Dragon Age: Grey Dawn || Sansa Stark & Astra

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    nothing is as it should be. The Emperor is corrupted in secret by a nation Thedas fears,
    and a supreme evil brews in the darkness of the earth. Only the Grey Wardens can sense
    it. The Darkspawn beneath Orzammar are more active than ever and Navarran farmlands
    are falling to a spike in Tevinter activity. The world is at a loss. No two kingdoms can get
    along and collaborate on a solution. The people of Thedas know they are on the brink of
    war, yet something much more sinister stirs beyond their knowledge. It won't be long now.
    Soon, it will be too late to save anyone, regardless of king and country. Thedas will fall.

    Or will it? For centuries the Grey Wardens have protected the people of the world from
    Darkspawn and any incredible evil that wishes to destroy what mankind has built.
    Though their ranks are few, this elite organization of plagued warriors senses the danger
    facing the world and remains determined as ever to conquer it. The first step in solving
    a problem is measuring the weight of the threat, however, and for this reason the Wardens
    have decided to send Benjen Iverstill of Ferelden to the kingdom of Orlais to investigate.

    Little does he know, much more than Darkspawn and the beginning of a Blight await him.
    With friends recruited along the way and a love most forbidden, Ser Benjen unknowingly
    walks into the claws of a trap and a journey that will bring sorrow, pain, joy and conquest.

    With the help of their allies, can the Wardens stop the Blight after all? Or will Thedas
    become swallowed by it's own greed and retribution, accompanied by a grey dawn?



    The Blight Begins

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  2. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    A violent dream had disturbed her sleep that night. She had dreamed it before, and she was certain, despicably certain, that she would dream it again. After calming down, after assaulting her face with ice-cold water, the young Duchess Leonie de Valroque stood at her window, clutching a necklace tightly in her hand. She watched the sky lighten as the sun rose, shrouded in the same grey clouds that had reigned the skies for the past few days. This overcast weather was typical for the season. And yet... and yet it felt different. Her dark, tired eyes flicked to the white spires of the Grand Cathedral, one of the most commanding buildings in Val Royeaux. Faintly, she could hear the Chant being recited. It was somewhat reassuring; at least some things could stay constant, despite all else. Then, slowly and hesitantly, she settled her gaze on the imposing, arresting Imperial Palace.

    No. The thought sat firm in her mind, she tried forcing it to take root. I will not think of it.

    And yet she couldn't help it. Was it a mere trick of the light, then, that made the sky seem that much darker over the Palace? The grey seemed to fade into a stormy, almost purple color. She took a deep breath, trying to keep her breathing at rhythm. Ah-- there, there. The color was fading, back to grey. A trick of the light, that was all.

    These thoughts had no use, they were not helpful. If anything was truly wrong, Leonie was certain that her father would have done something about it. He would have heard something about it. He would have told her.

    So, it must not be a real problem. It must just be her.

    A few hours later, after calming herself, washing up, and getting dressed, Léonie made her way to the breakfast room. The Dukes of de Valroque’s lived in a lovely maison de ville, prestigiously situated near the Avenue of the Sun. On brighter days, the sun shone charmingly through the stained glass ceiling, patterned with their family crest. Today, to Leonie, it just seemed oppressive. But that impression might have been influenced by Duchess Beatrice's thin-lipped expression, which Leonie noticed immediately upon entering. She chose to ignore it, though she knew it couldn't bode well.

    “Good morning, father.” She approached Francis de Valroque and gave him a peck on the cheek.

    “Mother.” No kiss for the Duchess, who sat stiffly on the other end of the table across from the family patriarch. She was a proud woman, with restless grey eyes. They scanned Léonie’s outfit critically. Her daughter was practically dripping with gold and jewels; several necklaces, bracelets, and a ring on practically every finger. As it should be. Léonie took a seat at her father’s right hand. “Have Hughes and Etienne already eaten?”

    "Yes, and they have already left. You have overslept, Leonie."

    "My apologies, mother."

    “Oh, come now, Bea. Leonie, Hughes already left for the palace,” Francis replied, finishing his Antivan spiced coffee in one long sip. “I’ll be joining him shortly. We’ve received word that a few Grey Wardens are coming to Val Royeaux. I believe Hughes will be among those who receive them."

    “A... Wardens? Why are they coming? Is there something wrong?” Her voice and face were, as always, unexpressive. But Leonie could feel her heart beating faster as she uttered those words.

    Beatrice tutted, stirring sugar into her coffee. “Why do you always jump to such negative conclusions? The Wardens have no power anymore, hardly anyone pays them any mind. It’s a visit to make sure no one forgets about them, despite their irrelevance.”

    Francis mmmed noncommittally, and Leonie didn’t comment —she seemed focused on her toast and jam.
    “Well then, I’m off!” Francis stood, dropping his napkin on his chair. Cherie,” he kissed the top of Leonie’s dark hair, then gave his wife a peck on the cheek. “I’ll be at the Palace all day, and night, presumably. There's a masquerade tonight, to welcome the Wardens. 'Despite their irrelevance.' I will see you beauties there later."

    “Masquerade..." she echoed the word apparently unthinking.

    "Yes, and a big one at that. Even lowest houses have been invited." He made a comment about a family that had been unexpectedly invited, and Beatrice was quick to offer her opinion of them, but Leonie's mind was elsewhere. She inadvertently interrupted her mother mid-sentence.

    "Father?… The Grey Warden symbol is a griffon, is it not?”

    “Indeed, I believe they used to ride them into battle, a long time ago.” His daughter nodded somberly at this information, staring intensely into her cup of tea, thinking of her dreams.

    Francis left, and Beatrice and Leonie sat in thick, unyielding silence. The clock ticked on the mantle, delineating each seconds. Leonie was not perturbed by this. It was not unusual.

    As always, Beatrice broke the silence. “You are meeting with Ser Absalom today, are you not?”

    “Yes,” Leonie replied, immediately adding, “Later. I wanted to meet ‘Tienne first, after his lessons. He mentioned he needed to go to the royal library today for some books. I thought I could go with him.”

    Beatrice bristled slightly. “Just let Hughes do that.”

    “Hughes will be busy, presumably, with the foreign guests--"

    “Francis can, then."


    "I will take Etienne. No need for you to go, Leonie. No need.”

    She sat in measured silence for a moment or two, breathing deeply. “... Don’t you have to attend Madame Lascelle’s salon today, mother? Isn’t it a weekly gathering? She might think it impolite--”

    “He can surely go to the library alone, Leonie!” Beatrice’s voice had taken on that slightly higher pitch that seemed to be reserved only for her dark-haired daughter.

    Leonie sat in silence yet again, still staring stony-faced into her hot drink.

    “... Very well, mother. May I be excused?”

    Meal times were always uncomfortable when they were left alone, but no topic was as contentious as talk of Etienne. Beatrice liked keeping the youngest de Valroque away from his sister.

    "Be on your best behavior with Ser Absalom, Leonie. The Villeforts are a powerful family. It would be an excellent match for us."

    "Yes, mother, I will be." She left the breakfast room meek as a lamb and silent as a ghost. But she had no intention of paying Absalom a visit, and every intention of meeting her younger brother near the university gates, where they could walk to the Palace together. After a quick trip to the kitchen for a sweet roll, which she wrapped in a cloth napkin, she donned her mask and stepped out onto the city streets. Though completely undetectable from her speech and expressions and mannerisms, a feeling of deep unease still pressed on her heart.
    #2 Astra, Jan 17, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2016
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  3. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    Damn the Orelsians and their fancy, pointless parties. Benjen wanted none of it. He was a man of fairly simple taste, preferring tavern drinks with his war-torn friends over wine with stuffed up nobles. Many of the Grey Wardens took pride in dining with those of higher social status, but Benjen felt fortunate not to feel that way. The Great Game troubled him. Though not of his country or concern, the Warden eyed every Orlesian he passed with a cautious nod and glance. Val Royeaux did not sit well with him. The last thing he needed was political scandal to weigh down his already disturbed mind.

    "Something wrong, Ben?" asked his colleague, the elf-warden Vaeryn, who loved his humor at Benjen's expense. "City too nice for a farmboy like you?"

    "Shut it." Ben smirked despite his irritation, though it quickly fell. "I just hate the feelin' I get in places like this. Like I'm some tool for a nobles gain. I'd die before I had to live in a place like this."

    "S'not so bad. I had a camp in the Emerald Graves for a while. Once you get past the silk exterior, most of these people a pretty nice."

    "Usually because they're lookin' for something." Benjen scratched his beard and shook his head, watching a group of masked nobles pass by. He despised their hidden faces. As a warrior, he was trained to look at such secrecy with the suspicion it deserved, but to face an entire country with that kind of culture was unnerving. He tried to let the thought pass, to no avail. "Either way, I'm not lookin' forward to this ball. Or this visit. If there was a Blight that's starting here, don't you think we would have seen it by now?"

    "You'd think," Vaeryn agreed. "I just don't want people to keep askin' me to do things, like I'm one of their damned servants. One of these bastards had the gall to call me "rabbit-ear." Me! A Grey Warden, when there might be a bloody Blight headed our way!"

    "I'm hardly surprised," scoffed Ben. "The sooner I can return home, the better."

    Benjen crossed his arms when the pair of friends reached the front gates to palace. It had a special name, he was sure, but the title couldn't be remembered. Not that he cared, of course. The place was beautiful and a wonder to the eye, but it was filled with injustice and backstabbing beyond his comprehension. A part of Benjen wished the palace was full of Darkspawn instead of conniving nobility. Darkspawn, he knew. But this rich people's game? Far from comforting, and even farther from his area of expertise. "Just ignore them," he said at last. "You can lay down your bloody life for them, and all they'd see are a pair of pointy ears. Not that Ferelden's any better, though."

    "Aye, ain't that the truth." Vaeryn looked somber, and Benjen felt sorrow for having reminded his friend of such personal grief. He patted him on the shoulder for encouragement. "Come on. Sun's almost down, which means this mummer's farce of a party's gonna start soon. The sooner we ensure there's no damn Blight, the sooner we can get shitfaced and show ourselves out."

    "Maker, I could use some fucking wine." Vaeryn sniffled and clapped his comrade on the shoulder. The two tainted warriors entered the palace as guests of the Empress of Orlais, protectors of Thedas, not knowing that their world of Blightless peace would soon be torn asunder.​
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  4. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song "You did not see Absalom today."

    "Mmm?" Leonie was putting on lipstick, she didn't want it to smudge. Her mother, blonde hair piled on her head in an elaborate updo, scowled at her from the doorway. Leonie met her mother's gaze, reflected in the silver mirror, then looked away.

    "Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"

    Leonie spoke slowly, "... That dress looks very well on you, mother."

    "Obstinacy if not becoming, Leonie. Neither is disobedience. You went against my specific request and you went with my son to the library. And that Celine de la Ville was with Absalom all yesterday, or so I heard. What if he decides he likes her more than you? What if he never asks for your hand?"

    Leonie was silent, deciding it was the best course of action. Anger flared inside her, piercing the normal numbness she'd come to know. She did not give a flying flip if the Chevalier Villefort decided to marry some other poor Royan woman, in fact, it would spare her so much trouble. Being near him was a constant test of her patience, once which she endured for the standing of her family, and to keep her mother happy. Well, perhaps not happy --placated might be a better word.

    Leonie exhaled angrily, but answered flatly, "Then I'll end up an old maid and have to spend the rest of my days here, with you." She met her mother's eyes directly in the mirror, and neither woman's gaze held particular fondness for the other. Leonie rose from her vanity and adjusted a few rings on her fingers, including the thin gold bands above her knuckles. "There are other men in this city. I'm certain someone will be foolish enough--" but she wasn't able to finish her thought, since her mother then loudly slammed the door, cutting off her words.

    Exeunt, Beatrice, thought the duchess. She moved to pick hair accessories with apathetic nonchalance.

    The family was gathered in the front hall of the house. Beatrice was fixing Etienne's collar, a ruffled and stiff but very fashionable thing. Leonie was the last to descend the staircase, bare-shouldered in an embroidered dress and covered in jewels. She'd put her hair up, too; a braided bun that looked like a flower. Her mask, like her mother's, was shaped like bird's wings and left her mouth uncovered. "Very handsome," she nodded her head at Etienne, who smiled back cheekily. This was one of the first masked balls he had been granted permission to attend. "Do I have the honor of having you as my escort?"

    "Enough. We will be late." Beatrice swept through the hall imperiously, taking her son's arm and leading him to the carriage.

    "Isn't that the entire point?" Quipped Etienne, and Leonie smiled behind her mother's back.

    With the sun gone, the city was lit up with spectacular lanterns. The de Valroque's carriage and entourage took up nearly an entire lane on the Avenue of the Sun, but due to their status, people made way. The palace was draped with the banners of the Emperor, golden and streaming in the artificial light. Beatrice and Etienne led the way while Leonie trailed behind, keeping her expression neutral. But every step she took up the grand staircase made her feel worse and worse; heavier and heavier. It was true that she hated these affairs and didn't relish them on any given day, but this felt different. Once in the grand ballroom, the chatter drowned out all else. Her mother turned to give her a look that said 'find Absalom,' but Leonie immediately went to find her father instead.

    "Aha! There you are, Leonie." Francis waved to Beatrice in the crowd, but she was busy introducing Etienne to her friends.

    "Hughes; father, good evening." They were gathered with a small group of other nobles, by a pillar near the main staircase. The question escaped her before she could stop it; it was weighing heavily on her mind. "How were the Wardens?"

    "Fine. They should be arriving any second now... can you believe neither came with his own mask? We had to procure a pair. Managed to find some that had been designed for Warden visits in the past, in a dusty old chest in storage. So if you want to find them, look for the men with the terribly antiquated masks." Hughes chuckled. He answered her question in his normal haughty style, without directly looking at his sister, since his statements were more directed at keeping the small crowd around him entertained. He leaned in closer to the circle, "One of them's a knife-ear, too." He grimaced, as if this was insulting to him, and as if the Wardens sending an elf ambassador was offensive. "It was a tad surprising, to say the least. Well! Hopefully they can be someone else's problem tonight. They both seemed as eager to leave as we are to see them go."

    Just then, Leonie heard Absalom's loud laughter from behind her somewhere in the ever-growing crowd. She murmured an excuse, and dipped behind the pillar and away from her possible future fiance's line of sight. From a passing servant, she took some wine. She didn't drink any but merely held the glass for comfort. She didn't want to be here, not at all. But the Wardens could be arriving at any second...
    #4 Astra, Jan 18, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2016
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  5. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    At least the music was pleasant. Benjen always had an unspoken weakness for waltzes and music of the symphony. They reminded him of his times in Denerim when the local tavern would let the orphans in for free, or when King Ramsalon was crowned and music filled the streets for many celebratory days. His sister played the harp, too, on the farm where he was raised. Better times in a barely better life. The thought of home made him ache to leave the party even more.

    "If another noble asks me to refill his wine, I'm going to break this bloody mask." Vaeryn leaned against a pearl column, arms folded across his chest in disgust. "I hate seeing the People here. Just reminds me of how I left things back home."

    "Hey. Shut you mouth, yeah? Drink something and stop throwing a pity party, I hate it when you get pissy." Benjen took a glass of wine from a nearby server, who was elven, and handed it to his comrade. "We can focus on your revolution when we don't have to save the world."

    "Thanks," replied Vaeryn with a weary smile. He accepted the offered glass and took a large drink. "You're too good to me."

    "Don't get mushy, now. I'm not that great of a--"

    "Shit! Shit. Here, stand up." Vaeryn slapped Benjen's arm suddenly and rose to his feet, all great respect and proper manners. "Get up, you idiot!"

    "Vae, what the--"

    "Lady Léonie," said the elf in interruption, making a beeline for a noblewoman with beautiful long hair and plum lips. Benjen had noticed her standing awkwardly in the background, but hadn't seen anything significant about her that would draw him away from Vaeryn's troubles; that is, until he heard the name. The design on her mask was a red flag as well. This was Duchess Léonie de Valroque, and Benjen had been incredibly stupid not to have noticed her sooner. Vaeryn bowed to her before Benjen could get a chance to rise. "You look lovely this evening. It is a pleasure to meet you."

    Damn silver tongue, thought Ben as he stood to make his presence known. He walked towards the belle of the ball with his warrior's posture and straightened, broad shoulders. A physique Vaeryn was always jealous of. "May I present Captain Benjen Iverstill of the Grey Wardens. Our commander will soon be with your father, but it would be rude of us to not make your acquaintance."

    Léonie looked uncomfortable, to say the least. Her eyes were not covered by the mask and he could make out traces of fear in those lovely orbs. She was hiding from something, or someone, and though Benjen hated Orlesian parties and made no attempt to hide it, he saw no reason to embarrass her further. Benjen made a fist over his heart and bowed to the young duchess. "Good to meet you as well, my lady. I wonder if perhaps we could discuss something over a dance? I believe I know the steps well enough to avoid making a fool of myself." To take you away from your fear, he thought, and get some valuable information. He hardly considered it as taking advantage.

    Vaeryn grinned in support, but Benjen knew he'd torn the carpet out from under his elven friend.
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  6. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    She stood against the column, feeling its cool, reassuring presence against her back. The men in her family, and Absalom, where conversing just over there--oh Maker, had one of them just mentioned her? !She nervously sipped her wine --grimaced; gross, it was too warm-- but a completely unexpected guest approached, calling her by name. An elf...

    A Warden.

    The Duchess stood stock still and silent as a statue while the charming elven Warden introducer himself. She did not respond. Her gaze turned to the much larger one, his companion --a beast on two legs... A... dance?

    For a brief moment, silence flooded in, taking up the space of the greeting that the pair no doubt expected. For a moment, she couldn't help but drop her gracious mask. She was transfixed, awe-struck, her mind far away. In that moment, her dream was all she saw.

    Leonie inhaled briefly, exhaling through slightly pursed lips. She snapped her fingers and a servant was at her side --she placed the grossly warm glass on the offered tray, and it was as if the spell on her had broken. In one fluid motion she extended her hand to the elf.

    "So happy to see you, Warden!" She greeted him as if they were old friends. Her accent was quintessentially Orlaisian. She smiled slightly, but it did not quite reach her eyes. Pretty, charming words dripped from her lips with expert precision. "The pleasure is mine, I assure you. Thank you both very much for journeying here. I hope you will not be disappointed with what the capital has to offer-- and Captain Iverstill, how kind of you. I would be delighted to join you in a dance." Now she extended her hand to him, but she smiled at the elf in a way that implied she would like to dance with him later, too. "An intriguing proposition, it's not often I'm asked to dance with a discussion in mind... but, of course, I will try to help you in any way I can."

    She excused herself from the other Warden with a courteous head nod and took the Captain's hand. Hers was noticeably warm. She hid behind him slightly as they walked through the crowd, trying to avoid being spotted... this was far too important to be interrupted. A dance was the perfect way to grab a private moment in plain sight. It was now or never.

    Once on the dance floor, her smile was gone, and her dark gaze was lethal. She placed her hand on his shoulder and her plum-purple nails dug into his shirt. As band began a new song and they began to move, she leaned up towards his face.

    "Listen to me, Warden," Her words were no more than a hiss by his ear, carrying deadly purpose, but her voice was shaking too much for it to be interpreted as a threat. "And please be discreet... you... and your colleague... must leave this place immediately." She gripped his hand in hers, as if to stop him from escaping. "You must leave. A... bloodbath; A truly --the massacre will be unlike anything before it; even the walls of the palace will run red. Don't ask me how I know. But just know that I know. Please. There is still time."
    #6 Astra, Jan 19, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2016
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  7. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    The hair on the back of his neck rose when she dug her nails into him. It was oddly arousing when it shouldn't be, perhaps from the taint that ran through his blood like fire. His heart pumped faster when she whispered words of horror in his ear. Instinctively, he held tighter to her and scanned the room with masked eyes. He could not let his guard down now.

    "You've seen it too," he replied in an equally low voice, a gravelly sound that was part groan, part speech. "Don't worry, duchess. It's why we're here, though I'm sure your father told you otherwise."

    Per the demands of the dance, Benjen delicately spun Léonie around and back into him, to his broad chest and armor resting beneath his formal attire. Perhaps she could feel the metal under the cloth, perhaps not. It mattered little. His primary concern was staving off the evil he saw in the nightmares that plagued him ceaselessly; what she thought of his preparation would not halt the night's grim potential.

    It was Benjen who'd first foreseen the Blight. When dawn had graced the Warden fortress near Redcliffe, he'd awoken from a nightmare so painstaking that he'd nearly killed the person who tried to wake him. Water and comforting company could not stop his utter panic. Scarlet had stained the streets of Orlais and Ferelden, spreading into the sea and swallowing neighboring countries. His sister drowned in the hoard. His niece and nephew were ripped to pieces by darkspawn, among all the other children of the world, while an obsidian Archdemon flew overhead like death itself, laying waste to the world. There was no cure for a nightmare such as that. It had felt so real, sometimes Benjen looked back on it as a memory versus the recollection of a dream. Maker knew he would give his life to keep those foresights from becoming real.

    Such were the sacrifices of a man with darkspawn blood in his veins.

    "Tell me what you've seen, my lady. The more I know, the better." He spun her again, this time with less grace and more desperation to bring her near again. The closer they were in proximity, the less likely anyone was to see their mouths moving or notice the looks in their watchful eyes. Their dance had become a planning, almost a ritual, and he would not have it interrupted. "Is there anyone in Orlais that seems suspicious to you? Any locations for something sinister?"

    The song was nearly done. She would have to speak quickly before the Duke's toast, before his attention would be required elsewhere.
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  8. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    It was nerve-wracking; so much at stake, yet she was putting her entire reputation on the line for a stranger in a griffon mask. No one ever believed her dreams. She'd stopped telling people about them altogether, but this seemed to important... perhaps it helped that the Wardens were strangers, not privy to Orlaisian gossip and her own curious reputation. Nonetheless, Leonie had been prepared to be flung away. Indeed, who would welcome such a sinister message?

    And yet— he believed her! She exhaled a breath she hadn't even realized she had been holding, just as he spun her around. In the spin, she had gained a vantage of the room and saw it: Absalom, and her mother, looking at her... their expressions were of course masked, but it wasn't difficult to guess what they were thinking. She was so startled that he had not questioned her statement that she bumped into him without much grace, and it took a few seconds before she got her footing back. The second time the Warden spun her, though, she was ready for it, despite his brusque form. She came back to him sharply.

    “Ah! I thought you would think me mad!" But before she could wax poetic or show her appreciation, she had the same thought as he: there was no time anymore. Instantly, her voice took a more formal tone, like someone giving a report. "I saw people and griffons speared and dying on the claws of a great black dragon. It was in the Palace, of this I'm sure, but it didn't look like it anymore; it did not look like it does now. The floor was a chasm, a pit, into some hellish place, and the sky -for the roof was gone, you see- was bruised, black and purple. People, live people, lurked around and behind the great beast, but --well, they were all wearing masks. They were Orlaisian. The... the..." the musicians were playing the final notes, so Leonie blurted out the last piece of what the Fade had shown her. "It changes each night in small, specific ways, but what never changes are the dying griffons, and the dragon! It always has the face of a grand, golden --lion!”

    The song had ended, though she hadn’t even noticed it. People were clapping for the musicians. Hurriedly, Leonie separated from the Warden. She curtsied. She felt like mourning a great loss. She was overcome by the irrevocable feeling like it was already too late, and, even worse, she didn’t know what to do. She had more to tell him, like how the Emperor had fallen sick some time ago, to the point where he was bedridden for weeks. He was better now, but had made himself scarce in public. A few others in the high society of Val Royeaux had also fallen ill, including Absalom, and -and the very thought sent panic through her- her father, but no one had acted as if anything was wrong. The dreams had troubled her for months, starting at the same time as the Emperor’s illness.

    The lion, as they both knew, was the symbol of Orlais.

    Her eyes were downcast, and she delicately covered her mouth with one hand as if to stop anyone from see it downturn or quiver. “Will you please excuse me,” she murmured, as if they were her last words. With a simple turn of her heel, she faced away from him to try to go… well, anywhere, really. Away. But before she could even take one step, up on the staircase, someone clinked a crystal glass, and Leonie froze where she stood. She looked up at the stairs, still covering her mouth —though now, it looked like she was stifling a gasp. Her father was giving the toast.

    Suddenly, someone’s hand was at her waist —well, a bit lower than her waist, and she flinched.

    “I was wondering when I’d see you,” the blonde and tall Absalom murmured the words into her ear. “Are you avoiding me? Looks like father is about to speak, I imagine he’d notice if we snuck out now…”

    And Leonie couldn’t help but think that he’d picked the worst possible time to make an appearance. “Stop!” She snapped at him, loudly slapping his hand away. “Not now. Not ever. Leave me alone.” Immediately and angrily, Leonie wove herself further into the crowd, away from Absalom, thinking about how that would certainly cost her, later. That feeling of regret was dulled, though, by the events that were currently unfolding. While the people immediately around them noticed her anger, others had begun to clink their glasses like Francis de Valroque, discouraging other distractions.

    “Ehem! Ladies, Gentlemen, thank you,” said the Duke of Valroque, standing above the crowd, wearing a grandiose mask in the shape of bird’s wings. “Thank you so very much for coming. We’ve come together tonight to honor, the great, the powerful…” a noticeable pause, “Grey Wardens, who have traveled here all the way from their keep in Ferelden. We are all grateful to have them in our midst. Please, everyone, join me in welcoming them.” At this, he gestured into the crowd, as if encouraging the Orlaisians to look and clap at the Wardens. Leonie didn’t, though, because she was captivated by her father on the steps. He took a step forward, and she realized why he unsettled her so. There was something about the way his knee rose and fell, the way his foot was placed and the way his ankle turned. It was almost unnatural, almost like… a marionette. At that moment, she turned to search for the Captain’s face, and while most other Orlaisians were still looking at Benjen and smiling, Leonie was terrified.

    “A welcome indeed.I’ve also been asked to pass on a message from the Emperor, who, unfortunately, was indisposed tonight. He personally extends his greetings to our guests, and thanks them for being here. Without them, we would have had to wait much longer… to have such a marvelous party with such marvelous wine.”

    A low chuckle, which Leonie did not participate in. Well into a greeting speech, and no jokes? And since when did her father say the word ‘marvelous?’ Her father continued to speak, and Leonie tried to find the Warden again. She had to tell him that something was wrong, that there was no time left.
    #8 Astra, Jan 20, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2016
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  9. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    Benjen knew blood magic when he saw it. The clear threat of what was before him did not go unnoticed by neither him nor his brother-in-arms. The Wardens smiled politely when addressed by the Duke, though in the back of his mind, Benjen still searched the crowds for wherever his beautiful dance partner had fled.

    "Something's not right," said Vaeryn when the duke began to speak again. "Where's the commander? Where are the others?"

    "Not sure," said Benjen, "but the duchess knew something. She sensed evil here, too. Dammit. I hate being right." He looked through the sea of masks again in hopes of finding her somewhere, anywhere, to no avail. He cursed under his breath and made sure the hilt of his sword was near his right hand. He turned to his friend in urgency. "Listen. I want you to get the tunnel open. Wait for me there. If the others are safe, maybe they're there waiting for us too. Who knows. All I know is I got a feeling we'll need a way out of this, and fast."

    "On it. Stay safe, yeah?" Vaeryn clapped Benjen on the shoulder and quickly left to do as his captain bid.

    "Let us not forget the momentous occasion for which we have arranged this ball," said the Duke, in words that were surely not his own. "The Grey Wardens of Ferelden, our own esteemed nobility, and many members of other successful countries have gathered here to witness a surprise that will bring Orlais to the forefront of the race for power in Thedas."

    The words had Tevinter marks all over them. Benjen began shoving his way through the crowd when he saw the dark head of hair and elegant mask that could only be the Duchess de Valroque, taking clear note of her panicked expression. While he moved, the Duke continued to speak. "Too long we have been fighting for power with our neighbors in all directions. The Emperor, though ill, will sacrifice to lead us all to a greater tomorrow; one with no more obstacles and no one to stand in our way. Behold, our new allies; the Archon of Tevinter and his sacred army!"

    "Duchess, hey--duchess!" Benjen was past the point of formalities. He shouted above the chattering, nervous crowd and snatched Léonie by the arm. "We need to go. Now. And you're coming with me."

    But before she could offer a reply, a Warden's arrow shot forth. From the balcony of the palace, Grey Warden archers were beginning to fall to a lineup, and one of their arrows prematurely fired toward the Duke. The arrow met with an unseen barrier and shattered upon impact. The vibration of shock pulsed through the ground and the marble floor began to shake violently. Benjen nearly tumbled over, but he kept his hold of the duchess tight and tact.

    He knew what was coming. He had seen it in his dreams. A protective instinct flooded over him and he pulled Léonie tight to his chest, his back to the Duke, to protect her from the blast.

    Faster than either could react, the world ripped apart.

    An explosion tore through the center of the ballroom. Hundreds of innocents shot in different directions. Benjen gasped in pain as shrapnel from the metal foundation buried into the side of his low back, piercing through cloth, armor and skin. He was pushed over from the force and balanced his weight on his left hand, refusing to land on the fragile duchess and crush her under his weight. He looked up through the pain in his eyes to see people fleeing away from him, away from the Duke, and what he could only assume to be the pit where his evil enemy would arise. Fire licked the pearl columns and warped portraits of nobles into dust. Benjen dared not look back, not yet, not when he already knew what was there. He sat back on his knees, unthreateningly straddling Léonie's lower half. With a great shout of agony, he reached back and pulled the shrapnel from his torn skin, ignoring the warm liquid that coursed down his back as a result.

    "Get up," he told her wearily, pushing himself to his feet. He took her arm and helped her stand. "We need...we need to leave, now. Come on. I'll protect you."

    Benjen prayed that he could keep his word.
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  10. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    Maker, had there been this many people here from the beginning? As she tried to move through the crowd, blindly searching for either Warden, it felt like she was in those nightmares where one tries to run from a threat only to be stuck in the same place --futile, that's what it felt like. Suddenly, someone grabbed her arm and Leonie spun around eagerly, thinking it would be the Warden -- no.

    "Where are you going, Leonie? You're going to miss the announcement." Absalom smiled a perfect, white smile.

    "I --I feel unwell. I feel unwell. I apologise. I... Absalom, why do you have your sword here tonight?"

    "This will be a brand new beginning for all of us, Leonie. Don't you want to be a part of it?"

    As realization dawned, her eyes widened in terror. "You--"

    "Duchess, hey--duchess!" A distinctly Fereldan voice cut through the crowd, and suddenly her other arm was in another man's grasp. "We need to go. Now. And you're coming with me."

    "Well, isn't this--" but before Absalom could finish that thought or draw his weapon, an arrow hissed above them, arching perfectly right towards her father. She screamed, but it was drowned out by the shattering; the rumbling that tossed her clear of Absalom but right at the Warden like an embroidered and well-accessorized sack of potatoes. Then, she was being pinned against what felt like a solid wall, and though she tried to squirm away, she could not. A great rending sound split through everything --she fell, hitting her head on the stones. Everything moved too quickly for her to react to it properly, but the one thing she could distinguish was that the air smelled of fire and blood. She opened her eyes. The Warden was on top of her, sooty, and bleeding! He yelled, and she screamed.

    She let him help her up, though he practically pulled her from the floor since her knees were made of jelly and she could hardly stand. "Y-you are bleeding, you're bleeding, Sir!"

    And because she did not possess the same foresight that he did, she looked back.

    A fissure, an abyss, and she could not see the end of it. Flames burst from it, consuming the Palace and anyone who moved too slowly. Movement, at the bottom; a writhing, dark mass. She screamed again. Then, she looked up at where the figure of her father stood. His familiar face was twisted by the heat, but she could have sworn on the Andraste that he was laughing. Perhaps it was just in her mind, but for one moment, she thought he looked directly at her -- Leonie could not stifle a sob as she quickly turned away.

    A shrill sort of hissing had begun from the pit --or perhaps, she had only just now begun to hear it.

    "Where do we go? Your wounds, you're..." She said to the Warden, moving in whichever direction he led her. She held onto him, his arm or his belt, whichever was within reach, and frantically looked around... her family... Etienne?... But there was too much movement, she couldn't...

    The hissing... no, not hissing. Screaming. A piercing screaming coming from the pit. She turned.

    A seething surge of dark armor was pouring onto what remained of the floor. She had never seen them before, but she knew they were Darkspawn. They were grotesque, smelling of death and rot, and absolutely mindless in their destruction. Anyone who was still on the main floor, still near the pit, wasn't alive for much longer. They flooded the room as quickly as an un-dammed river, surging right towards where they stood. Leonie froze, and turned away, and covered her ears, and screamed.

    But the fatal blow she expected never came, instead, she felt an intense, unyielding heat at her back. A pillar of fire stood right behind her, effectively immolating any creatures that got too close, and buying her and the Warden a sliver more time. She, of course, had gone into shock, and was staring at the flames in wide-mouthed silence, apparently unaware that the rings on her fingers and the strands of gold around her neck were burning into her bare skin.
    #10 Astra, Jan 20, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2016
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  11. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    All he felt was the heat. Benjen covered his eyes from the white light that burst just behind him, following Léonie's scream. Fire. A great column had thrust from behind the duchess and incinerated any darkspawn following their escape route. Benjen shielded his eyes until the flames were gone, and looked to his companion with wide eyes full of questions.

    "You're a mage?!" he shouted, but there was no time for interrogation no matter how desperately he ached for it. "You know what, I don't give a damn. Come on. We have to get--"

    Benjen reached for her hand, but pain seared through his palm's nerves. Léonie's skin was blistering hot, though still fair to the sight. As if the situation couldn't get any more dangerous, Benjen realized that the beauty he'd danced with was a ticking magical time bomb, likely unknown to her as well. He didn't know if that was a force he wanted to tamper with. Still, what time or option was there? Hell itself was released from the underground, and the Warden knew he was running out of time.

    "Come on. I'm not leaving you here." Benjen grabbed her by the wrist this time, over the fabric of her gown, and pulled her along his side as he made a dash for the faraway door. At the end of the hall was the study, leading to a bookshelf with secret passage to a tunnel below the castle. With the Maker's mercy, Vae would be there with the other Wardens, ready to make their escape. "Follow me," he encouraged, "we're almost there. And do more of that fire shit if you can muster it."

    The ceiling began to crumble. Cracks spread through the painted ceilings and rubble fell like boulders as they ran. With Andraste's blessing or some stroke of sheer luck, Benjen guided the heated Léonie through the palace to the study of their destination. Benjen barred the door as they breached the library. A familiar voice soothed the pressing worry on Benjen's weary heart.

    "Is that blood?" spat Vaeryn when he laid eyes upon the duo. "What the hell happened, I saw darkspawn and we--"

    "It's here," said Ben. "The damn Blight. We need to get out of here."

    "Maker's balls. I was hoping you were wrong this time."

    "Appears not. Where are the others?"

    The elf somberly shook his head. It was all Benjen needed to hear. Vaeryn removed his rogue coat in an act of chivalry, and draped it around the duchess's shoulders. "Wear this, m'lady. You'll be cold underground but don't be afraid to leave it behind if we need to run."

    "Really? Open the tunnel, Vae."

    "Right." Vaeryn pushed over the bookcase which revealed a massive hole in the wall, and he gestured wildly for the two to enter before he did. "Go on, now. Lady and the injured go first."

    "Injured," Benjen scoffed as he waited for Léonie to enter first. Sardonically, he gave his best friend a rather rude hand gesture.
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  12. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    A mage; the word fell on her ears like a death sentence. Leonie grimaced and shut her eyes to it, as if that could help. But despite that condemnation... he reached for her still. In feeling his hand, she realized that the enchanted jewelry was burning into her, red-hot rings of gold. A warning, a punishment, for casting a spell. Though she felt tears of pain welling in her eyes, she knew there was nothing she could do about it now -except for throwing the rings and necklaces away... but that was unthinkable. The Warden pulled her along and she tried to keep up, picking up her long skirts with her other hand, though running was easier said than done in these heels. He asked her to do more magic, and she tried to answer "No..." but her voice was so weak and hoarse from screaming that she didn't expect him to hear. In all likelihood, she was saying it to herself.

    She screamed each time a boulder fell too close... then, they were at the library. She couldn't believe that she'd just been here, hours earlier... with Etienne. Desperately, as if seeking some miracle, she looked behind her as she was led to the passage, but obviously there was no one there. No one had thought to come this way, and the halls leading here were most likely already blocked by rubble. She knew all these books would be destroyed. Lives lost, knowledge gone, and there was nothing she could do.

    A blight; so this was it. She felt warm tears rolling down her cheeks and was grateful to still wear her mask. She flexed her hands slightly, then touched her neck. The violent burning had receded, but her jewelry was still very hot. She could hardly focus on anything else. A weight upon her bare shoulders. She looked up to see the elf Warden giving her his coat. A faint singing smell, of leather on hot metal, began to waft from that contact. She tried to thank him, but she couldn't find her voice, so she merely nodded, eyes downcast, and got in the hole.

    It was rather dark. She stepped forward gingerly as her eyes adjusted to the gloomy light... "Ah..." her rings were still giving off a faint glow, enough to see by, so she held her hands out in front of her like a blind person trying to find her way. The thought, I probably shouldn't be leading, crossed her mind briefly, then she realized that her heels were clicking loudly on the stone floor. After hesitating slightly, the duchess stopped to lean on the wall and slip them off, and suddenly she was several inches shorter, and suddenly, in the new silence, she could make out a faint shuffling sound from beyond the walls. She glanced back at the Wardens and kept walking, tucking her fancy shoes in one of the pockets of Vaeryn's coat.

    A gust of warm air from a sudden side-passage alerted her that they were in a series of tunnels, which must branch through the entire palace, if not further. The realization made Leonie feel very uneasy. She kept walking, even as the passage became narrower, then broached the question, hoarsely: "... These tunnels... are they... underground?"

    A stupid question, superficially. But she was thinking of the chasm, and how that also led underground, and how it had penetrated the bedrock the castle stood on. In all likelihood it was this train of thought that allowed her to react so quickly when, shambling from a dark corner in a passageway intersecting theirs, a small squad of squat Darkspawn lunged at them, weapons drawn and ready to kill. Leonie, predictably, screamed loudly, half-sobbing with fear. As she turned away and braced herself for death, again, a perfect wave of flames rushed out from where she stood, turning the beasts to burning husks. Trembling, she opened her eyes and saw their smoldering remains--she yelped again, and ran to hide behind the Wardens. Her accessories were glowing red-hot again. It became apparent that Vaeryn's coat, which he had so chivalrously lent her, had slightly caught fire .
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  13. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    "Maker's breath, Duchess, you're on fire!" Vaeryn cursed loudly and stripped her of the jacket, patting it down on the damp cement to choke the flame. Benjen barely managed to remove his eyes from the ashen Darkspawn before turning to Léonie, full of anger, though not directed at her. He took her necklace between two fingers and met her fearful gaze.

    "Enchanted jewelry," he scoffed. "Did your anti-magic parents give you this?"

    "To conceal her abilities, I suspect." Vaeryn brushed off his coat and frowned at the young woman. "To keep her from being sent to a Circle."

    "Horseshit. All of it." Benjen let the necklace go and drew his steel longsword, snarling under his breath. "Fucking Orlesians and their social standings. Ferelden's no better, but at least there's a choice involved."

    "Duchess, I'd take those gems off if I were you. We could use a mage. Even an untrained one." Vaeryn handed his singed coat back to Léonie and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Bein' a mage s'not a bad thing. Okay? Just focus on gettin' through this tunnel alive." Vae unashamedly took the lead. He made sure their female companion was behind him, and Benjen behind her, to keep her as safe as possible. "And to answer your question, yeah. This is underground. Tunnel for slaves, elven slaves, to get out and in."

    "Just tell 'er everythin', why don't you." Benjen rolled his eyes from behind them. "Let's hope someone made it out through here."

    "Aye. Do you like boats, m'lady? I hope so, because after this we're gonna--"

    "Vaeryn!" Ben lunged forward and yanked the elf back by his collar, stopping him from walking into a darkspawn's blade. "Shit!" Vae cursed as he drew his daggers. "Get the girl behind you, we'll fight through!" With weapons drawn and determination fierce, Benjen and Vaeryn prepared to battle through the tunnel as best they could. Benjen pushed himself in front of Léonie protectively.

    "Stay behind me," he ordered. "Hold onto me if you must. I'll protect you, I promise, just trust me."

    He met blades with the first darkspawn, shouting through the chaos.
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  14. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    Leonie met his gaze, and she was indeed fearful, but she was also utterly defiant of his anger and indignation on her behalf. When Vaeryn chimed in, she turned her glare to him... though the Captain's gruff, judgemental words made sure that her angry gaze returned to him post-haste.

    They chattered on like parrots while Leonie quietly seethed. But she was very good at seething in silence, and she was able to dismantle her anger until it dissipated... somewhat. For surely, a dark tunnel full of demons wasn't the best place for an argument. And she couldn't forget the vital fact that she owed him her life. So, meek and mild, Leonie put the elf's coat on again and murmured, "Thank you, Sir Vaeryn. You are kind." She got into place in between the two Wardens without making a fuss, though now that they were single-file, she felt like she was walking to a slaughterhouse floor. She appreciated the Warden called Vaeryn, and the way he seemed intent on making pleasant conversation. How were these two working together? They seemed total opposites, save for the fact that they were both Fereldan.

    The man-beasts' sudden cry and lunge badly startled her, so much so that she yelped and pressed herself to the side-wall. Metal crashing on metal, the gibbering shrieks of beings that should not exist. And beyond all that, a promise of safety. She met the Captain's gaze for the briefest moment and then did as he bid, staying back, behind him...

    He was rather large, she was pleased to find, so it was unlikely that any stray weapons should stab her. As she looked at his back, which was all she could see, Leonie noticed... the clothes he wore were originally blue-grey. She had thought them maroon. Blood! His wounds! Of course! He had carried on all this time, with such wounds! She could even see the way the shrapnel had sliced through his armor. Through his armor! If he hadn't been wearing it... if he hadn't shielded her!

    Leonie braced herself mentally while she still cowered behind the Warden Captain. She didn't want to, but she knew she had to. These situations were so desperate that anything was fair game, right? That's the way war worked, right? Certainly, it was the way Blights worked. No holds barred, anything it took to win. And perhaps in this instance she didn't have the luxury of a comfortable moral choice. She knew she could, right? It was one of the sanctioned schools, wasn't it? She held onto him and placed her warm hands on his back, like he'd said she should.

    It was like trying to ride a stallion through a forest after having only ever ridden a slow and stupid pony through a flat meadow. She knew what the Fade felt like, usually accidentally --a deep, endless well of power and emotion. But tapping into it willingly? No, absolutely not. Only ever accidentally, or fleetingly. Only until now.

    Maker... how to do this? I can do this...? Her rings began to warm, and she hoped she didn't light him on fire by mistake! The fear of that very nearly made it so, she could tell as her hands began to burn, and not by the power of the rings.


    She cast her mind to the Maker, the Chant, to the Canticle of Threnodies, to

    Here, I decree
    Opposition in all things:
    For earth, sky
    For winter, summer,
    For darkness, Light.
    By My will alone is balance sundered
    And the world given new life...!

    Heal heal heal heal heal heal heal... please!

    The near-burning heat ceased and was replaced by a cooling, slightly stinging sensation. His wounds knitted together, pushing out the shrapnel and stopping his bleeding. He would be good as new, if not better, since she put too much energy into it.

    Leonie felt her hands burning, but this time, it was different; this time it felt like too much. She had instinctively squeezed her eyes shut. When she thought she was done, when she opened them, she saw stars swimming in her vision, and felt phenomenally weak. She dropped her hands and stumbled, falling to her knees.
    #14 Astra, Jan 21, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2016
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  15. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    It was't until the final darkspawn was impaled with his blade that Benjen noticed the lady's fall. A warm, rejuvenating sensation closed in around the sharp pain that was there moments ago, and while he could not tell what she had done, his movements became easier. He wiped the darkspawn blood from his blade and sheathed it before kneeling at the duchess's side, pondering her mystery as well as her fear.

    "Dammit," he cursed, "the poor thing's passed out. Too much magic. She's not used to it."

    "Gonna have to carry her, then. We need to get out of here."

    "Cover me, yeah?" Benjen carefully scooped the beautiful mage into his great arms, resting her head on his shoulder so she might be more comfortable. "We're almost through."

    "Don't worry. I won't let you fall."

    The shrieks of darkspawn echoed from behind. The palace evil was catching up to them, and Benjen and Vaeryn knew their time was running short. The pair of Grey Wardens rushed through the remainder of the escape tunnel with minimal encounters, none leading them to imminent danger. It didn't take too long for the breath of fresh air to grace them with success, signalling their entry to the outskirts of Val Royeaux. "Close the bars behind me," ordered Ben. "Don't let those bastards follow." Vaeryn, of course, obeyed without a second word. Benjen groaned with the relief of sitting down, albeit atop a hard boulder, still with the mage woman cradled in his arms.

    "The ship still intact?" asked Ben.

    "Aye. Just over that way." Vaeryn pointed into the darkened distance, where the sails bearing their Grey Warden sigil stood flapping in the wind. It was a small merchant vessel able to be manned by the two of them. The other Wardens had arrived on the docks earlier that morning in the same ship. None of the appeared to have returned.

    "Good. Go on ahead, I'll follow with the girl." Benjen groaned as he stood with the lady in his arms, weary from fighting and fear, but still determined to leap over the final hurtle. Man and elf hurried to the vessel's left side and managed to climb aboard despite the cargo. Though the pair were no sailors, they knew how to man a ship well enough to carry them as far as they needed to go. Upon the Waking Sea, the Wardens and duchess were soon underway to the unknown destination ahead of them.

    Benjen dared to look back. Val Royeaux was a sea of flame, and above it all, a great dragon with ripped wings roared fiercely into the night.
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    The Price of Failure

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  17. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    Slipping into unconsciousness had been far too easy, almost like slipping into a warm bath after a long, cold day. She was gone, numb and heavy.

    Slowly, she opened her dark, tired eyes and saw the blurry sky through the holes of her mask. She smelled salt, and the faintest trace of something that had burned. She had been wrapped in something coarse --a spare sail, or perhaps even a burlap canvas-- and still wore the elf's leather coat. They were in the open air. The jewelry lay cold against her skin. When she tried to move, she found that she couldn't. It was as if her body was made of lead. Her mouth felt terribly dry. A rushing sound, water, and cloth flapping in the wind. She closed her eyes again.

    When Leonie awoke, the sun was higher in the sky. A ghost of a dream remained in her memory, swirls of colors and voices, but it was all indistinct. Everything ached, and her head felt like it had been stuffed with cotton. She gingerly tried to push herself upright, blinking hazily in the sunlight. She leaned back on her hand and realized there was wood there... it dawned on her that she was on a boat, but she was too numb for it to phase her. Her movements were slow and ritualistic. The duchess realized her chandelier earrings had become tangled in her hair, so she stiffly removed them... her head felt a bit clearer. She placed the pair in Vaeryn's coat pockets, then looked at her hands. They were stained with blood, as were her skirts... but it was not hers.

    The memories of the night before came back gradually, then all at once. With a general sense of detachment, Leonie remembered how the events had unfolded. She examined her hands still, more thoroughly, as if seeing them for the first time.

    So this was the true power of the rings, and all of the enchanted jewelry she wore. Apart from the pain and the burning... they were meant to drain her of energy when she got too close to the Fade, so that she could not cast spells. Brilliant, really, since it minimized the risk of her going too far. It solved the pervasive personal mystery of why she was so tired after waking up. The binding enchantments must also work when she was sleeping, dreaming, in the Fade.

    Swallowing with difficulty, she finally removed her masquerade mask, pinching the bridge of her nose and rubbing her eyes as if trying to come back to the world of the living. The silk mask on her lap was grimy and sooty, and the inside showed the smudging of her makeup from when she'd cried. Realizing this, Leonie wiped her cheeks with her fingertips a to remove any streaks.

    She tried to speak, but all that emerged was a sort of creaky, rasping sound. She cleared her throat and touched her neck, as if excusing herself, and groggily looked around for the first person she could make eye contact with.

    "What happened?" She croaked. "Where are we?"
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  18. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    Benjen turned from where he was tending to the rigging, long hair pulled back in a low ponytail as the sea breeze rolled in. He felt at home on the water. More importantly, he felt comfortable away from the rotten darkspawn seeking to seize the known world. He'd tried to push the Blight from his mind to stay calm and sleep through the night, but it hadn't worked like he'd hoped, and dark circles hung under his eyes like a sign of the plague around them. Scars covered his face and arms from the fight that saved their lives. Still, he provided Duchess Léonie with a small smile and a cup of water for her dry throat, and knelt beside her with gratitude.

    It would not do to give her more fear than she already felt.

    "It's good to see you awake," he said with a tenderness he did not expect. In truth, Benjen felt regret for the way he'd treated her the night before. He was glad that she still lived, albeit horrified and confused, though it was now in his duty to protect her.

    At least, until they reached Halamshiral.

    "We're on a ship, obviously. Headed to Halamshiral, if it's still standing. That was the Warden rendezvous point. Whatever is left of the group in Val Royeaux will be there. And if no one shows..." He cleared his throat. "Well. One step at a time."

    "Duchess? You up?" called Vaeryn from the wheel. He poked his head from behind the wood and smiled across the boat. "Hey! Hungry? Benjen's your man-slave, he'll get you anything you--"

    "Piss off, Vae!" While laced with irritation, the two men couldn't help but smile at the fond teasing. Ben turned to face the Duchess again with a refreshed spirit. Vaeryn always knew how to make him smile. "Good question though. If you are hungry, I can, uh...whip ya somthin' up. Peasant food to you, but you know. Better than nothing. Gonna be a few days before we see shore again."

    Ben could only hope she wouldn't get seasick.
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  19. Léonie de Valroque; The Unsung Song
    Why did you save me?

    She didn't ask it. She couldn't find the words, even though they were right there.

    Leonie accepted the cup of water, studying, scrutinizing his face. He bore new cuts, and the same fatigue she had seen before, and... a smile? A smile? For what purpose?

    Before speaking, she drank slowly and measuredly despite her evident thirst. Instantly, she felt much better. "... Thank you... it's strange, how we are now all unmasked. You are glad that I am awake, I am glad to see your real face."

    "Duchess? You up?" called Vaeryn from the wheel. Leonie met his gaze. He poked his head from behind the wood and smiled across the boat. "Hey! Hungry? Benjen's your man-slave, he'll get you anything you--"

    "I-- man slave?" She gasped the words, indignant, but her question was lost among the swearing, and she was only left more confused.

    "A few days..." she echoed Benjen's words and nodded gravely. "I understand. Please, could you help me stand upright? I've never been on the sea before. I would not like to spend my first day on a boat like this, lying on my back."

    Leonie offered him her hand, or hands, whichever he seemed more inclined to take. Upon standing, after holding onto him for a second or two, Leonie felt like she could actually stand on her own two feet! But what was that swaying!? She looked out at the scenery...

    Just water. And literally nothing else. A serious frown darkened her face, but she smoothed it out and turned to face Benjen. She made sure she was holding both of his hands.

    "Please, yes, I would like it very much if I could have something to eat... but do not trouble yourself... something easy, and light. Like a brioche, or any sort of puff-pastry... Captain..." She looked at him very earnestly. "You saved my life. I will not forget it. Let me say it again: you saved my life. Please, I know I am Orlaisian but I do not want you to be a slave man--"

    A movement on her leg alerted her to a more immediate issue, and Leonie gasped and looked down.

    "Oh, Maker. Maker!" She said the Maker's name the same way someone else might say 'shit.' The damage to the dress had been hidden by how she had been cradled and covered, how she had been lying down. But now in the sea breeze and plain sunlight, there was no hiding it. The rags of her dress had brushed against her bare leg and alerted her to its sorry state. Her gown was filthy and blooded, and the outer layer of gold and plum was thoroughly shredded. Her filthy stockings were on full display, as was a good amount of leg. The beaded embroidery on the bodice was ripped and fraying completely, and the sleeve of her right shoulder had nearly come off. Leonie didn't even want to imagine the state of her hair --she could feel it all lopsided on her head, but she didn't even want to picture it. "I... I look like... I look like a..." the duchess paused, appalled, and then laughed in a shocked way, without telling either of them what she thought she looked like.
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  20. Benjen Iverstill; The Blighted Soldier
    Benjen stared flatly to Vaeryn the instant Léonie began to panic. His expression was sarcastic and bored. I fucking told you, his eyes seemed to say. Vaeryn only shrugged before bursting into laughter himself.

    "Yes, yes, you look like shit. I get it. We all do." Ben pointed to his scarred face as if making a point. "But nevermind that. I'll get you a dress and some food, your highness." He bowed low in a humorous mock before opening the gate to the lower hull, making a swift entrance.

    The sway of the ship was comforting. Had she called him 'captain'? He almost laughed aloud at the gesture--he was no more a sea captain than she was a blacksmith, but he knew his way around a ship enough to sail for a time. Maker knew what would happen in a storm. Vaeryn had the wheel for a reason, but the pair had been exchanging sailing knowledge to make their voyage work. Somehow, they had managed. Likely without help from Captain Benjen Iverstill, however. He worked for the Wardens for a reason, and his ability to lead a vessel was clearly not one of them.

    He smiled, then. A smile that was needed. It would keep him from cursing, from shouting, screaming, perhaps even crying, in acknowledgement of his greatest failure. The Blight could not be stopped. He had broken his oath. Thousands of lives were swallowed by the darkness in a mere night; how many would fall in the nights to come? Benjen's smile soured, and suddenly he did not feel like joking anymore.

    The Warden strode into the kitchen and retrieved a loaf of bread and stale cheese. A skin of water was all he could find, and a dress made of lambswool and cotton. Likely from one of the cooks. He snorted at the thought of the dress on a woman who'd screamed at the sight of her golden shreds of cloth, but it was more modest than her exposed leg, and better for his psyche, too. He did not want to look at her and be reminded of what they'd left behind.

    Benjen had saved the life of the duchess, aye. And doomed too many others to death and despair.

    When he came to the deck of the ship again, he offered her the bread and cheese with nothing but a somber frown. "Sorry for savin' you," he said. "Soon, you'll wish you'd've died back there. I should really thank you for doin' whatever you did to my back. Still hurts, but it's better..."

    Would that be enough? He cleared his throat and stood, walking to the rail of the ship with a heavy heart and a heavier mind. He placed a hand gingerly on the dark wood and stared into the vacant distance, wondering how the hell he would deal with the situation at hand. It was hard to stay his normal, positive self. He was never sunshine by definition, but he was fond of jokes and laughter. Now, he simply didn't know where to find that humor anymore. Not when he'd failed so horridly.

    "Hey Ben," shouted Vaeryn. "Maybe you should get some rest. You haven't slept at all yet."

    "Yeah, maybe." He scratched the side of his beard. "Keep her majesty contained while I'm gone, yeah? Wouldn't want her to set fire to the ship." Ben chuckled under his breath at Léonie's expense. Still, he did not cast her or Vaeryn another glance as he walked back down to the hull of the vessel and took residence in a bunk that belonged to one of his dead comrades. Before he was dragged unwillingly into another nightmare, he wondered if he should pray to the Maker for a peaceful night's sleep. But there is no Maker, he remembered, for no god would leave his children to a fate such as this.
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