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Zor

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  1. Anders [ keaton stop ]

     

    The bazaar was, though similar to trade cities such as Amaranthine, more chaotic and brightly colored than he expected. Smelled a lot nicer than Amaranthine, too. A good portion of the people milling around had, like Keaton, appendages or features that normal humans, elves, and dwarves lacked. A few were hardly recognizable as people at all, resembling small dragons, large birds, or other strange creatures more than anything.

     

    He wasn’t quite sure why he or any of the other newcomers were there -- no one had given them any kind of list, and encouraging them to come for no reason seemed to be inviting disaster. Someone was sure to get lost in the winding marketplace, at best. 

     

    That someone would probably be Keaton, who had already disappeared from his side. 

     

    Anders spun around, scanning around for Keaton in the crowd. There! Anders was moving before he even considered why he was bothering -- Keaton wasn’t his responsibility, and there was nothing stopping him from leaving the dog. Justice’s influence, perhaps. “Keaton, wait!” he called, doubting that it would attract Keaton’s attention. 

     

    Weaving through the crowd slowed him, but fortunately Keaton seemed distracted by absolutely everyone around himself. Really, there was a lot to see, but that didn’t mean that he had to run off-

     

    mew!

     

    Anders skidded to a stop and turned towards the source of the sound. A man stood with his back to a market stall, holding a large cardboard box in his arms. His hair was a shade of blue that would have been shocking had Anders seen it a day ago, and he wore some sort of orange headband or hat. His odd appearance didn’t stop there -- his eyes were mismatched, there were small blue tattoos on his jawbone, and two feline ears were hidden in his hair. 

     

    Far more important than the odd man was the black kitten poking its head out of the box. 

     

    “Keaton, come here!” he tried, looking over his shoulder to yell at the dog. If it didn’t work, Ray could handle him. 

     

    The kitten managed to pull itself halfway out of the box, teetering over the edge. The man fumbled with the box, trying to adjust his grip so that he could push the kitten back down, but Anders was faster. Gently, he grabbed the kitten and pulled it close to his chest so that it couldn’t fall, despite its squirming. 

     

    Mew! the kitten yelled, evidently displeased by the way that its attempts at exploring had been thwarted. 

     


    Natsuki [ I'm fine, really ] 


    In theory, the marketplace was a terrible place. Nothing had gone wrong during any of the X-Dreamers’ past trips, but that didn’t mean that it was completely safe. The constant flow of people from different worlds made it impossible to track the culture or motivations of the crowd, and there were far too many opportunities to hide weapons. Wings and large cloaks created bulges that could conceal guns, and there was the ever-constant reminder of how many people had powerful physical or magical abilities. Trips to the marketplace were unpredictable, in short, and Natsuki had to be alert in order to keep the group safe. The number of rookies coming along didn’t help matters. 

     

    In practice, it was almost nostalgic. Not that the marketplace didn't have an air of danger, but when did they ever feel safe? The people, despite how potentially dangerous they were, were for the most part familiar. Some went beyond anything that they had seen in their world, like a man whose head floated a few inches above his shoulders, but Natsuki was used to modified people and gigantic dogs. The horns and strange eye colors were normal.

     

    The familiarity of unusual people wouldn’t be enough, but the overall atmosphere was -- nice. Like the farmer’s market that they had managed to visit a few times. A little more personal, unique, cut off from the politics and endless progression of the world. 

     

    They knew that such a view was unrealistic and tinted by rose-colored glasses, but it was comforting to pretend. 

     

    They froze for a moment at the touch of Xander’s hand to their wrist. “Thank you, but I’m not going to keel over.” It wasn’t the physical contact itself that scared them -- they were far too used to being poked and prodded for that.

     

    They would have to put a little less time into work and put a little more effort into visibly taking care of themself. It was something that they should have learned by now, but habits were difficult to change after eighteen years. Pretending wouldn’t take too much time, and they would still- 

     

    Exhaling, they let themself be dragged along behind Xander. “I can take… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” they said, looking towards the tall demonic-looking man. “I’m Natsuki. A pleasure to meet you.” They continued. “I can take him and myself to get food, Xander. You don’t need to come with us if you have other things to do.” They doubted that Xander would accept, but they felt compelled to offer anyway. It was strange and somewhat frightening, having someone that wanted them to stay healthy for altruistic reasons. They kept finding themself looking for a selfish motive for Xander’s actions -- perhaps he simply wanted them to be able to fight well, and didn’t trust them to judge their own body. His actions made that seem unlikely, but at least it was easy to understand.


  2. Jowan

     

    A feeling of dread settles in Jowan’s stomach even as he reaches over to start unwinding the bandage. He and Duke were both too exhausted for another fight, but he should have seen this coming. They should have kept moving instead of stopping to talk about their feelings, of all things. Now they’d die, and it’ll be his fault because he should have said something. The dull realization hurts, but he’s so tired. Maybe they could create enough of a delay to allow Dynarst to escape. 

     

    Before he can muster up the courage to let the blood start flowing again Duke claims to recognize the metal beast hurtling towards them. Jowan squints; he’s not sure how Duke recognizes much when it’s moving so quickly and erratically. The pounding in his chest doesn’t help, telling him to run, but his feet remain planted on the ground. 

    He tells himself that it’s because Dynarst is relying on him, but in truth he’s not sure if he’d be able to move if he tried. 

     

    He’s amazed by Duke’s ability to stand tall in the face of a giant robot stopping feet from him; even Jowan stumbles backward, despite being farther away than Duke is. He hopes that it’s bravery and not a lack of reflexes that keeps Duke from moving, anyway. 

     

    Now that the creature has stopped, he’s able to recognize it as well. Was… was that one Fiddlesticks? He knows that there are two of the terrifying robot things and that the other one was darker, but he can’t remember which was which. Has she come to finish the job and kill Duke? 

     

    A few drops of blood fall to the cobblestones at his feet, but he waits. The tension in the air is so thick that he can barely draw breath. Duke’s dry comment about bleeding out doesn’t help -- Jowan doesn’t want to hear about Duke nearly dying, not when he’s so likely to die for real now. 

     

    The robot goes straight to business, not even bothering to introduce himself. He’s not Fiddlesticks, at least, but he’s looking for her and that’s enough to convince Jowan that he should stay as far from the robot as possible. Maybe it’s not very heroic, but he wants to leave, to find whatever shelter Dynarst proposed. He doesn’t know how to interrupt to say this -- it feels like any sudden movement he makes could result in the robot focusing that yellow eye on him. 
     


  3. Anders [ The Castle | Main Entryway ]

     

    The longer Keaton talked, the more confused Anders felt. He actually seemed to consider the idea of intentionally keeping corpses around, which was somewhat disturbing. They were a major disease risk, no matter what Keaton thought about the aesthetics. Dust, bones, broken glass- he’d love Darktown. Maybe he could visit sometime, and they could take bets on how long it would take for him to get a lung infection from sniffing everything. Personally, Anders was happy enough to have a roof over his head. Justice was, anyway. A roof and a lack of corpses.

     

    Before he could express his disgust with Keaton’s interior decorating tastes, two people entered the room. One was carrying some sort of yellow stuffed animal and the other looked young and nervous, but they both looked otherwise normal (if dressed oddly). They didn’t have any tails or animal ears that he could see, anyway, nor did their postures indicate that they were interested in fighting. The young dark-haired girl looked quite nervous, actually. Anders kept his guard up and watched them carefully anyway. He felt far too on edge to relax, even if the newcomers looked harmless. “I noticed,” he muttered to Keaton, who seemed intent on making sure that they were all aware that a shouting person had entered the room.

     

    He was content to stand back while Keaton ran forward and the stuffed animal thing revealed itself to be alive. Strange.

     

    More concerning was the sudden appearance of another person, this one carrying a staff. A mage? That didn’t make sense- where had he come from? "Careful, Sorey, I have a real bad feeling about this.”

     

    “Don’t we all,” Anders sighed, removing his hair tie and pulling his hair back again.

     

    There was also a dog, but Anders had reached the limit of how much one could be surprised in one day. This one was much smaller than (though still as excitable as) Hawke’s Marbari, at least.

     

    “A shopping trip,” he deadpanned. Sure. Why not. It wasn’t like they had anything better to do. There was always something that needed to be done.

     

    ...but then, they couldn’t do any of it. Brewing potions required supplies, healing required patients- even working on his manifesto required ink and paper, which he didn’t have. The thought made his fingers twitch, but he was trapped there. “Why not.”


  4. Jowan [ you laugh ‘cause you can’t see | beyond the black and white ]

     

    Some of the weight leaves Jowan’s chest at Duke’s smile. He’s glad that the jest wasn’t misplaced. No, more than just that: he wants to do it again, to keep the smile on Duke’s face and let the moment last. He wants to ask where the uniform is from; he hadn’t seen any of the other X-Dreamers wearing anything like it. But he can’t, and he knows this. The jests aren’t enough to hide the somber atmosphere or the continued pounding in his chest, however much he wishes they would. He only laughs and says, “The designer really didn’t think this through then, did they?”

     

    Duke is silent for too long. There’s nothing more that Jowan can say, so he waits, feeling sick. It isn’t fair for him to expect a response immediately (not when he’d taken so long to speak), but he can’t pretend that the suspense isn’t stressful. Jowan’s heart is bared, and he doesn’t know if Duke is planning on ripping it out or not.

     

    He doesn’t, but he doesn’t understand either.

     

    Duke speaks of it calmly, carefully, as if it’s some minorly disgusting hobby like collecting beetles. He sounds as though he’s bothered but trying to avoid offending, and -- that hurts. It shouldn’t. Jowan had tried to prepare himself for a far worse reaction and Duke doesn’t understand half of why he should be repulsed, so why -- ?

     

    “It’s hardly common where I’m from, either.” And Maker damn it, but there’s a burning desire to ask about the blood magic of Duke’s world. Surely it wouldn’t be compatible with the blood magic of Thedas, but it sounds fascinating. It’s been too long since Jowan has managed to find a new scrap of information.

     

    Duke is giving him an out, a chance to end the explanation here. It’s tempting. They could move along and act like nothing major has changed. Duke’s missing the important information, and were Jowan to stop here Duke would be none the wiser.

     

    He doesn’t understand why blood magic is more than just manipulating blood. Maybe it is in his world. He doesn’t understand the rush of endorphins and power, or the constant temptation singing in veins, or the arrogance of thinking that the first cut won't lead to anything more. He doesn’t know of why people fear blood magic so much; of the Black City, of thousands of slaves bleeding out onto rough stone, of the Blight. Demon summoning and abominations, the dark hold of mind control and crimes in the eyes of the Maker. Lily's face, etched with disgust. 

     

    The crumpled body of a desperate woman.

     

    Hiding is exhausting, but Jowan doesn’t know if he can bear saying it.

     

    Duke’s right when he says that they’d planned to speak back at the castle, anyway. Jowan is torn between asking to stay and talk and saying that they should leave, but they do have a job to do. He feels as though he’s forgotten about it, too caught up in his own problems to worry about something minor like the fate of the multiverse.

     

    "I only worry about you because you're injured, and because I care about your wellbeing."

     

    “You shouldn’t,” he says dully before he can think to stop himself. He doesn’t really regret it, because, well, it isn’t wrong. Duke is frustratingly naive and trusting, and Jowan doesn’t deserve his worry.

     

    He drops his chin onto his knees and sighs. “Maybe we should go. I don’t think that the guards will be happy about the bridge.” Standing up is one of the last things that he wants to do, after fighting an Archdemon and dealing with the Nug Incident again, but he isn’t a fan of being caught near the bridge either. “Stuff to do, anchors to find, gods to fight.” Maybe not that last one. Falling unconscious for a few hours sounds like the best idea at the moment, but it isn’t an option.


  5. Jowan [ in the eye of a hurricane there is quiet ]

     

    Duke flops to the ground easily, but Jowan hesitates. He’s the one that suggested that they sit, but he hadn’t expected them to sit here. It’s too open, too vulnerable. Normally that would be fine, but his hands still tremble and the thought of someone or something sneaking up on him is enough to make him twist his neck around to glance behind himself.

     

    There is nothing behind him but a stone wall, and he feels a bit silly to be frightened by something as innocuous as a building. The wall does look far more inviting than sitting in the middle of the street, but he bites his lip and looks back at Duke. Perhaps it’s selfish, but he doesn’t want to move and create an extra few feet of distance between them. Already he feels separated from Duke, too caught up in his own thoughts and fears to connect.

     

    He wishes that Duke hadn’t let go of his hand.

     

    It’s pathetic that he’s so clingy towards someone that he’s barely known for a few hours. There’s a word for it, he thinks. Touch starvation.

     

    As much as Jowan wants to be near Duke, the thought of not having his back to something is worse than the thought of being away from him. Reluctantly, he takes a few steps back before sitting down more carefully and slowly than Duke had. He draws his knees up to his chest and wraps his arms around his legs, forming a protective ball. The cool stone against his back helps. It’s solid and rough, and he can see if anyone approaches without turning his head.

     

    "I've never done my laundry.”

     

    Duke’s words are unexpected. “Really?” Jowan laughs. He’s not sure why it’s funny -- maybe it’s the thought of Duke, able to crush bridges and willing to rush into danger to help someone, being unable to wash his own clothes. “I suppose we didn’t very often either, but accidents happen.” Calling it an ‘accident’ is glossing over the issue. It isn’t completely wrong; there was certainly enough times that someone stained their robes with embrium juice or cut themself on a piece of broken glass. But the current conversation is so casual and easy, and he doesn’t want to ruin it. They’ll have to eventually, but for the moment life feels almost peaceful.

     

    “I saw,” he says, smiling a little. “Why are so many of them white? For someone that doesn’t know how to do laundry it hardly seems like the smartest choice.” He watches Duke’s face intently, worried that he’d gone too far. It’s so easy to slip back into teasing banter that he feels as though he’s forgetting whom he’s talking too.

     

    "When you asked how I am, I mean. But I have a feeling something's on your mind. I won't push, but -- whenever you're ready."

     

    Ah, there it is. “Okay,” he says quietly, dropping his gaze again. He starts to pick at the edges of the gauze but stops himself. It’s there for a reason, and Duke had been so careful putting it on. Wouldn’t want to ruin his hard work. Instead, he lightly runs his fingers over the rough surface of the gauze, trying to think.

     

    It doesn’t seem right to make Duke wait, however much he assures him that it’s fine, but Jowan feels too tired. He needs to prepare, needs to plan what to say.

     

    Blood magic.

     

    It always comes back to that, doesn’t it? There isn’t much else to say.

     

    He sighs and looks up. Duke is watching him, and he feels a flutter of nervousness in his chest. Why was this so much easier last time he had to explain? Raising his uninjured hand up to the level of his face, he examines it. A thin layer of blood still coats it. Most of it has turned dry and flaky, but some remains wet enough to manipulate.

     

    Like opening a valve enough to barely let a drop escape, he draws the smallest bit of magic from his wound. The wet blood pulls away from his hand, congealing into droplets that dance around his fingertips before falling to the ground beside him. He lets his now dry hand drop, and his gaze follows. He doesn’t want to look at Duke.

     

    It’s a bit itchy. Dry blood is such a pain to get out from under fingernails.

     

    “Your barrier didn’t fail, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you worry, I…”

     

    Please, let Duke put two and two together. He doesn't want to say it. The words feel caught in his throat, tangled together by lingering anxiety and fear of losing the calm he has felt with Duke. He risks a glance at Duke, desperate to know what he's thinking. 


  6.  

    Jowan [ so don't take all of the blame - we're all at fault ]

     

    "Nevermind that," Duke says, sounding distracted and almost sharp.

     

    Jowan deflates a little further; Duke clearly hadn’t appreciated his obvious delaying tactic. He wishes that they could just move along, forget that anything had happened on the bridge, but it’s too late for that now. Wishing that things could be different is pointless.

     

    Something catches his hand and he freezes, a deep jolt of surprise surging through his body. There is a moment of terror, the kind that comes from reaching out for a glass of water in the dark of the night and having your hand instead meet the scarred and squirming body of a rat, but no, it’s Duke, it’s just Duke, it’s okay because Duke won’t hurt him and if he does it’s because he deserves it, and he should have been paying attention because now there’s a choked sob welling up in his throat and it’s his fault.

     

    But Duke doesn’t hurt him. His fingers are light and gentle, ghosting over Jowan’s skin as if he fears pressing too hard and hurting him. The soft touch is so careful, a distraction from the pain, and Jowan hates it. He wishes Duke would just get it over with. He needs clarity, a sharp light to focus on, something to stop his heart from beating out of his chest, something to make the world stop. The fingers of his uninjured arm twitch, seeking flesh to bite into, but the hold on his wrist prevents them from finding anything but air. 

     

    Duke’s voice cuts through the cacophony of the streets, and Jowan clings to it. Clarity. A question has been asked of him, but isn’t it obvious? He’d been so sure that Duke had been upset, and maybe he still is, maybe his flat voice hides anger, but maybe --

     

    Breathe.

     

    Inhale.

     

    It would be rude to not answer.

     

    Exhale.

     

    Being rude hardly seems like the greatest of his worries at the moment.

     

    Inhale.

     

    But Duke sounds so upset, so guilty -- why?

     

    Exhale.

     

    No.

     

    Inhale.

     

    He can’t think that it’s his fault.

     

    Ex -- 

     

    "Are you okay?"

     

    A tiny sound escapes Jowan’s mouth -- he thinks it might be a laugh, if a bit hysterical. It’s not something that Duke can complain about, after Duke’s exuberant reaction to defeating the metal-eyed being. “Are you?” His voice sounds dry, scratchy, and too quiet even to him.

     

    He closes his eyes and takes a few more moments to breathe, letting the points of contact between his wrist and Duke’s hand ground him. It’s as calming as anything could be at the moment, despite how recently it had felt like a restraint. 

     

    When he finally feels composed enough to speak he opens his eyes and raises them to meet Duke’s. Duke looks so worried and concerned, his brow furrowed and his eyes wide, that a sudden wave of guilt washes over Jowan. Andraste, he hadn’t meant --  

     

    “I got blood on your clothes,” he says, his voice suddenly more stable than it had been before. Another distraction, but he needs this, and he prays that Duke will let him speak. “I’m sorry. I don’t know if it’ll wash out. Cold water works best, but you need to soak it as soon as possible and it might set before you get the chance. I’ve never tried with white before.” Why had he taken white pants? Stupid. 

     

    A moment passes, then, “Can we sit down? Please?”

     

    He knows that he should tell Duke now, and some part of him feels that it’ll be easier if they’re seated. Maybe it’s just another delaying tactic.

     

    It’s mostly because he feels exhausted, and Duke looks the same way.


  7. Jowan [ we will do what we must, let it all turn to dust ]

     

    For one terrible moment, he fears that the spell won’t work. The creature’s hand approaches Duke, it prepares to use its strange magic to crush Duke against his own barrier again -- 

     

    -- and it stops. 

     

    Allowing himself a moment’s reprieve, Jowan lets his face relax enough for a small smile of relief. It isn’t over yet, but the fight feels less hopeless. There’s still more that he should be doing -- throwing a Primal spell at it, trying to make it jump off the bridge, something -- but he doesn’t know if he can without dropping the spell. His grasp on the spell is weak from lack of experience, and reading can only bring one so far. It’s all he can do to keep the delicate balance of the magic, to keep it all from falling apart and releasing into a torrent of wasted energy, but the metal-eyed figure won’t be held by it forever. Simply delaying isn’t enough.

     

    He could run. 

     

    But the scene too familiar. A threat delayed by blood magic, companions unable to follow, a chance to flee; he can’t, not again. 

     

    He’s saved from having to make a choice by a sudden flare of blue and the cracking of stone. His control of the spell falters, but it doesn't matter. Somehow the metal-eyed figure avoids being crushed between the bridge and the barrier, and it almost seems as though Duke’s attempt at attacking will fail despite the incredible amount of power that he displays. 

     

    It succeeds, though not for the reason Jowan expects. 

     

    Vaguely aware that he should be running, he stares at Duke’s frantic attempts to escape from the widening hole, heart caught in his throat. Duke is too close to the edge, but Jowan is too far to do anything and his body refuses to move. When Duke does find stable footing, Jowan lets out a breath the he hasn't realized that he'd been holding. 

     

    Duke’s laughter is infectious (or perhaps Jowan is simply too relieved that Duke is okay enough to laugh) and Jowan feels his face break into a grin. Somehow they are both alive, despite the tenseness of the fight. He feels almost giddy. 

     

    That could be a symptom of blood loss. 

     

    His good mood lasts only until Duke catches sight of his arm. The disgust on Duke’s face is palpable, and Jowan flinches away from his touch and his smile turns brittle. He should have expected this, he knows, but somehow he had hoped… 

     

    At least Duke still cares enough to help him get off the bridge. 

     

    It’s a good thing, too, because the bridge doesn’t stay standing much longer. The supports creak and groan, the weight of the broken middle dragging the edges down. It's an incredible amount of metal and stone to be broken by one person; Duke's power would be terrifying if anyone else had access to it. Jowan can’t seem to care about the bridge, but he still turns to watch it fall when they stop, panting, on the shore.

     

    Not meeting Duke’s gaze, he grabs the loose end of the bandage and begins to wind it tightly around his arm. It hurts, and it’s possible that he’s being too rough, but it needs to be done. Blood is quick to spot through the gauze, but he remembers what he did to Duke’s wound and prevents any more from escaping. The feeling is strange and somewhat uncomfortable, but it’s better than bleeding out. 

     

    Focusing on the injury is easier than thinking about Duke. It’s easier than thinking about how he ruined everything again, or thinking about the shame choking him, or about how he could have avoided this. It’s easier to pretend that the tears pricking his eyes are from the pain in his arm. 

     

    “So,” he says, trying to keep his voice casual. He doesn’t think that he succeeds. “What next? Cistina’s following the anchor. Do we help her, or do you still want to go to the castle?” 

     

    He wouldn’t blame Duke if he decides that he doesn’t want to associate with him anymore. How could he? But… if he could do it again, he can’t imagine himself doing anything differently. It had worked, hadn't it? They were both alive, and he isn't sure if that would have been the case had he not acted. 
     


  8. Jowan [ it has begun ]

     

    Jowan’s breathes heavily, struggling to focus. He is unused to the level of pain in his arm, but the adrenaline helps and he has more important things to worry about. It’s just pain, and he has suffered worse. 

     

    He begins to ready a spell again, this time drawing his power from the blood seeping from his arm. The ease of powering spells with blood instead of the Fade is almost calming, the magic so close to the surface that he just take it and shape the world. Red sparks gather around his outstretched hand.

     

    Blood Wound isn’t a spell that he’s used before. He’s never had enough of a reason to; from the descriptions he managed to find, it’s rather nasty. Even the Templars hadn’t deserved that, and he never got into a real fight afterwards. It’s still enough to make him hesitate, and… he doesn’t want Duke to see him like this. It’s bad enough that his fingers are reddened, that he tore into his own flesh like some sort of disgusting monster. 

     

    There are other spells that he can use. He could lie, say that the stitches had been torn out by something that the figure did. 

     

    But the approaching figure… it’s frightening, in a way that’s somehow very different from the Templars. The figure has already injured Duke, and Jowan isn’t sure if he’s going to get back up. 

     

    He can’t just leave Duke to fight alone.

     

    He hears the scrape of something against stone, and he looks at Duke to see him being dragged towards his barrier by his belt. Duke's eyes are widened in fear, and it’s enough to convince Jowan to snap his eyes back towards the figure and release the spell in a rush of magic. It isn’t the time to hold back. If the spell hurts the figure, all the better, just so long as it stops


  9. Jowan [ we make sacrifices ]

     

    Jowan barely has time to react. He stops in his tracks, nearly tripping in his attempt to avoid running into the path of the… thing. Large, round pieces of metal have replaced the figure’s eyes, and yet it steps with a sense of sureness as if it isn’t hindered by a lack of sight. Fear clenches around his heart, despite the figure’s seeming focus on the rust-coated man. 

     

    He spares a moment to glance at Duke. Duke is, surprisingly enough, staring intently at his cube. It hardly seems like the time. But the cube must have some new information on it, for Duke to be so focused on it, and Jowan wishes he knew what it said. It’s too far away and the angle is wrong for him to make it out. 

     

    Duke draws his sword and strides forward, clearly intending to fight the steel-eyed figure. Jowan inhales sharply, momentarily forgetting Duke’s ability to produce barriers. Still, he knows that Duke is not infallible, has seen it, and trying to fight the figure seems wrong in a way. It moves in a way that suggests confidence, like it doesn’t have anything to fear. Like it knows that it can get whatever it wants. 

     

    Duke pushes against the figure with his barrier, but it isn’t enough to knock it to the ground. It stares at Duke. Jowan swallows. Ignoring Duke’s silent warning to stay back, he takes a single step forward and raises his uninjured hand in front of him. It shakes as a small orb of purple energy coalesces in front of it. 

     

    The figure pushes back, and Duke is thrown backward, his sword skittering across the bridge and into the canal. The spell in Jowan’s hand falters, and someone shouts, “No!” -- it might have been him, but it doesn’t matter. He readies the spell again, faster this time, and launches it towards the figure. He realizes his mistake -- that the shimmering blue barrier is blocking him -- too late, but the spell is barely slowed by it. Huh. It hardly matters -- between his haste and his shaking hands, the weak Arcane Bolt only glances the figure.

     

    It’s not enough. He can’t- he can’t protect Duke like this. Andraste help him. 

     

    He swears under his breath, and before he can think his way out of it he shoves his hand under his sleeve, pulls the bandage aside, and jabs his fingers into the seam of flesh and skin. A muffled cry escapes through gritted teeth, high and pained. Tears well up in his eyes and his vision goes dark around the edges. It’s far worse than the easy sting of a sharp knife, far more painful than even the initial injury, but his stitches have been torn free and his fingers are wet with blood. Dark droplets seem out of the wound and splash onto the stone beneath his feet. Okay. It’s okay, he can do this. 
     


  10. Jowan [ the mission ruins everything ]

     

    That’d be a no, then. A world without dragons and Darkspawn -- it sounds significantly more pleasant than Thedas, but Jowan knows that he can’t make assumptions like that so quickly. At the very least it sounds as though Duke’s world has more warfare, and Jowan has never thought of Thedas as ‘peaceful’. They have different struggles and hardships. Still, not having to worry about giant firebreathing lizards descending from the sky sounds nice; there were reasons why the dragons had nearly been driven to extinction. “Bloodline -- ? Who’s Xander?” he asks. “Dragons are like these giant reptiles with wings. And they breathe fire.” He pauses for a moment. “I mean that they spit fire at you through their mouths, not that they inhale flames, though they could probably do that as well. And it’s only the High Dragons that have wings -- the drakes don’t.”

     

    That about sums it up, right? 

     

    Duke’s reply is uncharacteristically quiet, and it prompts Jowan to look into Duke’s eyes. They are soft, serious, and Jowan almost feels as though the conversation is more significant than words alone imply. “I’ll look forward to it,” he says softly as his heart flutters in his chest. They’re still standing so close together. He wishes that they didn’t have to wait, but they had a job to do; it just feels as though it’s been far too long since he’s been able to properly talk to someone about magic. Secrets… he’d never noticed just how much distance they’d put between Neria and himself until that day, and he misses it. Talking with Duke won’t be the same, he knows, but he’s fine with that. 

     

    He nods silently in agreement, but he’s not entirely sure how to feel about meeting this Elias. Duke clearly wanted to, but well -- he’d tried to stab Duke, which frankly makes him sound like someone that they shouldn’t want to meet. 

     

    And that’s certainly the only reason why he’s concerned about meeting Elias. Definitely.

     

    He doesn’t know if he really has any stories about companions to share. Neria’s certainly done a lot of ridiculous things, but he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to talk about her. Maybe he’ll be able to try for Duke, but if not, he’ll be content to listen to Duke’s stories.

     

    He smiles -- Elias certainly does sound interesting, but more importantly Duke told him something else about his past. He wants to ask about it -- Duke had been a city guard, then? It’s difficult to imagine, but at the same time it would explain the commanding posture that Duke had adopted. 

     

    Oh. Duke is looking at him. Is he waiting? “Sorry,” he says, a bit sheepish. “Just thinking a bit. I’d… like to hear more when the mission’s done, yes. If -- if that’s okay with you.” 
     


  11. Jowan [ can we speak later? ]

     

    Jowan is relieved to hear the sound of Duke’s laugh, and his lips curl into a shy smile. Maybe he hadn’t ruined everything, then. Being given this information only makes him want more -- why did Estaue and A-be go to war, exactly? What were they like? And, most importantly, where was Duke from? 

     

    Desperate as he is to ask, Jowan stays silent and lets Duke ask his question. A world without Blights… it’s not too hard to imagine. People had thought that they were over, after all, and the Fifth had only lasted a year. Living during any of the other Blights is far more difficult to imagine, but it still it takes him a moment to think of how to explain. Habitually, he looks upwards and to the left while thinking. “You could say that,” he says, looking back at Duke. “A Blight is when the Darkspawn -- Tainted monsters -- invade the rest of the world from the Deeproads, led by a Tainted draconic Old God.” He squints. “You do at least have dragons, right?” 

     

    Jowan’s mouth is already open to reply when Duke tells him not to reply. For a moment he is confused, but after Duke elaborates he gives a quiet laugh that’s almost more of a smile. Why is Duke so worried about offending him? “I want to tell you,” he admits, and he does. Talking to Duke is enjoyable whatever the conversation is about, and there’s so much to say about magic. He wants to compare their magic systems -- find out what’s similar, what’s different, how they’re learned and how they’re treated by society.  Duke speaks of spirits and possession -- are those anything like how they are in his world? ‘Make people do awful things’ seemed like a supreme understatement when possession usually made people violently mad, but maybe there’s a connection, and he wants to talk about it. “It’s not sensitive at all.” Mostly. At the half-truth, he looks towards his hands and fidgets a bit. “But perhaps we could talk about this another time?” he says, glancing towards Cistina and Dynarst. They have work to do, unfortunately, and he doesn’t want to make their companions wait.

     

    “Oh,” he says, relaxing a bit and allowing his shoulders to slump. He’d been so worried -- well, he’s glad that Duke hadn’t been upset with him. He tilts his head slightly to listen, but doesn’t say anything more until Duke finishes. 

     

    A strange feeling of sadness wells up in Jowan when Duke talks about his "friend", although he isn’t entirely sure why. It’s hardly his business what friends Duke has -- and shouldn’t he be glad if Duke has people that he cares about? The feeling is uncomfortable, and Jowan tries to put his thoughts on the subject to rest for the moment. 

     

    But more than anything, I think of you. Jowan gives a sharp exhale through his nose, because it’s almost funny, and he must have heard wrong. But then, they’ve known each other for all of a few hours -- it’s not unreasonable for Duke to have spent time thinking about the filthy man in chains that showed up bleeding everywhere. It’s just.. he doesn’t think that many people spend much time thinking about him, and he can’t help but feel flattered anyway. 

     

    A dark entity? That sounds like a demon, and well, trying to stab people because they won’t let them stab other people sounds partially demonic. It’d sound entirely demonic if even that level of restraint wasn’t above the abilities of most abominations, but if spirits were different in Duke’s world demons probably were as well. In any case, Jowan doesn’t think that Duke will be pleased if he calls his friend an abomination. 

     

    Didn’t it come to a point where a friend’s mistakes were too much to forgive them for? 

     

    “Thank you. For explaining,” he says, smiling lightly in return. He feels as though he understands Duke a little better now, and he’s glad for that.
     


  12. 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. 
     


  13. 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. 
     


  14. 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. 
     


  15. 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."


  16. 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.” 
     


  17. 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. 


  18. 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. 


  19. 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. 
     


  20. 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. 
     


  21. 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. 


  22. 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. 
     


  23. 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. 
     


  24. 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. 
     


  25. 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.