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Zor

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  1. Jowan [ what about elias? ] “Oh,” he says, dropping his eyes out of shame and to avoid seeing Duke’s strained expression. He feels like he’s made a terrible error -- a single comment and Duke’s levity is gone. The atmosphere was too fragile for such a question, and he should have seen that coming. “Ferelden hasn’t had a war in nearly thirty years. Well, unless you count the Blight. You probably should, but I wasn’t… there for it.” He stops and wrings his fingers, unsure of whether he said the right thing or not. Babbling about tangentially related things was rarely the way to go, but it seemed wrong to stay silent. Sharing information of his own seems the least he could do in response to bringing up what were clearly painful memories, but maybe it’s just insensitive. Maybe he should have apologized, or… Nodding in response to Duke’s explanation, he runs a finger along one of the markings of the brooch. It’s a bit disappointing to learn that Duke doesn’t know how the brooch works, but Jowan could say the same about his knowledge of enchantments. “I don’t really understand how the Tranquil make enchantment items either. There’s lyrium -- obviously -- but the specifics never stuck in my mind,” he admits. “So I guess we’re in the same boat, there.” Duke’s eyes suddenly narrow; Jowan nearly turns to look behind himself, but Duke is looking directly at him. He murmurs something -- about Elias again, but it’s a complete non-sequitur. Jowan frowns and his eyebrows knit together in concern. “...Is something wrong?” Fear flutters in his chest, and he tries to suppress it, but why would Duke look at him like that? With a hint of desperation he combs through what he's recently said, but he can't think of anything that would elicit this kind of reaction.
  2. Anders [ to the castle at last ] Anders let out a huff, almost offended. Fleas were a common ailment in Darktown; the filthy, overcrowded conditions and poor hygiene made them impossible to permanently eradicate, no matter how many times he prescribed deathroot creams or cleansed his clinic. Even now, the mention of fleas brought an itch to his scalp. “I don’t have fleas,” he said, reaching up to scratch the back of his head. He didn’t share Keaton’s enthusiasm for the size of the castle. It was far larger than anything in Darktown, but it was small compared to the Viscount’s Keep. At least Keaton didn’t seem upset anymore. He still wasn’t interested in any petting, but he hadn’t been able to help but feel a little bad about how hurt Keaton had looked. “...You’re upset about it being clean?” He took a surreptitious sniff, and failed to notice anything out of the ordinary. The room wasn’t even that clean; the floor was partially covered with dust in places. “Did you expect mushroom-covered corpses and shattered wine bottles?” As he spoke, he looked around the room. There was no sign of another person in the hall, and the wide, echoing space made him uneasy, as though they were trespassing and about to be attacked for it.
  3. Jowan [ distractions ] It’s a surprise when Duke abruptly shifts postures, but Jowan can’t help but think that this suits him better. Duke is a natural leader, surely, but there’s something beautiful about seeing the harsh lines leave his shoulders and spine. Conscious of the dwindling space between them, Jowan nearly takes a step back; he’s always preferred to have his own space. But it’s… not uncomfortable, being so close to Duke. He supposes that he can oblige Duke’s desire if Duke wants to be closer, and if he happens to enjoy the proximity as well that’s fine. “Truly a scourge everywhere,” he says, chuckling lightly at Duke’s dismay. He falls silent as Duke begins to search for the cube. There’s a wealth of information contained in Duke’s casual mutterings, and he finds himself struggling to commit it all to memory. Who is Elias? Duke must know him well, to speak of him like this. “War?” The word slips out of his mouth. He’d meant to wait -- they were supposed to be on a mission, not talking about their pasts, but when has he been able to stay on task? It’s just -- a war sounds like a pretty major thing for Duke to have been involved in. Duke pins something to his chest, and Jowan appreciates that he was careful enough to avoid stabbing him through the fabric. He raises his hand to inspect the brooch, curious, and his fingers brush against Duke’s. Sunlight glints dully off the curls of the metal -- it’s beautiful. Despite Duke’s claim that it is enchanted, he can’t feel the ripples in the Fade that lyrium creates. It had to have been enchanted in some other way. “How does it-” he begins, but he’s asked enough for now. “How do you use it?” He grits his teeth and bows his head; that sounded ungrateful, damn it. “Thank you,” he says, softer, and he hopes that Duke will understand. There’s a pause in the conversation, and Jowan is suddenly aware of how close they’re standing. He opens his mouth, feeling that maybe he should say something, and he isn’t sure whether to be relieved or upset when Cistina’s voice frees him from the responsibility. She sounds unsure of how to describe whatever she felt, and perhaps frightened. He shifts nervously from foot to foot, once again concerned that traveling to the castle isn’t the best of plans. Getting chased by people with nails in their eyes didn’t sound like a fun weekend plan, but then, this was what he’d signed up for. Dynarst’s description of the castle -- Kredik Shaw? -- sounded even worse, but he frowns. “Surely some other people live there- servants, at least. I can’t imagine that this Lord Ruler keeps up with the dusting on his own. It must be approachable somehow.” The part about the Lord Ruler never changing in appearance was a bit more worrisome, but minor details.
  4. Jowan [ how did we get dragged into this ] Jowan's breath catches in his throat. The touch of Duke's fingertips upon his face sends the sensation of electric jolts down his skin, but it's Duke's eyes that capture his attention. Their gazes lock, and then-- --Duke drops his hand and turns away, and Jowan can breathe again. He wishes to think about what happened, but -- later. Now is neither the time nor place, and he needs time to process it. As it is, he's distracted enough to nearly miss what Duke says to the guard. Duke is impressive, even from behind. His voice is firm in a way that is almost inspiring -- the voice of a leader. It's so unlike the normal lightness that Jowan has come to associate with Duke, and it makes him wonder about Duke's past. What had he done before joining the X-Dreamers that had taught him to speak in such a way? What was his world like? Perhaps he'll get the chance to ask, once the mission is over and done with, but he has little idea how. Pasts were sensitive subjects, ones best brought up at the right time, and Jowan knows that his ability to identify the right time is poor. Normally he wouldn't be so bothered by this, but... he doesn't want to mess this up. The guard offers useful information, but Jowan is relieved to see the guard turn away and leave. Some tightness remains in his shoulders and the adrenaline running through his veins keeps him alert, but this is normal. He can't remember the last time he was truly able to relax. Somewhat hesitantly, he takes a few steps forward so that he is standing beside Duke and Cistina rather than behind them. He doesn't want to be left out of the conversation, but the shame burning in him almost convinces him that he deserves to be. Trying to convince them to run from something that hadn't even been a threat -- wasn't that a sign that he couldn't control his emotions well enough? That his past held too tight a hold on his mind? He can't understand how Duke can put so much trust in him. Following Duke's gaze, he lifts his head to see what must be a castle of sorts, though he can only tell because of its size and grandeur. The only thing that he could compare it to, Redcliffe Castle, had a few stocky towers built into its walls. This castle seemed to almost be made of numerous, spear-like spires. He could only guess that the spires had been built to convey power rather than to provide a defensible position. He considers arguing, but Duke had already made it clear that he would insist on trying to help the people. Whether killing the god would actually help -- Jowan has his doubts, but the castle has to be as good a place to get information as any. He glances towards Cistina, curious about whether she'll object to Duke's proposal. She doesn't look pleased, and he can't blame her. "Those... cube things. Pascal said that they can be used to contact the others. Shouldn't you tell them first?" He closes his eyes for a moment, hoping that he isn't making a mistake. "Lead the way."
  5. Anders [ Near the Gateway ] Keaton’s appearance was still strange, but Anders had to admit that he felt slightly more comfortable when there wasn’t a very large dog a few feet away from him. He wasn’t concerned about Keaton being dangerous anymore; it was just that he had some rather large teeth. His experiences with large teeth over the years hadn't been the best. “What- no,” he said, taking a small step back from Keaton. He could have sworn that he’d said “let’s stop wasting time petting each other” and not “let’s all pet each other”, so how had Keaton managed to misinterpret his words so much? It wasn’t that he was adverse to being pet or anything. In all honesty, it was quite pleasant, but only when it was someone he trusted. He had no desire to shift into a small, vulnerable form at the moment, especially because the last time he’d done so he’d been chased. “I’ll pass,” he said, eyeing Keaton warily in case the wolfskin tried to continue approaching. He raked his fingers through his already battle-disheveled hair, pulling a few more strands free from the leather tie. He was tempted to point out the flaws of entering a strange castle, but he didn’t have any other suggestions. “To the mysterious castle that we know nothing about it is, I suppose.”
  6. Jowan [ if you’re so sure ] Jowan remains unconvinced. How could the situations be so different? There is always a limit. The idea that there isn’t, that one can do the impossible just by having something to fight for, is almost insulting. Was fighting for Lily no enough? He’s tempted to take back his faltered apology and tell Duke how naive he is. But maybe Duke is made of something different. Maybe he’s the strange one for being unwilling to take a stand. Always take the easy way out, right? Answer the enticing call of blood magic. Run instead of accepting fate. Be stupid enough to believe that the simple task of emptying a vial would be enough to fix things. His own attempts had hardly gotten good results. His eyes widen in surprise at Duke’s offer. Why, when he’d been nothing but disparaging? It’s a chance to make things better, and he feels as though he should accept it, but the words catch in his throat. Duke’s eyes are too trusting, and Jowan finds himself unable to meet them. “I-” He wants to pretend that he isn’t worried about dying. The cause of freedom should be greater than his own meagre life, shouldn’t it? But the thought of going against an army and a god… it’s more than he expected. The red glow of the sun and the smell of ash makes everything feel far more real than it did in the twilight of the Gateway, where he had agreed to go on the mission. "The people will not victimized if the justice is swift and sweet. The fall of a king is a universal symbol of freedom across the land, no matter where." A short, humorless laugh escapes his lips. The situations are different, he knows. His knowledge of politics is lacking, but he is aware that King Cailan wasn’t hated by the public, no rebellion had been lead against him, and Ferelden had been facing a Blight when Loghain took his place. Even so, Duke’s words are odd. In most cases, the death of a ruler weakens its nation. Issues of succession are common enough, but even when succession is smooth there is a period of time when the new ruler adjusts to their position. What did that have to do with freedom? It causes Jowan to wonder what plans Duke has for afterwards, or if he even has any. Creating a power vacuum wouldn't help the people. Before he can consider speaking his thoughts a harsh voice cuts through the air, and like a startled rabbit he freezes. The voice itself is not familiar, but the rough, arrogant tone is uncomfortably so. Dread pools in his stomach as he raises his eyes enough to see the approaching figure. The guard’s armor is unlike that of the Templars, but his squared shoulders and heavy stride are remarkably similar. Jowan grasps his injured forearm. The pain, and with it the knowledge that he is not helpless, is grounding. It is with practiced ease that he does nothing to help Dynarst. Those that draw the ire of the Templars are ignored, and only later comforted in the safety of their dorms or a hidden alcove. They all knew that. But Duke is not so constrained, and the guard’s fist collides with a barrier. It was a strong punch, and Jowan’s hand rises to his cheek to sooth the ghostly pain of metal on flesh. Instead of relief when the guard is tossed aside he feels the overwhelming desire to flee and hide. His hand shoots forward to grasp Duke’s wrist. “We have to leave,” he says, dilated pupils darting back and forth. His breathing is quick and shallow. No. He is no longer a child. The guard is not a Templar, and there is no need for exaggerated reactions. They are not helpless. He squeezes his eyes shut, exhales, and holds his breath for a moment. “I mean,” he says, words carefully measured, as he opens his eyes to stare at a cobblestone. “That more might be coming. We should try to avoid getting caught up in that. Can’t take down a king and find the anchor while fighting city guards, right?” He doesn’t let go of Duke’s wrist. If anything, his grip tightens.
  7. Jowan [ why do you assume that you can? ] Duke’s smile is so bright and sure. In a different time, Jowan might have believed him, and even now he’s tempted. A fire burns in his eyes, and Jowan doesn’t think that he’s seen anything quite like them before. They’re entrancing, and the confidence is infectious. Looking at Duke, he can almost feel like anything’s possible. Something holds him back. The little bit of doubt that kept him from trying to escape until his life was threatened. The feeling deep in his gut that convinced him to stay silent about the blood magic, to hide his scars from the only person that would do anything for him. The status quo doesn’t change so easily, not when hundreds of years of history tells you that nothing can change. As much as he agrees with her words, he’s glad that Cistina’s anger isn’t directed at him. What happened to her to make her so emotionally attached to the situation? He imagines Duke visiting Ferelden. Would he be so quick to support a rebellion there? He thinks so, if five minutes here is enough. The way that the peasants speak and act is familiar. Some of the apprentices were defiant until the end, but other bore the same look as the peasants whenever a Templar looked too closely at them. Missing meals was hardly uncommon, either. It happened. Life moved on. Duke wouldn’t be able to understand, not after exchanging a few words with a mage. He wouldn’t understand the dangers of demons, or how much sway the Chantry had over the people, or how many mages and elves would fight to support their oppressors. Jowan has read enough history books to know that the Chantry almost always gets their way. Is this world any different? He doesn’t know. Perhaps it is more similar to Duke’s world than his own, but he can’t count on that. Who are they to think that things can be changed so easily? How can Duke even think about trying to fight someone that the locals deem to be a god? Duke is strong now, but Jowan remembers him bleeding and pale. “Oh, so you expect to just fix everything yourself, then? Kill this noble - this god - and everything’s fine? You’re already wounded, you can’t just fight an entire army. We don’t know anything about this place- maybe they'll just be replaced by something worse! What’s the point if you die?” Duke’s face falls, and Jowan realizes that he made a mistake. Andraste, he’d meant to comfort Duke, but the words that had poured from his mouth were scathing. “I- no, I didn’t-” he says, trying to apologize, but Duke’s expression is already one of determination. The fire is back in his eyes, and he laughs. What if Duke is right? Neria- she hadn’t been alone, but according to the stories he’d heard from his cells Ferelden would have been destroyed without her. She was always strong, but he'd never expected her to go so far. Duke almost reminds him of her. Their eyes were different -- hers were always more like ice than fire, calculating and unfazeable -- but they held the same unfailing will. Maybe he’ll just ruin his relationship with another hero, he thinks, and he suddenly feels very small and unsure. It's an unpleasant feeling, one that he knows and hates.
  8. Jowan [ this won't work ] Jowan’s breath catches in his throat at the touch of Duke’s gloved hand on his own. He considers tugging his hand away, but he can’t seem to make his body move. It has simply been too long since the last time he felt any human contact. When was the last time he casually brushed against someone’s fingers? The last time someone touched him without the intent to harm or control? Lily, and Neria in an entirely different way. It feels like a lifetime ago, and in a way it was. He convinces himself that the blush rising up his cheeks is because of nothing more. He feels some measure of relief as Cistina’s commanding words fill the air, even as he involuntarily tightens his grip on Duke’s shoulder and lowers his eyes. Maybe she can salvage the situation. Duke doesn’t see it that way, apparently. Jowan should have known, but he hadn’t expected him to throw away Cistina’s attempts in such a dramatic way. Duke removes his hand, and Jowan lets his own linger on Duke's shoulder a second longer, missing the warmth. Upon realizing this, he snatches it away as if it'd been burned. What is Duke trying to do? He can’t- no, he can’t really think that he could or should start a rebellion. There couldn’t be a chance of it working; there never was. They aren’t Andraste. That aside, they neither have the time nor the duty to get involved. There’s nothing they can do for the people but retrieve the anchors. The plight of the people is awful and he sympathizes, but… he’d been told about the rebellion at Kinloch, in rather graphic detail. He was lucky to not have been there, in a way. He’s not sure what to do in response. Every word that falls out of Duke’s mouth makes it more obvious that they don’t belong in the city, but following Cistina’s lead would only make things worse. Unless they managed to convince the people that Duke was mad or joking, but he didn’t want to do that. “What are you doing?” he settles on whispering at Duke, looking at him with wide and pleading eyes. Maybe there’s a chance that he can make him think and they can get out of this situation.
  9. Jowan [ ruining Duke’s fun ] He tries to return Duke’s reassuring smile, but he’s unsure of how successful he manages to be. Most of the others seem to know what they’re supposed to be doing; the female rogue (Lara was her name, right?) was already scaling a building. He didn’t even have one of the strange cubes that had been handed out, not that he would’ve been able to figure out how to use one. Perhaps he was to just wait and watch while the veterans decide on the best course of action. Waiting and watching was difficult, however, when he saw Duke’s attempts at speaking with the locals. The man that he had approached shrank back in a way that was painfully familiar. It would have been fine had Duke left it at that; the people appeared unwilling to start a confrontation, fortunately, despite how obviously out of place the group was. Jowan’s skin prickles with each pair of eyes that fall upon the group, and he bites at his lip. He wants to trust that Duke knows what he’s doing. They desperately needed useful information, and it sounds like Duke was getting that. Duke had done missions like this before, and he hadn’t. It was just… He’d had a lot of time to think. Months, actually. There hadn’t been much else to do. So he’d spent a lot of time thinking about getting caught and how he could have possibly avoided it. Sometimes he’d wondered how he’d ever been foolish enough to think that escaping permanently was ever possible, and sometimes he’d felt as though he’d been inches from freedom before getting caught. It didn’t really matter either way, not anymore. They aren’t going to be caught and turned over to Templars, but he can’t shake the sick feeling in his gut. Their clean clothes already make them stick out like sore thumbs, and Duke’s persistent questioning does nothing to help. He reaches out and rests his hand lightly on Duke’s shoulder, heart beating with the hope that he isn’t overstepping his bounds and harming the mission. “Duke,” he murmurs, eyes flickering between Duke and the townspeople. “Maybe we should leave them alone.” Part of him expects Duke to give another one of his disarming smiles- he seems so fearless and comfortable. He'll trust Duke if Duke's really sure that everything is fine, but he needs the reassurance.
  10. Anders [ Near the Gateway ] Anders had no idea what a “lycanrock” was, nor did he know why someone would ask to stick their hands by such large teeth. It wasn’t as if Keaton had tried to hurt him or anything, but he was clearly able to deal some damage if he so wished. Rayla hadn’t even spent more than five minutes with Keaton, so Anders was beginning to question her self-preservation instincts. He stiffened as Rayla reached down to her hips, but she didn’t withdraw a weapon. Instead, she pulled out some sort of red, box-like object. She showed the box to Keaton - apparently there was a drawing of a lycanroc on it? A swell of irritation rose up within him, and he wasn’t entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because he was sore from fighting, or because he had barely slept in the past few days (hardly unusual), or because he was jealous and hadn’t been able to pet a cat in months. Unlikely. Keaton seemed more dog-like than anything, and Barkspawn made sure that he did more than enough dog petting. The lack of action or meaningful discussion began to make Justice restless, and Anders couldn’t disagree. “Sorry to interrupt,” he said, returning his staff to his back and crossing his arms. “But I feel as though some things should be higher on our priority list than petting each other. Like finding out where we are.” Truth be told, Anders didn’t have much of a plan either. He still didn’t want to get caught up in another world-saving organization, but it didn’t look as though there was anywhere else to go. Picking a direction and walking seemed to be the only option, but that plan didn’t have a very high probability of success. Maybe he'd survive blowing up the Chantry, then die of starvation out in the wilderness.
  11. Teryn [ let's fight ] Teryn narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to reply, but she was cut off by Monica’s interruption. How rude; she wasn’t finished with the snake. Blood rushed through her ears, pounding down to her fingertips and spreading adrenalin throughout her body. A battle of words was still a battle, and Teryn’s veins sang with the prospect of a fight. If Monica wanted to get between them, then Teryn was happy to switch targets. “Why should I?” she said, matching Monica’s glare. It was not a refusal, but a question. Her voice maintained a hint of stubbornness and anger, but it was dominated by curiosity. She wouldn’t mind helping if Monica was able to give her an acceptable reason to - they were both fighting the Entity, after all - but she wasn’t interested in following commands. “I have activities to do also.” It was mostly a lie, given how she hadn’t been doing anything before, but that wasn’t the point. She tried to keep her gaze trained on Monica, but her eyes betrayed her and flicked around the room. It was a useful habit for keeping aware of one's surroundings, but it was less useful in situations such as this. The snake was doing some kind of inverted sit-ups, which hardly made any sense. From the ease at which she moved her heavily-muscled body, Teryn doubted that she needed to work on her abdomen any more. Was she trying to show off? It wouldn’t be that surprising - K’lee’s mind was strange - but if anything, Teryn was amused. The natural abilities of one’s species were hardly impressive.
  12. Teryn [ rude bird ] Teryn was bored. She didn’t know where Ryo or Basil were. Well, that was a lie. Basil was probably hiding in his room again, but the bedrooms were too small for her to want to spend more time than necessary in them. Besides, he deserved his privacy. As much as Teryn wished to spend as much time as possible with her friends, she was willing to keep her distance if that’s what they wanted. They deserved some space. Absently, she drew her hand through the air. A trail of snowflakes followed it, and she felt the air around her drop by a few degrees. It was better for training rooms to be kept cold so that people wouldn’t overheat, and a bit of practice never hurt. Hearing a noise outside the room, she cocked her head to face the door. It was a heavy sound, so unlike the footsteps of everyone else, and Teryn knew whom it was immediately. Without missing a beat she extended her legs, launching her body into the air. There wasn’t much space to hide in the training room, but a rack of practice weapons was enough to conceal her slim form. Her wings flared and her feathers caught the air, changing the direction of her movement and letting her land behind the rack with only a click of claws. She was rather proud of how quickly and silently she’d managed to pull off the whole maneuver. The snake entered a second later, her heavy body dragging itself across the ground. Teryn wrinkled her nose; she couldn’t stand K’lee, and had hidden for a reason. Her entire demeanor was creepy- the way that she looked at James when she thought that no one was watching, the evasive way she refused to answer when prodded about her past, her bloodthirstiness. It wasn’t right. What even was a lamia? Teryn was hardly a stranger to non-humans, but she’d never heard of them before. It was difficult to hold back a snicker as K’lee gave up after a single failed attempt at penetrating her target. It seemed typical of her to quit something instead of putting in the effort to actually improve. One would expect K’lee to have learned after all of this time, but instead she became angry at inanimate objects. How pathetic. When K’lee turned to leave, Teryn finally couldn’t take it anymore. A laugh, tinged by bitterness, escaped her throat. Well, the jig was up. Nothing left to lose- she’d tried to “avoid conflict with her allies” or whatever Aurelius had said. “How’s your day, K’lee?” she said, sauntering around from behind the weapon rack and unwrapping a granola bar. She put as much venom into the English words as she could without making it too obvious what she was doing. K’lee could understand Japanese (and every other language, apparently) but Teryn refused to use it with her. She didn't deserve it. “You know, you must spend more time working and effort to be strong.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. Without breaking eye contact she tore a chunk from her granola bar. She was perfectly aware that she was physically weaker than the snake, but that didn’t matter. The feeling of running your lungs ragged, of digging as deep as you can and then deeper, of blood and sweat and tears- she knew those well, and but doubted that K’lee did. They were in a war and the snake couldn’t even control her own emotions well enough to train. At least she wasn’t bored anymore.
  13. Anders [ Near the Gateway ] The girl’s reaction was strange. True, Anders hadn’t spoken aggressively, but he was used to people doing more than tense when they were threatened with a staff. Despite her stutter, she almost seemed unsurprised by the situation. At the same time, she didn’t look like someone used to combat. He wasn’t keen on the idea of just blurting his name out again, but Keaton apparently had no such reservations. Still, Anders supposed that he had to follow the wolfskin’s example. He’d dug himself into a hole by asking Rayla for her name first; it’d be rude to not reciprocate. “I’m new here as well. Anders,” he said, cautious.
  14. Anders [ Near the Gateway ] Justice didn’t become excited - he never did - but Anders could feel how focused he was on Keaton’s words, and for good reason. They could do something with this information. Find out how things worked in Keaton’s world, use it as an example, use it to prove that things didn’t have to be the way things were. They’d spent far too much time going over Tevinter’s history and politics, editing and revising every sentence. It had been so difficult to explain that it could be learned from without implying that it wasn't a deeply flawed nation. Keaton’s world didn't have that problem, unless it was harboring some dark secret that they hadn’t been told about. It wouldn’t have been surprising, as Keaton seemed more than excitable enough for it, but every nation had its downsides. They could work around it, like they’ve worked around the rumors of the Dalish exiling excess mages. It’s possible. It would help. It would bring justice. No. It wasn’t possible; he was done. Finished. He should have died, and if anyone asked, he had. He doubted that he’d be able to survive long if anyone realized, and becoming an anonymous healer was something. Plans could change, but consequences didn’t. There was no way to update his manifesto, and even if there was no one would believe him. He had nothing, no credibility, no evidence but the word of a talking dog. Do not make excuses when- Justice was interrupted by the continuation of Keaton’s speech, something that Anders was grateful for. Reasoning with Justice was nearly impossible at times; he still didn't understand the mortal need for sleep, even after years of wearing Anders' body to the bone. Anders was willing to die for the cause, but not to die senselessly. He nearly choked upon registering what Keaton had said. “A dragon!?” Images of massive red beasts, all fire and malice and teeth, filled his mind. But that couldn’t be right- they were sometimes worshipped, yes, but only a madman would call a dragon a ‘friend’. It was debatable whether Keaton was one or not, but a dragon being royalty was impossible either way. Whatever Keaton was talking about, it wasn’t what Anders thought of as a dragon. “Right- yes. Maybe if she’s strong enough - politically, that is - they wouldn’t be able to target her directly, but they’d do their best to make life difficult for her.” There was another thing that he had to ask. Maybe the answer would make Justice stop prodding him. “Keaton, does your world have any de-” “Oh hey, someone’s behind you!” He automatically whirled around and fell into a combat stance, staff in hand. After realizing whom he was threatening he felt rather ridiculous, and more so for not hearing her coming- the stranger’s stance was hardly that of a rogue. “Who are you?” He didn’t lower his staff (if only to look like he’d meant to raise it in the first place), but his tone lacked aggression.
  15. Jowan [ what even is shower? ] Having to have everything (which Duke clearly considered to be normal) was somewhat embarrassing, but he supposed that accidentally breaking something would have been worse. It was worth it to see Duke’s ridiculous attempt at mimicking the sound that the toilet made. Things became much less amusing as Duke began to pile a seemingly endless stack of products into his arms. Nobles used a large array of oils, soaps, and perfumes of course, but he’d never heard of half of the items he was holding. He had more than a few questions (such as are there supposed to be so many of these?, am I supposed to smell like a fruit salad? and oh Andraste, I don’t want Nata to kill me, the last of which wasn’t a question but seemed relevant), but he doubted that he’d be able to understand anyway. “No, no questions, thank you.” With Duke gone, Jowan was left with the delicate task of somehow placing the stack of items down without dropping them. He somehow managed, though the soap nearly skittered into the tub. Next, he stripped off his filthy robes and threw them into the hamper. He would have burned them then and there, but there wasn’t enough ventilation and he doubted that ashes would be appreciated. He climbed into the shower, lifted the ‘hot’ lever, and pulled the knob as Duke had instructed- then leapt backward and cursed parts of Andraste’s anatomy. He reached through the scalding curtain to turn up the ‘cold’ lever and was met with an icy spray. That was hardly better, but at least it left him able to safely continue adjusting the temperature. It took longer than expected- the spray hardly seemed capable of reaching a midpoint between ‘burning’ and ‘the cold side of lukewarm’. Whatever was wrong with heating a tub of water with magic or fire? It seemed far simpler. Eventually he managed to make it comfortable, by which point his eyes were half sealed shut with water and his hair was plastered to his face. Squinting, he grabbed the bar of soap. That, at least, was familiar, and he was eager to get the blood and sweat off of his skin. He hesitated when it came time to wash his back, but the wounds had long since healed. Blood and soap swirled around his feet and down the drain. He was unfamiliar with the rest of the items that Duke had left him with, but fortunately they were labeled with instructions (along with names like “Minty Breeze” and “Almond Splash” and long ingredients lists that didn’t seem to have been translated). Even the bottles themselves were made of a strange, light, flimsy material. and it took him a shamefully long time to figure out how to open some of the lids. He wasn’t sure why he would want to scrub pomegranate seeds onto his skin or what ‘toner’ was supposed to do, but he decided that it was probably polite to use them. It wasn’t unpleasant, either, at least once he figured out how to keep the stinging shampoo from flowing into his eyes. It felt as though the shower had taken longer than it should have, but it had been far too long since he’d had the luxury of bathing. He took it as a good sign that no one had started yelling through the door for him to hurry up. After drying off, he wrapped the towel around himself and poked his head out the door, intending to ask Duke if he could borrow some clothes. Duke, however, hadn’t seemed to have returned. Odd. Hadn’t it been long enough? Jowan waited a few more minutes, but soon grew both worried and cold. Surely he hadn’t been forgotten. Duke was about the same height as he was and it would be possible to go look for him if he had clothes, but he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to borrow Duke’s clothes. It seemed likely, but the thought of guessing wrong caused a pit of anxiety to rise in his throat. It was such a minor thing, but he knew well to avoid touching the belongings of an authority figure without permission. Duke wasn’t one, not exactly, but the situation was similar enough for his mind to draw parallels. Steeling himself, he walked to Duke’s dresser and rummaged through the drawers until he found a pair of cotton pants and a long-sleeved shirt. They hung oddly on his bony frame, but they fit well enough. He exited the room and it hit him that he didn’t even know what floor the infirmary was on. Someone that knew had to be around somewhere, right? He picked a direction at random, which led to a staircase leading down. It seemed as likely a direction as anything else. Jowan turned a corner and froze. The hallway was empty, but there were a few splatterings of blood on the floor. Someone had gotten hurt again. It explained why Duke was gone- whoever had left the blood had to have a more urgent injury than Jowan did. He bit his lip. The blood hadn’t completely dried yet, so whoever was injured likely still needed help. On the other hand, it was possible that the aggressor was still around. No, he had to help if he could. Hiding wasn’t necessarily safer, either. The blood trail was thin, but the drops were consistent enough for him to find his way to an open doorway. Inside, a person with blood up to their elbows stood pressing a wad of gauze onto a seated figure’s arm. He increased his pace, and the standing human’s eyes snapped to him. “Hold this,” they said in lieu of a greeting, jerking their head towards the gauze. Jowan complied, then caught sight of the injured person’s face. “Duke?! What ha-” “No, tighter,” the stranger interrupted. “Hold it above his head- like that, stay there.” They left, and Jowan was torn between watching what they were doing and looking at Duke’s overly-pale face.
  16. Natsuki [ Hallway, First Floor ] Natsuki bit back a growl of frustration. They weren’t used to feeling so helpless; normally, they had a defined task. Engage in combat, scout, cover an ally, radio for backup, try not to die. Now they had nothing to do but watch and try to figure out Duke’s chances of making it out alive if they managed to extract him. It wasn’t looking good. He was dragged along with the silver robot’s rash attempts to free him, and he spoke slurred nonsense. No, wait. It was Duke; if anything, puns were a good sign. The barrier breaking, however, wasn’t. Couldn’t those usually handle enough force that Duke would have been crushed against it before it broke? Fortunately, Xander wasn’t so hesitant. While the other robots were fighting, he managed to dart in and bring Duke to relative safety. Natsuki gave a brief nod to acknowledge his request, glad to finally be of use. While the two men gave their goodbyes, they evaluated the wound. It was impossible to get a good look at through the torn fabric and blood, but the sheer amount of bleeding and the location of the wound boded poorly for Duke's chances. Duke was conscious, but it didn’t seem like he would be for long; they doubted that he’d be able to walk supported or hold on to them. A fireman’s carry would work, but his arm was a problem. They couldn’t use it as the front arm and pull at the wound, but letting it dangle might hurt it as well. There was nothing for it. Getting to the infirmary (and away from the robots) was the most important thing. They accepted Duke’s body from Xander. “Of course you’ll be fine,” Natsuki said as gently as they could. They weren’t so sure; they knew that the castle didn’t even have any saline. How much would they be able to do with the limited resources that were available? With one last glance at the robots to make sure they were still occupied, they set off. The walk to the infirmary was uneventful, fortunately. Less fortunately, the infirmary was empty. Wasting no time, Natsuki dropped Duke into a sitting position on a bed, just gently enough to avoid aggravating his wound further. Next, they ran to the cabinet where the medical supplies were stored and grabbed a few packages of gauze. Painkillers could wait for when Duke wasn’t bleeding out. Upon returning, they used their teeth and one hand to tear open a package of gauze while using the other to feel Duke’s pulse at his neck. It was faster than it should’ve been. That was to be expected, but it caused a flutter of unease to pass through them anyway. They weren’t a medic. If Duke died- They lifted Duke’s arm above his head and pressed the gauze onto the wound, not worrying about whether it hurt or not. It was impossible to deal with the bite at the same time, but it didn’t seem to be bleeding at nearly the same rate. “Duke. Are you awake?”
  17. Anders [ Near the Gateway ] Interpreting Keaton’s facial expressions was made difficult by his altered features, but he didn’t once look away; Anders suspected that this might have been quite the feat for him. It was gratifying to have a non-mage actually listen to him for once. Usually it was “shut up, mage” or “Anders please, I don’t want to arrest you”. His eyes widened. Royalty using magic openly? What Keaton was describing didn’t sound anything like Tevinter, either. The way he described it made it sound like magic was just… normal. A tool and a gift, like anything else. The way it should be. He couldn't get too excited before learning more. It was possible that the magic system in Keaton’s world was completely different from his own. Maybe those mages there could only deal minor damage, or maybe they were more reliant on lyrium or focuses. At the very least, the history and politics had to be very different. Despite that, just hearing of an example where it worked… There were at least a half-dozen questions that he wanted to ask, but he tried to answer Keaton’s questions first. “Usually they don’t even have to. They’ve convinced the people that apostates are dangerous and that the Circles are for their own good. If that doesn’t work, and if the mage’s own neighbors or local guards don’t turn them in, the Chanty has its own soldiers.” He scowled and his tone grew darker. “Some mages are dangerous. They turn to blood magic or consorting with demons. But not all mages are like that, and most of us just want to live in peace like anyone else. I’ve seen more mages that felt forced to accept the help of demons because of Templars attacking them than I’ve seen genuinely evil mages.” Not that there hadn’t been plenty of those as well. Really, one would think that the hordes of bandits and abominations would give up on trying to attack Hawke’s group after the first dozen were killed. He paused, both to calm himself and to think of how to explain. “There aren’t many noble mages. Having magic in your bloodline is seen as especially shameful for nobles. But if one is born, they lose all of their inheritance rights and power like anyone else would. The only recent example I know of is Arl Eamon’s son, and I don’t know what happened to him. So, yes, they can.” Anders cared more about the common people that didn’t have money or influential family to help them, but denying noble mages their titles was yet another symptom of the Chantry’s corruption. Clearly, they feared that a mage with political influence would be able to challenge their rule- there was no other reason to deny their birthrights. “Magical creatures?” He wasn’t sure what Keaton meant, but it sounded like something personal. “Knowing the Chantry, they would. They’re very pro-human.” Part of him wanted to continue explaining, but he needed to learn more. “Tell me about your world, it’s only fair. You really have both mages and non-mages in power?”
  18. Anders [ Near the Gateway ] “Yes, I’m human,” Anders replied. What kind of place was Keaton from that he couldn’t tell the difference between an elf and a human? He certainly didn’t look like a dwarf. Perhaps there were non-humans that looked like humans in Keaton’s world- it’d be less strange than dog-eared people. The creature sitting wouldn’t prevent it from lunging forward and killing him, but at least it wasn’t looming quite so high over him. More concerning was the way it was making eye contact- that was bad for dogs, right? Or- no, it was good? There was some kind of difference between normal dogs and Mabaris, he knew, but he couldn't quite remember what it was. Did giant talking wolves even count as dogs? He decided to not break eye contact- even if it was a terrible idea, he wasn’t going to submit. “It isn’t exactly common where I’m from either,” he said. He didn’t think he’d ever met anyone aside from Neria that could shapeshift, and she hadn’t done very often. Forget what he had said about not wanting to give more information than he had to to Keaton. If the dog was willing to listen, he’d tell him. He shook his head before beginning. “The Chantry is a religious organization, founded over nine centuries ago. In most southern countries it has more power than the true rulers, as shown when King Alistair’s attempt to free the Fereldan Circle failed.” He paused for a moment, considering how to continue. He could literally talk for hours on it, but he doubted that they had that kind of time or that Keaton would be willing to listen for that long. The basics, then. “The Chantry uses its power to oppress mages, both because it wishes to control us and because it fears us. Aside from creating a culture that fears mages and considers us subhuman, the main method that the Chantry uses to control mages is the Circle system. In all southern countries, mages are forced to live in old prisons and forts where they can be watched by the T- Chantry.” No use complicating things. “Those that refuse or hide are labeled ‘apostates’ and are hunted down. Children are taken from their homes and families torn apart- if the family doesn’t fear their own child so much that they send them away first.” He took a moment to take a deep breath and calm himself. Too personal. “That’s the short version, anyway.”
  19. Natsuki [ Hallway, FIrst Floor ] Fiddlesticks’ ears suddenly perked up, and- her eye? Something was very wrong. There was no time to react before Fiddlesticks reached Duke, and even if there had been Fiddlesticks was far too fast. Duke’s scream of pain had already reached their ears by the time they managed to unholster their gun. The gun was useless anyway, unless Fiddlesticks was far more delicate than they thought. A warbeast of similar size would just be annoyed by a handgun, and robots didn’t bleed. At best it’d be possible to crack the lens of Fiddlesticks’ eye, but they couldn’t shoot with Duke so close anyway. Aside from that, any competent designer would make the large, brightly-colored eye a decoy and have the real cameras elsewhere. It was with no small amount of shame that they noticed that Xander had already acted, but they were out of their depth. Despite his aggression and lightning powers, the situation with Nata had been far easier to deal with. Most importantly, they had been prepared, to say nothing of how Natsuki had been the one attacked then. Now, they found their hands itching to reach for a radio to call for backup or for a first aid kit to deal with Duke’s wounds, but they had neither. Damn it, they shouldn’t have assumed that they didn’t need all of their gear just because they had been doing paperwork. It left them with few options. Fiddlesticks was far too large for them to push off of Duke, and anyone near enough to find in time had to have already heard Duke’s screams. That was the one fortunate thing- surely Fiddlesticks could have killed him with her weight alone. Either she was inexperienced with killing humans, she wasn’t interested in killing him (which only mattered if she understood how easy humans were to kill), or she was acting like a cat. Their only option was to keep their gun trained on Fiddlesticks until ordered otherwise. At most it would serve as a threat, but that was the best chance they had at the moment.
  20. Anders [ Near the Gateway ] Whatever he had expected, it hadn’t been that. The creature in front of him was massive. It towered over him even with its slouched posture, and it was clearly several times his own weight. Its top-heavy shape was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. Maker knew he’d faced enough blighted mon- ah, that was it. Those blighted blighted werewolves that had nearly torn his arms off. It wasn't an experience that he wanted to repeat. More to the point, it was far too close. His heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest, and it was difficult to think through the fear. For a moment he considered trying to freeze the beast, but he discarded that thought. The werewolf would be able to crush his head in its jaws before he could cast anything. It was for the same reason that he forced Justice to the back of his mind, despite the spirit’s best efforts to take control to deal with the threat. His eyes flashed blue and he tightened his grip on his staff, ready for- It spoke. That was new. None of the werewolves he’d met had spoken, but according to Neria a different, non-blighted group of them had been able to speak. It didn’t really matter either way, because Neria wasn’t the type to forget details like “oh yeah, and they spoke in our minds.”. Anders was pretty sure that if he grit his teeth any harder one of them would crack, because he really wasn’t having a good day. He flinched and tried to lean back when the werewolf (?) brought its head closer to him, but it didn’t deter the beast. Its sneeze would have been funny if Anders hadn’t been so confused and sure that he was inches away from being killed by a gigantic dog (of course it was a dog; the universe didn’t seem to get that he was a cat person). “You don’t smell like a kitsune. Oh, oh! When you said you were an apostate were you referring to your species? The only other shifters I’ve heard of are the laguz. Some of them can turn into cats, but they have cat ears and a tail.” Oh. No wonder the voice, echoed as it was, sounded familiar. Who else could manage to sound so excited while making no sense at all? (Don’t answer that, Justice, we’ve gone over rhetorical questions before.) Feeling slightly less concerned about his skull being crushed into tiny pieces, he took a step backward, if only to get away from Keaton’s breath. “No, that’s not what I meant! My species doesn’t have anything to do with it.” Keaton had to be from a different world if he hadn’t even heard the word ‘apostate’ before (as if the ears didn’t give it away). “An apostate is a mage that doesn’t submit to the rule of the Chantry,” he said after a short pause. He had been tempted to avoid giving Keaton more information than he had to, but the habit of explaining the evils of the Circles had won out.
  21. Anders [ Gateway ] What kind of mage? That question alone would have made some amount of sense, but the longer Keaton spoke the more confused Anders felt. ‘Dark mage’ was an archaic euphemism for blood mages and ‘witch’ was an uncommon insult for hedge mages, but it wasn’t gender specific. He’d never even heard of the rest of the terms that spewed from the ‘wolfskin’s’ mouth. Besides, no one would ever ask someone if they were a blood mage with the bright, excited tone that Keaton used. “...an apostate?” Hopefully that would appease him. Oh, lovely, of course they couldn’t let him go back and wanted him to help them. No thanks. Helping well-meaning people with ‘missions’ hadn’t at all gone well the last two times. Squashing down the urge to say ‘of course I’ll help, what should I do first’ (thanks, Justice, but no), he continued to listen. Well, that was more interesting. The confirmation that this ‘Pascal’ was a mage was nice, if completely unnecessary. Cistina, though- shaman? Was she like one of the Avvar mages? The question rose to his lips, but before he could ask- A Qunari of some hit the ground, throwing twin green blades to the ground at the impact. His skin was purple, his horns were massive, and a pair of wings jutted out from his back. Not actually a Qunari, then. Nevertheless, Anders didn’t particularly want to be anywhere near the now-yelling winged man. Once again ignoring the call of stay, help, he drew on the Fade and melted into the form of a sleek orange tabby. Ear twitching, he watched for a moment longer- Pascal seemed to be handling things fine- before picking a direction and darting off. There was enough chaos that no one would notice him leaving. At least, he thought that no one would notice. The hulking shape behind him quickly proved him wrong. A bit too quickly- it was gaining on him, and Anders preferred to avoid being torn to pieces. It just wasn’t a good way to start one’s morning. He stopped running as quickly as he was able to (it turned out that cat movement and human movement didn’t translate into each other well) and shifted back into a blur of color. Staff in hand, he spun around on one heel to face his pursuer.
  22. Jowan [ Duke’s Room ] It was difficult to tell whether Duke was being serious about not understanding why Jowan was thankful or not. With Duke, it could be either one. Still, he was grateful. He didn’t want to intrude or ask for more than he needed, but getting cleaned up did sound nice. It had been far too long since he’d had a proper bath, and he was eager to be rid of the grime and dried blood coating his skin. He shook his head to say no, of course he didn’t mind, but Duke already had his back turned to him. As they walked, Jowan tried to remember who each of the rooms belonged to. “I’ve never had a room of my own,” he admitted. Unless one counted a jail cell, of course, which he didn’t. First had been the apprentice dorms, then had been the servant’s quarters at Redcliffe Castle. Neither had been too bad, at least once he had gotten old enough to leave the dorm with the younger children. He'd never been able to bear the crying. In all honesty, Duke’s room was less messy than he had expected. The bed was comfortably unmade, and he felt himself relax another fraction. The castle had no Templars to yell at one for leaving a bed unmade. “I should be fine without a healer. It’s not too deep, and I’ve done stitches before.” He left out the circumstances that required him to do stitches on himself. “I’ll have you know that I’ve never burned anything down,” he said, unable to keep the smile from his voice or face. The banter was familiar, and he felt a twinge of nostalgia in his chest. “Thank you,” he said again before he walked into the bathroom. It was shockingly white- the tiles on the floor, the walls, the fixtures. The sink and bathtub - both made of the same shiny white material - each had metal faucets. Strange. Experimentally, he pushed one of the levers above the sink up, then pushed it back down when water flowed out of the faucet. “Duke?” he called, hoping that Duke hadn’t already left. It was possible that he’d be able to figure things out, but he didn’t want to take any chances. “Could you explain how this all works? It’s a bit different from what I’m used to.”
  23. Jowan [ Dining Hall ] He wasn’t sure why, but he felt disappointed that Duke hadn’t decided whether or not he was going or not. For all he knew, Duke wasn’t even as helpful Jowan thought. “I was just curious, and, well…” It would have been better to just outright say that he was interested in going, but he hesitated. Was it not presumptuous to assume that anyone even wanted him to come? Especially Duke; he had to be tired of babysitting by now. “Oh!” Hurriedly, he gulped down the last of his tea before coughing. “Hot.” Duke agreeing to go just because he wanted to had been unexpected. “Yes, I’m finished,” he said, gathering his teacup and following Duke out of the room. “Thank you.” Everyone had been so accommodating and kind to him (well, not everyone; most people in his life hadn’t, actually). It was more than he deserved, and it strengthened the feeling of needing to explain his powers. All of them, not just the weak flames and ice that he could conjure without bloodshed. Maybe things would have gone better with Neria if he had told her. It was just that he didn’t know where to start. None of the members of XDRE seemed fazed by any of the powers that the new recruits displayed, but blood magic… ‘Hey, Duke, you know this cut on my arm that’s been causing problems? I did that on purpose so that I could boil everyone’s blood if the situation at the Gateway went bad.' Yeah, that’d go over well. It seemed like a different situation from turning into a strange furry monster or having dead people in one's head.
  24. [ Natsuki ] [ Kitchen ] Natsuki had to resist the urge to huff in annoyance. This was getting ridiculous, to the point where they wondered how they had been frightened of Fiddlesticks in the first place. It was still important to avoid underestimating the unpredictable, sharp-edged hunk of metal that weighed several times more than them, but frustration had pushed some of the caution aside. "Here," they said, grabbing the meat and beginning to strip the bones from it with quick, efficient motions. "Now, explain what's wrong so that we can help. Don't say it's the lack of calcium- whatever you use it for, it isn't a coolant." They were quick to step away from Fiddlesticks and towards the sink when they finished removing the flesh from the bones. Not out of fear- it was simply that Fiddlesticks was emanating too much heat for someone that had difficulties with heat management themself. "I know that this place is strange and that you have no reason to trust us," they said as they ran water over their hands. "But let me assure you that we don't want a half-melted robot to clean up." Perhaps it wasn't the most gentle way to tell Fiddlesticks to cut it out, but they were getting tired of it. [ Jowan ] [ Dining Hall ] Jowan stared into his tea. He was more than a little tempted to follow Light and Spike to the library, but he couldn't. As helpful as it would be (and however much he missed being able to sit down and read for hours) there were more important things that had to be done. Specifically, bathing, finding new clothes, stitching up his wound properly, and finding out if they'd let him go on the current mission. It was an absolutely terrible idea. Maybe not quite as bad as some of his other ideas, but it was up there. He was malnourished, was slightly woozy from blood loss, and didn't know how XDRE operated. Even so... it wasn't like he needed any metal. Ideally, he'd have a lyrium staff, but he didn't have access to one and lyrium wasn't magnetic anyway. He could be useful, he was fairly sure of that. Maybe. "Are you going on this mission?" he asked Duke. It would make sense if he was- barriers of such strength had to be useful.
  25. [ Anders ] [ Gateway ] A satisfactory answer. Nonsensical, but most human things were. The 'pulling' had been unintentional; at most, the mage's crime had been negligence. With some effort, Anders pushed Justice to the back of his mind. The glow faded from his eyes, the bright cracks in his skin closed, his voice returned to normal, and he stumbled. Pressing the heel of his palm into his forehead and closing his eyes until the dizziness cleared, he said, "That was not a satisfactory answer." He considered sheathing his staff but decided against it. The mage seemed harmless enough (if a bit loopy herself), but that by no means meant that she or her companion were safe. "You expect me to believe that this is some alternate universe." He paused. "What do you want from me?" In an ideal world he wouldn't have had to question the motivation of someone who believed they were saving lives, but it was rare that people didn't want something. He just hoped that it didn't have anything to do with the blighted Deep Roads again. Surely that man hadn't been there before. Distracted as he was, he was getting sloppy if he had failed to notice a wolf-eared man. There went any poorly-developed theories about being drugged and dragged out into the middle of nowhere. He had hoped that the other newcomer might be reasonable, but apparently he was the type of person that regularly forgot where they had fallen asleep. At least he seemed friendlier than the other white-haired, pointy-eared, wolf-themed man that Anders knew. "I'm Anders," he said, cautious.