Chapter 1: Well, Shit
You will always recall your last day on Earth. The perfect last memory, looking over your shoulder at your unit. Smiles all around, wind gentle for once. Days, months- even years from now. Perfect.
The rest? Your families, hobbies, sitting in your backyard clutching your old, dying dog. Those memories are seen through rose tinted glasses. Surreal, too real, and yet not real enough. You can no longer describe your niece's baby-blue eyes. They're the color of the sky between the fluffy clouds when the sun shines at noon.
Atai can no longer wax poetic about his fiancé Kimiko, not now when he's six feet tall with horns like thorns curving out from his skull. He calls her kadan as he lifts hands wreathed in flames up towards the sky. A word that you never knew of until the sky spit your military unit out into this wasteland. Crystal is no longer petite, shy, blonde. She's a muscular, terrifyingly tall woman with a staff covered in bits of fur and leather and calls herself an augur. Wood and Sergey are both dwarves now, wielding a massive sword and bow, respectively. They whisper of castes of rigging 'games', and talk of singing stones and caverns. They both bring out cards every night, playing some game in silence as both fight tears.
Kiara died by your hand. You had regained consciousness first, then she had. She-she looked the same. Same ginger hair in a scrappy, barely in regulation bun. Kiara starts to mutter, head twitching from side to side. You drag yourself over to her, grabbing her shoulder. No blood to be seen- was Kiara seizing?
You hate to, but Watson said it usually yielded a reaction: slapping her face a few times did nothing. Kiara ceases after what seems like hours, Atai next to you still hasn’t stirred.
When she does wake, what happens is too fast to comprehend. Her eyes slam open, seclara and iris pitch black.
You pulled your machete from its' spine sheath and stabbed her in the heart, fear gagging you. Whatever that had been. Too many horror movies.
"Thank you."She had murmured, her head on your knees as you knelt. "I was scared and it wanted to help. But then it was too late. It didn't want to help me. Please?'"
By that time, Atai had woken up, closed her eyes with grey, bejeweled fingers.
None of you can find Watson. Sweet, timid Watson. With his shaking hands, sunken eyes and stutter. Who always looked one meal from starving, but had carried Sergey for a mile when the man was bleeding out from a knife wound. You feel like a failure. You haven't even spoken a word. Just nodded when they all looked toward you with the question are you...still our leader on their lips. As if anything could change that. You nodded, and Crystal helped you up and hugged you tight.
You know you're shorter. That doesn't bother you. You know can see in the dark. That doesn't bother you. All of you retain your tattoos. Atai's tribal Maori swirls of black, Sergey's Magyar flowers, even your own Celtic knots somehow stuck.
What bothers you is that when you up at the night sky, there's a part of you that's not quite you that thinks of wolves and bodies under trees. Why are you so happy to see your face bare and clean? Were you expecting something to be on your face?
You figure you'll have a long time to think on those thoughts. Now, how where you going to survive here?
There's a decent argument about the first night you spend there, thankfully whatever area this is doesn't experience frost right now. Its familiar of the high deserts of where you all were stationed. A puppy pile with Wood and Sergey in the middle, jackets taken off and draped over you all like blankets.
The morning after you set out, foraging for berries. There's a dissonance in you when you somehow know these berries are safe. Crystal and Atai have the same luck, offering out small handfuls to the dwarves of the group.
You become mercenaries. It's not hard to find cheap, discarded weapons on the ground. It's slightly unnerving, in retrospect. You keep your blades and add a dagger onto your hip. You decide to take Crystal's now ill-fitting utilities and cut the blouse into strips, sewing them with a bone needle under the duster you peeled off a dead woman. Atai and Sergey have the most trouble finding proper clothing- though there's no shortage of corpses to loot. Crystal hunts and kills enough wolves to skin them and make herself a short cape, and she gives Wood her scraps to make him a cowl.
Your first few jobs are interesting. If they could even be jobs-not favors? Another elf appears out of the woodwork -literally- while you and Atai scrounge up a makeshift lean-to. You found a dry enough spot you don't think you'll die overnight under. He gives you all a suspicious glower before settling on you. Something in his eye softens? Anyways, he calls you falon and asks if you are willing to do some killing for money. You shrug, wave a hand at your companions behind. Sergey agrees first, a gleam in his eyes as he counts the coins you've collected.
The task is simple. Or well, seems simple enough. Kill a few shem who've been bothering his people.
Shem. You understand the word instantly. Quicklings. Humans. That part of you that isn't you demands you help him.
He could've at least mentioned they were Templars. The flight is long- when you're not weaving past the warriors your hands are covered in frost touching the ground. The indirect application slicks the ground, and in their metal boots they slide and fall to Wood's blade. But it's draining you slowly. Ice is so hard to form, somehow. How he lifts a sword that's almost bigger than him, that’s the real question.
Crystal sustains barriers around the melee fighters. Wood, Sergey, and Atai with his white-hot magic sword. When Crystal crumples to the ground with an arrow sticking out of her stomach, something like fury erupts from you. The parts that are not you rage and roar. They shan't touch what you've made yours. The ground opens like a rotten tree, and roots unfurl, ripping the soft earth open. Mud slaps onto your face and blinds the men. You count at least seven branches piercing the archer's face, twisting like vines in and out of his body. The blood drips down, flies out, coats your hands.
The blood seems hotter than it should be, like it would be hot enough to char. Your vision is narrow, bones singing like the wind between sails. Your arms raise above your head and clap, the sky cracks down lightning upon the remaining men. A shame they were wearing metal.
Atai when you look back is crouched over Crystal. His hands are green and bright, like her eyes when they open.
Her teeth are red when her lips part in a smile, like your hands. A fair comparison.
Your reward is a pair of vambraces, harder than stone. Lighter than cloth. There are vines hammered into them, curling around your wrists. Ironbark, your mind supplies. The elf had been watching. He calls you all falon now. For an elf defending her own like he would his, a measure of respect. An invite to spend a night at their camp, eat their food and share their warmth. You decline. The part of you that is not you weeps. But Crystal declares herself well enough to walk back to the camp, and so you follow.
You struggle to remember your brothers name. You frantically write it down in the dirt when it comes to you. Panic grips the memory tight. You cannot forget who you were before. Raymond, I will not forget you.
Crystal and Sergey kiss you before they head into town, she hands you her staff to appear less dangerous in front of the townspeople. Their goal is information. What's been going on in the world, what is this world? Atai knows better now than to walk through a human city in small numbers. You cannot go yourself for your concussion. It was an ogre, too close to a human camp in the Graves.
It had been down to you and Sergey doing damage, and all your blades were already in the damned creature. Wood had too much blood running down his arm to lift his sword, Atai was out of mana. So you call the earth. The earth answers as if it expected it, but flings you into the air when it does. The crack of your skull against the tree is felt more than heard. In that moment, you are reminded the earth is her own creature, and there will always be a price.
There's not much to do while you wait at your camp. You know your remaining companions can understand you, even if you do not speak. It's been that way since you first saw the desert you had been stationed in. Like swimming in the ocean. Endless, makes you feel small. It's not that you can't, its that what point is there? Your friends will hash out the advantages and disadvantages of any idea before they come to you for the final say. You learn so much more from listening.
Like now, Atai sings in his foreign tongue, flowers of thin ice growing from his hands. You watch, enraptured, as they form one solid crown. He pulls the moss-covered water from a puddle under a tree, and that makes a different color. Those become leaves. It adds on and on until it's more of a wreath than something wearable, but he's delighted as Wood suggests he try selling things like that. It's a grand idea if any for extra cash.
You scoot over to him and hold your hands like he does, palms towards the sky, fingers loosely curled. He sets his flowers down and talks you through it, calling on a trickle of magic. Ice is moderately difficult for you to make but rewarding even if your flowers don't look as pretty as his. Some of the petals overlap like they shouldn't, the vines aren't as smooth or realistic. It's a simple matter of knocking on the part of your magic that springs from the ground. The ice slowly, surely forms correctly.
You spend a good part just getting the details of the leaves right. You are careful when you start mixing in the different waters for color, each freezes a little differently and if one part isn't completely frozen it'll cause the ice it's touching to melt. You could spend all day doing this, and Atai and you nearly do.
It's only when Crystal and Sergey come back later in the afternoon, early evening you both stop. His wreath is still crystalline, Sergey carefully picks it up to stick his head through it. He looks regal, almost. Your vision doubles for a second, a copy of him but laden with gold rings and necklaces, chunks of blue stones contained in dark metal draped on his shoulders. But the moment passes and he smiles brightly at the one you offer him. The latest one, all leaves like a laurel.
He wears it as the two of them debrief the rest of the group about what they've learned. Thedas. Templars. A mage uprising. Orlais and Ferelden and Par Vollen. The devastation of Kirkwall. A conclave coming in the near months.
You don't want to go to this conclave, you think to yourself. That many people, that many opinions in a small little town?
Chapter 2: But fuck Sergey, tho.
It's not like any of this is easy, for any of you.
Talk of the Life Before is hard. It should, but shouldn't be. It should be as easy as breathing, but harder than pulling an arrow from your leg. There are few precious things that can safely hover between nonchalance and crippling grief.
You can tell when Atai thinks of his old life when he flexes his right hand- the one that had taken an IED fragment to it. Like he's not sure if the pain was from gripping his staff all day or the metal knuckles his old body had. The surgery had been rough, the physical therapy harder. There's no sign of it ever having happened, though. No more pink, puckered skin one the meat of his palm, no whorls of scar tissue around where they attached a dead man's fingers to his hand. Or when he looks up at the dawn or dusk and murmurs kadan, Kimiko. A dying relationship that never even made it to marriage. Atai is…softer in those moments, the man you remember playing with his Terrier in the back yard. The man who gave you his epi-pen for his shellfish allergy for you, the one who took your pack when the sun hit you too hard around noon.
In those moments, it's Sergey who reaches up as high as he can and lets his hand rest on his back. They'll knock foreheads and stay like that for minutes or until Atai's cheeks are no longer wet. He'll meet your eye and you'll nod once, then look away. Pain is not always meant to be shared. Those nights, though. He'll commandeer your bed, all but crush you against him. He turned your offer of comfort at the beginning, but he's hopefully coming around. He smells like amber and sandalwood, silver polish and salt.
Wood and Crystal are more open about it. The sleeping rotation echoes that. It's you between the two, with her leg over your torso and Wood's arm gripping around your waist. You face him, but pull her arm around you and hold it tight, press his face into your neck. The heat will become unbearable after an hour or so, but that was when Crystal hadn't found a book of protective sigils. You three sleep easier almost naked save for underwear. Magelights hover above you all, a medley of your purple, her blue and Atai's green. The more you all sleep with them soft overhead, the harder it is to sleep in a tavern.
In the day, when there is no apparent danger or when you've descended upon a town, you three hold hands. Of course there are the titters, the amused and curious looks. An Avaar, a tall elf, and a dwarf. The locals don't usually know where to start looking first. Then they see Wood's dual sword, and two staves. The latter weapons don't cause too much of a fuss in the bigger towns- the Chantry's devoid of Templars. They know mages have always been lurking about. If all they do is up the drink prices and give you a smaller room, so be it. With Crystal's fur tickling your ear and Wood's calloused hand around yours, it's easier to breathe.
Sergey doesn't sleep with anyone else, just a picture of his mom beside him. She's beautiful and kind-looking, rounder cheeks with dimples and an arm slung around him. He looks so much younger, fresh out of boot camp with a terrible haircut. Naivete. You can't look for too long. It just hurts too much. The only photo you have is of your mom and dad at an aquarium.
Of course, there are the nights where Crystal sobs over her sister with terminal cancer. The entire reason she'd joined the service was to get her sister on the health insurance. And now look at this mess. Does back home still exist? Is Watson even alive in this world or did he never make it over? She cries for the simple things they took for granted. Indoor plumbing. Mirrors. Matches. Books, at a point. You let her sorrow soak through your undershirt, you kiss her until the sniffling stops. Wood plays with her hair, braids it like he's always done. He’ll pick up little wood chips and hollow them for charms that Atai can make. Sergey will dye them by letting them soak in mortars filled with water and blood lotus.
Comforting them comforts you, brings harmony to the parts of you that sings of dappled sunlight and vengeance, dirthara-ma. That part of you never had a family, so you decide to give a piece of your family to that part. Dwarves, Qunari, Elves and Humans. If the five of you can get along, that's five people sleeping soundly at night.
What's stopping the rest of the fucking world from doing the same?
"It's xenophobia." Crystal drawls, smiling at the cloudless morning sky. Her green eyes practically sparkle in the weak sunlight, strawberry blonde hair cut short around the faint tips of her ears. "They're all so scared of the people who don't look like them. Fucking racists." She closes her eyes and breathes deep, finally turning back into you. Freckles against tan skin, like a stipple brush with brown paint. You let yourself try counting them all, constantly distracted by the berry red of her lips. She's beautiful, so smart it's intimidating, so clever it burns, so complete by just being Crystal, you've fallen in love with her over and over. Inevitable. The war paint her puts under her eyes, sliding her wolf pelts over bare skin. The cackles and roars she makes in battle, the sight of magic pouring from her hands like water, dripping into the soil. A wellspring of iridescent beauty.
Crystal's eyes are open, filled with knowledge. She simply knows where she stands with you. Her smile turns dark and just the littlest predatory. A burst of glee fills your chest, you're so in love and she loves you too.
"We should go to that Conclave thing we heard the villagers talking about. It's in Haven." Wood adds from behind you, hot air gusting over your neck. His hand tightens on your waist, bringing you closer to him. A brief warmth from the back of your neck, a slow, lingering kiss. You can smell leather oil on him, smoke from last night's fire. Homey.
"Too dangerous." Atai disapproves, you hear 'I'm too dangerous.' instead. You hum at him, bringing your free arm around Crystal to pull her flush against you. She dips down to mouth at your neck, grazing sharp teeth over the skin of your throat. Wolves and prey. But her neck is red from your teeth, so it doesn't really even matter anymore. Cycles and such.
Sergey is the only person who really, really doesn't want to go. He creates a sort of tension in the group, less friendly than unusual to Atai and you. It's not enough to bring up, merely enough to put distance between you all. You secretly don't begrudge him. That other you doesn't want to, either. Too many Templars. Having three mages in a group of five is begging for trouble. Too many shems. Disrespectful humans who burnt down Halamshiral and made it theirs. The anger is detached, separate. They call you rabbits when they multiply like them? Cut off your ears and call you useless? You can feel the rage, the indignation, all of it burning somewhere deep down inside to make a home for itself. Dirthara-ma.
Atai has an offer none of you can refuse, though. And that makes all the difference.
"We could find Watson there, maybe. That's a lot of people." He murmurs from the other side of the tent where he's taking off each ring with reverence, setting them down in a little metal tray he'd filched from a dead man. The last ring he takes off is always his green druzy, the light casting golds and browns from the emerald. Impossible, but it's a small impossible. A memento that had been in his pocket when he crossed over.
"We must remember Watson might not look like himself." He stands up and crosses the tent to where you've been sitting, taking the damp washcloth and brushing it over your exposed collarbone. It's a gentle touch, tender even. He holds your eyes seriously. One day, you swear to pin him down and show him how mesmerizing he is, his subtle elegance and regality. The way he looks at Wood makes you weak. If Crystal looks at you like a meal, Atai looks at Wood like a starving man at a feast.
Sergey grumbles, "It's jus' too dangerous. Templars, Carta- 'cause who else is gonna give all them their fuckin' lyrium? - and Chantry. Gonna' try convertin' all us and shit."
A silence, where you all look at him. And how the fuck do you know that, Sergey? He looks up from polishing his boots, eyes steely and somber. There's just the slightest ripple around his skin. "Look," He sighs heavily. "There's no use hiding it. We've all got some weird shit goin' on with ourselves. How do we know how to fight so easily? How do we put camp up so fast? Tear it down? Hunting in forests?" He looks around, holding everyone's eyes for a moment. "Something's not right-and I don't like it one fuckin' bit-but it's handy." He picks up his polish kit and continues to buff the toes of his boots. "It's better than reminiscing about camel spiders and sand storms. We're stuck here."
Wood drops his armful of cloth and storms out of the tent, hands tight and knuckles white. Crystal gets up from beside you to walk after him, casting a grimace over her shoulder.
Atai gives you the look, and shuffles around his bag for the make-up mirror. It's apparently up to you now.
You scooch over to him and grip his chin, bringing it up to look at him. There's anger there, obviously. Resignation. Resolve. He can't hold your eyes for more than a moment, but you keep his chin in your hand until he gets the memo.
Look at me. Tell me.
"It's just-" Sergey starts, stops. "What're we even gonna do if we find Watson? Try and find a way back? I don't even remember how we got here. I miss home, mom and dad. I miss my sister." And there's a second where he pauses, hesitates. You squeeze his knee, out with it, just say it. The vein on the side of his temple throbs once, twice.
"Just say it, Sergey." Atai murmurs from behind the tiny mirror, applying eyeliner so carefully. "It's not like you've ever held back before when you've got something nasty to say."
You're surrounded by fucking children.
Sergey jerks upright, almost kneeing you in the face as you lean back. "and it's- well,-none of you guys have any reason to miss home! Crystals' sister is dying, so at least she doesn't need to see that lay out! Your sweet Kimiko hadn't talked to you for months, and you were supposed to get married right when we got back? And you-" He turns to you, flinging a hand out "-You don't even talk to us, you just pull that 'wise guru' act on us and expect us to fall all over you. I read your journal, yeah? When you were on that little expedition to set up comms. Your dad died in a fucking car crash and your bro's in a coma. Nothing stellar to look forward to. And your mom's in a goddamn wheelchair, at least you don't need to worry about taking care of her anymore!"
You haul yourself upright, mouth in a pinched line and eyes burning. Fuck this guy, fuck this shit. He had no right to say that. You can feel the urge to slug him, haul his ass down and swing. That- that was the only private thing you had. Your diary. And now that's gone, too. You can feel tears on your cheeks, wipe them away. You're just trying to be strong, trying to be the best listener because all you want to do is scream half the time you're here.
So you just turn your back to him and leave the tent.
Atai at least waits until you're on the other side of camp to start ripping Sergey a new one.
Chapter 3: A quarter turn to Chaotic Neutral
I’m back? Kinda? Been a bit since I thought about this story, but I’ve some ideas how to go about this.
They watch her leave the tent-implied that leaving is a word that couldn’t capture the minute anger in her bones. They hear Wood call out to her from the edge of the river they’ve been camped against. When Wood’s pitch rises, Atai jerks his head to Sergey. Atai could leave right now, it was his suggesting for her to take care of it, but this asshole.
Sergey stays in the tent in a state of mild horror-guilt and shame shivering in the faintest threshold on his spine. Atai is, looks, captures the essence of thunderous. Sergey briefly thanks whatever higher power is watching-surely laughing- that Atai is not the one who’s adept at lightning.
”What the fuck?” Atai grits at him, dropping the stick of kohl into the metal tray. He brings his hands up as to rub his eyes, but remembers he’s literally just put makeup on. Kohl is an unnecessary expense, and they’re saving up for a bigger tent. He settles for gripping the bedroll under him. “Why would you-why would you say that? Any of that?”
Sergey turns his head away from Atai, staring at the end of the tent. There’s a burn in his chest, makes him want to grind the palm of his hand against it. Smother it out, stop feeling it. He isn’t a forge. He cannot survive an unchecked flame.
More nonsense him-but-not-him crap. A parallel, less of a mirror than the face of a twin. Something with it’s own thoughts.
Atai stands up as much as he can, mindful of his horns and glares at Sergey.
“You think we aren’t thinking that? That we’re stuck here? That we’re never going back?” Atai hisses at him, stepping closer until Sergey reaches his knee. It’d be rude to grab Sergey by the hair and crank him back until he can’t look away. But he wants to. Badly.
“Crystal was needed by her sister. I’m needed by my family. She’s needed by her mother and brother. Wood-I’m not talking about Wood with you. Get your shit together. Stop being an ass. “
Sergey laughs, shame tasting like vinegar on his tongue. He knows that, of course he does. But it doesn’t stop him from looking at their impromptu leader with an edge of hate, spitescornenvy.
“She’s full o’ it. She can’t act like she does ‘n hide the ugly shit.” Sergey starts, choosing which route he can take and walk out of the tent alive. He-he wants to stay with them, he just can’t stand looking at her. With too-blue, steel eyes and brunette hair. Always watching, twitching with movement. Except when she stays still, it's like she's made of something other than flesh and blood. “She ain’t special like you guys treat her. She’s scared shitless. Y’all ever hear her dreamin? It’s not right. ‘M happy I don’t dream here.”
Atai briefly, purposefully, closes his eyes. He’d prefer stretching his neck back, but this is really their only tent. And they’re cramped enough inside of it. Low ceiling for him included. What he’d give for one of those larger-on-the-inside tents he'd read about when he was younger.
Atai tries his best to not knee Sergey in the face. Locking his knee because the more Sergey speaks, the more Atai wonders if he could get away with it. Just knee him in the face. Honest mistake? He could heal it pretty fast. Ugh, he can’t. Wood has that weird dwarf synergy with him.
”Leave her alone. Of course she’s scared! We all are! You’re fucking rude!” Atai throws his hands up, biting back the rest of what he wants to say. He kneels instead, balancing on his toes. He grips Sergeys’ shoulders, bringing his face in until they’re touching noses.
Hazel and Hazel. Atai thinks he could linger on that subject, stretch it out in a story or metaphor on how dissimilar they are. Whatever. He’s tired, Crystal is going to murder him, probably. Wood definitely isn’t up for any fun activities, and he’s hungry.
“Stop being an ass. She’s doing her best. Either get with the program or kick rocks.” Atai pauses. “That’s wasnt a dwarf thing. But. Seriously? Get your shit together. We literally cannot afford to get angry. Magic and whatnot.” Atai grimaces, fire dancing across his knuckles as he twists them. “Play nice with the lady who could zap you like a fly. Don’t care what your deal is because I know it’s not a matter of leadership. And stop being a dick to Wood. He cares more than you think.”
Atai lurches upward, done with the conversation entirely. Sergey doesn’t look as angry, thankfully. Atai grabs his hygiene bag on the way out, muttering under his breath.
Sergey sits back, a bit dazed from the rush of-what he’s guessing-to have been a very delicate conversation. If he had said anything else, would they have kicked him out? Tossed him to the curb? He lifts his hands, watching them shake. He’s alive, if anything.
“Well, lost that one. Shit.”
Chapter 4: Lydes, part 1
Gentle reminder that this is a drabble series. Not always chronological, but I'll give fair warning when things start skipping around.
Atai looks down at the young elf laying in the sun, sighing. Unfortunately, laying implies a sense of consciousness and their friend is...truly, not quite.
Their friend is properly unconscious. Perhaps deeply asleep. At this point he’s hoping for asleep. That would make this so much easier.
“Wood, Crystal?” He calls over his shoulder, kneeling in the soil to brush back a lock of brown hair. “How long has she been out?” A hand to the back of the head reveals no blood. She’d been facing the forest before them, not the gentle slopes of the Exalted Plains. So why was she on the ground? The edge of the forest was roughly a mile away so he’s doubtful to assume she had been hit by something. He had heard rumors of Sylvans in the area. Doubtful they would be so aggressive this far from the treeline, but a little caution would not hurt.
Wood takes a look at the two of them from the boulder he’d ben leaning on and jogs over, sunlight catching on the steel pauldron. He sinks his longsword into the ground when he reaches the two, rests his forearms on the hilt it to peer down at their leader. She looks peaceful for once-however dubious the circumstances.
“Well? I don’t know, Atai…” He starts, “I knew she skipped her snack after breakfast, and we didn’t have time for a decent lunch. She’s been pretty jittery since we starting coming this way out. Dunno if it’s the elf thing or a ‘I haven’t been able to snack thing’. Could be either, from what that passing Dalish messenger said about the area? Bit of an open graveyard, I guess. Weird shit.” Wood shrugs, not overly worried. If anything it could just be exhaustion, or-
“You know she has low blood sugar problems, right?” Wood slowly continues, starting to go through his bag. He has a canteen of honey water somewhere. Atai blinks at him once. Just turns around and covers the lower part of his face with his hands.Wood grimaces a bit, shaking the canteen to free any solid honey in it.
“No.” Atai grunts out. “Watson was the medic, remember?” He turns around again at Wood’s unimpressed stare, the dwarf kneeling down to bring her head up. She twitches a bit at the movement, rapid eye movement behind her eyelids. Coming around, then. Wood gently trickles the honey water down her throat, rousing her. Thankfully he doesn’t need to massage her throat to get it down. Her hand comes up to the canteen, trying to push it away from her after a few minutes. Blinking slowly at first, Gray eyes touch both the men as she regains her surroundings.
“An ounce or two of the sugar water, woman. You should’ve told us you were feeling peaky.” Atai drones, walking back towards Sergey and Crystal. Wood has to fight back a chuckle at the snarl that comes across her face. She’s blushing slightly, in either the heat or in embarrassment.
“We’ll make sure to grab some hard candies or dried fruit next time we’re in town, love. Hypoglycemia isn’t something to ignore.” Wood murmurs, pressing the side of her head to his lips, other arm wrapped tightly around her waist. “You pre-diabetic?” She shakes her head at that, untangling herself and gingerly standing up, Wood’s hands held out in case she needs them.
Wood doesn’t dare comment when she flips Atai off when his back is turned.
Embarrassment indeed, then.
It’s been a long, long trip to Lydes. After clearing out a ‘scenic view’ of the local spider population for a modest noble-and hadn’t that been a trip?- they’d been beset by the rest of the spider family. Namely...the parents. Several mothers.
The walk-since they had yet to buy horses- was the type of quiet you couldn’t break. Sergey was still having nightmares from barely escaping one spider in particular. Atai had slain it while it was on top of Sergey with his magic sword. Turns out that spiders could explode when exposed to enough heat.
The horror factor, indeed. It had also, thankfully been the first night Sergey had slept in the main tent. Another hot topic on what to spend the money on. Tent, or horse and cart? If you bought the horse you needed a saddle at least, or a bit. Atai had valid opinion s on bits and blinders and the like. A bigger tent though...wasn’t that enticing?
First of all, why did spiders collect things that could easily be traded for money? You were carrying a suspicious amount of carved statues in your rucksack. The spider ichor would get a pretty copper-you had to remind yourself not to use the word penny. Hopefully enough to purchase some new clothes for Crystal or Atai. You were fine for now, the duster holding up admirably. They were simply too big and broad-shouldered to readily find suitable clothes. Not something that you could fix with a needle.
“Bath.” Crystal stopped walking, staring directly ahead at a divide in the road. One way lead to Lydes, the other to Verchiel. Soft green grass and wildflowers along the edges, the faintest hint of something loamy in the breeze. Wood made a questioning sound, taking the stop to start picking under his fingernails with a knife.
“Bath. We could get a bath. A hot bath. I need. We need.” She continued more urgently this time. You looked over at Crystal sharply when she gave a full body shudder. A fair point. You didn’t particularly like the cold stream water-but hadn’t detested it like Atai had.
You try to be subtle when pressing your nose against your armpit. Not too bad, nothing worse than what you all had experienced Before all of this. A sneaking suspicion that your new body may have something to do with it, if the grimaces of your companions is any indicator. Sergey grits his teeth before taking the lead, swifty marching to the right side of the road towards Lydes.
You follow silently after, gladly taking the back position. The downdraft hits you one strong wind later. Gagging slightly, you pull up you shirt to cover your nose. They truly do reek. Lucky you.
Chapter 5: The Yellow Feather, Lydes Part 2
'The Yellow Feather' is apparently the symbol of the Chevaliers. Taken from the Wiki.
An hour or so passes from the fork until you reach Lydes proper, small ceramic tile roofs a modest splash of color from the constant green and brown. From there it’s easy to pass the bulletin board with mercenary offers to the local inn. Tavern. You’re not quite sure there’s a difference. Not like you’d studied medieval buildings before! The wooden sign hanging has only a mug of ale on it, bleached from the sun. A tavern then. Sergey opens the door gently, as if they wouldn’t command attention from simply walking in.
It seems to be the correct entrance. Inside of the tavern is loud, a large group of people surrounding what has to be the biggest Qunari you’ve ever seen. Massive horns jut straight out of his skull, a ninety-degree angle upwards at the end. You see Atai hang back to let Crystal and Wood pass him, slinging an arm around your shoulders.
Atai leans down slightly, a smile plastered on his face.
“That’s a proper Qunari there. Better be fucking Tal-Vashoth. I’ve got a feeling I could get in trouble otherwise. Let’s play nice, right?”
Ah, so Atai is getting feedback from whoever is sharing mind-space with him. That’s good. Any extra edge is paramount. You nod, smiling back up at him. The dim light does him well, sharp cheekbones casting deep shadows on his face.
Lovely , the not-you part of your mind whispers, content. There are of course a majority of shems , but the additional elves and dwarves in the other group put a small part of you at ease. You can see behind Atai the other Qunari- Tal Vashoth, hopefully- giving your group a cursory glance. As long as it’s not outright hostility.
You two reach the bar to find Sergey haggling with the innkeeper. He’s mentioning the faded sign in front, trying to ask a discount in return for repainting it. Crystal is beside him, boasting quietly about her skills in art. You have to grin at that.
“The sign is a bit faded, innit? You can’t hardly tell what this place is even called! This the famous Tavern of the Yellow Feather, or not!? I bet you my girl Crystal could paint it prettier than you’d ever seen it.” Sergey gives a smarmy grin, picking out a painted wooden charm of of her hair, tossing it on the table. He’d picked correctly. The charm is a miniature wolf’s head, smaller than any human’s thumbnail. The hair on the wolf goes from white to red, small brushstrokes done painstakingly to create a fine gradient. The innkeeper picks it up for a moment, bringing it under an oil lamp to inspect.
In the moments between, you notice three things: there is a barmaid who looks uncomfortable with who she’s speaking to at the closest table to you. Secondly, the man she’s speaking to keeps trying to grab the bottom edge of her shirt. Lastly, the giant Qunari and you make eye contact. He raises an eyebrow at you. You hold it for a second, noting afterwards he had only one eye. You slip out from under Atai’s arm, patting on his side twice as an unspoken queue to pay attention to what you’re doing. Not to intervene unless things get out of hand, but to keep an eye out. You saunter up towards them both, hands clasped in parody of nervousness.
You tap the lady lightly on her arm, leaning back so the platter she’s carrying doesn’t drip on you. The barmaid looks startled for a second while the man draws his hand back from her shirt. You smile at her gently, fiddling for a silver in your back pocket. You place it into the hand not carrying the platter of drinks. You point to your mouth, over-exaggerating the words ‘ Two beers, three red wines?’
It takes a few repetitions for her to understand- you can’t imagine it’s ever been loud enough in here for her to pick up the skill of reading lips. The barmaid nods a little to herself, gracefully stepping away from the man to your right. As soon as her back is turned, you make it a point to call a faint electric hum. Turning towards him at a snail’s pace you give him your widest smile, lips pulled back to flash gums.
As far as you’ve noticed, elves have sharper teeth than humans. Qunari as well, though their canine teeth are the sharpest. If you recent memory serves, both your canine and first bicuspid are pointed, giving a jagged smile. You feel the sharpness on your lower lip.
You pat the man’s shoulder a few times, then grip it harshly. You know how it feels to have an electric charge against you. A faint vibration, though you’re unsure if the man would recognize it. He looks like a local: skin weathered but not wind-burnt, young twenties, no weapon on the table and a meager meal in front of him. No obvious scars on his face or what you can see of his hands. No need to be too aggressive.
This should be pretty simple. You lean down eye level to him-not that it takes much with him sitting- and point to his eyes first, then to the barmaid at the keg behind the bar. Flicking your fingers back to your eyes, you shake your head slowly.
“ No.” You mouth at him. It takes the man a second before you tilt your head at him. He looks a little abashed, looking down at his table for a moment before nodding. You smile normally this time, mentally recalling the electricity. You thump the man’s shoulder gently this time, flicking a few copper on his table.
“ Hungry?” You sound, leaning down to catch his eye now. You mouth the word again, tapping your stomach. His eyes flick to the right-away from you. You mentally dock down his age to around 19.
Well, that won’t do. Going hungry while smelling what’s been simmering all day? Alone? It pulls at the heartstrings a bit, even if the man- young man- was harassing the barmaid. You reach towards your back pocket again, amused at the small flinch away.
He looks surprised when you softly place a few coppers on his table, straightening up in his seat with wide eyes. What you’ve all brought in should more than make up for a little charity.
You wave off his thanks to regroup with your party, rolling your eyes at Atai’s amused grin.
“Bit of a bleeding heart, dork. How much did you give him?” You hold up five fingers, checking out the pretty gray ring reflecting in the bar lights. Rather lustrous for being found in a cracked chest. "Enough to get him a chunk of meat and another roll. Didn’t look more than twenty, you sap.” Atai murmurs, his head high and sweeping the crowd for an open table. There’s one in a dark corner, and one next to the other group. Crystal takes the lead, sipping her wine and carrying the other glasses. It is Orlais , after all. Your dwarves follow in her wake, clinking their steins together gleefully.
“Please don’t make us sit in the corner all alone , Atai.” Woods begs, already loosening his pauldron with one hand. “Sergey’s gonna have a stroke if he doesn’t talk to someone new.” Crystal chuckles a bit weakly when she looks behind her, walking faster from Sergey’s terse grin. You start taking off your vambraces, noting that you need to polish them before you all head out. Tonight is for relaxing. Tomorrow you’ll take a peek in the Mercenary’s Plaza and see if there’s any jobs for a small team. Should mainly be escorts, perhaps some vermin clearing.
You nudge Atai, flicking your eyes towards the only other Qunari in the room briefly. Atai grimaces, looping an arm around your neck to whisper at you.
"Mages don't do well under the Qun. Sew their lips shut, compel them with a control rod. Lots of nasty things. The Qun is terrified of mages." He looks apprehensively at the other mercenaries before continuing. " I'm...concerned, more cautious that this dude might be one of those Qunari. I'm Vashoth, what they consider a true savage." You blame the sudden nausea on what he's saying, trying hard to not dwell on that. You reach the table two away from the other Qunari, lifting your glass politely to the other group. There's a solemn blond man at the other table that raises his back. You sit on the left of Atai, who's the farthest away from the others. Sergey has his back to them, giving Atai a clear view of the room. You have a decent view of the entrance, Crystal of the kitchens' doors.
You drape your arms on Atai's shoulders, smiling lazily while cupping his face. The split moment you shake your hair to the side to create a curtain, you get serious.
'So. Bad Qunari. If yes, run? Fight?' You exaggerate less so this time, trying to will the words into being heard. There's a strange tickling in your throat that echoes in your hands where they touch his face. Atai pays no mind to your reaction but nods carefully, eyes boring into you. 'No Qun.' You push the words again, suddenly a fair bit tired. Your throat itches internally, you swallow a few times to try and scratch it. You just did something- what that magic?
Atai gently cups a cheek, a hint of a smile to him. How gorgeous your Atai is. Vulnerable in this moment to you only amongst a sea of people. The stranger in your mind is pleased, possessive, purring.
He pulls away to raise his glass at the group. Nothing is said besides the words a warm smile say.
"Let's get shitfaced!" Crystal cackles, downing the rest of her wine before swigging from the bottle.
Nothing to be said for that, you suppose. You look down your glass at the bubbles , then shrug and finish yours off as well.
Chapter 6: Of Qunari and Blissful Ignorance.
Take out what you will of it.
It’s late- the kitchen’s stopped serving food.
And you’re the least... inebriated. At some point, the other mercenary group joins your table-or did you join theirs- and convinces Crystal to try this Qunari drink called Maraas-lok. As predicted by your eleventh-hour reasoning, things have gone steadily downhill from there. If you were interested in appearing poised or serious in front of the other company that is.
There’s an elven woman slowly inching her way towards you, longer blonde hair brushed back over her shoulders where it hasn’t been shaved to the skull. You eye her warily, leaning back into your seat and sip your drink. It must be your fifth or sixth glass of wine by now. It’s a comfortable haze-a solid blanket of laziness covering you.
“So, you’re a mage?” The woman pipes up, slurring a bit. Her voice makes you snap your neck towards her. This Dalish woman sounds almost Scottish, if you could place the accent. Strangely masculine. Almost like the elven man from before who’d given you the vambraces. You tilt your head to the side, more so the alcohol talking than body language. The woman looks a bit unsure but sits down next to you, pouring herself a glass from your bottle of cheap wine. “My name’s Dalish, i’m sure you’ve heard? Yes, and i’m Dalish too. Both. Yes. You are…?”
You roll your head back to stare at the ceiling, debating. Tell her your name? Sure, fuck it, why not . You lazily roll forward, grabbing the steak knife from the table. Paper, paper...nothing there. Looking a tad bearily at her, you make a slashing motion at your throat with the hand not holding the knife, then miming for something to write with.
“Oh! Creators, I thought you were just a quiet one like Grim! Um, ir abelas .” Dalish’s ears beet red and twitching, her hand goes somewhere in the folds of her clothes. Pulling out a small clutch, Dalish fumbles with the twine clasp before slapping a tiny scrap of paper down and a quill no bigger than your pinky finger down.
In your shaky, tipsy hand you write out Briar. Absolutely no last name. Even if it weren’t for the cold wash sinking into your bones. Not magically cold, but you can count on one hand you’ve introduced yourself by that.
Dalish nudges your elbow holding the quill, face concerned. It makes her facial tattoos warp a little, like they don’t encourage sympathy. What a strange thought. You stare blankly past her at the spectacle in front of you, sliding her the paper. What good mood you had is gone, leaving numbness.
‘In the tales of old, it was dangerous to give anyone your true name. The Fae could use it against you, control you by it. So be careful when giving your name to someone you don’t know.’ Your father had told you as a child, reading softly from a battered copy of fairy tales.
You snap back to reality feeling a touch unhinged, immediately looking for Crystal. There! Next to a dark-haired man, clinking steins together. You ignore Dalish’s soft call to push yourself upright from the chair. Adrenaline your fuel for maintaining your spotty balance. You pass by Sergey and Wood talking to another dwarf, noting their horrified expressions to the stranger’s excitement.
“..Got it, I swear! Just a few more ingredients, maybe some Drakestone…”
“No wonder the Shaperate…”
You clap on hand on both their shoulders before sneaking behind Crystal. On your tiptoes you barely reach her shoulder, peering at the man before you.
Young, tanned or of a different ethnicity, and handsome as all get-out. No wonder Crystal had gone to him. He stops speaking for a moment to look back towards Dalish at your table. To his credit he recovers quickly, shifting his mug to the other hand to hold out his for a handshake.
“Crystal was telling me you found the spiders down south.” he opens, blinking and dropping his hand when you don’t take it. Crystal chuckles, pulling you close to her side with an arm.
“She takes a bit to warm up to people she doesn’t know, no worries. My dear, meet the Lieutenant of the Bull’s Chargers, Cremisius Aclassi. Goes by Krem with a K. Krem, meet our Lieutenant…” She trails off, looking down at you with a furrow between her brows. You nod, grimacing a bit and jerking your head towards the now empty table. “...Briar. She’s our close-quarter mage.” You nod politely at him, stealing Crystal’s stein and swigging a mouthful in.
Only to have your eyes water. What do they serve here, Everclear? You give a respectful, slightly nauseous glace at Krem as you swallow, mouth hanging a bit open afterwards.
“That’s Chief’s favorite drink, comes from the Anderfels. I heard they make it from a type of desert plant. Hope you didn’t have anything important to do tomorrow, Ma’am.” He jokes, the humor lighting up his eye.
Holy shit, Krem was right.
You don’t even know-or can guess- what time it is. You come back to some miracle of coherent awareness barely, slowly and deliberately giving back the stein you’d been holding. Half empty red liquid reflects from the mug, smelling like spiced wine. Sergey is to your left, asleep at the table and snoring. You twist your head to the side, sighing at the popping of your neck. The blond, quiet man from before stares at you. There’s perhaps a hint of curiosity in his gaze. No idea. Too drunk to make sure. You let your head fall into a palm, leaning on the table and looking around. Crystal is standing but swaying next to Krem, looking at the card game being played on the big table.
Atai and Wood sit across from the large Qunari, giggling to each other as they steal glances at the others’ hands. It’s nice to see them all relaxed if for a moment. You feel a pang when you think of Kiara and Watson. You try very hard these days to not think about Kiara too much. Good woman.
Eyes fogged over in memory, you startle a bit when the blond man sits down next to you. He grabs your other hand, pressing a small sweet roll into it. You hum, smile twitching on your face before biting into it. As predicted-warm but dry. The man stares at you a while longer before grunting, still holding eye contact as you chew.
Uh. Was there...a protocol for this? Random man stares at you after giving you food. More news at seven. Weird shem. The roll is good though, when you finish it and push your mug at him. He eyes the contents with a raised eyebrow and pushes it back to you.
That’s...fair. You grit your teeth at the slight nausea climbing up your throat. You will not throw up, you will not throw up in front of everyone. You brace against the table for a moment, fist pressed against your mouth. Ugh. In an abstract way, at least your home world and this one had things in common. As long as people desired to get utterly trashed while imbibing in dubious liquids, you could eke out survival here.
A large shadow looms behind you, last-minute observational skills tracking. There’s only one person in this blasted tavern big enough for that. You really needed to pay more attention- how long had you two been sitting there? Your eyes cut to the side at the silent man, glaring through your discomfort. Bait and switch, much?
“Heard your group came back with a bunch of spider blood. We’ve got a medic here who can teach you how to make a salve for it. Name’s The Iron Bull. Article included.” You can feel the rumble from here. You turn around halfway, keeping them both in sight now. Face of steel, face of steel. This is easy.
Nope. You hold up a finger, trying your hardest to look collected and calm. Sliding out of the chair backwards, you ruffle Sergey’s hair as you weave your way towards Atai. Flicking your eyes behind you to the hulking mass that is The Iron Bull, you start poking his shoulder. Atai looks at your slightly frazzled face before peering behind you.
It’s not graceful or smooth, but he stands up quickly to follow you back to your table, arm wrapped around your shoulder.
“What does he want?”
You shrug, spelling out ‘S-p-i-d-e-r p-o-t-i-o-n’ with your hands.
Atai looks bereaved, taking a half-step in front of you when you both get back to the table. You have to physically bite back the smirk it brings. Atai plants his feet wide and lets the silence grow for a moment.
“Apologies, The Iron Bull.” Ain’t that a trip, hearing his formal voice. Means that Atai is either respectful or politely suspicious. Probably the latter. “My lieutenant prefers a translator to prevent...misunderstandings.” From behind him you snatch back the mug of wine and sip at it, uneasy between them. You set the glass down after a hearty pull and crack your neck again to disguise the renewed nausea.
You let your fingers start to fly, thanking The Iron Bull for the entertainment and warm welcome. Did his team encounter any deserters? The spider ichor salve would be appreciated as long as the medic themself volunteered to aide. Atai tracks the snark between words warm welcome, entertainment.
Atai gives you a blank stare equally reflecting your own.
You spell ‘W-h-a-t-? F-u-n-n-y-!’
“Ms. Briar was thanking you for the camaraderie tonight, and asked if you had encountered any deserters from the Civil War lately. About the potion, she appreciates if the medic is amenable to sparing the time.”
Ugh. Close enough at least. The Iron Bull peers down at you, the smallest hint of a smile you’ve ever seen.
‘Still don’t like you.’ You sign again with smiling at The Iron Bull. It’s ASL and finger-sign only your crew know. As far as you know, only few boast about knowing sign language. You’d be hard pressed to teach anyone what you’re really saying.
Chapter 7: Audentis Fortuna iuvat
Pieces slowly coming together, and new conversation partners.
Thanks to everyone in the Discord group- y'all know who you are.
There is a trend to waking up these days.
Not a good one.
A effervescent tingle in her fingers, phantom water running by her feet. Chimes in the barest scope of her hearing. Her mind jumbled, trying to remember what she dreamt of. A glimpse of a black tower rising in a green ocean. The scent of cold mist. Strangest yet, a sensation of absorbing.
Watson’s voice dim and panicked- ‘ Where are we, Briar, where is everyone?’
Briar stares at the dawn, Golden in all its glory. A split second where the images doubles, the afterimage burned into her brain, a strange sheen of green to it.
She cannot quite move, not yet. The weakness of her grip is too much to lift the blanket around her waist.
The sun crests the horizon. Cold, weak light touches her brow, pinprick pupils focused on the star.
Something is wrong, Briar knows it in her bones, where the magic in her chest is aching and grinding. Something not about any of them. The error lies in the grass underneath her. The air. Too thin, too lacking.
Everything around, above, below is lacking. The trees are hollow for the souls resting inside, peripheral sight is dripping emerald, pine, too many shades of green to count. Specters and spectators all around, just fucking staring all the time, forms sinew, swanlike.
Ground spinning around her, shuddering from side to side. She tries to focus on the empty eye sockets of a wraith not ten feet from her, their hand outstretched as if to touch. There are no eyes to peer into but respect pours nonetheless, pity and pride both in the
“Briar, you good? You were shaking.” Wood murmurs in her ear, only partially distracting her from the gray hand of Despair. Her eyes cannot blink, transfixed. Wide in both internal horror and wonder. Awe. Dimly, she knows what she sees cannot exist
Something in her trembles in expectation, some of it in glee. Wander, wait, watch.
Is she...talking to herself? Is this happening? The voice is not- it’s not a voice. It’s a thrum. Maybe the- the other part of her?
Took you long enough.
I am dead. A memory, remnant inside you.
Forget me not.
I am here with you, always.
Mourn me not.
I am here with you, always.
“Briar, sweetie- you’re starting to scare me sometimes.”
If you’re scared...then I’m terrified.
Atai accompanies her to The Yellow Feather a day later after you witness Despair, splattered in deserter blood. Boots squelch with some unholy combination of water, sweat and blood. Atai huffs, dark hand slightly sunburned around his staff.
“Makes you miss the old times, doesn’t it?”
You hum, adjusting your hand around the man you’ve been dragging behind. Some Orlesian bastard, caught interfering with allied supply lines. Gagged for the majority of the trip after the first ‘ox-man” comment.
Unfortunately, the warrant was for Alive.
You run an idle finger across Atai’s cheekbone, relishing in the disgusted sound their captive makes in the background. If only he’d take his shirt off- they’d all see the dark bruises left by Crystal and you.
It takes but a few more minutes to reach the Mercs’ Plaza, both Atai and you smiling gently at the children who run by. It seems, these days, that the townspeople look to mercenaries as a source of protecting rather than thugs. A thought that darkens your brow for a moment, somber eyes tracking the faint tips of a young girl’s ears.
Your consciousness shifts for a moment as your vision flickers green. Usually, the somber voice of your mental companion only offers tidbits to what happens around you. Today is a change of pace, perhaps one you don’t dislike. She-for she gave no name-grabs onto your thoughts.
Half-bloods do not usually show elven characteristics. One of the People, barely. Most of my people would not give her shelter unless her ears were more obvious. Perhaps if she possessed magic. What is- that thought- phenotype? What do you mean, they should be a mix? Let me take a little look in your memories…
Let me know if you do not understand.
Atai leaves the rope to you as the three of you approach the entrance. The roof is painted a dirt brown, walls only a few shades darker. No flower beds line the building, no children or locals come any closer than the request board. A place of death-dealing, not one of life. Reeking of iron and sweat, those who come in and out of the building pay no attention to the two of you standing outside. Your captive says not a word to you besides huffing.
The longer you stand still, the more pungent the smell becomes. Humans, as you have learned are truly fortuitous they cannot smell like Atai and you can.
You watch disinterested as the human finally wiggles free from the gag, mouth red and raw, clear liquid oozing from sores left untreated.
“So, you filthy knife-ear, as soon as I am free, I’ll be sending a letter describing the disgusting manners you and that ox-man provided me. In detail. Sleeping without a tent, hard rations, vulgar displays of your Maker-damned magic , you’ll be lucky if the Chavilers don’t lop off your heads on sight. Your ox-man Qunari first, hm? You’re pretty enough for a knife-ear whore, maybe you can beg them enough to kill you before they fuck -”
When Atai finally returns to the small courtyard, he peers down at you. Roots cover the unconscious noble from toe to neck, binding him to the ground without a inch to move. Red rose blooms bigger than your fist shiver in the faint breeze, sickly sweet aroma creeping outwards. Surrounding mercenaries snicker, patting her on the shoulder as they move by, one or two spit on the noble.
One mercenary in particular- a small dwarven woman with black hair and a Carta tattoo under her eye- slaps Atai on the back heartily.
“‘Ere man was talkin’ shite, threaten’ you and yers. Gotta love me a woman who acts first, asks lat’r.”
Atai sighs as he walks towards you, amusement showing in the crinkle of his eyes. “Briar, sweet Briar, light of my life and joy in my bones, ya gotta stop scaring the humans. Even if- yes, I know he probably started it- even if they’re rude.” He stops in front of you, nudging the Orlesian.
‘How much money for job?’ Atai watches you sign job , palm out with only your pinky up, then flipping the hand to show off the nails of your first four fingers. It’s charming when he does pay attention, mimicking the sign a few times until you hum it’s correct.
“We have enough to get Crystal and I new pants and a jacket, and when the others are done with that foraging mission we should have enough to get that new tent- the oval marquee- the rest goes to the usual stuff. I was thinking of sticking around for a minute to see if there’s any healing to be done….”
You listen to him ramble, content as of one the Plaza’s men come collect the noble, sinking the roots back into the ground as you kick a little dust onto his face. You’ll both stay in the town tonight as the Yellow Feather, see if any new missions pop up tomorrow.
Be careful. This Conclave approaches. Something stirs in the blood of all.
Can you not be fucking ominous for one day?
You’ll see what I speak of soon.
Guess that’s a no, then.
The Iron Bull, Grim, Atai, yourself.
An uncomfortable silence as the four of you drink, though you refuse to fidget. A quarter pound of beef, sparsely seasoned. Atai caves after the third bite, face sour as he rummages through his rucksack. You let yourself grin at that, pushing your plate away. Grim almost sighs in relief, nudging his away as well. The Iron Bull merely watches Atai as he brings out a small vial of pepper.
“While I am positive the chef has done their best to provide suitable nourishment- I would rather not eat unseasoned food unless I had to.” Ground peppercorn sprinkled carefully over the slice on his plate, then hands it to you. You can feel The Iron Bull’s staring at your hands, smooth from barely using a staff. When done, you return it to Atai and pull out coarsely ground mustard from your personal stash. After gingerly shaking some out, you hand it to Grim with a raised eyebrow.
“You’d let him have some, Briar?” Atai asks with a bit of surprise, munching away at his food now.
It is a quiet, calm night. The moons overhead call you both less strongly than before to home. The wind’s whisper across the surrounding plains do not make Atai nervous. When you all finish your meal and retire, The Iron Bull pays the tab for your recipe of spiced bread- apparently something he’d been missing.
As Atai and you lie down for the night, you curl up on his chest, under the soft magelights floating about and around you two. Fresh from the wash, the lingering scent of clove from Atai comforts you. He slips to sleep first, leaving you to contemplate the chasm in your chest that never knew fullness.
What is wrong with your magic? You notice that magic comes easier when far from towns, when you call the earth it comes as a lover, full of unknown expectation but patience. Watching the blood you spill leak into the soil, metal taste in your throat.
Magic that was never yours to begin with, but gifted to this body. Roses and thorns, roots breaking the ground like water, following a different flow. Staring into the Wilds, voices in tongues you might never learn.
If you are lucky, you will never know what they say to us.
What did you think of tonight, dear companion?
A friendly game is still a game, you two are not friends with them quite yet.
When did it become a game to be kind to others?
You can not lie to me, or yourself, woman. We elves know how to spot a predator.
Two players-you and I-two different games we can keep track of. Twice the risk, twice the bounty. Twice the gold and twice the glory. Twice the gore and a chance to change lore.
A-ha! Fen’harel’s Teeth, you love to play games. Might as well help you. You perish and I will be forgotten. I refuse that future, so we shall win .
My mother once told me a quote, translated from an ancient language. ‘Fortune favors the bold.’
Far be it from me to turn down such advice.