Chapter 1: Haven
Agronaak Qun’Maloc awoke in a cell with a sudden sense of overwhelming dread. He instinctively reached out, only to find his hands manacled to the ground. He tested the chains and found they were well made. He cursed loudly and pulled at his chains, his dark grey and purple skin straining against the metal as he howled at the empty cell around him. A door opened at the far end of the cell and a bright light flooded in, followed shortly by the sound of heavy footsteps. Agronaak blinked several times and looked up to see a woman with black hair and dark brown eyes in red and black plate mail standing over him with a disgusted expression on her face.
“You. Qunari.” She barked in a Nevarran accent. “Explain yourself.”
“I have nothing to explain.” Agronaak said bluntly, fixing her with his empty grey eyes.
“Liar!” She yelled, hitting him with the back of her hand. His head moved back from the force of the blow but quickly snapped back to its original position as he glared at her angrily. “Explain. Now. What were you doing at the Conclave? What did you do to Divine Justinia?”
“I do not know what has occurred.” He intoned. “Would you inform me?” The woman scowled at him.
“The Temple of Sacred Ashes on top of the mountain has been destroyed. Thousands have died, the very sky has been torn apart, and you are going to tell me you don’t know anything about it?” The woman snapped.
“No.” Agronaak said, maintaining his steely exterior. “Tell me of this… tear… in the sky.”
“I don’t have to tell you anything!” She snarled.
“And yet you will.” Agronaak stated. “You hope that by telling me, I may regain my memory, and yet provided some insight.” The woman scowled at him.
“The tear in the sky has been… spewing out demons and spirits. And not at all the benign sort. They’ve been attacking everywhere. And more rifts have been opening. Smaller ones.” She explained, albeit reluctantly.
“And you believe I had something to do with that.” Agronaak said with a put-upon sigh. “Humans. Always blaming everything on the first Qunari you can find. Of course, if there aren’t any, I suppose an elf could do.” The woman looked as though she were about to speak, but simply broke off into a muttered curse in Nevarran.
“You had something to do with this.” She insisted. “I know it.”
“And what of you, Seeker?” He asked. “What is your role in this?” The woman froze.
“How did you know that I am a Seeker?” She asked warily.
“The blazing sun on your armor might give it away.” He replied. “All those who follow the Qun make a point to know their enemies, and the Seekers are among them.” The Seeker started to speak again but was cut off when the door burst open again. A man in plain chainmail stood in the door.
“Seeker Cassandra!” He said urgently. “The elf is awake!”
“Bring him here.” The Seeker ordered. The man nodded and walked out of sight for a moment, returning a few moments later with another soldier, the two of them holding a wriggling elf with honey blond hair between them.
“Let me go, you uncultured Ferelden brutes!” The elf yelled in an Orlesian accent. “You both smell like wet dogs!”
“Silence!” Cassandra yelled. “You two will explain your involvement. This instant!”
“I love it when they’re commanding.” The elf snarked. One of the guards stifled a chuckle.
Agronaak felt a slow smile creeping across his face. “I like, you, elf. But Seeker,” he said, turning to Cassandra, “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”
“But… that’s impossible…” Cassandra said, faltering for a moment. “Your hands, of course! hold up your arms!”
“This is some strange kink you’ve got here, Seeker…” The elf muttered, holding up his arms and letting the sleeves fall down. His right hand had a glowing green mark on it that appeared to be etched into the very flesh.
At the sight of it, Agronaak felt a strange tingle in his left hand. He held up his own arm curiously, and was astounded to find a mark almost exactly like the elf’s, though it appeared to be a mirror image rather than an exact copy, emblazoned into his palm. “But…” He faltered. He could not believe his eyes, could not explain this occurrence.
“Do you see?” Cassandra asked rhetorically, a manic look in her eyes. “You must know each other! You must have met! You must have been doing something at the Conclave!”
“Last I remember, the only thing I did at the Conclave was this mage from the Free Marches…” The elf trailed off, smiling faintly. “Bit loose, but that’s beside the point.”
Agronaak shook his head. “Conclave… as associated with the Chantry? Hell, Seeker, what would a Qunari be doing at that…?” He paused for just a moment. “No… I remember… a bodyguard? Was I paid to do something at the Conclave? Urgh, no matter; Seeker, I swear to you this elf has no place in my memory. And yet...”
“Then perhaps there was another plot!” Cassandra insisted. “Someone else could have set this up. You, Qunari! You said you were paid. Qunari are often hired as mercenaries. As killers.” She said the last word contemptuously, as if she hated to even utter it.
“Touchy subject, I see…” The elf muttered. Cassandra turned on him and hit him across the brow with the back of her hand. He crashed down to the floor and quickly stood back up. “Cat likes to scratch, I see.” Cassandra’s retort was cut off by a cry of distress from outside.
“Oh, Maker…” She muttered, unsheathing her sword and running to the door. She looked as though she were deep in thought for a moment before she turned back. “Guards, release the Qunari.”
“But Seeker, we don’t-” One started to say.
“Do as I command!” She snapped. The guard nodded and walked over to Agronaak with a key in hand, carefully unlocking the manacles around his wrists.
Agronaak sighed, closing his eyes and flexing his newly freed wrists. He then abruptly stood up, shoving the guard who’d freed him to the side. “Thank you… I suppose. But what do you want with me now? And is there some reason you’re leaving the elf behind?”
“I have need of your…” Cassandra looked at him a bit strangely, “talents. The elf has none, it would seem.”
The elf sighed and held up his pair of manacles, which had been expertly unlocked. “Don’t be so rude, Seeker.” He said, mock-pouting. Cassandra glared at him and walked out the door, gesturing for them to follow. Agronaak gave the elf a sideways glance before chuckling to himself and falling in step behind the Seeker.
“What’s your name?” The elf asked, practically skipping along the narrow cobblestone roads of the town of Haven.
“Be quiet!” Cassandra snapped.
“Might as well tell a fish not to swim.” The elf retorted.
Cassandra was about to spout something furious, but Agronaak cut her off. “Oh please, Seeker, you waste so much energy being angry as you are. What annoyance have you with names?” He looked to the elf. “Agronaak Qun’Maloc, friend. It seems we have much to discuss. But I need your name first.”
“Zarihn Du Rien, at your service.” The elf said, bowing deeply. Cassandra rolled her eyes. “Don’t act like you don’t love this, Seeker.” Zarihn teased.
“I don’t.” She said.
“Well, you’d better learn to.” Zarihn said dryly.
“I have a feeling the two of you will end up either killing each other or screwing before the week is out.” Agronaak said casually.
“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic, Agronaak.” Zarihn chided. “Why can’t it be both?” Cassandra snorted with laughter despite herself, but quickly regained her composure. “Assuming we live so long…”
The group approached a bridge just outside Haven where a battalion of soldiers was engaged in heated battle with a pair of demons. Cassandra scowled and readied her sword, charging at the demons.
“Probably not the best idea…” Zarihn muttered, following her reluctantly onto the bridge.
Agronaak continued behind the two. He heard the shrieking, saw the incoming flaming rock too late; just as he was about to pivot round and make a leap for solid ground, the projectile smashed into the bridge and it collapsed beneath them, crushing the soldiers under the rubble but leaving the trio on top. Zarihn brushed a speck of dust off his shirt and frowned.
“Oh, it’s going to take forever to clean this.” He griped. “This was my one good shirt!”
Cassandra burst out of the rubble and scowled at him. Before she speak, a pair of shades approached the wrecked bridge, advancing slowly on them. Zarihn looked back at them and started quickly looking through the rubble for some sort of weapon. Cassandra readied her sword and hefted her shield.
“Maker preserve me.” She said to herself, charging at the shades recklessly.
“Pious prat…” Zarihn muttered, finally giving up his search for a weapon and turning back around to pull the dagger off of Cassandra’s hip. He twirled it experimentally. “This’ll do.” He turned to the other shade and waved with a mocking friendly expression before slashing at its ghostly torso with the dagger.
Agronaak groaned, sitting up and shaking his head. He saw Cassandra and Zarihn fighting a few yards off, and suddenly realized he was being a complete waste of muscle. He shot to his feet, looking for something he could feasibly wield. He eventually settled on a sword from one of the soldiers' corpses, sticking out slightly from beneath the rubble. A bit small, but then, so was its previous owner; it'd have to do. Gripping it tightly, he rushed into the fray, leaping upon Cassandra's shade and plunging his blade into the not-all-there flesh of the demon. Cassandra looked up at him, startled and trying to hide the fact that she was impressed with him. Zarihn walked over to the now-collapsing shade and frowned.
“No aid for the elf?” He asked, gesturing to himself and the dessicated remains of the shade.
“It didn’t appear that you needed any.” Cassandra said. “And besides, I wouldn’t exactly miss you.”
“Well now you’re just flirting.” Zarihn said with a mocking wink. Cassandra grimaced and shuddered.
“The dagger, elf.” She said, holding out her hand.
“I need to defend myself, don’t I?” Zarihn asked defensively.
“But not with my dagger.” Cassandra snapped.
“I’d use my dagger, but I think I’ll just save that for you.” He replied teasingly. Cassandra opened her mouth to speak, but then realized the true meaning of his words and fell silent.
Agronaak whistled. "Well then. Was I right or not? I think it's safe to say my words were accurate." He smiled at his own joke.
“Cease talking!” Cassandra snapped at him, walking off across the valley they had landed in. Zarihn looked after her and crouched down, a smirk spreading across his face.
“I bet the back is so much better without the armor.” He mused, walking after Cassandra and making sure he stayed behind her. Agronaak clinically observed the object in question and found himself in agreement.
After a great deal more of fighting and ogling and Zarihn whining about his precious shirt, the trio climbed out of the valley and onto a narrow walkway. A fairly tall, thin, and bald elf with a staff in his hand stood at the near end, sustaining a sort of shield around a rather flamboyantly dressed dwarf holding a crossbow as big as he was. The dwarf fired a bolt off and sent a shade back through the Veil.
“Gotta love you, Bianca!” The dwarf said, apparently to his crossbow.
“It’s an inanimate object. It can’t hear you.” The elf informed him.
“Please don’t take a crossbow to bed.” Zarihn begged the dwarf as he approached. “I hear they always run out the morning after.” The dwarf turned to him and laughed.
“Not my Bianca. She always sticks around for breakfast.” He replied. “Varric Tethras, at your disservice.”
“Quite an introduction, dwarf.” The elf said, rolling his eyes dramatically. “I am Solas. Nothing else.”
“Well then Varric, Baldy, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Zarihn said. “I am Zarihn Du Rien.”
Varric turned to Agronaak, striding up a little ways behind Zarihn and Cassandra. He raised an eyebrow. "And a Qunari, too, huh? You, Seeker, have assembled quite a party here. What's your name, big fella?"
"Agronaak Qun'Maloc," he said simply. "Such a lengthy introduction... Varric. Normally not a problem, but there's a crisis underway, it'd seem. Love to chat over a beer about that crossbow of yours, but now let's simply see what it can do to demons." He turned to Solas. "You, elf, what is the situation?"
“The rift appears to be spilling demons across the local area. More rifts have been seen throughout Orlais and Ferelden. We have to close this rift before it spreads. I, for one, do not wish to see my home destroyed. And if you think the same, then I suggest you follow me.” Solas explained, turning on his heel and striding across the walkway.
Cassandra grabbed Zarihn’s arm and dragged him after Solas. “Calm down, Seeker!” Zarihn said, flailing his arms for dramatic effect. “Save the rough stuff for the bedroom.” Varric laughed and followed them, loading another bolt into his crossbow.
After a great deal more of fighting and bantering about crossbows that may have been mostly innuendo, the party reached a foothold set up by Sister Leliana, another Seeker of the Chantry. At present, she stood at the edge of a long bridge, looking up at the rift in the sky while an Orlesian man in dark yellow robes talked to her. Or, rather, at her.
“Seeker, we must withdraw!” The man insisted. “There is no way to retake the temple!”
“That is where you are wrong, Ambassador.” Leliana said, brushing a strand of fiery red hair out of her eyes. “We will retake the temple. And we will close the rift. The Maker shall guide us.” The Ambassador snorted and walked off, shoving past Zarihn angrily.
“Bundle of laughs, he is…” Zarihn muttered, walking over to Leliana. Zarihn opened his mouth to address her, but Cassandra, as was her way, interrupted.
“Sister Leliana.” She said, bowing.
“Sister Cassandra.” Leliana replied, never taking her eyes off the ruins. “I see you brought the captives. As well as that… flighty little dwarf…”
“The ‘flighty little dwarf’ has a name, you know.” Varric chimed in.
“Of, course, Varric.” Leliana said, rolling her eyes at him. Cassandra ignored the banter and continued.
“What is the current situation?” She asked, fixing her gaze on the rift.
“Morale is low. As are our troops.” Leliana informed her. “But with the prisoners here, then we might be able to close the rift. At least temporarily.”
“Oh great…” Zarihn muttered. “I so love being used like this…” The Seekers kept ignoring him.
“Are you prepared for the attack?” Leliana asked Zarihn and Agronaak.
“Usually I have a cheap woman and a drink before a fight, but I suppose Seeker Cassandra will do.” Zarihn said. Cassandra glared at him and Agronaak chuckled dryly.
“I too am prepared.” He said, adjusting his grip on his sword. “When shall we attack?”
“As soon as we are all able.” Leliana said, looking to the battered battalion of soldiers that remained to them.
“The prisoners should lead the way.” Cassandra advised. “Their marks are our greatest boon in this battle.”
“Sorry, but do the prisoners have any say in this?” Zarihn asked.
“No.” Leliana and Cassandra said at the same time.
“So glad I’m getting treated right, thanks…” He muttered.
Cassandra scowled again and walked towards the end of the bridge with a rather reluctant Zarihn close behind her. Agronaak and Solas fell in step, but Varric stayed off to the side, taking practice shots with Bianca. The soldiers gathered up the precious few scraps of courage that they barely clung to and followed Cassandra up the snow covered mountainside to the ruined Temple of Sacred Ashes. Shades and demons of rage appeared before them once they reached the temple, and the soldiers fought with bravery, considering their situation. Cassandra hewed shades apart with her sword, trying to keep her eyes on Zarihn as he darted around the battlefield, a mismatched pair of daggers in his hands. Agronaak bellowed and charged at a rage demon, his sword sinking into its fiery shell as it collapsed into a puddle of molten lava on the ground. Solas hefted his staff and a pulse of electricity came forth from it, blasting a group of shades into nothingness.
Agronaak wiped a bit of sweat off his brow once the fighting had settled down. "A great number of demons we fight today, to be sure."
Cassandra glanced back at him. "Indeed. How astute. Let us move on."
“Oh, yeah… there’s a lot of demons to fight…” Zarihn trailed off, feigning deep thought. “I wonder what could have made you realize that…”
“Could it be the impending demon horde of doom?” Varric asked. “No, couldn’t be.” Agronaak felt a sudden urge to punt them both off the mountainside.
Solas rolled his eyes and walked further into the temple. “Come. There is much to be done, and no time can be spent frivolously.”
Descending into the temple, Agronaak's words were continuously proven true; it seemed as though one could move ten feet without another demon rounding a corner or rising up through the floor. This particular demon was over fifteen feet tall and was mottled black and grey, and had a set of black horns protruding from its skull. It had rather rudely erupted from a portal located in a central chamber of the temple or, rather, what was left of the temple, in front of a very large crystal. Something told him they were directly under the rift. The chamber was lined with red crystals protruding from all the walls, and it seemed as if the crystals almost… called out to them.
“Red lyrium…” Varric muttered, looking upon the crystals with terror. He shook his head and resumed his usual manner.
“And to think that I could be sitting in Val Royeaux with a tavern wench right now…” Zarihn said, sighing and twirling his daggers. Varric took aim at the demon and grinned.
“Oh, lighten up, Blondie.” He said. “At least you can tell the story of how you killed a thousand demons on top of a mountain to the next tavern wench you meet.”
“Oh, do shut up and get on with it!” Cassandra snapped at them both, striding purposefully towards the demon, poised to attack.
Solas' face grew concerned. "Cassandra, perhaps it would be wise to plan some course of action before engaging the-" His words were interrupted by a tremendous boom as the Seeker leapt out of the way of the massive creature's descending fist.
“Well that’s just rude!” Zarihn exclaimed, running up to the demon and leaping onto its forearm, sinking his blades into its flesh. The demon let out an unearthly screech and shook his arm in an attempt to get the elf off. Varric took aim again and fired a bolt between the demon’s eyes, sending it stumbling backwards. Solas frowned and twirled his staff, emblazoning a glowing blue rune on the ground behind the demon. As it moved back, Zarihn leapt off its arm, landing at a safe distance before it fell into the trap, sending a blast of arcane energy through its twisted body.
Agronaak dashed full-force into the fray, building up such momentum that he was able to leap up and shoulder check the demon. Of course he could not reach the creature's chest, but he was able to buckle its left knee, sending it crashing down onto the right one. Cassandra ran up and drove her sword through the demon’s opposite knee, leaving it to fall onto its back. Zarihn picked himself up off the ground and ran to the collapsed creature, flipping his blades in the air and stabbing them down into its head. The creature bellowed again and thrashed before it lay still, slowly sinking away into nothing.
"Hell of a fight..." Varric muttered. "Now, what might we do about... You know..." He gestured upwards.
“No, I thought we’d just leave it.” Zarihn said, maintaining his dry sense of humor.
“It's going to be murder by the end of the week.” Solas whispered to Agronaak.
"I have no doubt about that. The question is, at this point, by whose hand?" the Qunari whispered back, smiling slightly.
“Somehow I believe the Orlesian’s hands will be doing something other than killing…” Solas pointed out, gesturing to Cassandra.
Agronaak raised an amused eyebrow at the mage. "How tawdry. Wherever might you have gotten that idea?"
"Haven't the faintest inkling."
Cassandra's harsh commands snapped the two out of their conversation. "Our priority right now is to get. This. Rift. Closed. There will be time for joking later, but now we must focus on the task at hand." Agronaak nodded, but Zarihn, of course, was not so easily ordered.
“You just want to suck the joy out of everything.” Zarihn said, rolling up his right sleeve.
“Blondie, if you had your way, I think it wouldn’t just be joy she’s sucking out of you.” Varric added.
Zarihn smirked and looked up at the rift, clenching and unclenching his fist. “Ready, Agronaak?” He asked, steeling himself for the task ahead.
Agronaak grunted in affirmation, striding up to look at the rift, the crystal, and the smaller portal through which the demon had come. Gazing at it like this sent more strange electricity through his left arm, pooling in his palm. "So do I just..." He thrust his hand out.
Evidently, it was the right thing to do; immediately an arc of green lightning exploded forth from his hand, shooting at the portal. An awful burning sensation raced through the Qunari's entire being, centered, of course, in his palm, and he suddenly found it hard to remain upright with the energy coursing through him. Zarihn raised his right hand and an identical arc erupted from his hand, striking the portal and causing a small explosion in it. He winced as the pain in his arm spread, enveloping him and burning him to the very core. Zarihn clenched his fist and pulled it back, ripping away a part of the portal. After only a few agonizing moments, the portal collapsed in on itself, and with it, the rift in the sky above. Zarihn stumbled back and grabbed his right hand with his left.
“If this story doesn’t work on the wenches…” He muttered to himself, collapsing in a heap on the ground. Cassandra ran over to him to see if he was still breathing which, met with a few mixed emotions from everyone, he was.
Agronaak collapsed onto one knee, the pain gone but feeling completely drained. "At least... I don't have to listen to Zahrin for a while..." he muttered, as his body began to tilt forward and he felt the darkness envelop him.