wry chuckle as she nodded. Alistair's fight with Sera in camp that night had been epic. As much as Alistair claimed to dislike the Lady Isolde, he sure seemed unhappy that Sera had chosen to sacrifice her to stop the demon possessing Connor. Natia didn't know anything about demons or blood magic, but she figured demons had to be more dangerous, and better to kill a grown woman than a little boy. Still... "That was a hard decision. And there's a part of me that's glad I didn't have to make it. But I agree with what you said that night -- we should have looked harder for another way. Maybe gone to the Circle Tower, or done some research in the castle library. Even if we ultimately made the same choice, at least we'd know we tried."

"You're right." Alistair shook his head slowly. "But what can we do about it? Sera's taken charge. Shale and Leliana seem happy enough to follow her. So does Morrigan -- she got buddy-buddy with the witch awfully quick." He wrinkled his nose as though he'd just walked through a pile of nug shit, and Natia had to repress another laugh. "And I told her from the beginning that I'd let her run things. If I were going to assert my senior status, I should have done it after Ostagar, but..." He lowered his eyes, grief shadowing his face. "I wasn't in much shape for anything then."

"I know." Impulsively, Natia let her hand fall on his arm and squeezed it. "You can't be blamed for that."

"Thanks." He gave her a weary smile. "Anyway. Let's just see how things go for awhile, all right? And if things get worse, well." He shrugged. "We'll figure that out when we have to."

"Sounds like a plan." Not much of a plan, really. But at least she had an ally now. "We should get moving; wouldn't want to get left behind." She stepped back onto the path and Alistair followed, her thoughts turning to an uneasy anticipation of that night's conversation at camp.

-x-

It was nearly dusk by the time Sera felt ready to stop: she did not expect any repercussions from the decision to kill Witherfang, but it seemed best to be a good distance from the forest where she had held sway as the Lady regardless. Besides, this was the best campsite she'd seen in weeks -- near the river, sheltered from the road by trees, but open enough to lay a fire and pitch several tents. It would be nice to have a space of her own for once, separate from the others. Not that she didn't like the others, and get along with them well enough. But she'd never been forced to share her personal space to this extent. She supposed it was not so different from being on patrol, but when patrol lasted several months...

How long had it been, anyway? Time felt so different on the surface. She turned to Morrigan, about to ask, then stopped. After all these months, how bad would she look, not yet knowing the answer? So she held the question, and instead gathered the rest of the group around her. "We stop here tonight," she said. "Then tomorrow we make for Orzammar."

"Orzammar?" Natia, who had already let her pack fall to the ground, turned to look at her with surprise.

Sera nodded. "Returning is a risk for both of us, but we have to take it eventually. And I understand that it's best to head that way before the winter snows come and make passage too difficult."

"It makes sense," Natia said, slowly. She glanced up and over her shoulder at Alistair. "But... what about Arl Eamon? We've delayed following up on that lead about the Sacred Ashes so long already. How much longer will he last? And what if the trail goes cold?"

Sera tightened her jaw. Why so many questions? Natia had never spoken against her decisions before. "The healers all said that Eamon's condition is stable now that he is no longer being poisoned. He can wait; the weather won't. All right?"

Alistair lowered his eyes; Natia looked at her for a moment longer, then shrugged. "If you say so. I just can't help comparing it to the way we went off to Denerim first, before even going to Redcliffe, when we knew something was wrong there. Maybe if we'd gone there first, before the attacks on the village..."

"Hindsight, that's all; we had no idea that anything was wrong in Redcliffe." Sera crossed her arms and darkened her glare. "We had to start with Denerim, to gather intelligence about Loghain and his plans, and find out the truth of his campaign against the Wardens." And Gorim... Sera shook her head, quickly, to banish both the thought and the pain that came with it. Her personal desires had no bearing on that decision, and what if they had? If Gorim had been whole and hearty, and willing to travel with them, he'd have been an asset, and now they'd be thanking her.

"Fair enough." Natia walked over to Bodahn's wagon and pulled out their stash of tents, ready to put them up. Sera kept watching, the sense of unease not fading. She was the leader here; how dare a br-- someone with no command experience think she know better? It did not bear contemplation.

With a weary sigh, she pulled off her weapon and set it on the ground, then rummaged through her pack to find her soap. She would get clean toinght if it was the last thing she ever did.

The water was cold from the rain, but Sera didn't care; a bend in the stream's path had created an eddy deep enough for her to submerge herself, and she took advantage of it, lowering herself into the water, uncoiling her braids and letting them unravel down her back. Perhaps she should chop them off, but she'd had many years to become proud of her long, thick hair, and even without servants it wasn't too much trouble to comb it and put it back up. Still, it would be nice to have it clean again. She dunked her head under the water and scrubbed at her scalp, thoughts drifting back to when she had taken charge of this band of misfits, after the disaster at Ostagar.

Yes, she had done it; who else was fit to do it? Alistair was her senior as a Grey Warden, true, but he'd never held any command position and seemed disinclined to take one. She'd not been at all surprised when he revealed himself to be a king's bastard who'd been put in his place since birth. And Natia-- the girl was a good fighter, swift and sure-footed, able to get behind enemies and take them down quickly, and probably the best scout Sera had ever seen. But did that make her a leader? Sera had been groomed to take command her entire life; Natia was a low-ranking Carta thug. Smarter than most, true, and a fast learner, but nothing that qualified her to take charge of gathering an army. Certainly she did not hold a candle to Gorim as a second, if only--

Sera took a deep breath and plunged into the water, willing the chill to take her bad memories away, but too late, she closed her eyes and was in Denerim again, just as if it were yesterday....

-x-

The city was big. Big and tall, magnitudes grander than Lothering, and the sight of the city walls, the palace, the towers reaching into the sky was somehow more imposing than anything carved into the rocks of Orzammar. How was Sera supposed to find anyone in this place?

On the other hand, they were unlikely to attract much attention, especially if they didn't advertise that they were Grey Wardens. Especially with Bodahn along, they looked like a band of dwarven merchants -- the humans could easily be mistaken for bodyguards, hired to protect their goods -- and everyone knew enough to keep their mouths shut regarding the truth of their errand here: to gather intelligence regarding Loghain's next move, to seek out information on the Sacred Ashes, and to find Gorim. That last, of course, Sera had admitted to no one, but it was a reason for coming, nonetheless -- another sword arm could be only to the good, and she would feel much better about leading this band with her lover and second at her side. Perhaps, if the Orlesian Grey Wardens ever arrived, she could see about getting him recruited.

She scanned every group she saw, every person who might be a dwarf, her heart beating faster with each possible sighting, breath rushing out in disappointment when she turned out to be wrong. Next to her, Natia turned, a slight frown of worry on her face. "What's up? You seem to be looking for someone."

"What?" Sera turned a serene smile on Natia. "Oh, no, just keeping my eye out for guards. Or anyone else who might make our lives difficult."

"As long as we don't pull out the 'Look, Grey Wardens here' banner, I think we should be all right," Alistair drawled from behind them. "Although it might be best to stay away from the Templar barracks -- someone there might recognize me. Maybe we could start in the market? That's where most of the gossipy types gather, and we need to restock anyway."

"A fine idea," Sera said. "All right, Alistair, lead the way."

He pointed them into an alley -- too narrow for Bodahn's wagon, so he parked and set up a stall just inside the city gates -- and let them through the dark, quiet streets, off the main thoroughfare, winding past houses and shops, until they reached the river. A bridge terminated at a heavy wooden gate, which a guard opened to let them through after a brief word from Alistair. It opened into a square, fronted by more houses and, along one end, a Chantry. In the center of the open square were merchant stalls, run mostly by humans.

"Here we are." Alistair swept his arm to the side, encompassing the whole area in a single swoop. "Merchants, the Chantry, and just about every money-making opportunity you could think of, legal and otherwise." He raised an eyebrow. "And money is something we need, unless one of you has a secret stash I don't know about. We should check the Chanter's Board, at least."

"Good idea." Sera smiled up at Alistair, and he grinned back. "Why don't you go see what the Chantry has to offer? Natia, you and Leliana snoop around for news and work while Morrigan and I head for the merchants. Meet back at the tavern in an hour." Natia nodded and waved Leliana onward, the mabari bounding off at their heels.

"Well. Where to?" Morrigan looked around.

Sera started toward the center of the market. "Our first stop should be a good weapons supplier. Dwarven make would be best. Most of what I've seen pass for smithing on the surface has been a disgrace."

"Understood." Morrigan fell into step beside her as they wandered through the crowds -- which parted easily enough, suspicious eyes flicking over to the apostate; she glared back, and they stepped out of the way. Then Morrigan stopped, and motioned her to her right. "Ah, a dwarf merchant. By the side of that building."

"Excellent. We should..." Sera stopped dead, her breath frozen in her throat, as she saw the face of the dwarf standing in front of the stall. Then she broke into a run, heedless of the people she pushed aside, of Morrigan's confused shout. "Gorim? Gorim!"

He turned and saw her, all the blood draining from his face as his jaw dropped open. "My... lady?"

She skidded to a stop in front of him, heart pounded from exertion and joy. "Yes, Gorim, love, it's me, I found the Wardens and now I've found you, just like I promised." She could feel the smile cracking her cheeks, the tears pricking at the back of her eyes. "And you, you made it out!" Alive and whole -- so why did he look so sad?

"I did. But..." Gorim turned his eyes to the ground. "I was injured. Badly. My foot -- I could barely walk, and I had to bribe a merchant to take me most of the way to Denerim in a cart. And once here, I..." He shuffled, glanced at the sky. "Oh ancestors, how do I say this. My lady, I-- I met someone."

A chill started at the base of Sera's spine, a tiny shiver. He couldn't be saying what it sounded like he was saying. She shook her head; she would make him start again, so she could understand. "What?"

"I met someone." Finally he lowered his chin to meet her gaze, his brown eyes bleak and weary. "The daughter of a surface trader. She nursed me back to health and I-- I'm sorry, my lady. She was kind, and I thought you dead and gone. We-- we married, and we have a child on the way."

The icy cold crept up her spine and outward into her fingers, down to her toes, a tingling numbness spreading throughout her entire body. "No," she whispered. "This-- how can this be true? You promised, Gorim. You promised!"

She could see his throat bob with a hard swallow. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you would make it. I should have known better. But I couldn't wait forever. I'm sorry."

Forever? A few months, and he called it forever? Sera took a deep, sharp breath through her nose, shifting her shoulders up. "I'm sorry, too," she replied, the ice in her veins coming out in her voice. She whirled on her heels, the armor of the haughty princess falling around her like a barrier, ready to quit him and this place.

"My lady, wait!" Sera didn't want to stop, she wanted to continue her exit with dignity, but her feet stopped, bound to obey the voice of the man she still loved in spite of it all. "I-- have news. Of the king. Your father."

They were probably the only words that would have made her turn around. The ice thawed, just a little, and Sera turned back. "Father?"

Gorim nodded. "He gave me a letter, and a package. In the hopes that it might reach you, if you survived. Let me get it." He disappeared into his stall; by the time he emerged, Morrigan had finally reached her side. She looked down at Sera with a quizzical eye, but Sera waved her into silence. Gorim handed her a wrapped parcel about the size and weight of a shield. "I'm afraid King Endrin fell ill almost immediately after your exile. A broken heart, they say. If he does not recover..."

"Then Bhelen will be king." She spoke the words flatly, once again frozen. "And I can do nothing to stop it."

Gorim lowered his eyes again. "I'm sor--"

She cut him off with a chop of her hand. "Sod it, stop apologizing! What's done is done. Nothing you can say will change it. And I am done here. Farewell."

"Farewell, my lady." She turned again, grasping the package and holding it to her chest, as if it were Gorim, her father, holding them both for one last time, and she stumbled blindly through the crowd and toward the tavern. Once there, she would drink, and maybe she would forget.

-x-

Orzammar.

Natia finished pitching her tent, then sat down on the floor, leaning her back against Dog -- when he'd first found her, just outside of Lothering, she didn't realize that companion animals usually got proper names, and by the time she realized her mistake, she was so used to calling him Dog that she couldn't imagine changing it. She settled against his solid flank, put her hands behind her head, and thought.

She had long known, certainly since they'd planned out their journey in Lothering, that at some point they would have to return to Orzammar. Dark, dirty, oppressive Orzammar. Once, it had been her whole world; now she would rather pretend that it never existed. Surely a far cry from the surface cities she had seen. Like Denerim.

Now Denerim -- that was an exciting place. Her first day there had been a productive one: by casually poking in corners and chatting with bystanders, she and Leliana gotten leads on a number of jobs. Some of them were less savory than others, but Natia figured that was why Sera had given her the task of seeking them out. For an outcast on multiple fronts, Sera was remarkably unwilling to get her hands dirty. Fortunately, Leliana had no such scruples. She might have been a Chantry sister, but she was quick and clever, and better at picking a lock than Natia herself. There was a story there; Natia hoped to hear it all eventually.

"Lovely," Leliana said, her eyes glowing with appreciation and more than a touch of avarice as she looked over the rubies and emeralds that Natia had lifted from the noble girl's purse. "I have not seen such fine baubles since leaving Orlais."

"They're shiny, all right." Natia opened the pouch, and Leliana slid the gemstones back inside; Natia pulled the drawstring shut and tossed it in the air before putting it back in her own pocket. "I doubt Bodahn will want to touch them, though, and I don't know any trustworthy fences in this town; do you?" Leliana shook her head. "Maybe Slim knows someone. Is it time to head for the tavern yet?"

Leliana checked the angle of the sun in the sky and shook her head. Natia felt a stab of envy -- over a month on the surface, and she still hadn't the slightest sense of how to tell time. "We have at least an hour. Shall we keep exploring, then?"

"Sure." Natia took a step back against the wall and looked around, considered the mental map she was already building of the city. "The Alienage is over there; we can't get in, and I don't know that we'd want to anyway. That way is the Chantry, and Slim, and that guy from the mages; we've already talked to all of them. That just leaves the area around the tavern. Might be shops back there, or people we can talk to-- oh, and there's Alistair." She whistled, and he trotted toward them. "How'd it go?"

"Pretty well, there are some good leads for work on the Chanter's Board." He glanced around, leaned down, lowered his voice. "Also information on some of Loghain's troop movements. A little sloppy, if you ask me."

Natia grinned. "We'll just have to take advantage of that, then. What else?"

Alistair shrugged. "Not much. Just walking around, listening to gossip." He sent an uneasy glance toward a bank of houses in the middle of the square. "Uh, there's an armory over there. I was going to take Sera there, once we had some money. And then there's a shop I remember down that alley. They might have some useful things for sale."

"Sounds fun. We should check that out." Natia started out from the eaves, then paused in front of the next doorway. A name was carved in the lintel, a pattern of letters that struck her as very familiar. "That... why do I know that word?" She leaned closer and sounded it out. "Ge-ni-tivi."

"It's from the letter. The one we got from Ser Donall in Lothering." Alistair stepped back. "He's the one who might know about the Sacred Ashes."

"Oh, right!" Natia rapped her knuckles against the door. After a moment, the door opened, and a young man with dark hair and a fearful expression appeared, looking first on empty air, then down.

"He-hello?"

"Hello," Natia replied with a cheery smile that she hoped was disarming. "May we see Brother Genitivi please?"

The man looked at Natia for a moment, then up at Leliana and Alistair, frowning. "He's not here. Please come back later."

"We're travelers and won't be in town long." Natia kept her smile friendly, but she casually slid her foot between the door and the frame. "We're looking for Andraste's Sacred Ashes. Perhaps you can help us?"

His brows shot up with alarm. "Hush! Not so loud." He looked around the group again; maybe he was counting weapons. Finally he stepped back and pulled the door open. "All right. But only inside. I won't speak of it in the open."

Natia spread her empty hands wide. "Never fear, we just want to talk." They all filed inside, and the man stopped them in front of a table, gathering them close around.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to come off so poorly out there." He glanced around the group. "My name is Weylon. I'm Brother Genitivi's assistant, but I haven't heard from him in week. I'm afraid something may have happened, that his work has led him into danger."

"Danger?" Natia raised her eyebrows. "Why would looking for the ashes be dangerous?"

Weylon shook his head. "The Urn has been lost for so long. It must be for a reason. I pray for Brother Genitivi's safety, but my hope dwindles with each passing day." He shifted over his feet and glanced back over his shoulder. "I even tried to send help -- some knights came by looking for the Brother, and I sent them after him, but they, too, have disappeared."

Just like Ser Donall had said. Natia was about to confirm Weylon's statement, but then she stopped. Seemed odd for him to be so confident of something that happened so far away. "How do you know they disappeared?" she asked.

He started. "Well, uh... they... haven't returned. And they sent no word, either."

"Good friends of yours, these knights?" Natia forced a friendly chuckle. "Why would they have sent word to you?"

"I, uh, I don't know." Weylon shifted his weight again, a bit of sweat breaking out on his brow. "Well, um, after what happened to Brother Genitivi, can you blame me for assuming the same thing could happen to the knights?" He lifted a hand in a shrug. "But then, I tend to be a pessimist. I hope I am wrong."

Reasonable enough, but Waylon had spoken with confidence earlier and now he looked worried, eyes darting quickly around the room, most often to the closed door behind him. So Natia pressed further. "Where did they go?

"No, don't ask me that!" Weylon held up both hands as if to stop her from coming any closer. "You might go after them, and what if something happened to you, too? Then I'd have your ill luck on my conscience as well." He dropped his hands and shook his head with exaggerated sorrow. "This search is a curse. Some things are never meant to be found. I know that now."

Natia shrugged, then glanced over her shoulder at her companions; Alistair nodded, and Leliana's smile was eager. "I'm willing to take the risk. Just tell me."

Weylon sighed, a heavy sound that seemed to roll off his shoulders. "So be it." He looked up with an expression of resignation. "He said he was going to an inn at Lake Calenhad, investigating something in that area."

"Hmm." Natia tapped her foot. "Do you know what he was investigating?"

"No." A trace of impatience crept into Weylon's tone. "All I found while going through his research is that he was staying at the inn."

Natia raised an eyebrow. "But you just said he told you where he was going."

Weylon touched the side of his nose. "Y-yes, of course he told me. I... was... going through his things to see if I could find out anything more."

"And you didn't find anything." She leaned back and crossed her arms.

"No, I didn't." Weylon waved his hands again; his over-acting was starting to get on Natia's nerves. This man was one of the worst liars she'd ever seen. "Everything pointed to the same place." He crossed his arms and fixed her with a glare. "Look, if you're going after Brother Genitivi and the Urn, you should go as soon as possible. This is a waste of time."

"I thought you didn't want anyone going after him, or the Urn."

"I meant-- Well, you seem so determined to go." Weylon took a step backward, sliding around the table in the center of the room and taking yet another look over his shoulder. "And if Brother Genitivi needs help, you should get to him sooner rather than later."

"Or," Natia said, moving closer to him, "you just don't want me hanging around here, asking any more questions."

Weylon blanched. "I've told you all I know! I'm-- just an assistant, I'm not... I just follow instructions."

Natia glanced at Alistair again. Pressing Weylon further wasn't going to get anywhere; time to try another tactic. "You seem nervous, that's all. Like something is bothering you. Is everything all right?"

"I-- ah." Weylon let out another sigh, as if of relief. "My apologies. It's been a difficult time. I'm just so worried about Brother Genitivi, it's hard to know what to think or feel. I want him to be rescued, but I don't want anyone else to be hurt. You understand, don't you?"

"Of course." Natia smiled at him, more gently this time.

"Good." Weylon forced a tentative smile as well. "Please, if you do go after Brother Genitivi, then be careful."

Natia grinned. "We're always careful. Right?"

"Right," Alistair said, with more than a tinge of sarcasm. "Thanks for your help."

"Happy to provide the information." Weylon almost had his back up against the door now, his hands restless at his sides. That settled it: Natia had to get into that room. She reached for a book on the table and thumbed through it; she only recognized about one word in ten, but she closed it with a knowing nod regardless. She moved toward the door, quick enough to get around him, and he turned to look at her. "What are you doing?"

"Just looking around," she said with a shrug, innocence personified.

"Well, please don't." He was striving to sound irritated, but Natia knew fear when she heard it. "Brother Genitivi is a very private person, and he wouldn't want a stranger going through his things."

"Even a stranger who shares his desire to find the Sacred Ashes?" Natia tipped her head sideways, then smiled, a darker grin than before. "All right, let's both cut the act. You're hiding something, and I want to know what it is."

"No!" Weylon pulled a knife out of his tunic and charged her with a howl; Natia drew her blades and parried his first thrust, then whirled inside his reach to rest the flat of her sword against his neck. Instead of surrendering, he jabbed at her again. She knocked the knife out of his hand and whipped the handle of her dagger against the side of his head. With a groan, he crumpled to the floor.

Natia shook her head. "Not much of a fighter, is he?" She put her blades away and turned toward the door. "Now, let's see what he was hiding."

"The haven must be preserved!" She barely had time to turn before Weylon was on her again, his hands around her neck, eyes wide and frenzied. He tried to lift her in the air, and Natia kicked out, landing a heel against his knee, which buckled. He started to fall, and then he went down entirely with a gurgling sound, an arrow sticking out of his chest.

Natia rubbed her throat and coughed a few times before looking up at Leliana. "Thanks."

"Of course," Leliana replied, lowering her bow. "Though I wish we hadn't needed to kill him."

"Same here." Natia nudged the corpse with her toe. "But he was determined not to let us in that room. Which just makes me even more curious."

"Naturally." Alistair came up next to her. "You're all right?"

Natia waved him off with a smile. "I took worse than that before I was seven. C'mon, let's get this door open." To her surprise, it was unlocked, and she found herself in a small library: bookshelves on the wall, a table under the window -- and a dead body in the corner.

"Well, now we know what he was hiding." Alistair wrinkled his nose. "He couldn't have hidden it much longer."

"Bet you a sovereign that's Genitivi's real assistant." Natia knelt down to examine the body. "Poor fellow," she murmured. "From the look of that wound, he never knew what hit him."

Alistair looked around more closely. "So I'd suspect that Lake Calenhad is a trap, given how badly the impostor wanted us to go there. But then where do we go?"

Natia pulled out a letter from the dead man's pocket and made an attempted to read it, but the handwriting was spindly, and too many of the words were ones she didn't know. "Maybe this will tell us."

"Good thinking." Alistair smiled down at her, then took the letter, brow furrowing as he read. "Haven? Never heard of the place."

"I have," said Leliana. "It is in the mountains, east of Redcliffe."

"A place to start, at least." Alistair folded up the note and handed it to Natia, who secured it in her pack with the rest of her treasures from the day. It had been a productive afternoon, for sure; she only hoped that Sera had been half as lucky as the rest of them.

-x-

But she had not been, as it turned out; Natia and the others had found Sera in the corner of the tavern, nursing a glass of whiskey, with a silent Morrigan across the table. No leads on Loghain, no new equipment except a shield, and nothing to show for the afternoon except a hangover. They took rooms at the inn and spent the next day at the shops, exploring the city, and finishing off some of the easier jobs they'd taken. They plotted their next move over dinner and decided to head to Redcliffe, so all in all it was a productive trip, but Natia was never fully satisfied with the decision to wait so long on following the lead to Haven. Even now, months later, making camp on the way to Orzammar. And she had to ask herself: did she really think that going to Haven first was the better plan? Or was she simply avoiding the return to Orzammar?

She sighed and pulled the blanket over her head. Whether she wanted to go or not, they were going. Might as well make the best of it. And try to get a good night's sleep first.