Shades of Grey and Black

It's All Fun and Games Destroying the Carta Until Someone Gets a Knife in the Back

"Well, now what?" Alistair questioned as they stood uncertainly under the gates leading to Dust Town.

Ffion lifted her shoulders a little, her brows drawing together in a frown. Her grey eyes were studying their surroundings and clearly showed the pity she felt for these Dwarves that had fallen so far, or not been able to get up in the first place. She had just parted her lips to answer when loud voices interrupted her.

Off to their right, partially hidden in the shadows of an alley, were five Dwarves arguing fiercely. It was four against one and the group had bullied the lone Dwarf into a corner. They were oblivious to the Wardens and not worried about any sort of ramifications to their actions.

"No more excuses, Figor," The leader snapped, "It's been two weeks and though she's understanding, she's starting to get impatient. Where's the money?"

Figor cowered back against the rough stone and he put his hands up, not in defeat; it was more like he was warding off whatever blow that might be dealt. His terrified eyes never left his tormentors and it took him a moment to swallow some of his fear and answer.

"I – I have most of it at – at the shop," He stammered and then pressed on quickly when the lead Dwarf's hand clenched visibly, "I'll get the last five sovereigns today. At – at the end of business, please? Just give me the afternoon to get those l-last five. It'll happen, one of my customers owes me. Please?"

The other Dwarf glared for just a heartbeat longer and then waved his men back.

"All right, Figor," He said and his voice took on a dangerous edge, "This afternoon, then. And if you don't have it, you know where we'll pull it from."

The four turned and headed further into Dust Town while Figor slumped against the wall. One shaking hand went up to rub at his face and it cost him dear to stand upright and trudge to his shop.

Ffion's eyes had lit with both surprise and excitement and she was almost smiling up at Alistair, who liked what the slightly upturned lips did to the rest of her small face.

"I think they just answered your question," She observed, nodding to where the group of thugs was just visible, threatening another poor sod, "Come on, let's go see what Figor has to say about the Carta."

She started forward and was checked by Alistair's hand in the crook of her elbow. Her eyes went up to his again and he was looking at the group of Dwarves down the way.

"Let's hold up a minute longer, huh?" He said and it was more a command than request, "If we cause that poor fellow anymore trouble, he won't talk to us at all."

Ffion let out a quick sigh, seeing his point, but not bothering to hide her impatience. She wasn't used to bending her will to others' needs and it was just as difficult a lesson as trying to hold her tongue.

"Okay," She said grudgingly and then motioned with her free hand to the wall beside them, "We'll still be able to see from there."

Alistair removed his hand and followed her to the wall. They settled against it, Ffion taking a seat without a thought to the sandy stone beneath her and Tilly perched on her haunches beside her. The ex-Templar leaned against the stone next to the pair and watched the four Dwarves, hoping they would leave soon. Ffion tipped her head back, close enough that he could touch her pretty hair without an effort, and her grey eyes drifted shut. She just looked so tired lately and he wasn't sure how much of this was the normal strain of being a Warden and how much was what she had been taking on. Which only made him feel guilty. He knew that he was the one that should have stepped up and taken charge, but the fear that he would destroy everything more completely then it already was stopped him dead in his tracks. His guilt was stronger than ever at Ffion's deep sigh and he was fending it off in the only way he knew how: by talking.

"I wonder if Morrigan was right... again," He mused, not really sure where he was going with this.

It got Ffion's attention though and her eyes opened and locked on his. Her full lips parted and the little smile was back, making his face feel kind of hot and his heart thump rather loudly. This wasn't the first time that he wondered how soft those lips were... And then her voice interrupted the alarming thoughts.

"Twice in one day?" She said, her smile growing and making her eyes dance, "Which one of you is slipping?"

Alistair let out a chuckle and felt like his old self again, which was both relieving and kind of disappointing.

"Me, I think," He answered, "And Morrigan would, well, agree... again. But I meant about how many of us should have come down here. It wouldn't have hurt to have one more person. Sten would have helped with that situation there."

Ffion felt a little twinge of frustration and anger and wasn't sure why. But, as usual, they gave her tongue free reign and her words were biting and sarcastic.

"And then we would have had half of Dust Town down on our heads," She replied sharply, "No, not Sten. Leliana and Wynne wouldn't have stood idly by during that and so-"

"And so Zevran," Alistair sneered, his good mood gone and jealousy fueling his anger, "Just because-"

"Quit being ridiculous," Ffion interrupted and leaned forward to get to her feet, "He's proven his loyalty and you'll just have to get over the fact that I'm not throwing him out of our party."

The ex-Templar snorted and found that Ffion was rubbing off on him. He was more honest than usual and as he looked down into her face, noting that the anger gave her pleasantly flushed cheeks and made her eyes brighter, he couldn't stop himself from adding,

"He looks at you like you're something to eat and I don't like it; it makes my skin crawl. You deserve something better than that, Ffion, and I'm the one to..."

He trailed off, suddenly realizing what he was saying and felt his face flame hotly. Ffion had frozen in the process of standing and her grey eyes were wide. Over the past few weeks, she had lost some of the almond shape in them and they were round in her small face and brighter than ever now. Her lips parted slowly and she looked even more tired.

"Alistair," She began.

He was faster, not to mention more determined.

"I'm sorry, Ffion," He said abruptly, "Ignore me. I know you like Zevran and though I won't pretend I understand why, I don't have any right going off on him like that."

She hesitated, her anger easing with his genuine apology and making her face soften as it dissipated. Getting fully to her feet, she stepped closer and placed one hand on his arm, smiling up at him.

"And you're concerned," She added softly, "It's fine, Alistair. You're worried about me and that's very sweet. It's been a long time since... It's just very sweet, thank you. And our thugs have gone, so let's go see if they silenced Figor for good."

Alistair felt that same odd combination of relief and disappointment as she moved away. It would have been so easy for him to stoop and kiss her cheek just then, but he hadn't been sure that he could have resisted the temptation of her full lips. And that thought was as alarming as the idea of facing the Archdemon... In a different light of course. He just wasn't supposed to see a sister Warden this way. Sure, the others had had trysts, but it was never anything serious. Everyone had known that none of it would last; could last. Not with their shortened lifespan and devoting these to protecting Ferelden and her people from the Darkspawn. So why had Ffion always felt... different? It was almost like they fit together in some sort of way, and he was becoming more and more certain that it wasn't just because they were the only two Wardens that they knew of. It seemed like they belonged together, that they were meant... But no, that was going way too far. And never mind how light that thought made him feel, and how much he liked it.

And now, the object of his thoughts was escaping and so he gave himself a shake and hurried after her. Ffion was pulling open the shop door when he caught up and he held it while she and Tilly entered ahead of him. Figor stood behind a broad, short counter that was crowded with everyday goods. Scattered amongst these were finely crafted knives and hand axes that proved Figor's skill was wasted on those bullies and this rotten living. He gave them a friendly smile that didn't for a moment reveal his previous terror. The room was empty of fellow customers and Ffion boldly walked to the counter and spoke before anyone else could.

"Atrast vala," She greeted and pulled sovereigns out as she talked, "I have a favor to ask. The Carta was not discreet in their... thuggery and you need five sovereigns, right? I'll pay ten if you can tell me all you know of Jarvia."

"Are you-"

"That means you'll get your five from your late customer and have the ten to use however you want," She went on as though the Dwarf hadn't spoken, "And trust the word of a Warden. We'll use whatever information you give us to destroy the Carta once and for all. I need to know everything you might know."

Figor was speechless and his blue eyes kept flickering between Alistair and Ffion, waiting for someone to admit the joke.

"You're crazy," He finally managed, "And I want you out of this shop. The Carta is a disease and it'll take more authority than a Warden has to end it."

"Someone like a Dwarf lord with Orzammar behind him?" Ffion's voice was all cool superiority, mirroring Morrigan's perfectly.

Figor snorted, starting to relax. He almost smiled as he glanced between them again.

"Bhelen's a bastard and Harrowmont needs a hell of a lot of help before he can knock the prince from his pedestal."

Alistair could see the thoughts whirring through Ffion's mind and he stepped forward, not sure how he felt about the direction these were taking.

"Ffion-"

"Help only a Warden could give?" She interrupted, ignoring the ex-Templar's warning.

It brought Figor up short and his blue eyes were serious once more. He studied Ffion intently with more than a little disbelief. But he wasn't looking away from her, which was somehow encouraging.

"You mean you – you're here for Harrowmont?" He asked.

Ffion stepped to the counter fully and placed her money on its cluttered top.

"Ten sovereigns and all you have on Jarvia," She replied and didn't for a moment letting him think that she could be easily put off.

Figor stared for a split second longer.

"If they-"

"Give us some credit," Alistair interrupted, taking his place next to Ffion, "You didn't really think we would follow you directly here? Those idiots were long gone before we even came close to this door."

"And like I said, Jarvia will be taken down by whatever information you can give," Ffion added, jingling the coins against the counter to emphasize her point.

Figor's resistance disappeared and the coins followed a moment later.

"Unfortunately there's not much to give," He said and his voice lowered like he was afraid the Carta could hear him in the shop, "I've never met Jarvia herself. I owe money through one of her low-level thugs. The one thing I can tell you is that they have a sort of meeting house at the end of this street. If you're really that desperate for trouble, go check that place out. And if there's even a hint of-"

"There won't be," Ffion interrupted with such confidence even Alistair blinked at her, "Thanks for the help."

She turned about and left the shop without another word, Tilly and Alistair following in her wake. The Warden took a moment to get her bearings and then headed down the street. All of the houses down that way were dilapidated and leaning into one another, but the one on the end looked promising... In a dark, foreboding sort of way.

Alistair glanced sidelong at Ffion who eyed the place nervously, never mind her previous determination. Her grey eyes met his as she felt his gaze.

"Ready?" He asked.

"Not really," She answered frankly and her jaw set, morphing her face into rather hard, stubborn lines that made her look younger, "But we don't have a choice."

She stepped forward, putting one hand to the door and giving it a shove. It opened reluctantly and none of the Dwarves lounging nearby gave this a second thought. They were all too used to seeing strangers move in and out of the place, and they didn't trouble the Wardens at all.

The entry way that Ffion and Alistair found themselves in was dingy and poorly lit. The house was narrow, running straight back from the street and the little entry was cramped. There wasn't a stick of furniture other than a bookshelf that was missing most of the shelves and a trunk that once would have held boots, and probably weapons. There were a few piles of parchment on the few remaining bookshelves and Ffion went to examine these while Alistair struggled to open the trunk and Tilly prowled the room.

It was the hound that sounded the warning, but it came too late for her lady and the ex-Templar to steel themselves.

"Well, well, well," A voice was saying, "Lookee' 'ere, boys, fresh meat. An' the Wardens t'boot."

Tilly was in front of her lady who whirled to face the six Dwarves that had materialized from the deeply shadowed end of the house. The Mabari growled at the leader who eyed Ffion lecherously. The young Warden's hands went to her knife hilts and her grey eyes glittered dangerously.

"Try it," She challenged, her old recklessness taking hold of her as Tilly's ears went back and Alistair sidled closer, "I dare you."

The Dwarf chuckled and motioned to the others.

"This'll be fun. Think their women're be'er than our whores?"

Another thug let out a sick little chuckle.

"On'y one way t'find out," He said and his near toothless grin was horrible.

Ffion's hand hardly moved, but the Dwarf suddenly collapsed with her knife stuck in his eye. He hadn't had time to even reach for his short bow and the Warden noted with satisfaction the Dwarf next to him was not nearly so eager for a fight anymore. But this didn't stop the others.

The leader dove at Alistair with his right-hand man in tow while Tilly took on another and the remaining two advanced on Ffion. Her short swords were in her palms and she did her best to push the sudden rush of fear aside. She met one with a fierce upward swing of one blade, knocking him into Tilly and then rounding on the other. The Dwarves were much shorter than she was, but they had all the girth she lacked and this was not an easy fight. She fought fiercely, parrying every blow, cursing when the Dwarf got too close and waiting for her opening. Which came as soon as the second Dwarf was gaining a second wind.

Tilly finally finished of her foe and Alistair was making headway with his by the time Ffion's sword hilt smashed into the Dwarf's head. He staggered back against one of the dingy walls and Ffion spun, looking for her other Dwarf. This one was ready for her and his own sword went crashing against her temple and she fell back. Stars exploded behind her eyelids and she was almost on her knees as a wicked-looking short sword parried the killing blow and a familiar, honey-like voice said,

"Easy, ser, can you not see she's had enough?" Zevran had never been more welcome. His teeth gleamed as he pushed the Dwarf aside, “Give our dove a chance, yes?"

It was hardly a question and the Elf's added presence brought an abrupt end to the fight. Alistair had backed two of the Dwarves against the wall, Zevran took out the leader with a single swipe of the wicked blade, and Tilly and Ffion advanced the remaining two. The right-hand man was quick to see there was no other alternative to surrender and he threw his blades down. The others followed suit, but the right-hand's green eyes didn't leave Ffion.

"Please," He gasped, "Enough, we're done. Bloody ancestors, what're yeh Wardens made of?"

Ffion didn't ease on her swords and Zevran's presence at her elbow was very reassuring. Her grey eyes were hard and when she snorted in disbelief, Tilly began growling again.

"Stronger stuff than you, obviously," She answered bitingly.

"Was there ever any doubt?" Zevran added and started forward, his blades gleaming much like his eyes.

Ffion held out her hand as the Dwarves cowered back. The small move brought the Elf up short but Ffion wasn't looking away from the thugs.

"They've surrendered," She said sharply.

"Pet, you-"

"They've surrendered and I need them," Ffion still didn't look away and the hope she saw in the right-hand’s green eyes drew her, "Start talking. The more you can tell us, the better off you'll be."

"I'll tell yeh everythin', no worries, Warden, trus' me on that," The thug was terrified, which was good for Ffion, "Jarvia 'as a hideout, un'er the city. The catch is, yeh need one o' these t'get in."

Ffion had to hold Zevran again as the Dwarf reached into his armor and pulled out what looked like...

"Is that a-,"

"A finger bone," The thug interrupted Alistair, but it was statement; not an answer to a question, "There's a door hi'en in an alley jus' down the way 'ere. The on'y way in is w'that bone. Tha's all there is, Warden. Please-,"

"Get out of here," Ffion cut in, taking the bone from him, "And steer clear of Jarvia tonight. Unless, of course, you change your mind about dying."

"Ffion?" Zevran and Alistair's voices held the exact same note of disbelief and both were ignored.

"Y – yer serious?" The thug stuttered, "You-,"

"I'm serious," She sounded exhausted and her grey eyes leveled on him, "Get the hell out of here."

Zevran was annoyed, but he didn't argue, not with the Dwarves present. Instead he stepped back to let them by, saying sharply,

"Leave the weapons."

They didn't need to be told twice. The right-hand man paused long enough to nod at Ffion.

"Stone guide yeh, Warden."

Alistair and Zevran both turned to Ffion as the door closed. Her jaw set stubbornly and the men's momentary alliance would have been amusing if their stern expressions hadn't killed that feeling.

"You know they'll go running back to Jarvia," Alistair said.

Zevran's blond head inclined and his amber eyes were as level as Ffion's.

"Chirpy is right, pet," He agreed, "Leaving loose threads is never wise."

"We won't give them a chance to reach her. We're going to get there first," Ffion was matter of fact, examining her blades before sliding them away, "Besides, they had surrendered and I'm not going to cut down anyone who gives up so completely. I don't believe in killing solely for the act of killing."

Zevran could feel that barb even if she hadn't intended it, and his smile was cool as his gaze turned speculative.

"But the others-" Alistair tried again.

"We don't have time," She cut through his arguments without thought and continued, "We'll head there now."

She turned and went for the door. Zevran and Alistair fell in behind her and Tilly; neither one convinced... or happy.

"With just us?" The ex-Templar questioned, his tone still incredulous, "Harrowmont said-,"

"And you really want to trust his ability to pull enough men together to help here?" She wasn't about to let anyone talk her out of this and she ignored the way Alistair's face was growing red at her repeated interruptions, "No, it's better this way."

Zevran had better luck than Alistair. He stopped Ffion's march down the street with a mere brush of his fingers and offered when she glanced at him,

"Let us at least pay one of these Dwarves to take a message to the others, my dove. It is better to have late help than no help at all, yes?"

She let out a snort of disbelief as she met his gaze.

"Pay?" She repeated, clearly unconvinced, "What makes you think that any of these people can be trusted with something like that?"

The Elf smiled his feral smile and almost patted her head in that condescending, don't-trouble-yourself-any way that his eyes suggested he felt.

"Zevran has his ways," He answered and was all confident assurance.

He slipped away and seemed to materialize amongst a group of Dwarves that were further down the road. Ffion watched him go with a bemused, irritated sort of expression, and then headed down the road without him. With Alistair beside her and Tilly on the other side, she approached a door that was centered between two broken down homes. She studied the wood for a moment and then pulled the finger bone out of her pocket. There was an odd little hole that was exactly level with Tilly's nose and Ffion slid the bone into this as Zevran was beside her and the door gave a little click.

"Success, my dear," The Elf commented.

Ffion barely nodded at him before Alistair took the chance to be heard again.

"Are you sure about this, Ffion?" He asked quietly, "I mean, it wouldn't be too much to just run back to Tapsters and gather the others."

She hesitated for the briefest moment, making the ex-Templar think that he might have won this one. But then she clenched her jaw and gave the door a hard shove like she was taking out her frustration on it instead of the men with her. This door was well-oiled; not like the other one at all, and they stood in a long corridor that was lighted every ten yards or so with a flickering torch. The floor was carved stone, along with the walls that went up to a ceiling that even Sten could walk comfortably underneath. Alistair took this in and his honey colored eyes lit with their usual happy-go-lucky air.

"Why do such short people need such high ceilings?" He questioned as they started down the corridor, "Do you think they're compensating for something?"

"Well, you would-"

"Shh!" Ffion hissed, stopping Zevran before he could start an argument that would blow their cover completely. Tilly was standing at attention, her ears perked, and her head cocked to one side. Her lady recognized this for what it was and she tilted her head as well, listening hard, "Do you hear voices?"

The other two fell silent as they focused on any noises from the end of the corridor. Faintly, they were able to pick up what Tilly was hearing and they went on slowly, trying to avoid making too much noise. They reached the end much sooner than they thought and Zevran waved for the others to stop. He stepped forward a little more, reaching into one of the pouches on his belt. Pulling out what looked like a wrapped truffle, the Elf eased to a corner before tossing it into the next room. There was a popping sound that had some depth to it and a sharp acrid smoke smell stung their noses. Whoever was in the next room let out curses as the Elf slipped in and began taking care of them under cover of the smoke.

Ffion was quick to step in as well, with Tilly and Alistair on her heels. There were only three Dwarves left by the time they caught up with the Elf, and these were still very disoriented by the smoke. When the room was cleared, they were able to see that they had stumbled into a storeroom of sorts. There was a partition down the middle of the room and barrels, crates, and boxes stacked the corners. The Dwarves they had taken down were obviously the gatekeepers, and Zevran was quick to riffle through the pockets and came up with a large key ring.

The door to the right looked disused; covered in cobwebs, and so they went around the partition and through the next doorway. Another corridor stretched out in front of them and they eased down this one carefully, Alistair in the lead. It was Zevran who noticed the trap.

"Hold," He whispered, reaching out to catch the ex-Templar's arm, "Do not step down there."

Alistair was poised precariously on one foot and Ffion moved to his other side to take his arm so he wouldn't fall over. Instead he stepped backward and Zevran crouched, examining the booby-trapped stone. The only indication that there was something wrong was the slightly raised edge that had to be looked for. The Elf didn't attempt to disarm it and straightened in one fluid move. His amber eyes skipped along the floor and picked out the safest route for them. He waved the others back a little more and stepped over the trapped stone.

"Step only where I do," He instructed in a voice below a whisper, "None of us desire a violent end, yes? And disarming these traps is quite a frustrating business."

Alistair waved Ffion ahead of him while the young Warden instructed Tilly to walk directly behind her.

"I'll watch her," The ex-Templar offered in a whisper.

Together, placing each foot as if it would indeed be their last, they picked their way along the corridor and found themselves at another doorway. Again, there was the soft murmur of voices and Zevran sacrificed another one of his handy little distractions. There were only four Dwarves here but this fight was a little more fierce. One of them looked to be half human or Qunari as he was a good head and shoulders taller than the rest and had double the girth. But Alistair and Zevran, for all their differences, made a good team. And neither one was about to let Ffion get harmed.

The room was a jail, or holding place of some kind and they took their time looking around once the Dwarves were taken care of. To their left a couple of steps led to a raised section where three cells were located. One held a Dwarf that was far beyond their help, but in the one next to him was a young Dwarf leaning on the cell bars. His black hair was lank against a face that was very gaunt. His hands gripped the heavy metal bars so tightly it looked like he might fall over if he let go. His deeply shadowed eyes were sunken with hunger as he looked up at them and his very cracked lips parted slowly.

"Please..." He whispered in a broken voice, "Help..."

Ffion was already rooting through the pockets of the dead Dwarves and she finally came up with a ring of heavy keys. She smiled a little at the Dwarf as she approached his door.

"You'll be okay," She said quietly, "I'll get you out."

He didn't seem to be paying attention. He was looking at the neighboring cell and his face became longer.

"Too late..." He muttered, "Why, Faren? He jus'... gave up... Stopped eatin' and... I can't leave 'im 'ere."

Ffion had successfully managed to open his cell door and instantly put out her arms as the Dwarf stumbled into her. She staggered under his weight and Alistair stepped forward to help her. They steadied the Dwarf and Ffion winced as he squeezed her hand so hard it felt like he was trying to snap her finger bones. She opened her mouth to answer him but Zevran was faster. He had deftly picked the lock of the next cell and bent over the dead Dwarf. Reaching with one hand to close the staring eyes, he said,

"Your friend is beyond help and he would be too much for you to handle alone."

"I can' leave 'im," The Dwarf replied stubbornly, his voice strengthening even as he clutched Ffion more tightly.

Zevran stood, his eyes a little annoyed as he looked back at them. Ffion, her heart softening, was the one that spoke next.

"The way back is clear," She said, her grey eyes on the Dwarf's black, "You would be able to go and get some help and come back safely."

He snorted, pulling away to attempt standing on his own. It worked this time and his gaze was contemptuous as he looked at her.

"You 'ave my thanks, cloudhead... but you're damn thick if yeh think a... casteless will get 'elp from those soddin'...."

His strength seemed to go out and he deflated. Alistair put one steadying hand under his elbow and the pity in his eyes was palpable.

"Things can't be that bad?" He asked quietly and Zevran's impatient shifting went ignored.

The Dwarf had turned his contempt to the ex-Templar but before he could light into him, Ffion interrupted.

"Then we'll come back for him," She said firmly. One of her hands dug through the small bag strung to her belt and she pulled up a thick slice of ham that she had snagged from Tapsters earlier, "Here, take this, and go find something to drink. We'll take care of things down here and I promise you, we will come back for your friend."

The Dwarf accepted the ham greedily and was in the middle of a huge bite when the Warden's words froze him in place. His black eyes grew even wider and he forced the swallow, blinking at her.

"Are yeh... You ain't teasing, are you?" He managed, "Why would you... a cloudhead, trouble yerself with... one of us casteless?... It don't make sense."

"It's the right thing to do," Ffion answered briskly and glanced around them at the room, "We have to get moving, but like I said, we'll come back for him. He deserves a proper burial no matter what his circumstances were."

The Dwarf had time to stammer his thanks as she dropped a few silvers into his free palm and gave him the formal farewell. Zevran and Alistair followed after the Warden and her hound, too surprised by this sudden turnaround to pose any arguments.

"Ffion..." It was Alistair who finally broached the subject as their surroundings went from stone corridors to packed earth. Hopefully this meant they were getting closer to Jarvia.

"What in the Maker's name is a cloudhead?" She cut in with a frown, "I think he meant it as an insult, but it doesn't work too well when your target doesn't get it."

Zevran laughed in delight before he remembered they were trying to be cautious. Alistair blinked down at his fellow Warden with a smile curving his lips. She looked so sweet and innocent, and it was amazing how quickly she morphed from their 'rough-and-ready' leader to a very young girl. And all in the blink of an eye it seemed.

"It means you come from the great wide world, my pet," Zevran purred, "He just does not know as we do, yes?"

Alistair still smiled at her in that almost tender way and he was the one that got them back on track.

"And that's one of the nicer insults, believe it or not," He pressed on with his original question, "Anyway, do you really think that we'll have time to come back and get that Dwarf?"

The Warden had let Zevran move in front of her as he was much more accustomed to spotting traps than she was, and she herself focused her gaze on Tilly since the hound would be the first to hear any adversaries. She gave a little shrug of her shoulders as Zevran tilted his head to listen.

"Well, it was better than letting him attempt to haul his friend back to Dust Town and killing himself in the process."

Alistair's sigh was relief itself and he smiled at her again, silently commending her for some very quick thinking.

"So you were just trying to placate him?" He replied, "Good move."

"Yes and no," She frowned as Tilly perked up, cocking her head, and then settling once more. Zevran had also paused, but with both of them pressing on, Ffion didn't think anything of it, "He wasn't strong enough to do it on his own, which was very obvious. But I have no intention of going back on my word. He's not the one to take something like that lightly and I'm not the type to promise something and not deliver. Once we take care of the thugs here, there's no reason why we can't come back and carry that body for his friend. Yes, Zev, I mean it."

This last was directed at the Elf when he started to turn, his full lips parting in what she could only assume would have been an argument. They weren't given the chance to go into detail. The path ahead of them continued straight, but they had reached a section where two short jaunts ran perpendicular to theirs, and they were as surprised to see the group of Dwarves as the Dwarves were to see them.

The fight that followed was quick and very tense. It was four of them against eight Dwarves and they very nearly didn't come out ahead. Tilly took a glancing blow from an axe to her shoulder, Alistair was shot twice by the scout's bow before Ffion's knife finished the Dwarf off; Zevran's green tattoo had a deep slash cutting diagonally across it, and Ffion was slammed into the wall of the tunnel so harshly they worried she had dislocated a shoulder. It felt like a battering ram had used her upper shoulder and collar bone for practice, and if it hadn't been for Alistair's quick thinking and even quicker shield bash, she wouldn't be standing among them. In fact, her companions would have returned for two bodies instead of just Faren's.

"Now, if we had the wonderful Wynne-"

"Don't," Ffion interrupted Zevran without looking at him as she paid attention to her dog. Her words were clipped and short, her breath slowly returning to normal. She pulled out a little kit that held heavy thread and several needles, each one a varying size, "I'm standing beside my decision and the only thing that would change my mind is if all of us were to die."

She was well aware how silly that sounded, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Besides, she had kind of done it on purpose, succeeding in making Alistair chuckle and Zevran cast her a wicked smile as they knelt beside her and helped to stitch Tilly's wounds. The little kit was a remnant of Ostagar and one of Duncan's abundant practical ideas. It had been a gift from the senior Warden and Ffion sent him a quiet thanks as Tilly remained still. The hound's hide twitched with each stab of the needle, but she knew her lady was helping and so didn't shy away. Alistair received attention next but the arrows hadn't done too much damage and he was content with a few tight bandages until Wynne showed up.

The dirt track did end up being a sign that they were coming closer to Jarvia and, after another mile or so of the twisting tunnel, they came up on a heavy metal door; fortified against any attack, of course. But none of the thugs seemed to take into account what would happen if someone managed to snag the keys Zevran rattled a little too eagerly as he hunted for the right one.

"Is this really a good idea?" Alistair muttered in Ffion's ear as the Elf tried another key and the tumblers in the lock gave way.

"They'll assume we're one of the scouts," She answered, but ran her fingers over one knife hilt rather nervously.

"Until they see us," The ex-Templar's tone was dark and his honey colored eyes were on Zevran's, "Do you have any of those little explosions handy?"

"Of course," The Elf said smoothly, "But I agree with our dove. Jarvia is a most curious woman, and she will desire to learn how we bested her men. We will have an excellent opportunity to stall the fighting until our little party arrives. Now let us enter before they get even more nervous, yes?"

And without waiting for an answer, the Elf shoved the door open. They were back on a regular stone floor with carvings that led the eyes up to the ceiling and the huge stone beams that ran the width of it. These were connected to four wide supports that Sten could have easily hidden behind. There was a raised dais at the back of the room and the torches flickered off of the stone in a way that was almost disorienting.

"What the hell's this?" The growled voice came from the shadows to their right and there was a burly little Dwarf with pale brown eyes that were narrowed to slits, "Who're you?"

"We came here for an audience with Jarvia," Ffion's voice was quiet, but firm. She was afraid that her words would tremble if she spoke too loudly.

"Well, isn't that too damn bad," The Dwarf replied and advanced a little, "You can either tuck tail an'-"

"Caro! Since when do you have the authority to turn away guests?" The new voice was anything but welcoming and by her tone, she would've been better off saying 'bastards' instead of 'guests.'

But Caro was cowed and he sent a quick glance over his shoulder before grunting and motioning them to enter. Zevran didn't like that the Dwarf moved behind them and he felt rather than saw the other slip into place there as well. Ahead of them, a female Dwarf came down the steps and behind her were two more scouts with bows. The Dwarf woman was middle-aged and would have been quite attractive if life hadn't been so hard on her. Her dark brown eyes were hard and cold as they surveyed Ffion's party. She wore leather armor that was well taken care of and had been around for some time. Her straight, near black hair skimmed her jaw and the rune-like tattoo that decorated her right cheekbone somehow worked for her.

"I trust you have a good reason for barging in on us?" Her voice was cool and superior.

Ffion's hackles went up and her fear was replaced with a sudden rush of anger. She squared her shoulders and stepped forward, all at once becoming the Teyrn's daughter. The sight of the scouts tightening their hold on the bows and the sound of the guards loosing their axes went ignored.

"You have a traitor in your midst," She answered, pulling the finger bone out of her pocket and flicking it at the Dwarf's feet, "You might want to check on that."

Other than a brief clench of her jaw, Jarvia seemed unmoved. She had come to a stop a few yards from them almost, but not quite, putting her hands on her hips.

"So you're the ones," She said, "We had heard Harrowmont finally took action against the Carta but he still doesn't bother to send his own to defend his city," She snorted in contempt and her eyes locked on Ffion, "Tell me, Warden: that has to sting, even if it's just a little."

"If it takes down your thugs and strips you of whatever power you think you have, it'll be worth it," Ffion stood forward, ready to go toe-to-toe with this arrogant, would-be mobster, and a quick gleam of torchlight caught the tripline of the trap at the bottom of the steps. Her brain was already forming a plan when Jarvia started bragging.

"You are aware, cloudhead, that it's not a fight you'll win? Three and a quarter against my Carta? You must be thick."

Tilly started growling, recognizing the insult, and Ffion did some bragging of her own as Alistair and Zevran closed ranks with her.

"And you're aware, Dwarf, that your Carta is nothing but a field of bodies? I think the odds just tipped back in our favor."

Jarvia's face twisted as her hands clenched and the Dwarves behind the party started forward.

"If that's so, you'll pay for it, you little bitch," She snarled, "Leave the pretty one alive, boys, I have a special treatment for her."

Ffion moved faster than the scouts could. Her knife left her fingers and snapped the tripline. Like she hoped, the trap sprung and the explosion blew the archers into the far wall. They slammed against it and slid to the floor, remaining motionless. Jarvia dove at the Warden as Alistair took on the guards with Tilly, and Zevran was busy with a sixth Dwarf that had sprung from the shadows.

Jarvia very quickly gained the upper hand and she fought dirty. Ffion scrambled back, on the defensive. Jarvia's dual blades were blurs and it was all the Warden could do to keep them from her flesh. She got a reprieve thanks to Tilly. The Mabari had taken out her Dwarf and sprang clear when Alistair's was knocked into her path. The hound collided with Jarvia's legs and made her stagger. Ffion took her chance and ducked away as well, slashing one blade across the Dwarf's exposed back. Jarvia spat out a curse and whirled to face the Warden in a blur of blades and dark hair. Ffion was a little more prepared this time and with Tilly beside her, things didn't seem so hopeless. She met the Dwarf's swings with her own and didn't think twice about fighting dirty herself. She lashed out with a swift kick every now and then and tried to remember all the tips and tricks she had picked up from the duels and fights with Gilmore. Although there could hardly be a true comparison. Gilmore had never been trying to kill her... That she knew of anyway.

Jarvia was quick to drive those thoughts from her head. She kicked back, forcing Ffion to jump to the side. Her feet tangled in the legs of that first guard and she stumbled, watching in dismay as Tilly was knocked aside with a sharp yelp. Under the right circumstances, the scene probably would have been rather comical. That which can go wrong will go wrong. And then Jarvia took the chance to hurl herself at the Warden while she was still off balance.

Time seemed to slow. Zevran finished off his Dwarf and turned to face the room, but there was no way he'd reach Ffion in time. Alistair was still tangled with the guard and Tilly slowly got to her feet, shaking her broad head and whining softly. Ffion realized she was on her own and she braced herself, waiting for the blow. Which never came.

Jarvia was knocked clean out of the air by some unseen force and Sten hollered his Qunari battle cries as he dodged Morrigan's continued spells and took out the Dwarf with one sweep of that huge broadsword. The familiar twang of Leliana's bow preceded Alistair's guard being cut down, and Wynne immediately cast her healing magic over all of them. Ffion let out a sigh that was relief itself as the pain in her shoulder disappeared and Tilly trotted over to her, happy and content.

"Just in time," She commented, dropping her swords to her sides, "Any trouble along the way?"

"None," Leliana answered, her cheeks dimpling as she tucked her bow away, "You all are very thorough, no?"

"Try to be," Alistair cut in and started towards his fellow Warden, "Are you okay? She didn't-"

There was a flicker of movement behind Ffion and she let out a surprised gasp, stumbling forward. Leliana was the first to react.

"Back!" She ordered sharply, bringing her arm up in the same breath.

There was a little click of a catch releasing and the Dwarf assassin that had materialized behind Ffion dropped with a long silver dart lodged in his throat. Alistair had caught Ffion's arm to steady her and the young Warden blinked at Leliana as she rearranged the gauntlet on her left arm, tucking the little firing mechanism away.

"I need to find one of those," She said, her voice oddly breathless. Alistair frowned at her, his lips parting as she rolled her shoulders and wondered at the hot pinpricks running across her lower back, "But I think... I think he got lucky."

Zevran was instantly moving forward as Ffion's knees buckled and Alistair caught her more firmly. The assassin's blade had torn through both leather armor and soft flesh, and blood dripped steadily onto the stone floor. The others gathered around as the ex-Templar scooped her into his arms. Leliana snatched up her discarded blades, Zevran hovered helplessly close by, and Wynne cast more of her magic. The frown that creased the enchanter's forehead was not encouraging.

"I'm afraid that blade was poisoned," She said quietly while Morrigan motioned to the dais and the two doors there.

"'Tis possible one of these is a shortcut," The witch offered, "The sooner we get back, the better, yes?"

Sten tossed her the set of keys he lifted from Jarvia's body as Ffion struggled in Alistair's arms.

"No," She protested weakly, trying to free herself, "I... I made a... promise. We can't... We - ah!"

Morrigan had flung open one of the doors to reveal a short flight of steps that led up. Tilly whined at the sound of her lady's pain and the concern in the witch's gold eyes was evident even if her voice didn't betray it.

"'Promise?'" She repeated, "What on earth was it this time?"

"Sten and I will go," Zevran interrupted, giving Alistair's shoulder a push, "Take care of her."

"Like I won't," The ex-Templar muttered quietly and disappeared up the steps.

Wynne, Tilly, and Leliana hurried after him while Morrigan paused, arching her brows at the Elf.

"Do I really want to know?" She said coldly.

"A question only you can answer," Zevran's amber eyes began dancing, "You need to pick which is greater, my lovely: your curiousity or your concern about our dove."

The witch scoffed and turned about with a snap, gliding up the steps and out of sight. Zevran's feral smile softened some as he clapped Sten on the shoulder and headed back the way they had come.

"Come, my friend, let us set little Ffion's heart at rest, yes?"


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