Bethany carefully studies the runes Tavish had scratched into the earthen ground. Slowly, and purposefully the dark haired mage begins to unravel the complex hex. Isana watches with wide eyes as faint blue and silver wisps dance and twist as they dissipate in the air like steam. She’s never been this close to magic before, she is completely enthralled as a million and a half questions dance through her mind.
“This route would be best,” Varric’s finger traces one of three paths leading to the Torkver thaig.
“What of this path,” Fenris points to trail that seems the fastest.
“See these runes here,” Varric points to the symbols in questions. “These are an indication of dangers. Like this one which warns of a lava flow.”
“What are the odds that we’ll catch up to them,” Isabela doesn’t stop sharpening her blades as she speaks.
“I don’t think we will,” Varric sighs. “They are at least a day ahead of us and if I know my Bianca, she’ll take them the long way, giving us time to get ahead and arrange an ambush.”
“Finished,” Bethany sighs and pushes a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“That is the coolest thing ever. What does it feel like?”
Bethany chuckles. “I can’t really describe it. But I feel the mana swirling inside me, waiting to be shaped by my will.”
“Like fire,” her excitement grows and the mage giggles at the girl’s enthusiasm.
“Yes and light.” She knows magic is not a toy but there’s no harm in summoning a small ball of mage light. The glowing sphere hovers a few inches above Bethany’s palm.
“Maker’s breath,” Isana gasps softly and gingerly reaches out to touch the light before having second thoughts.
“It’s ok. You can touch it.”
Isana grins widely and gently pokes the small glowing light. She’s amazed that there is nothing to feel, it’s as if she were poking air and she finds herself giggling. “Can I hold it?”
“Regrettably no, it’s feeds off of my mana,” and with a thought the glowing light is gone.
“How’s the trap coming, Sunshine?”
“Orez said the doors should be up ahead,” Varric lifts his heavy pack and leads the way into the Deep Roads.
Everyone follows, including Isana who is muttering some choice and colorful phrases under her breath about Varric.
After a day and a half underground the dwarves’ tempers have calmed and the small talk among the others has all but stopped. Instead Bethany, Fenris and Isabela listen to the conversations between Varric and Isana, eager to learn more about the one story he’s never told. This section of the Deep Roads is close to the surface, and beams of light filter in through the small cracks and holes in the cavern tunnel.
“Isana, the reason I was never in your life is because I didn’t know about you. If I knew Bianca was pregnant I would have been there.”
“But Mom sent a letter with my uncle.”
“He never delivered it. Gerav destroyed all news of her pregnancy. He knew that if I knew, no force in Thedas could have kept me from you two.”
“Why? Why would he do that,” she pushes her hair out of her face, a beam of sunlight dancing in her golden locks.
“For the life of me I can’t figure that out. We were friends, I was dating his sister. He never lied to me nor gave any indication that something was wrong, so I never had reason to doubt him. He told Bianca and I similar, but conflicting stories. He made us think that we could never be together,” there’s a tone of regret in his words. “And like fools we believed him,” this last statement was more to himself. He studies the two paths before them before leading the group down the darker tunnel.
“Tell me about you and Mom,” her fire blue eyes dancing with expectation.
“I can’t,” he shifts his pack. “I promised Bianca I would never tell her story.”
Bethany mutters softly and summons a ball of mage light, roughly the size of a grapefruit. The pale silvery blues light washes over the group and pushes back the darkness several yards.
“Then don’t tell me her story. Tell me your story. Unless, you think I don’t need to know my father.”
“You’re so clever,” his tone is indecipherable.
“I’ve been told that before,” she beams proudly.
He sighs, she is his daughter and he she does has the right to know him, he just wishes his friends weren’t eavesdropping. “Alright, what do you want to know?”
“So when you shot my mother…”
He stops dead in his tracks. “Really?! Really?! You’re just going to jump into the most painful memory of my life? Just like that?” This is the second time she’s poked that memory and Varric wonders is there is something specific the girl is searching for, or is she doing it to provoke a reaction from him.
“You asked what I wanted to know.”
“I was hoping for a ‘how I met your mother’ story.”
“Mom told me how you met. I want your story.”
“You talked me into it; I’ll tell you about how I met Bianca.”
“That’s not what I want to hear,” she grumbles.
“You wanted my story and my tale is best told from the beginning.”
“What,” the girl exclaims. “You, slippery son of a…”
“Careful,” he smiles widely. “That’s your family too.”
She growls in frustration. “You’re impossible.”
He chuckles, “Bianca has said that to me several time.”
“Zinaga, the men are tired. We need to make camp,” Tavish
“Very well, send a scout ahead to find a location, and assign a couple of men to guard her,” the elf gestures towards Bianca. The dwarf’s hands are bound behind her back. There is a second length of rope with one end wrapped about her neck and the other end held tightly by the elf.
“You lead me about like a dog,” Bianca grumbles. Zinaga sneers and uses the rope to jerk the dwarf closer and brings herself nose to nose with the short woman.
“Woof,” she snarls making her contempt of Bianca evident. Zinaga has never liked the dwarf and has never made a secret of that fact. Bianca has more skill as a thief and is far more popular than the elf could ever be and because of that she is a threat. The elf knows that the dwarf’s disinterest in politics is all a ruse. She knows that when the time is right, and when the position is available, Bianca and her supporters will make their move. The dark haired elf managed to escape the Alienage at a tender age and found her way into the beds and confidences of the influential among the Thieves’ Guild. She has worked so hard, made so many promises and alliances, betrayed, murdered and framed so many others in order to obtain her precarious hold on third in command. She has clawed her way into her position and she will continue to do whatever it takes to gain more power.
The men assigned to Bianca lead her to a section of cavern where they secure her until the scouts return. The rest of the band of thieves begins standing about and chatting among themselves. Zinaga waves over her lieutenant, Tavish, her eyes never leaving Bianca.
“Yes,” the crystal atop his lyrium etches staff glows softly, casting strange shadows on his face.
“Make sure she gets a little something to eat,” a thought occurs to her. “And something to calm her nerves, help her sleep,” her lips curled into an evil grin.
His smile matches her. “I’ll see to it myself,” he bows and retreats. Zinaga watches him leave then glares at the dwarf who is returning her stare with equal contempt. The elf knows Bianca is a threat and is making plans to ensure that the dwarf never leaves the Deep Roads.
It was many years ago, and I wasn’t the silver tongued, charismatic wordsmith I am today. Now as cliché as it sounds…I remember every detail as if it were yesterday.
It’s an unusually hot summer, with the rainy season running longer than it ever has in recorded history. The sun had set several hours ago, providing some relief from the oppressive heat, but the rise of the moon did little to alleviate the overbearing humidity. The air is so thick that breathing takes effort. The still atmosphere is heavy with the smell of rain, but the dark clouds, which hide the moon and stars, are too high and too thin to bring the relief of rain.
Some of the more wealthy families are enjoying holidays in Orlais, Antiva, Nevarra, even Ferelden, anyplace where the temperatures are moderate and less humid. One such family is the Hasselen clan, popular and successful wine merchants in Kirkwall. Their estate is not too far from the Tethras home, and for the possibility of negotiation trade contracts, Bartrand volunteered to keep an eye on the property while they were away. However, it’s Varric who is woken up to investigate every strange shadow and mysterious sound reported. It is, in fact, the fourth time that night the younger Tethras has been hauled from his bed to investigate yet another noise coming from the Hasselen grounds.
“Bartrand was the one who volunteered. Why do I have to go,” Varric grumbled while pulling on his pants. The servant at least has the decency to apologize as he shifts his weight and mutters something about Bartrand’s orders.
“Yes, yes I know.” Varric yawns as he pulls his shirt and rubs the sleep from his eyes. He grabs his twin blades as the servant reports that the disturbance is coming from the gardens.
“Master Thethras, will you require assistance,” the question is in reference to his latest investigation.
“No,” another yawn. “It’s probably just a stray cat…like last time. I’ll be back soon.”
The mugginess clings to Varric like a second, unwanted skin as he begins the 15 minute walk to the Hasselen home. Beads of sweat form along his brow and runs down the length of his spine. He continues to mutter and curse to himself while thinking of ways to shave off Bartrand’s mustache.
He looks up to the sky in time to see the clouds part to reveal a sliver of the moon. He finds some solace in the knowledge that even the criminals are hiding from the weather. Upon reaching the large wooden door, which was specifically imported from Orlais, he tests the door and finds it securely locked. He climbs one of the fruits trees outside of the manor’s walls and peeks into the yard. Seeing nothing amiss he begins deciding whether or not to drug his brother before shaving Bartrand’s face, and then he hears it. He pauses and listens again, and can clearly identify the sound of water moving, as if someone were in the pond.
Quickly and quietly he sneaks over the wall and lands on the opposite side with the grace of a sleek, jungle cat.
“Bullshit,” Isana points at him with her fork, meat still on the utensil. “I call bullshit.”
“What,” he shrugs innocently and finishes off his ale.
“That’s not how Mom tells it.”
“You wanted my story, so I’m telling it to you.”
“Mom said your landing was more like a drunken bear, falling out of a tree who hit every branch before landing on a foul mouthed porcupine.”
Bethany covers her mouth to hide her giggle, but Isabela doesn’t hold back. Fenris simply looks at the storyteller with an amused expression on his face.
“As I was saying,” Varric says loudly to stop the laughing. “I snuck over the wall and landed…safely, on the other side. With daggers in hand I crept towards the pond, and the intruder.”
With no moon or starlight Varric makes his way slowly towards the soft sloshing sound. Sweat trickles down his face and neck and his shirt sticks to his body. As he nears the pond he can see someone swimming in the cool, dark water.
“Who are you,” His voice is clear while tightening his grip on his twin blades.
“Bianca,” the voice from pond responds. “I’m a guest.”
“No you’re not. I happen to know this family.”
“Then you know how proud they are of their land. I ran into them in Orlais and they said I simply had to see their garden. So here I am,” her voice is light, and cherry.
“Gardens look better in the day,” he watches as she continues to leisurely tread water.
“But at night the moon dances along the top of the water, sparkling like diamonds,” her voice is sultry and dreamy.
“But there’s no moon tonight.”
“So imagine my disappointment.”
“The family traveled to Starkhaven.”
“Is that where I met them? I’m terrible with geography. What’s your name,” her calm manner unbroken.
“Varric,” he hears himself say.
“Would you care to join me for a swim?” Varric has to be honest with himself in that the cool waters are rather inviting.
“Um, no. I’d like for you to get out of the pond.”
“Are you sure,” something in her voice tells him to say no and accept her offer of a swim.
“If you don’t get out and leave the estate, I will summon the guard.” He does his best to speak with authority, and believes he succeeds to point.
“Oh,” she smiles and calmly emerges from the water, shattering his authoritative demeanor. His jaw drops, and his eyes widen as he stares at the naked woman glistening in the night. “And what will you tell them? That you were bested by a naked girl?”
He is at a loss for words and it isn’t until his weapons hit the ground that he realized that he hasn’t taken his eyes off her. “You should get dressed, and leave,” his voice is an octave higher than normal.
A delicious, devious smile spreads across her face and she sashays towards him. She’s only a few inches from him and even in the dark he can tell she has brilliant blue eyes. “Do you really want me to get dressed?”
No, his mind screams as his eyes follow adrop of water as it falls from her ear lobe. It sits on her shoulder for a moment before running down her chest and between her ample breasts.
“Yes,” he has to swallow hard to form that one simple word. His mind is furious with him and calls him several unkind things.
“Until next time,” she saunters toward the small pile of clothes near the back door, and pauses long enough to whisper his name into his ear. A shiver runs down his spine when she says his name. Instantly he knows he has to make this woman his, because with that one word she stole his heart.
Bianca convinces her captors to re-tie her hands in front her. She sits on the ground and watches Zinaga’s men lay out their sleeping rolls and prepare their meals. She toys with the idea of sneaking away while the group is asleep, but abandons that thought. She knows that Isana has the map and she knows that Varric will not let her come into the Deep Roads. If she were to sneak away, she may or may not encounter her lover on the way out. That’s a risk she’s not willing to take. As it stands now her plan is to take the long way to the thaig and hope that Varric will get there before they do. As much as she hates that plan, not that she can call it a plan, it is the best that she has.
“Here,” the mage thrusts a bowl at her half filled with something resembling overcooked meat and what she hopes is a piece of bread. “You should keep your strength up.”
She takes the food without question, and eyes the mage suspiciously.
“Just eat it,” he sounds irritated. “We have a long journey ahead of us, and we can’t have you passing out from hunger,” he turns and walks away. She eyes the food. She knows it’s not poisoned, but there is a real possibility that it’s drugged. Bianca thinks about no eating, but her stomach make loud growling sounds she makes a face, sets the bowl down and mentally tells her belly to shut up. She knows Zinaga is planning on killing her, just as she knows the assassination will happen once they reach the thaig. She suspects that Varric will have some escape plan, and she sincerely hopes this one does not involve either of them being shot.
She leans back and finds a small rock to prop her aching feet up on. As determined as she is to not eat the food, her stomach forces her eyes to stare at it. Finally she picks up the bowl and after another hesitation she surrenders to her body’s demands for food. As she eats she watches Zinaga as the she makes plans with Tavish. Bianca can appreciate the woman’s accomplishments, though not necessarily the methods the elf had used. She herself had to claw her way up the ranks in the Carta, back in Kirkwall, but when she came to Nevarra and joined the Thieves’ Guild she swore off politics. She did want to draw too much attention to herself. Bianca just wanted to live quietly and under the radar, but no matter how many times she insists she has no interest the elf would always glare at her. Just like she is now.
Varric pulls Fenris aside while the women are talking. He keeps his voice low and continually checks to see if their absence has been noticed.
“Elf, I need to talk to you and this doesn’t get back to the girls,” his voice is serious.
“There are things about the Deep Roads, about the darkspawn that only the Wardens know.”
“Every darkspawn born is from a broodmother, and these broodmothers are like queen bees. One can birth thousands. But they are all born male.”
“So where do these broodmothers come from?”
Varric looks over the warrior’s shoulder at the women as they sit around the fire and Fenris’ eyes soon follow. “From us, Elf, they take our women. They rape them, and force them to eat and the women…change. They become the mothers of monsters. ”
“What do they force them to eat?”
“I don’t think you want to know, I know I wish I didn’t. I’m going to suggest that none of the women wonder off alone, and you and I split the nightly watch.”
“This is what you wanted to tell me at the brothel, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Now we may not encounter any darkspawn, but there other dangers.”
“I’ll take first watch, and wake you for the second.”
Triss has been in this tavern since her last encounter with Fenris. Despite her best efforts to drown her sorrows, her emotions remain in turmoil. She’s lost him and that thought breaks her heart. But it’s when she remembers that he rejected her for a human that the rage returns. She wants him back, more than anything else in Thedas she wants him back.
She finishes off her ale and immediately orders another.
“Honey,” the woman has a sympathetic tone as brings the ale. “No man is worth this.”
Triss snatches the ale, and it sloshes over the side of the tankard. “I want him back,” she sobs into her drink.
“I know honey, but in time you’ll forget all about him.”
Her head snaps up. “What?”
“In time, you’ll find someone who will treat you like the treasure you are and you won’t even remember what’s-his-name.”
A thought enters her drunken mind. “Forget. That’s the answer.”
“You should be sleeping, it’s late,” Fenris says to the approaching footsteps.
“I’m not tired,” Bethany sits down next to him. “There is something on my mind, though.”
“That woman, Triss. I know you have no memories of your past, but do you think she’s telling the truth? About knowing you.”
He suspected that this topic would come up. “She and I spoke while you were sleeping. I have no memory of her being a part of Danarius’ house. She claims that was because he gave her to Hadriana, but she has lyrium scars on her hands. Danarius was the only magister experimenting with lyrium branding,” his voice trails off.
“I think she was there, during the ritual. But I’m not sure. She did something that…that touched my memories from that time.”
“Lyrium is valuable. Why would Danarius give away a lyrium scarred slave?”
“If he felt he had reason, he would,” he’s hesitant to talk about this. He doesn’t believe Triss’ claim, but part of him wonders if it’s true. He has no memories of his life before the ritual, and he knows it stands to reason that he was a different man then. Can a couple be married without official religious recognition? Triss claims that other slaves have done so.
“Like what,” she presses.
He looks into her velvet brown eye his heart torn. It’s never good to tell your lover that you might be married, but he also doesn’t want to lie to her. “She claims to be my wife.”
“You’re married,” she jumps up and moves away as if he had the blight. Her sudden outburst catches him off guard.
“The Chantry is very clear on its view of adultery.”
“No,” he can’t keep the defensive tone from his words. “Slaves are not permitted to marry.”
“Then why would she say that. That isn’t something women take lightly.”
“I don’t know why she said that, but it doesn’t feel true. Bethany, I’m not married.”
She starts backing away, he reaches for her but she deftly avoids his grasp. “I need some time Fenris,” she raises her hands to prevent him from approaching her. She slowly backs away. “To figure this out. Please?”
He drops his arms and watches her retreat into the tent they had been sharing. He's never been much for praying, but now he found himself pleading with the Maker that she doesn't leave him.