pariswriter: (Default)
Title:  The Ferelden Chronicles - Chapter Fourteen
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, Cailan, Loghain, Duncan
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: Varia and Alistair receive a seemingly mundane task, but it turns out to be far more difficult than either of them could have ever expected.

Chapter Fourteen: The Tower of Ishal

Varia eventually found her larger pack full of belongings next to the bonfire where Duncan had been set up in the middle of the King's Camp. She carefully checked the items inside, making sure nothing had been stolen while it was unguarded, then dug out the spare set of robes Anders had gotten her. Standing up, she looked around for somewhere she could change privately. She supposed she could go behind some of the nearby trees for cover, but anyone could easily walk over there without warning. She was about to give up and simply go to the meeting in her stained robes when her eyes fell upon the large, golden canopy of King Cailan's tent. She chewed nervously upon her lower lip, wondering if she could pull off a daring feat such as the one she had in mind, then decided it couldn't hurt to at least try.

“Yes?” the guard posted outside the tent addressed her upon her approach, giving her a contemptuous glare.

“I've come to tidy the king's tent, ser,” she lied, then held up her robes just enough to flash some of the cloth without allowing him to see the feathers and other adornments. “I also brought his clean washing.”

“Very well,” the guard said, stepping aside and opening the tent flap. “Just keep your filthy fingers off His Majesty's personal effects. Bloody knife-ears.”

The last part was muttered under his breath as he allowed the tent flap to fall closed again, and Varia let out a weary sigh. She'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be called that horrid name. Some of the other apprentices had teased her after she first arrived at the Circle, chanting it over and over whenever they saw her until she'd run off and hide. Then, one day, they simply stopped. It turned out that Jowan had gotten Daylen Amell – who was the largest and most imposing of the male apprentices, at the time – to threaten bodily harm to anyone who continued to harass her.

She quickly began to undress from her stained robes, knowing she didn't have much time before the guard outside would demand that she hurry up with her 'duties' and get out of there. She fumbled a bit with the fasteners at the back of her neck, her brain not quite functioning at its full capacity between her lack of sleep and the trauma of the Joining, but she eventually managed to get them unhooked. She had just slid the stained robes off when the flap of the tent opened behind her without warning. Squeaking in surprise, she quickly picked up her robes to cover herself and turned her head to see who had come in. She had been expecting the guard, or perhaps King Cailan since she was in his tent, but instead she found Alistair staring at her. His face was red as an apple and his hazel eyes looked like they were about to jump out of their sockets. For a moment, he simply continued staring at her in her state of undress, then he averted his eyes and held out a basin full of water toward her.

“I thought you might want to wash up a bit,” he offered, trying his best not to look at her. He'd already seen enough, though. Apparently, the mages of the Circle didn't have their undergarments supplied by the Chantry, because there had been far more skin showing than he would have expected. And those stockings... Maker, but they made her legs look so very enticing. He quickly pushed all of the impure thoughts from his brain and once more held out the basin toward her, swearing under his breath when some of the water sloshed out over his hands.

“Thank you, Alistair,” Varia told him, still holding her robes up with one hand to cover her front half as she carefully took the basin from him. “Now that you're here, would you mind staying until I'm finished changing?”

Alistair nodded, not trusting his voice, and turned around to give her some privacy. He could hear the water splashing around as she quickly washed the dust and blood from her skin, and it was all he could do to not turn his head just the tiniest bit in order to steal a glance in her direction. She was his sister-in-arms now, and he didn't need to be thinking about her like that and making their relationship awkward right from the start. Besides...

“Now that we're alone, perhaps you can tell me some more about your beau?” he wondered, reminding himself that she already had a man in her heart and didn't need him vying for her affections in his absence.

“He's a templar. That's why I didn't want to talk about him before,” she explained. “I was afraid that Daveth wouldn't be able to keep his mouth shut and would end up blabbing about it to one of the mages here. Then it would end up getting back to the tower and Cullen would have been ruined.”

Cullen?” Alistair repeated the other man's name, his head whipping around to look at her. Luckily, she had already put on her second set of robes, so he didn't find himself once again staring at her nearly-nude figure.

“Yes,” Varia said with a nod, her eyes wide at his reaction. “Do you know him?”

“Sort of. We were in training at the Denerim chantry at the same time. The Revered Mother used to put us together for sparring practice.”

Alistair had a hard time believing that twit was her lover. For as innocent and inexperienced as he was, Cullen was ten times worse. He'd had a completely sheltered life, growing up in a devoutly Maker-fearing family, and immediately came to the Chantry of his own volition after his father died because he was too incompetent to take over the family farm and had no idea how to do things for himself. Sure, his devotion to the Maker made him an ideal templar... but in Alistair's opinion, he was certainly no man. Apparently, he'd changed after going to Kinloch Hold.

“Anyway, my relationship with Cullen is why I would have agreed to help Jowan escape the tower even if I hadn't been under the First Enchanter's orders to do so in order to lay a trap for him,” Varia continued, pulling the ribbon out of her hair and letting it fall down around her shoulders.

“Why is that?” Alistair asked, his eyes transfixed upon the way she ran her long, slender fingers through the golden locks, combing them as best she could before pulling the mass up once more and fastening the yellow satin ribbon back into a bow around it.

“He had fallen in love with a young woman, an initiate of the Chantry.”

“Maker, is there a single mage within that tower who isn't involved with a member of the Chantry?” Alistair groused, crossing his arms over his chest with a frown and shaking his head, causing Varia to laugh.

“We can't control who we love, Alistair,” she told him, shrugging a bit.

“Right,” Alistair muttered, still frowning. “Well, you best hurry along, if you're finished getting ready. After all, if the king wants to see you and Duncan, you probably shouldn't keep him waiting. He might get mad, start crying, you'll feel bad, and... well, it won't be pretty.”

He winked at her and Varia smiled at him. She couldn't be entirely sure if he was really okay with what she had just told him or if he was just acting like it didn't bother him to help put her at ease. Either way, though, she knew he was right and she didn't have time to stick around and continue discussing the matter. She quickly thanked him and gathered up her soiled robes, then exited the tent and went back to the bonfire to shove them into her pack before making her way to the area Duncan had indicated he was heading to. Like he'd said, she could hear the yelling of General Loghain long before she even had the man in her sights.

“I must repeat my protest to your fool notion that we need the Orlesians to defend ourselves!”

“It is not a fool notion,” Cailan calmly replied, though Varia could tell from his expression that he was barely keeping his own temper in check. “Our arguments with the Orlesians are a thing of the past... and you will remember who is king.”

“How fortunate Maric did not live to see his son ready to hand Ferelden over to those who enslaved us for a century,” the general lamented, bringing a hand to his head wearily. It appeared this was a common debate between the two men. Varia simply held her tongue as she stepped up next to Duncan, and he regarded her with a nod before returning his attention to the scene playing out before them.

“Then our current forces will have to suffice, won't they?” Cailan asked before turning to address the two Wardens. “Duncan, are your men ready for battle?”

“They are, your Majesty,” Duncan assured him with a respectful bow.

“Ah, and this is the young woman I was telling you about earlier, Loghain,” the king remarked, turning his attention fully upon her and flashing a wide grin. “I understand congratulations are in order.”

“Thank you, your Majesty,” Varia replied blushing a bit.

“I only wish your fellow recruits could also be standing here with you. Every Grey Warden is needed now.”

“Your Majesty,” a voice interrupted, and Varia winced. She knew that voice. Every time she'd heard it over the years it made her feel like she was listening to nails being dragged across a chalk board. It belonged to none other than Senior Enchanted Uldred, the man who had first discovered Jowan's use of blood magic at the tower.

“If I may,” he continued without waiting for the king to acknowledge him, “The Circle of Magi--”

“We will not trust any lives to your spells, mage!” interrupted a Revered Mother of the Chantry, chasing him down.

“Need I remind you that the king himself asked us to come here to lend support in this battle?” Uldred argued.

“Enough!” Loghain said, slamming an armored fist down on the table they were all standing around. “See to it that this mage finds his way back to the rest, would you?”

Varia looked to the general. Had she just imagined it, or had there been a substantial amount of venom in his voice when he spoke about sending Uldred back to the others. Was he against the use of magic, or was he simply so tired of the interruptions that he was taking his frustration out on whoever happened to be the most recent person to barge into their meeting.

“Now, then,” he said as Uldred was being led away by a member of Cailan's personal guard, once again sounding calm and authoritative. “Cailan, do you remember the plans we discussed earlier?”

Varia only half-listened to the two men discussing the attack plans. She had no knowledge of military strategy, but she knew enough about General Loghain to now that they should trust his judgment and follow whatever orders he might give them. She looked over to Duncan and found him scowling a bit, but didn't dare ask him what was wrong for fear that the general's wrath would next fall upon her head.

“Who shall light this beacon?” Cailan asked, tapping his finger to a spot near the center of the map which was laid out on the table.

“I have a few men stationed there,” Loghain informed him. “It's not a dangerous task, but it is vital.”

“Then we shall send our best,” Cailan said, looking up to Duncan. “Send Alistair and the new Warden here to make sure that it's done.”

“Of course, your Majesty,” Duncan agreed, “though your should consider the possibility of the archdemon appearing.”

“There have been no signs of any dragons in the Wilds,” Loghain asserted.

“Isn't that what your men are here for, Duncan?” Cailan inquired.

“I... Yes, your Majesty,” Duncan replied. Varia hadn't missed his hesitation to answer in the affirmative, though. Was he really concerned that the archdemon was going to show up during the battle?

“Then this plan will suffice,” Loghain acquiesced. “The Grey Wardens shall light the beacon.”

“Thank you, Loghain. I cannot wait for that glorious moment!” Cailan beamed, pumping his fists and grinning in triumph. “The Grey Wardens battle beside the king of Ferelden to stem the tide of evil!”

“Yes, Cailan. A glorious moment for us all,” Loghain stated, and the indifferent tone of his voice sent a shudder through Varia's entire body. She watched the general walk away, followed by the king and the rest of his personal guard, then turned to Duncan with a sigh.

“So... What if the archdemon really does show itself during this battle?” she finally voiced her concern.

“We soil our drawers, that's what.”

She turned her head to find Alistair walking up behind her to join them. He smiled at her, but the smile fell when he turned his attention to Duncan and saw the stern look on the older man's face.

“If it does, leave it to us,” Duncan answered her question, though he seemed to be speaking more to Alistair than to her. “I want no heroics from either of you.

“Now, you heard the plan,” he added, nodding to Varia. “You and Alistair will go to the Tower of Ishal and ensure the beacon is lit, then wait there for word to join us should we need you.”

“What? I won't be in the battle?” Alistair blurted out angrily.

“This is by the king's personal request, Alistair,” Duncan told him firmly. “If the beacon is not lit, Teryn Loghain's men won't know when to charge.”

“So he needs two Grey Wardens standing up there holding the torch. Just in case, right? We should be in the battle, you know that!” Alistair argued.

“That is not your choice to make, Alistair. If King Cailan wishes Grey Wardens to ensure the beacon is lit, then Grey Wardens will be there.”

“Fine,” Alistair reluctantly agreed. “But just to make this clear: if the king asks me to put on a dress and dance the Remigold, I'm drawing the line.”

Varia burst out into a fit of giggles at the thought Alistair dancing around in a dress. Duncan looked rather crossly at her, but she couldn't help herself. She had moved on from the completely exhausted phase to what she and her friends at the tower liked to call the 'giggle phase,' where one was so tired that anything which was even the slightest bit funny made you laugh like a madman.

“I... I think I'd... like to see that,” she managed to say to Alistair through her laughter.

“For you, maybe,” Alistair told her with a smirk. “But it would have to be a pretty dress.”

Duncan cleared his throat loudly, and Varia struggled to reign her laughter back in. Once she had calmed down a bit, he addressed them both.

“I must join the others. From here, you two are on your own. Remember, you are Grey Wardens. I expect you to be worthy of that title.”

His words had an instant sobering effect on both of them. Varia knew he was right. They were Grey Wardens – members of a group of skilled and respected warriors. It was their duty to do what was expected of them, whether that be slaughtering darkspawn en masse or simply seeing to it that a beacon was lit atop a tower.

“Duncan,” Alistair addressed him, his expression grim. “May the Maker watch over you.”

“May he watch over us all,” Duncan responded, bowing to them both before heading off to join the rest of the Wardens who would be fighting alongside King Cailan and his men.

The two of them watched him walk away in silence, and Varia felt a strange sense of foreboding hit her – almost like she knew it was the last time she would ever see him. She quickly shook it off, though. After all, she had seen first-hand the capable fighter he was during their trip from Kinloch Hold. And with someone as talented in military strategy as General Loghain calling the shots, they were sure to be victorious.

Alistair gently placed a hand in the small of her back and began steering her back toward the camp Duncan had set up. She was surprised to see that nearly the entire area was devoid of life, the only remaining people milling about being the houndmaster and the quartermaster. They stopped to restock their personal supplies of potions, still not speaking to one another, and Varia cast a glance over her shoulder to find Alistair looking rather worried.

“Everything will be fine,” she assured him, though she had no real way of knowing how the battle would turn out.

“I'm glad you think so,” he scoffed.

“What's really bothering you about all this?” she wondered, sensing it had to do with something more than just his desire to be a part of the battle.

“Nothing,” Alistair insisted, grabbing his sword and shield and standing up. Somewhere in the distance, Varia heard hundreds of men shouting followed by the distinct metal-on-metal clanging sound which indicated that the battle had already begun.

“Come on,” he urged her, gesturing in the direction of the bridge with his head. “The tower is on the other side of the ruins. The faster we get this done, the sooner we can join in the battle.”

“Duncan said we were to stay put until he sends for us,” Varia reminded him, rushing to keep up with his longer strides.

“I don't care what Duncan said,” Alistair defiantly told her. “I'm going to be in this battle, whether he likes it or not.”

Varia blinked in surprise at how angry he sounded, but looking at his face she saw more sadness and disappointment there than anything else. There was certainly something he wasn't telling her, but this was neither the time nor the place to push him for the truth. They had a job to do, and she wouldn't let Duncan regret his decision to take her away from the Circle by missing the signal to light the beacon just so she could slake her curiosity.

Things were already in full swing when they reached the bridge, and Varia looked on in awe at the sight before her. Soldiers lined the bridge, some of them shooting arrows and others loading ballistae to fire at the enemy below. A peek over the side showed her hundreds, if not thousands of figures locked in a fierce battle. It was hard to tell which were darkspawn and which ones were human, from the height she was at, but a glance into the distance made her blood run cold. Darkspawn were continuously marching out of the forest, carrying torches. She wondered if they meant to try to burn down what remained of the ruins, or perhaps they would set the forest around them on fire and trap them all there in order to slaughter the lot of them more easily.

Suddenly, a flash of lightning lit up the dark sky above and rain started pouring down on their heads. It was almost as if the Maker had pulled a lever which overturned a giant trough of water on top of them. She felt Alistair grab her hand and pull her back away from the edge of the bridge, and he leaned down close to address her.

“Come on!” he shouted over the sounds of the rain and the battle raging below them.

Still holding her hand, they began making their way quickly across the bridge, pausing only to avoid being hit by return fire from the crude catapults the darkspawn were using to try to knock the archers off the bridge. At one point, they were nearly hit when an artilleryman rushing to take more arrows to the archers bumped into them, causing Varia to slip on the wet stone beneath her feet and lose her footing. Alistair hastily pulled her to her feet and she had just barely gotten up and moved away from where she had fallen when a flaming ball of debris landed right where she had been.

By the time they got to the stairs leading to the courtyard surrounding the Tower of Ishal, Varia's robes were entirely soaked through and she was shivering from the cold. She would be grateful once they were finally in the tower, out of the pouring rain, but it seemed that wouldn't come as soon as she would have liked. They were met by three men – a solider, an archer, and a mage she didn't recognize, all of whom were wearing tabards over their armor and robes bearing the king's crest – who informed them that darkspawn had somehow infiltrated the tower.

“Finally, some action!” Varia heard Alistair mutter under his breath before running ahead into the courtyard, accompanied by the other warrior and the archer. She immediately cast a shield upon him to help defect any blows he might receive from the darkspawn he encountered, then began searching for a target of her own. To her surprise, she could actually sense how many were present and where they were located even though she couldn't see them. Apparently, he hadn't been bluffing about the Joining giving them that specific ability.

It didn't take very long for the five of them to clear out all of the darkspawn, and soon they were sanding before the front doors of the Tower of Ishal. To Varia's dismay, the other mage volunteered to go inform the rest of the Wardens that the darkspawn had somehow managed to infiltrate their defenses at the tower. She watched him run off, her stomach clenching in worry. He'd been a healer. Without his skill in the art of restorative magic she was unsure they'd make it to the top in order to light the signal – especially if they had to face more darkspawn once inside.

“Ready?” Alistair asked her, placing a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him, knowing she most certainly probably looked as frightened and worried as she felt, and he merely squeezed her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile.

“Let's do this,” he told her. “Together.”

“Together,” she agreed with a single nod of her head, reaching up and placing her hand upon his own. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to calm her nerves, then opened her eyes and looked up to him once more. At her nod, he opened the heavy door of the tower's entrance and they walked in side-by-side.

“Maker's breath!” Alistair swore as they climbed up to the top floor of the tower, shaking his head. “What are all these darkspawn doing ahead of the rest of the Horde? There wasn't supposed to be any resistance here!”

Varia let out a mirthless laugh and sat down on one of the steps, taking a moment to catch her breath while removing her slipper and shaking out a pebble of broken stone that had somehow managed to get trapped inside.

“Weren't you complaining earlier that you wouldn't get to fight?” she pointed out to him.

“You're right.” Alistair chuckled. “I suppose there's a silver lining to all this, if you think about it.”

Varia sighed and placed her slipper back on her foot, then stood and stepped closer to him, lowering her voice so the two men with them wouldn't overhear her next question.

“Do you think all these darkspawn being here could be a sign that the archdemon is close by?”

“Maker, I hope not,” Alistair replied with a shudder. “I'm too new to all this, yet. I wouldn't know the first thing to do if we had to fight that thing.”

“Killing it would probably be the best course of action, don't you think?” Varia offered.

“What are we killing?” the archer asked, coming up to where they were standing on the stairs.

“Whatever is behind this door here,” Alistair told him, then continued the rest of the way to the top and opened the door to the final floor of the tower. As soon as he opened it, however, he froze.

“What is it?” Varia wondered, coming up behind him. She, too, froze at the sight before them: a giant ogre was kneeling on the far side of the room, eating what appeared to be one of the king's soldiers. She covered her mouth to keep from screaming in horror as the creature ripped the head from its meal and popped it into its mouth like one would a grape plucked fresh from the vine, and had to swallow heavily several times to keep down the bile that was creeping up the back of her throat.

Unfortunately, the soldier behind them was unable to keep himself composed and he threw up all over the floor at her feet. The retching of the man drew the ogre's attention directly to them, and before she had a chance to think of what spell might work best against a creature of its size it was barreling across the room in their direction. She quickly jumped out of its path, firing off a winter's grasp in an attempt to slow it down, but the spell only marginally impeded its movements. She watched as it picked up the archer and snapped him in half like a twig, then it tore the man's body in two and held one half in each hand as it turned around and let out a fierce roar.

Next, she conjured the strongest stonefist she could and sent it flying directly into the creature's chest, staggering it for a few steps and giving Alistair and the other warrior the opportunity to move into a better position to strike. The king's man moved in first, just as Varia sent a barrage of sparks toward the ogre, and he ended up getting caught in one of its large fists and crushed. By the time the ogre threw him across the room like a rag doll, it was quickly closing in on her. In a final act of desperation, she held her hands before her and channeled flames at the giant creature. Thankfully, they caught on the leather armor scraps it was wearing, and it roared loudly as it tried to snuff out the flames with its giant hands. Its roars soon became intermingled with more shouting as Alistair leapt into the air and came down with his sword poised to strike. Varia watched as the blade sank into the side of the ogre's neck nearly to the hilt, then Alistair pulled it out and plunged it back in once more before the ogre finally managed to reach up to its back with one hand and fling him off. She quickly placed a shield upon him, and it absorbed most of the impact when his body hit the wall.

Letting out a strangled cry of fear, she shut her eyes tight and called upon all of the magic within her, releasing the strongest lightning bolt she could muster in the ogre's direction. A moment later, she heard the the large body fall heavily to the floor and opened her eyes to find it still twitching slightly, smoke rising from the places where its decaying flesh had been burned by her spells. Looking upon it, a flash of a memory suddenly came to her mind: a man in dark leathers, burned and twitching at her feet, looking up at her with dead eyes. She shook her head and slowly backed away from the ogre, her breathing coming in ragged gasps, and didn't stop until her back hit the wall. She remembered, now. Everything they said about her, the story Duncan had relayed to her at the inn on Lake Calenhad... it was all true. She'd been scared for her life, then, just as she was now – and the result had been the same.

“We've surely missed the signal by now. Light the beacon!” Alistair called to her, pulling himself up from where he had landed on the floor. Remembering where she was and what she was doing, she shook away the thoughts haunting her mind and went over to the fire pit. Not finding any torches nearby, she used her magic to light the flames needed to signal General Loghain to send his men in.

“Are you okay?” she called to Alistair as she turned to him and began making her way across the room to assess his injuries and heal him as best she could.

“I'm fine,” he attempted to assure her, wincing as he grasped at his side and hobbled slightly over to one of the broken windows in order to assess the standing of the battle going on far below them.

“What the... What is he doing?”

“What is it?” Varia wondered, rushing over to his side. Alistair simply pointed and she followed his gaze to whatever had caused his outburst. The sight was enough to make her heart stop: General Loghain's men weren't charging into the battle, they were walking away from it.

“Why would he do this?” Alistair asked, wincing again at the pain in his side. Varia placed one of her hands on top of his and sent a pulse of healing magic into the wound, shaking her head solemnly. She really had no idea what to say to him, because she couldn't understand why Loghain wasn't leading his men into the battle as he had planned, either.

“Let's just get you out of here,” she told him after a moment. “I've done all I really can, as far as healing your wounds. We'll go back to camp and wait for the others to return, and then Wynne can finish mending you.”

“I need to get down there. Duncan needs me,” Alistair insisted, trying to push her off him only to stumble and fall against her. Varia nearly ended up collapsing under his weight, but managed to help him back to his feet with a heavy sigh.

“You're no good to anyone like this, Alistair,” she pointed out to him. “Now, we're going back to camp to wait. No more arguments.”

Alistair grumbled in protest, but held his tongue and allowed her to lead him carefully around the dead ogre and back to the door they'd entered the room from. They had nearly made it there when both of them suddenly felt the distinct presence of darkspawn approaching.

“I thought we killed them all,” Varia remarked, still holding him up for balance.

“We did,” Alistair said, pushing off from her and readying his sword.


“I'm fine,” he cut off her warning. “I'm not going down without a fight.”

Varia nodded and began calling her magic to her fingers, readying a fireball to throw at however many darkspawn were to come through the door. By her estimation, there was at least a dozen of them, but unlike before she couldn't be entirely sure if they were all coming together or if they were dispersed throughout the tower.

What neither of them had been expecting, however, was that they would come up from behind them after scaling the outside wall of the tower. Alistair realized too late that was where they were, and by the time they turned around a tall one in full armor had hit him with a large hammer and sent him flying once more across the room and into a stack of crates.

“Alistair!” Varia shouted his name as she began rushing to him, then she suddenly felt a searing pain in her right shoulder. Looking at the source, she found an arrow piercing her, sicking out in the front and back. Her vision immediately began to swim, and her body suddenly felt very heavy. She tried to continue toward her fallen comrade, but she found it was becoming harder and harder to breathe and she fell to the floor when the poison coursing through her veins caused her legs gave out under her.

“Alistair...” she whispered his name, weakly reaching out for him and wondering if he was still alive or if they would both die there.

The last thing she heard before blacking out was a great roar like the one from the dragon in the nightmare she'd had during her Joining, and she swore she could see its outline swooping down upon her from the sky above as her eyes fell closed.
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