pariswriter: (Default)
Title:  The Ferelden Chronicles - Chapter Eleven
Author:  ParisWriter
Game:  Dragon Age: Origins
Summary:  Varia Surana thought her life had already been mapped out for her. She would be a mage of the Circle of Ferelden, studying and perfecting her craft. However, an unforseen series of events sends her headlong into a world thrown into chaos by the King's death and an impending Blight.
Rating:  T/PG-13
Pairings:  Cullen/Surana; eventual Alistair/Surana
Characters (This Chapter):  Varia Surana, Alistair, Daveth, Jory
Disclaimer:  Dragon Age characters, settings, and any dialogue taken from the game ©BioWare. Varia belongs to me.  
Content Warning:  Mage Origin Spoilers; Overall game spoilers; Adult language; Mild violence; mature content in later chapters

In this chapter: Alistair, Varia, Daveth, and Jory head out into the Wilds... saving a fallen soldier and taking on a group of darkspawn while en route to the location of the Grey Warden treaties.


Chapter Eleven: Into the Wilds

Varia closed her eyes and inhaled deeply once they had put a good distance between themselves and the king's camp. The scent of the forest immediately filled her lungs, and memories of her years at the tower flooded her mind. The most predominant smell was that of the trees themselves, tall firs whose scent called up an image of the branches that the Tranquil used to decorate the main halls and chapel every year around Satinalia. It was the one time of year the templars let the mages have any sort of casual gathering, and while presents were rarely exchanged, there was always a great feast with lots of wine and merrymaking – at least until Greagoir would decide things were starting to get out of hand and put an end to it.

Her hand went to her chest and she felt for the pendant hidden beneath her robes. It had been a gift from Cullen during the previous year's Satinalia celebration. The necklace once belonged to his younger sister, and their mother before her. The girl had never known her mother, as the woman had died giving birth to her, and then his sister passed shortly after his father – both of them from illness. So, really, the necklace had been the last thing he had to remember his family by. He'd been asked to give up his worldly possessions when he took his place at the Chantry, but he couldn't let go of that pendant and the memories it held for him... until he found her. He'd presented it to her as he stumbled over his words, telling her how much she meant to him and that he hoped she would accept the simple pendant of shimmering white stone as a token of his love for her. Her response had been to kiss him, and they had very nearly been caught by a couple of drunken mages seeking a corner of their own for more rigorous activities – one of whom, she later learned, had of course been Anders.

A rustling sound ahead brought her out of her thoughts, and she reached for her staff on her back as she opened her eyes. The others stopped walking and turned to look at her, curious as to the reason behind her suddenly defensive stance, and she nodded toward a group of bushes at the bottom of the hill they were descending. Daveth and Jory immediately looked to Alistair.

“What?” he asked the two men.

“Darkspawn or no?” Jory asked, his voice trembling slightly.

“No,” Alistair assured them, sounding a bit annoyed. “Probably just a wild animal.”

At that moment, a small pack of wolves leapt out from behind the bushes and began charging up the hill toward them. Varia readied a lightning spell to throw at the one in the lead, but Daveth placed a hand on her shoulder to halt her.

“Don't worry, I'll protect you,” he told her with a flash of his smile before running toward the wolf and plunging both of his daggers into the beast's neck. Meanwhile, Alistair and Jory were left to take care of the remaining five wolves between them.

“See?” the rogue said, cocksure grin still in place. “Daveth won't let nothing happen to that pretty little hide of yours.”

Varia saw the final wolf before the others did, crouched low behind Daveth and just about to pounce upon him. It was larger than all the others had been, most likely the real alpha of the pack they had just taken out. Before the creature could attack, she quickly summoned her strongest lightning bolt spell and threw it at the wolf just as it jumped toward Daveth's back. The spell just barely missed Daveth, himself, crackling past his left ear and hitting the wolf straight in its chest. The animal fell to the ground behind him, its legs twitching for several seconds before lying motionless, and when he turned and saw it he knew he had just narrowly escaped a very close call.

“And you are the one who is going to protect me?” Varia remarked with a smirk as she walked past the stunned man, gently patting his shoulder. Jory and Alistair both laughed at their companion's expense.

“Looks like she told you,” Alistair teased him, following in Varia's wake.

“She... She could have killed me!” Daveth complained, reaching up to rub his ear, which was still buzzing from the noise of the lightning that had flown past it. “I think I might be deaf on this side, now!”

“Now, Daveth, is that any way to thank the woman who just saved your sorry hide?” Jory scolded him, putting one of his large arms around the younger man's shoulder and escorting him along behind the others.

“So what are you doing in the Wardens, anyway, Daveth?” Varia asked him when he and Jory caught up to her and Alistair. “It seems to me that someone like you would be much more comfortable in the city, far away from scary wolves and witches.”

“Not funny!” Daveth shouted at the other two men when they snickered at her comment, then he returned his attention to Varia.

“If you must know, I was conscripted.”

“So you didn't want to come here.”

“It was more like the city guard didn't want to let me come here,” he corrected her. “See, I'm a pickpocket and cut-purse by trade--”

“So, you're a thief,” Jory interrupted, a disapproving tone to his voice, and Varia realized this was probably the first time he'd heard of his fellow recruit's background. Alistair, however, appeared to already be privy to the knowledge as he merely listened to what the rogue had to say and offered no protests of his own. Varia assumed he had previously made his opinions on the subject of conscripting a criminal into the Wardens known to Duncan - and likely had heard some sort of lecture on forgiveness from the older man.

“Anyway,” Daveth spoke over Jory. “I made the mistake of trying to snatch Duncan's purse. Let me tell you, he might be old but he's faster than he looks. Unfortunately, though, the guard caught up to me, first. They was going to hang me right there in the middle of the square. But then Duncan stepped in and conscripted me. I wasn't gonna complain. Much rather be out here than dead.”

Jory scoffed and muttered something about how he deserved what was coming to him, and Varia turned to address the knight.

“So how did you end up here?”

“Me?” Jory asked, pointing to himself. “Well, I participated in a tournament the Teryn of Highever held in Duncan's honor. When I won, I was offered a place within the Wardens' ranks.”

“This must be a great honor for you, then, ser knight,” Daveth said with a mock bow.

“Actually, I'd much rater be back in Highever, to be quite honest. My wife is due in less than a month's time.”

Varia suddenly understood Jory's trepidation about facing the darkspawn. They were dangerous creatures, and none of them knew what they were up against. He had a wife at home who was about to give birth. If she was in his position she would probably be scared that she'd never get to see that child, too.

“And what about you, pretty mage?”

She looked from Daveth to the others and found that all three of them were waiting to hear her story about how she had been recruited into the Grey Wardens. Even Alistair was paying attention, now, as he hadn't yet heard her story like he had the others'. She hesitated for a moment, not wanting to reveal the true reason she had needed to leave the tower behind, but the others had been honest with her so she decided that she at least owed them the same courtesy.

“Duncan came to the tower in search of a mage to recruit, and he chose me,” she told them, then took a deep breath before continuing. “He was more or less forced to conscript me, however, after I assisted in the escape of a blood mage from the tower.”

She didn't miss the way all of their postures changed at the revelation, especially Alistair. The former templar trainee visibly stiffened, his eyes staring intently at her as though he was using them to try to pierce her very soul and see if she was telling the truth.

“You helped a maleficar escape the templars' custody?” he questioned her.

“Yes,” Varia replied quietly, unable to meet his eyes. “My best friend... He turned out to be a blood mage. I didn't know. The First Enchanter didn't know, either. He thought we were simply setting a trap to catch a simple mage apprentice who wished to escape the tower. He was wrong. We were both wrong. Though I likely would have helped him attempt his escape even if I hadn't been under the First Enchanter's orders to deceive him.”

“Why would you do something like that willingly?” Alistair wondered, approaching her. “Surely, you're aware of the repercussions you would have faced if you were caught?”

“I don't expect you to understand or agree with what I did, Alistair,” she addressed him, still refusing to look at him, “but it's quite clear we all have a past here. I'm not exactly proud of what happened, but it's done and I can't undo it – no matter how much I wish I could. So, please... Could we simply not talk any more of this and leave it in the past, where it belongs?”

Alistair didn't know what to say. On one hand, he wanted to continue telling her how wrong her actions had been. On the other, however, he could see the she was genuinely sorry for what had happened and that speaking about it was causing her a great deal of pain. He opened his mouth to say something to her, but found that nothing seemed quite right for the situation. So he merely placed his hand upon her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze of reassurance.

“You're right,” he told her after a moment. “We all have a past, not all of it pleasant. I'm sorry for my outburst, though perhaps someday you'll be willing to explain to me why you did it.”

Varia finally looked at him, once more taking note of his words. She was more sure now than she had been earlier that he was also hiding something about his past. She knew she owed him a better explanation for why she'd agreed to help Jowan in the first place, but she didn't necessarily want the others to hear what she had to say. Daveth didn't seem to be the sort who could keep his mouth shut, and she didn't need everyone back at camp to know that she'd been dallying about with a templar. One of the mages from the Circle could easily report it to Greagoir after they returned to the tower, after all, and then Cullen would be ruined. Once she was able to speak to Alistair privately, she would tell him everything.

“Thank you,” she told him, and he nodded in reply.

“Oi, you're not trying to step in on my territory are you?” Daveth asked Alistair, moving to stand next to Varia and placing a possessive arm around her shoulders. “I saw her first, mate. Get your own pretty little elf.”

“I... No. Never. Not that I don't think she's pretty, but...” Alistair blushed as he fell over his words, quickly averting his eyes from Varia when he realized he had been staring at her. “Nevermind. Let's just get moving.”

Varia removed Daveth's arm and followed Alistair deeper into the forest, ignoring the comments she heard the rogue making to Jory about the way her backside looked in the robes she was wearing. To his credit, Jory admonished his fellow recruit for the crude remarks and warned him that if he wasn't careful she was likely to get angry and set his hair on fire. Varia tried not to laugh, but the mental picture of Daveth with his hair aflame, running to one of the small, dirty pools of water in order to dunk his head in while screaming like a little girl caused a small giggle to escape her.

“You know, this isn't playtime,” Alistair scolded, though he was grinning at her. She wondered if perhaps he had a similar image playing in his own brain, and was almost sure he was when he winked at her before yelling at Daveth – who had begun lagging several steps behind the rest of them, eying Varia warily – to catch up.

“Please... Help me...”

Alistair stopped short and held up a hand to halt the others, then pulled his sword from the scabbard at his hip and cautiously made his way toward the sound of the voice. Varia and Jory both followed, weapons in hand, while Daveth slunk into the shadows in order to sneak around their target and come up from behind.

“Stand down!” Alistair called out, more to Daveth in order to prevent him from striking to the others. Before them laid a soldier, barely alive and covered in blood, reaching out a hand as he wheezed and repeated his request for help.

“Dear Maker! Collin?”

“Jory, is that you?” the man asked, trying to push himself up to look at the knight. His arms gave out, however, and he ended up sprawled on his back.

“You know this man?”Alistair asked his fellow warrior.

“I served with him in Highever,” Jory replied, kneeling down next to the wounded soldier. “Collin, what happened here?”

“We... Were ambushed,” Collin explained, pausing occasionally to clutch at a gaping wound in his side. “They came out of nowhere. The Teryn's son... Maker... We tried so hard to... keep him safe...”

“Fergus Cousland is dead?” Jory whispered in disbelief, his eyes going wide.

“I... I don't know,” Collin replied. “He fell... Told us all to run. We wanted to stay. He said... It was an order.”

“Jory, would you mind stepping aside?” Varia asked him. Jory looked at her blankly for a moment, then suddenly jumped to his feet and backed away o give her a place to sit next to Collin.

“Of course! Please, do what you can for him. He has two little girls at home.”

“I'm afraid healing is far from one of my specialties, but I'll do what I can,” she said, as much to assure Collin as Jory.

“I have some bandages in my pack, as well,” Alistair remarked, kneeling on the other side of the fallen soldier.

“Then I shall do what I can to heal up the more serious wounds as much as I'm able, and we'll have to bandage him him and take him back so he can be more properly treated. Lucky for you, ser, one of the best healers in Ferelden is among those mages who are currently at the camp. She'll see to it that you're safely returned to your family.”

“Thank you,” Collin told her, “but I should be able to make it back on my own once I've been bandaged up.”

Varia and Alistair shared a look over him. Either he didn't realize the severity of his own wounds, or it was a sense of bravado which was keeping him from allowing them to give him the full extent of their help.

“That's... probably for the best,” Alistair commented as Varia began applying healing magic to the wound in Collin's side. “We still need to collect the things Duncan sent us out here for.”

Varia and Alistair worked in silence for the next few minutes, her healing the largest wounds Collin had sustained as best she was able while Alistair followed her lead and dressed each of them with the bandages he'd brought along.

“Do you happen to have clean drinking water with you?” she asked him when they had finished, and Alistair nodded and fished out a large skin of water from his pack.

“I don't blame you, really,” he told her, handing it over. “I wouldn't want to wash the blood off my hands in any of the water out here, either.”

“I wasn't planning on using it for washing,” she corrected him, digging through her own belongings for some of the elfroot leaves she had collected during her trip from the tower. She placed three of them into the water and held the skin over her left palm, calling upon her magic to light a small flame beneath it.

“Um... What, exactly, are you doing?” Alistair asked her.

“I don't have the proper tools to make a potion for him, so I'm brewing a simple tea,” Varia explained. “It won't be as effective as a stamina draught, but it should give him enough energy to be able to return to camp.”

“Thank you,” Jory told her, giving her shoulder a grateful squeeze. Varia looked up at him and nodded a bit before returning her attention to Collin, who she helped sit up a bit so he could drink more easily.

“Where's Daveth?” Alistair asked, suddenly noticing the rogue's absence.

“He's nearby,” Varia assured him as she continued attending to her patient, gesturing with her head toward a nearby wooded area. “I can hear him rustling around in some bushes over there.”

By the time Varia finished giving Collin the tea and Alistair had helped him to his feet, Daveth had returned to the group with a wide grin on his face.

“Hey, look what I found when I was takin' a leak!” he called as he joined them.

“Daveth, please! Must you use such crude language in front of a lady?”

“I'm sure she doesn't mind, ser knight. Do you, my lovely?” he asked, turning to Varia.

“I've heard worse living in the tower,” she informed Jory, recalling some of the conversations she'd heard the templars – of all people – engaging in. “Much worse.”

“Anyway, look,” Daveth repeated, holding out his hands to Varia. She was almost afraid to see what he had in his hands, but upon glancing at them she found a delicate wildflower – white with a red center.

“Very pretty,” she commented. “But while I appreciate the gesture, I really shouldn't accept. I'm spoken for.”

“How you crush my heart,” Daveth replied, clutching at his chest with one hand. “Actually, the houndmaster back at camp said he was lookin' for one o'these. Says he needs it to treat a mabari who got sick from darkspawn. Was offerin' to pay anyone who'd go get him one.”

“And you're giving it to me?” Varia asked, raising an eyebrow. Daveth nodded and held the flower even farther out toward her with a grin. “Is this some attempt to buy my affection?”

“Maybe,” Daveth drawled. “Is it working?”

“Not at all.”

Varia smiled and took the flower, admiring it for a moment before carefully placing it into her pack. Daveth gaped at her as she turned on her heel and continued  along the path ahead of them, and once more Jory had to push him along to keep pace with the others. Alistair walked silently at Varia's side for a while, stealing occasional glances at her.

“Something on your mind?” she asked him, flashing a knowing smile.

“You said you were spoken for,” Alistair remarked, glancing at her briefly once more and quickly looking away, blushing.

“I am. Why? Are you interested in me, too?”

“I... No. No, of course not,” Alistair insisted, the blush moving up into his ears.

Varia laughed and Alistair sped up his gait, walking ahead of her a few paces in a vain attempt to hide his blush. She bit her bottom lip to stop her laughter when she saw the red splotches covering the back of his neck, feeling a blush of her own coming on. He hadn't been as blatantly obvious as Daveth was with his attraction to her, but his awkward attempts at flirting were much more charming.

“You know, Alistair,” she called ahead to him, causing him to turn his head and slow in his steps. “If I may be so bold, you're much more my type than Daveth is.”

She meant it as an insult to Daveth, who she was sure could hear the comment, but was rewarded with an acute increase in Alistair's blush in addition to the indignant shout coming from the rogue behind her. She momentarily felt bad for teasing the former templar before the bubbling laughter that she was struggling to hold back spilled forth from her lips. The mirthful moment was sort-lived, however, as the lighthearted feeling inside her was soon replaced by the unmistakable roiling in her stomach which came when she felt particularly strong magic. The feeling was strangely dark, unlike any magic she'd ever felt before, and she stopped short just as Daveth came up to stand at her side.

“Wait!” she called out, and it took her a moment to realize that both Daveth and Alistair had also uttered the same warning.

“Uh... What's wrong?” Jory asked, looking between the three of them.

“There's darkspawn ahead,” Alistair commented.

“See, ser knight?” Daveth told Jory as he unsheathed his daggers. “It's just like I said back at camp. We might be killed by darkspawn, but at least we'll be warned about it, first.”

“What about you?” Jory next asked Varia, likely in an attempt to distract the others from noticing the shudder that ran through him at the thought of being killed by the creatures in question.

“I felt some sort of powerful, dark magic nearby,” Varia told him before turning to Alistair. “Is there such a think as a dark spawn mage?”

“They're called emissaries,” Alistair informed her with a nod. “Very dangerous.”

“You've forgotten that I also have magic at my command,” she reminded him. “Leave this emissary to me.”

“Why did you warn us to wait?” Alistair wondered, his eyebrows drawing up in confusion as he turned to Daveth, who was slowly making his way past him at the head of the group.

“There's a trap just ahead of you,” Daveth replied, pointing to a spot on the ground. Varia looked, but saw nothing until he carefully knelt down and reached out to poke at a patch of grass with the tip of one of his daggers. Almost immediately, a large set of metal spikes shot up out of the ground. Varia jumped, instinctively reaching out and grasping Alistair's arm, her heart racing from the sudden scare. She certainly hadn't been able to see the trap, and she doubted Alistair or Jory had noticed it, either. If not for Daveth, at least one of them would have been severely injured – if not killed.

“Well, it appears you're good for something, after all,” Jory commented, walking over to Daveth and clapping him on the shoulder.

“Any more of those lying about?” Alistair asked, readying his sword and shield.

“No,” Daveth assured him. “Looks like this one was poisoned, as well. Which means they've got some of the same skills I do.”

Alistair didn't seem the least bit surprised by the revelation. Of course, he was a Grey Warden and probably knew all sorts of things about the darkspawn that none of them could even imagine. It made perfect sense to Varia that there should be darkspawn with the skills of rogues, however, since there were mages within their ranks.

“How many of these things are we looking at, Alistair?” Jory asked, taking his place with the other two men at the head of the group, placing Varia behind them.

“Five, maybe six,” Alistair told them, his face hard as he concentrated on their surroundings. “Varia, you should take on the mage, like you suggested. I'll take on the leader of the group. Daveth and Jory, you split up and take the rest.”

Varia cast a weak shield upon herself before they set off in the direction of the waiting darkspawn. She new it wouldn't hold very long but she had faith that if she ended up getting attacked at least one of the others would make it to her before the shield could break and cause her to sustain any real damage. Her fingers twitched in anticipation as they drew closer to the darkspawn, each step they took bringing them nearer to the source of the increasingly tense feeling in her stomach. She concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths, drawing upon her own power rather than thinking about that of her enemy, and by the time they reached the open area where the darkspawn had made their camp she already had sparks of lighting dancing upon her fingertips.

She felt the spell coming toward them rather than saw it, and yelled for the others to move as she quickly unleashed the lightning bolt she had been powering up in her hand. Sparks erupted over the field as the spell clashed with the one the emissary had cast, and before she realized it the others were fighting against the remaining darkspawn. Varia didn't bother taking any time to really make notice of where the others had run off to, choosing instead to keep her focus trained on her target as Irving had taught her. The creature was short and chubby, folds of what appeared to be decaying skin bulging out from makeshift armor pieced together from what she hoped were animal hides. Varia couldn't see its eyes from the distance she was standing, and for that she was glad. She had a feeling that if she could see into its eyes, she would end up losing her nerve.

The emissary readied its next spell and Varia immediately recognized it. It was a stonefist spell, one she knew would knock her down and possibly even take her out of the fight for good. To her surprise, however, the emissary didn't send the spell toward her, but in the direction of Alistair. Varia realized that the darkspawn mage was trying to protect the leader of the group and she immediately knew that she needed to do the same for her own party. She quickly cast a shield upon Alistair, leaving herself completely vulnerable as she lacked the skill to keep her own shield up at the same time, and breathed a sigh of relief when it held through the impact of the stonefist spell. When the emissary began to cast a second one, she threw out another lightning bolt to interrupt the spell and followed it with a winter's grasp in order to buy herself some time to charge a more powerful spell of her own.

Moving forward a few steps to put her in better range, she called upon the strongest element at her command and unleashed a stream of flames upon the emissary, being careful not to hit Alistair, whose fight had been inching closer and closer to her target.  To her surprise, she saw that the shield she had placed upon him was still holding strong, despite what appeared to be some rather powerful blows being landed upon him by the vicious-looking darkspawn he was fighting. Her attention was drawn away from him, however, when she heard a shout of pain coming from the other side of the camp and turned her head to find Daveth clutching at the side of his leg with one hand as he thrust his dagger through the throat of the darkspawn he was fighting. Varia turned her back on the emissary and pooled all of her energy into a healing spell, which she sent toward Daveth just as he was being attacked by another of the darkspawn soldiers. Luckily, Jory soon joined him and the two of them took it down with ease.

Unfortunately, however, Varia had let her guard down and her own enemy was about to strike while she wasn't looking. She turned back to the emissary just in time to see a nearly complete crushing prison spell forming in its hands. She raised her own hands in preparation to deflect the spell, but she knew that she'd never be able to charge a powerful enough lightning bolt to burn all of the power behind it. She was about to take a chance and fire off the spell, anyway, when the emissary suddenly stopped charging its spell and looked at its hands in confusion. It took Varia a moment to figure out what had happened, and in that time Alistair's sword arced sharply through the emissary's body, nearly cutting it in half and sending some of its thick, black blood onto the front of her robes.

“Are you okay?” he asked her, stepping over the dead emissary and rushing toward her. He took her face in his hands and began looking her over, his eyes carefully searching her entire body for any signs of injury.

“I'm fine,” she told him, still catching her breath from the scare she'd had. “What about you?”

“Still in one piece, thanks to you,” he replied, flashing a smile at her before turning toward the others. “How are you two?”

“I think I'll be limpin' for the next week, at least,” Daveth complained, favoring his uninjured leg.

“Just be glad Varia healed you as much as she could,” Jory admonished him. “You'd probably end up losing that leg if it wasn't for her, if you didn't end up simply dying from blood loss.”

“I'm sorry I couldn't do more. I promise I'll do what I can for the pain when we make it back to camp,” Varia assured Daveth, but Jory help up a hand to silence her.

“No,” he said to her, shaking his head. “There's no reason for you to feel sorry. You did your job. And if Daveth was better at doing his job, he wouldn't be in the condition he's in right now.”

“Now look here, you ungrateful lug!” Daveth growled, getting into the larger man's face. “Who was it that disarmed that trap back there? Me. Who kept you from getting a pike shoved up your ass? Me! So when you get to see your pretty wife and child again, you best remember that I am the one responsible for you being able to be there!”

“That's enough!” Alistair shouted over their arguing. “Go get your darkspawn blood so we can continue on our way, already.”

Daveth and Jory continued to stare each other down and Varia watched them carefully, looking for any sign that one or both of them might need to be restrained. She knew Alistair was strong enough to hold one or the other back, but she certainly didn't have the strength to keep whichever man he didn't grab out of the fray. Which meant she would need to use her magic. She only hoped she could control the power of her lightning spell enough to simply knock one of them out without killing him.

Surprisingly, Daveth was the first to back down. He uttered a series of curses under his breath and went to the farthest darkspawn corpse he could find while Jory selected the first one he had killed to take his blood from. Varia knelt by the body of the emissary and was about to collect a vial of its blood for herself when she suddenly noticed the dark stain on the front of her new robes.

“Damn!” she muttered, examining the blood more closely before turning to Alistair with a hopeful look on her face. “Please tell me this washes out.”

“I don't really know. It comes easily enough off plate armor, but I've never tried to wash it from cloth. It might. It might not.”

“Just my luck.” She frowned and gathered the blood Duncan had said she would need for the Joining, doing her best to not look at the mangled corpse. “I only have one other set like this.”

“You could always pick up some more from the supplies the mages brought with them when we get back to camp,” he told her, and she laughed at his suggestion.

“In case you haven't noticed, Alistair, elves are quite a bit smaller than humans. Any robes they brought with them would have been fitted for human mages. They'd never fit me properly. Besides... These were a gift. Totally unique from the Circle robes.”

“A gift?” Alistair echoed, kneeling next to her. “From your, uh... beau?”

“Not for a lack of trying,” Varia replied with a smirk. “No, he's not the one I was talking about when I said I was spoken for. Anders is just a friend. A friend who I see very little of nowadays since he keeps running off and getting himself thrown into solitary, but still a friend.”

“But he's another mage, yes? Your... you know.”

Varia cocked her head to the side a bit and simply looked at him. He was asking an awful lot of questions about her love life. Was he genuinely curious, or maybe perhaps a bit jealous? Or was he some sort of Chantry spy trying to ferret out inappropriate relationships that were going on within the Circle?

“I don't really feel comfortable discussing this right now, Alistair,” she told him after a bit of thought.

“Right,” Alistair sad, nodding and standing back up and avoiding looking her in the eyes as he ran a hand back through his sandy brown hair. “Sorry. It's too personal. I shouldn't have asked.”

The fact that he appeared embarrassed for having pushed her personal boundaries so far was evidence enough for her that he was not, in fact, a Chantry spy. Varia suddenly felt very bad that she ever could have imagined he was one, considering how he'd treated her when they first met. Eventually, she would have to tell him about Cullen – once she was absolutely sure she could fully trust him with the secret. He might not be a Chantry spy, but he had still been training to be a templar and likely would see the relationship as sinful. As much as she hated to admit it, she wanted Alistair to like her and knew that if she came out and said her significant other was a templar she would probably ruin her chances of that happening more than she already had with the revelation that she had helped a blood mage escape.

“Now, then... what's our next move?”

Alistair turned toward Daveth and Jory, who had apparently made amends with one another, and floundered for a moment before finally taking a good look at their surroundings.

“Alistair?” Jory called out to him once more.

“We need to go east of here,” Alistair announced after another moment of looking around to gather his bearings.

“Lead the way,” Varia told him, tucking the capped vial of darkspawn blood she had gathered into her pack. When he didn't answer her or make a move to leave the darkspawn camp, she went up to him and laid a hand upon his cheek.

“Alistair, is everything alright?” she asked him, sliding her hand up to his forehead to check for a fever. “You seem distracted.”

“Fine. I'm fine,” he insisted, pulling away from her and taking a few steps backward in the direction they needed to travel before turning around and continuing along the overgrown path toward the ruins. Daveth and Jory immediately followed him, but Varia hesitated a moment before bringing up the rear.

There had been something in his eyes when he told her everything was fine... something which told her he was lying.
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