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Fate, apparently, really does not like her.

That really is the only reason Amarina Surana can come up with. Either that or someone thinks it is hilarious to yank her out of her comfortable hole and drag her around the world. Well, if that's the case, she isn’t appreciating it one bit. And whoever is getting the laugh out of this is going to pay, she thinks morosely as she walks down the street. She never is the one to dawdle; she has places to go, things to do. She's either on or off. 

People are hastily moving out of the way as an irate elf marches through, an irritated look on her otherwise gentle-looking face. Her face makes her seem harmless, and usually she is; having been raised under the tutlege of the First Enchanter has protected her from petty jealousies. An alert mabari hound trots behind her, his eyes intelligent and his ears perked. Perhaps it is the coldness with which she holds herself, or perhaps it is simply that there is a very long sword on her back, that makes people move out of her way. Her facial expression clearly says that the elf is not in a good mood, and the way she walks tells them that if people do not get out of her way, she'll simply walk over them. People simply judge – perhaps wisely – that it is better to just hop out of the way rather than demand her to walk with a little more decorum. If Amarina had been in a normal mood, she could care; but as she is in an extremely foul one, she simply does not.

It has been bad enough with all the fame hoohah that had trailed her around like a bad smell post-blight. She had politely declined to become the Warden-Commander and had promptly returned to the Tower as soon as she could, only giving short farewells to her cousin and her friend. She had smiled awkwardly at Zevran’s lurid promise to visit her, and then had come back to her home as fast as her legs carried her. All she had wanted had been to finally sleep in her own bed, in her own room – she had never gotten around to actually living in her room, and she had vowed that she’d be damned if she left the Tower again before she spent a good month doing nothing but sleeping in her own chambers – and go back to her life with books and pens. Honestly, is that too much to ask? She doesn’t think so.

But apparently some cosmic forces do. It has been six, seven years after the blight, and she had been summoned to Amaranthine a few times to train the new recruits, but otherwise she had been left to her own devices. Unencumbered by duties that entailed a Senior Enchanter, she happily had become the hermit, having rarely left the Tower (if ever) and having stayed in her room most of the time. People had left her alone, some out of respect, some out of fear, some out of awe. It had suited her, either way. Arian had come visit once in a few years, when his job as a travelling Warden allowed him, and sometimes Zevran had popped his head in out of the blue to say hello.

Until a month ago, when Solaryn and Arian had come to the Tower, armed to the teeth, and yanked her out of her hidey hole into the wide open world that she really isn’t interested in. She had been less than pleased when the two showed up at her bedroom door, shoved her sword in her face, and cajoled her into coming. When Arian had handed her Spellweaver, she had stared at him as if he had grown an extra set of head and three pairs of arms.

“What is this?”

“That is a sword.”

“I know that. Why are you giving me this?” She had placed her blade on her desk, then had sat down on the bed, arms crossed defensively. Her Enchanter’s Robes had rustled gently about her legs as she sat down. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“We have a mission in Kirkwall. We want you to come along.”

She had jumped then. “Absolutely not!” Verge of hysteria. “Are you two out of your mind? I’m done. I’ve done my duty.”

“You’re a Grey Warden. You swore an oath.”

“And I fulfilled my oath! We defeated the Blight. I restored the Tower. I even headed out to Amaranthine to train new mage recruits! I’ve done enough, you two. Leave me alone.” Solaryn had looked away at that, but Amarina had not noticed. She had been too busy trying to protect her comfort zone.

“We can’t. We need you.”

“No, you don’t. You’re perfectly capable of taking care of any mess you deign to tackle, even just by yourselves. Leave me out of this, Rinnie.”

“We can’t. It should concern you the most. Remember Anders?”

Amarina had sat back down again, looking pained. “That apostate mage? Of course I do. He once tried to swim across Lake Calenhad by himself. Much good that did.”

“He blew up the Kirkwall Chantry. The Knight-Commander tried to annul the…”

“I know what happened there. Wait.” A frown. “Are you trying to tell me Anders started all this?”

“We aren’t trying. We’re just telling.”

“I… see.” A swallow. “And what does that have to do with me?”

Solaryn, who had been meticulously observing the bookshelves in Amarina's room - it somehow had felt to Amarina as if she had been avoiding the conversation - had opened her mouth then. "Not having a mage for this would be foolish, but I would not trust any of the other wardens with this. You've trained some of them, would you trust them not to endanger us all at the first sighting of a Templar, given the circumstances?"

Silence.

Solaryn had just continued. "I would not ask this of you, but to be blunt, there is no one else. Look, none of us wanted this, but-"

“I didn’t recruit him,” she had retorted, feeling a little childish now but not willing to back down. “We’re all under the same treatment, Laryn. It’s not like Anders was discriminated, you know. But he just went ahead and blew stuff up. That’s not the Circle’s fault. Andraste’s holy flames, I’ve felt the same. But I didn’t go blow the Chantry up, did I?”

It hadn't been any use, in the end. Laryn had been silent, despite her expression that clearly told the mage that perhaps she wanted to rebut, but Arian is fairly persistent when he has his mind set on something, and well, he had his mind set on pulling her out of her hole. So she had pulled out her armour, strapped on her sword – everything needed new holes, apparently sitting and doing nothing but reading had done wonders to make her thin frame even thinner – and then she had been yanked out of the Circle Tower before she could make another protest. Thankfully she had remembered Jasper before she had departed the hold.

She makes her way to the Gallows, careful to hide her training. She doesn’t really look a mage anyway, with light elven armour and her sword on her back. Anyone who sees her would think her a warrior or perhaps a rogue, although she is a little too heavy-footed for rogue work. Her dark hair dances about her ears, and she might be beautiful, if not for the scowl on her face. This entire trip has been nothing but one annoyance to the next, which has been topped off with an old acquaintance drinking in the bar instead of doing his duties.

Amarina squeezes her fist, releasing her frustration before she takes it out on an innocent bystander. What in the name of the Maker had Alistair been doing in the Hanged Man? They had spent so much time and energy setting that blond fool on the throne, and what does he do? Run off and drink his misbegotten sorrows into the bottom of the ale barrel. As if he has it so badly that everyone else’s problems look trivial. As if he is the most pitiful, miserable man on Thedas. She shakes her head. She is thanking all the deities that may or may not exist for allowing fate to at least not see through with that little mishap. She shivers. What had possessed her to think Alistair as possibly a romantic interest? She clearly had been lacking in taste back then.

The Gallows comes into the view, still menacing and still daunting, flanked by what seems to be an excessive number of Templars. Amarina had been to the Gallows before on some errand, but the place had been orderly then. She had felt then that something was off; not just the Gallows, but the entire city itself, as if the Fade is much closer than what it should have been. It makes her feel slightly dizzy and sometimes makes breathing a bit difficult; the air feels charged. She wonders if it had been this strong the last time she had been in Kirkwall, and decides that it had not been so. The Veil must be thinning; but mending the Veil is mages' job, and there are no mages here. She frowns slightly as she presses forward, a nagging worry telling her that there is a possibility the Veil might just rip entirely; this city is not equipped to handle such situations. But neither is she.

A strawberry-blond-haired Templar – knight-captain? Perhaps? – is standing, clearly in charge, but he isn’t the one questioning. He is looking through the sheaf of parchment, and just as he rolls the parchment up with a crinkle, Amarina stops her feet.

Oh Maker. Is this ‘pick-on-Amarina’ day? Why, on why hadn’t she brought her helmet?

Cursing her stupidity, she goes forward anyway, doing what she only can do; go forward. Her head is buzzing. What is she supposed to do? Pretend that she doesn’t know him? Say hello? No, that won’t be a good option, they didn't exactly part as good friends. Keep a cold countenance? That might work… She also needs an excuse to be here. Saying that she is trying to bring Anders to the headman’s block might garner some favour from the Templars, but that would surely scare the apostate away like a rabbit.

She comes up to the gates before she prefers to. “State your business!” booms the young Templar who stands in front of her. She wonders if she’d be cut down if she tells him that she is a mage. Maybe. He really doesn’t look the type that can be reasoned. Rhyme and reason has long fled before they had even seen this man.

“I’m a Senior Warden from the Fereldan Order of the Grey Wardens,” she says coolly. “I am on a mission to investigate the effects of the raw lyrium that the Champion of Kirkwall brought back from the primeval thaig. Let me pass.”

“Where’s the proof that you’re a Grey Warden?” The Templar shouts. Amarina looks up at him, and is about to reply, when the older Templar steps forward.

“I know her, Joris. You can leave this to me.”

“But, ser…! We-“

“I said, I’ll take care of this.” With that, the older man effectively blocks any protest Joris can make. He steps forward. “Warden.”

“Hello, Knight…” She pauses. What is he now? Knight-Captain? Knight-Commander? Whatever he is, he is no longer that whimpering man at the bottom of the stairs. He seems calmer than the last time she saw him, but she can still see that his gaze lingers on her. Well, now she can see it, after seeing Alistair go goo-goo eyed at Solaryn for a good year and more. She can tell when a man wants a woman, and she is seeing it right now. She has no idea how to respond to it, though. It is rather obvious that Cullen hopes she will not notice it, but there is such a pain in his eyes, as if he is secretly hoping that she'll notice it and then berating himself for hoping. She has no idea what to do, so she gently touches his arm with her gloved hand. He flinches.

Yep. It is officially “Pick on Amarina” day.


Cullen, as it turns out, is a Knight-Captain. He escorts her into the Gallows, wordless, walking beside her as if he is her shield. She has not changed much, he notes wearily. Time has been kind to her, and she is just as he remembers, with her dark hair and her silver eyes and a small pale face. He can tell she is in a bad mood, from the way her mouth is set, but cannot tell why; but it isn’t directed at him, so that is, at least, a relief.

Amarina walks, looking around at the mess Anders has managed to create. There are large pieces of bronze everywhere, and a curious looking red statue in the middle. “What’s that?” she asks, pointing.

“That was the late Knight-Commander Meredith. She-“ he has to stop speaking, for the elfmaid next to him has made a sharp turn to the left and is beginning to walk toward it. “I suggest staying away from it, Surana. It’s pure lyrium.” The mabari barks, but runs after his mistress. She extends her hand slowly as she gets near it.

Nothing happens.

She turns. “It’s a stable form, Knight-Captain. I think Knight-Commander’s body stabilised it.” She walks past it, and up the stairs into the Gallows itself. Cullen follows. It had been always like this, back in Ferelden; Amarina would run off to do something new, and he would always be worrying after her. When other mages had shunned him, she had not, and when other Templars had thought him a fool – perhaps he is – she had simply shrugged it off. She really had been the only one who had not given any concern for the animosity between Templars and the mages and had treated him for who he was, not what he was.

“You aren’t here about the lyrium, are you?”

Amarina stops. So does Cullen. She looks up at him; no guilt in those eyes, just simple curiosity. “As a matter of fact, no,” she says slowly. “I just didn’t think it wise to state my true purpose there. I don’t think Ser Joris would have taken it lightly.”

“And what is your true purpose?” What is this deceit? Why is she doing this? Is she an apostate too? Oh Maker, he really doesn’t want to bring her in on those charges.

“My Order is searching for Anders the Apostate.”

“Why?”

“He murdered several Wardens before fleeing Ferelden. We have our own brand of justice, Knight-Captain.” That, they probably do. Perhaps far harsher than what society deems necessary. Grey Wardens are respected throughout the land for their sacrifice and prowess. They are prideful people; they would not let their fellows’ lapses go that easily. Amarina had always been proud of herself, and had never allowed herself a failure. 

They continue to walk in, the mabari hound trotting behind them. “You have a dog?” Cullen asks, feeling like a novice Templar again.

“I don’t have him, exactly. He has me.” Despite the foul mood, she smiles, and it melts her bitter expression to that which he had known back at the Tower. “I found him when the Blight first started. He’s been with me ever since. He’s been a good friend. I certainly get into enough scruples.”

That, she probably does She really lacks what people call common sense. Which is probably why she has no qualms talking to him. He leads her to Meredith’s room, where she riffles through documents, pulling out anything that has to do with the apostate. After shutting the last cabinet, she looks at the pile on the desk. It is not an amount that can easily be copied. “May I borrow this?”

“Borrow?”

“It’s not exactly an amount that I can copy in one sitting, Cullen. I’ll just read through it then bring it back.” She pulls off a silver ring that had adorned her finger. “I’ll leave this in exchange. Will that work?”

“I… suppose.” What is going to be the harm if she is going to bring it back? And he knows she will. He nods, wanting to touch her slender neck as she bends her head, trying to find something to bind the documents together. Her hair parts as she looks around, showing a very pale nape. Andraste’s sword, why did she have to come here? She is refreshing all the memories, all the temptations…

“Where’s First Enchanter Orsino’s office?” She is oblivious to his discomfort. She usually is oblivious to others’ reactions to her. She seems aware now that he had affections for her, but he has a feeling she still would not know if he had not blurted it out on that terrible night, back in Ferelden. And even then, she had looked utterly baffled, as if he had just confessed that Uldred had turned into a giraffe.

Cullen leads the elfmaid to Orsino’s office, where she again riffles through the stacks of papers. After picking out the pertinent ones, she binds that stack with a large clip, then turns around.

“I think I’m done.” A smile. “Thank you, Cullen.”

Argh.

“I’ll bring them back within a week. I promise.”

Of course she would. Cullen decides that he’d make sure he’ll never see her again. She is far too much of a temptation for him still now, like a glass of finest Antivan brandy for a recovering drunk. Eight years and still pining after a mage. He shakes his head as he follows her out of the Gallows, watching her go. Her gait is quick, and she walks with purpose, as always. She soon disappears in the throng of people, swallowed by the taller humans going here and there. Cullen stands, feeling as if an old, old wound has been ripped open again. His infatuation with her would never be requieted, and would always be rekindled with even the smallest of gestures. He'd do well to stay away.

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