A Solo RPG Player on SWTOR, MMOs, and Groups

I already gave an overall review of BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic and mentioned that I’d been sucked into buying the game. For the most part I run my characters solo through this MMO but there are times when you must have a group. This will be my take on how groups have worked for me in SWTOR.

Let’s be clear: I’m shy and I’m self-conscious about being a noob. I won’t go around asking people to be in a group because, great heavens, what if they say no?! But I want to see all the juicy Star Wars universe BioWare has created and that means working within their multi-player system.

Thus I rely on what are called, in MMO-speak, pick-up groups or PUGs. I’ve done half a dozen and my experiences have been universally positive. For all the bemoaning on the SWTOR forums about people spamming the chat window with LFG (or looking-for-group) requests all I’ve ever had to do was be near the start of one of the instances and I’ve been invited to join a group.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 37

Struggles and Striving

By the afternoon Sebastian and I talked through our discontent we’d spent hours together in one parlor or another, chatting politely with yet another noble family that simply had to host the Champion one time more than their neighbors. We’d danced a hundred stately rounds when I couldn’t face another boorish rich boy who’d never done anything more exciting than walk through Lowtown once on a dare.

His presence at these balls and dinner parties gave him unprecedented access to the nobles of Kirkwall. I often tried to deflect attention to his cause. Talk of betrayal and murder in Starkhaven meant a welcome relief from scrutiny, short-lived though it might have been, and genteel Sebastian made quite the impression on the ladies of Hightown.

The prince’s genuine sorrow and piety won their hearts but no breath of scandal ever touched him. Their husbands found him honorable and masculine enough to be likable, as well. In fact some of them told him how much they enjoyed his company much more aggressively than their wives. He told me of their advances in hushed tones and oblique language.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 39

I Could Have Danced All Night

Kaidan gave that honeyed, throaty chuckle that did strange things to my insides. Over the course of our relationship I’d found myself doing things just to hear it that I would once have considered beneath my dignity.

I’d pulled goofy faces behind the back of Captain Anderson in Council meetings, danced a little jig of mockery during one of the ambassador’s tirades, and tried to juggle pistols in the Mako on the way to a tense mission. Though we’d all cracked up, high on adrenaline, when I’d dropped one and nearly shot Garrus in the leg, we decided that last little stunt had been a bad idea.

Maintenance hadn’t been too thrilled about patching the hole, either. The surprise factor had been worth all of the grief I’d taken, though. Kaidan gave me an excuse to crack the badass Spectre fa├žade from time to time, to be a juvenile prankster more interested in a successful joke than saving the galaxy. Because I’d learned to loosen up with him I found it easier to do so with other people, letting go of some of that military rigidity behind which I’d so long hidden.

But it was a long way from practical jokes to wearing a scrap of a dress and attending a masquerade ball. His eyes sparkled behind his own mask, a wild affair that stretched from the corners of his mouth to a point a good two inches above his hairline, thus hiding his tell-tale waves and that dimple that made me want to nibble on him. He could have been any tall, fit Human on the Citadel.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 38

Who Was that Masked Man?

I took another tour through the weapon shops on the Citadel, picking up what upgrades we could afford and drooling over the shiny guns that were financially out of reach or simply impractical. I also had to pick up a pair of dressy shoes, as my usual boots would at best look bizarre paired with that tiny, stupid dress. Those I left at the store to retrieve later.

Unable to put it off any longer, I returned to the SR-2. As EDI began to announce my arrival I interrupted. “EDI, do you have to announce to the entire ship that I’ve left or returned?”

“How else will everyone know who is in command at any given moment, Shepard?” the AI responded in a perfectly reasonable voice that yet betrayed a suppressed hint of laughter. For the second time that day my palm met my forehead. I swear the AI had grown a sense of humor. I could also hear Joker laughing over the com from his seat at the controls not far from the airlock where I stood. They’d probably cooked this up together, the weasels.

A Dragon Age Fan’s Review of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Release Date: November 11, 2011
Platforms: PC, X-Box 360, and Playstation 3
Price: $59.99 (all platforms) or $149.99 for the Collector's Edition

Skyrim, the name of the fifth installment of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls RPG series, has become a major buzzword since the game’s release. People the world over post tweets and Facebook updates that allude to their having popped up for a breather but intending to return to Skyrim.

But if you haven’t yet been sucked into the wide-open world of Nords and trolls and elves and giants, and particularly if you have played an older Elder Scrolls game and didn’t care for it, you might be wondering if Skyrim is for you. The wild popularity and constant claims of addictive play make a pretty convincing case for giving it a try, after all.

To help you decide, I’ve tackled a few of the issues I see with the game and outlined the reasons I keep playing despite them. I’ve written about the important aspects of any RPG: the story, the role playing for which the genre is named, and interaction with non-player characters (NPCs). And, inevitably, I’ve compared Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls to BioWare’s Dragon Age.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 36

Growing Pains

During this quiet void after what we came to call The Year of the Qunari, I happened upon a book about Shartan, the elf famous for helping Andraste free the slaves a thousand years before. Naturally my thoughts turned to Fenris, with whom I had fallen into a delicate friendship laced with tensions we tried to ignore.

I wandered up to the mansion one night when I knew he’d avoided The Hanged Man. Most nights he joined us but he also had Donnic and a few others over for cards once a week or so and some evenings he simply didn’t come. After so long alone it sometimes made him very uncomfortable to have so many people near, even if most of them were his friends.

We never knocked on one another’s doors. I called up from the foyer, surrounded by cobwebs and beams of moonlight that shone through the holes Fenris never could be bothered to repair. He could afford it but it never mattered to him. It did not, after all, belong to him.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 37

Checking In

Instead of whisking me off to my quarters, the traitorous elevator stopped at the CIC. How Kelly had known I was in there remained a mystery but her motivation did not. “Commander Shepard, you have another important message at your private terminal!”

I screamed internally at the interruption and reached for the button that would allow me to resume my short journey. “I’ll check it upstairs,” I responded and waited for the doors to slide shut. Nothing happened. I jabbed it two or three more times before I thought to look at its counterpart.

Kelly’s finger was still on the button outside the elevator. “How are you?” she asked, her voice dripping sympathy. I hadn’t spoken to her much since we’d returned from Alchera, being busy with Krogan puberty and pissy research assistants and all. She was taking this opportunity to remind me of her position as putative counselor about the SR-2.

With a suppressed snarl twisting my mouth I answered, “I’m fine, Yeoman. I would just like some privacy,” and glanced pointedly at her still-insistent finger.

The Dark Side Promised Cookies

Some of the darlings at the BioWare Social Network have persuaded me to give in to the Dark Side and purchase my very first MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. They promise to play nicely and forgive me my newbie ways. The first month is included in the price of the game so if I really hate it I can find out without paying extra for the privilege.

For you, my readers, that means at least two more reviews of SWTOR. Once I’ve actually managed to perform group combat I’ll tell you all about, including whatever utter humiliations ensue from wandering off or clicking the wrong thing. My ego can take the honesty.

And I’ll offer an opinion of the story arcs, as well. I’ll start two separate characters: one for the group and a new smuggler to run solo and see how pick-up groups work for me once I know how to be in one. You know I’ve got to roll at least one Dark Side character to see how that goes.

So stay tuned: there’s a lot more Star Wars to come. I can’t promise any fanfiction, though Bioware does seem to inspire it, but I’ll definitely give you my RPG impressions as I go. At worst it will give me something to do while I’m waiting for Mass Effect 3 to arrive!

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 35

After the Storm

It had been a year since I’d staggered out of the keep that no longer had a Viscount. In the power vacuum his death left Meredith expanded at an alarming rate and every inch of her bristled with unreasoning fear. Even mages who never left the Gallows, who had, until recently, supported the Templars, stood accused of plotting and nefarious deeds.

Things had gotten so bad that even Cullen, her second in command, had begun to question her judgment. Though he never admitted it in so many words he’d begun to shade the truth and then outright lie to her to keep her placated as best he could.

The haunted look he’d had when we’d first met, an artifact of some horrific experience in the Ferelden Circle, had faded in the first few years I had known him. Over the months after I was named Champion the deep circles beneath his eyes returned again. As Knight-Lieutenant he retained enough authority to do much without involving Meredith but he couldn’t have been more than ten years my senior and a good number of those he tried to command were much older.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 36

Dead but Maybe Not Gone

I took Urz back to where I’d found him and got a dead pyjack for a goodbye present. “Don’t eat Wrex,” I told him, rubbing my knuckles across his lumpy spine, “but the other clans are fair game, okay?” He slimed my leg one more time, rubbing against it, and then settled to his meal.

I said a fond farewell to Wrex, as well, though without the gift of vermin. He told me the Weyrloc women and children had begun to filter into the Urdnot camps. They would join his clan as his agents had defeated their protectors.

Then he relayed breeding requests from the females with barely-suppressed hilarity: several for Grunt, two for Garrus, and one of his men had sent one in for me. He seemed to have a difficult time getting that last tidbit out between the spasms of thunderous laughter.

Such a compliment cheered me immensely. Apparently I’d become acclimatized to the idea that everyone I’d met since returning from the dead wanted to get in my pants. I did a little dance of “no way am I sleeping with a Krogan but thanks for the compliment” and Wrex had to sit on that throne of his before he fell down.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: A Review for Solo RPG Players

Release Date: December 20 ,2011
Price: $59.95 ($379 if you want the Collector's Bundle)
Monthly Subscription: $15

I'm a complete and utter MMO noob (that'd be an inexperienced Massively Multi-Player On-Line game player, for those even less in the know than I). I decided nonetheless to take Bioware up on their invitation to beta test Star Wars: The Old Republic, or SWTOR as it's commonly known.

I love Bioware and I love Star Wars so what could possibly go wrong, except for the part where I had no idea what I was doing? So there I was, waiting for the SWTOR to start, waiting to review this brand new game, but still undecided: Jedi Knight? Imperial trooper? Smuggler? Bounty Hunter?

Half an hour before the game started I was reading through the SWTOR forum for some hints. I thoroughly intimidated myself by reading posts from people who had been playing MMOs for years, confused myself by wondering if I was supposed to be in a guild, and generally got so nervous I decided to stop reading.

This will be a long review so let’s be clear from the beginning: I leapt into the Star Wars universe as interpreted by the talented Bioware writers and the great voice actors with both feet. I played the game for three days, until five minutes before the test ended, trying to see and do as much as I could. Star Wars: The Old Republic offers expansive worlds and vast story lines that intertwine and split in interesting ways.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 34

We Are the Champion

"Arishokost. Qun-aneen ebra-toh." Fenris's voice rang out, the words unfamiliar to me but clearly meaning something to the Arishok. He dropped his hand from the hilt and peered at my friend. "You have granted this woman basalit-an. By your own admission she now has the right to challenge you."

"If you truly knew the Qun, elf, you would not suggest I battle a female." He sounded both furious and dismissive. That hand began to rise again.

"But she is no female. She is a respected outsider, by our own words."

The Arishok considered this. “What you say is true, elf.” He turned to me. “Then I challenge you, Hawke. We fight for the thief.”

“Just so I understand,” I said in a clear, carrying voice, “we duel one-on-one. If I win the rest of your people take the book and leave, today.” There wouldn’t be too many witnesses left if he refused to keep his end of the bargain but at least his own men would know him forsworn. I was counting on their rigid code of conduct saving the citizens of Kirkwall, assuming I lived out the afternoon myself.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 35

The Rebellious Pupil

Garrus, Mordin and I hammered our way through the Blood Pack in the next room. Apparently they chose the walkways that lined it for the storage of explosives because every third crate blew up, a great help to my team although it made cover a little scarce.

The crates acted as a pretty good indicator of the average intelligence of these guys. They had forgotten the damned things would explode and tried to hide behind them during the firefight. Even seeing their fellows blown up didn’t dissuade them from trying the same tactic. Once I even exploded a lovely chain of boxes, clearing twelve feet of Krogan and Vorcha—boom boom boom—in as many seconds.

All in all we enjoyed ourselves. Obviously we’d taken down their A team on Omega. If there hadn’t been so many of the idiots they would have been no threat at all. We traipsed down the stairs and finally found the chief, Weyrloc Guld. I only know his name because I asked Wrex later. It wasn’t really the time for introductions just then and I wanted it for my scrapbook.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 33

An Offer from the Arishok

I needed to make sure Bethany knew about Mother before we did anything else. Gamlen had promised to send word but he’d hardly proven the most reliable of family members. Once I’d helped my sister to her feet she embraced me, gingerly to avoid being impaled on my pouldrons. Before I could decide how to ask delicately if she knew our mother was dead, however, Bethany proved she did.

“Did mother suffer, sister, or was it at least brief?” As always, she wore that earnest expression that made me want to tell her everything was going to be all right. It had never worked on Carver, who used to nail her braids to her bed when she was sleeping, but the rest of us had coddled her utterly. No wonder she had become so comfortable in the Gallows where no outside concerns intruded unless a mage sought them out.

As I hadn’t been there when Mother had been beheaded and sewn onto that monstrous, piecemeal body, I couldn’t really answer her question. I did the best I could. “She lingered a bit but she didn’t seem to be in pain,” I said. Bethany nodded mournfully but more pressing matters interrupted our talk.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 34

After a chattery greeting during which he carefully avoided any mention of genophages or Krogan live birth rates, Mordin let me explain that Wrex had already directed us to his Scout Chief. Wrex accompanied us a down the staps, ostensibly to show us the way.

“You’ve impressed the ambassadors in our camp, Shepard,” he said quietly, pointing unnecessarily at the Krogan we needed to see. “If you wipe out the males of Clan Weyrloc you will have strengthened my position as much as I have in the past two years. I’m not suggesting you go in there looking for slaughter, of course,” he cautioned with a sly wink of the eye his snout hid from those still standing near his rough throne.

I tried not to smirk too much and suppressed my dance of anticipated havoc. We could hardly admit to the visiting representatives that I was going to go take out another clan. That wouldn’t be politic, after all. Nor would sending home their dead bodies, as would surely happen if we admitted our intention.

Questions: Hawke and Sebastian

Hawke: Was Andraste a virgin?

Sebastian: No, of course not, Hawke. She was married to Maferath before the Maker came to her.

Hawke: And after she became the Bride of the Maker, did she abandon that marriage?

Sebastian (as if reciting a lesson): The Chant teaches that Maferath continued to fight at her side until he became jealous of her sweeping success in battle and in winning the hearts and minds of all she conquered.

Hawke: Do you suppose she remained chaste, then, as she and her husband fought their way across Thedas? Did they sleep in separate tents?

Sebastian (chuckling): I’ve no idea, Hawke, but you must remember that she had two husbands at that time. The Maker would never feel jealous of any mortal but I imagine Andraste gained much spiritual satisfaction from communing with him.

Hawke (raises eyebrow): Spiritual?

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 32

Certain Doom and a Reprieve

The looters discouraged or dead, we returned to following bands of Qunari across Lowtown. For every ten we killed two more hauled another well-dressed human off toward Hightown. Satisfying as it was to finally let loose on them, we’d have to make our way up as well and find out what they had planned.

As we followed the warren of alleys, circling around closed gates and collapsed buildings that still smoldered and spit flame, we found ourselves outside Gamlen’s apartment. Instead of guards or armed thugs fighting for their lives we found three men wearing impressive blue and silver armor in battle with the Qunari. They fought well but were hopelessly outnumbered.

We threw ourselves into the fray and, between the seven of us, we made short work of the remaining troops. In the quiet that followed, the sounds of struggle much subdued after the swath we’d cut across Lowtown, one of the men bowed and introduced himself in a ridiculously formal Orlesian accent as Rochard, a Grey Warden.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 33

Rites and Wrongs

After Okeer’s claims that the Krogan coddled the few of their babies that lived through birth I hadn’t expected the rite to be anything particularly dangerous. I hadn’t seen too many wimpy examples but who was I to question the experience of a warlord?

At first, it wasn’t. After telling Urz to stay we went to a blasted circle of ruins raised a few steps above the shattered plains that covered the planet between bombed-out cities. A button on one of the walls produced a portentous voice and a pile of varren, not a one even half as friendly as Urz.

While Grunt and Garrus wiped them out I surreptitiously looted the bodies of what I presumed were failed Krogan that dotted the area. Hey, these were desperate times and we needed the credits…and the weaponry that I piled in a stash to have some crew pick up later. If nothing else we could sell them off-planet. Surely the other Krogan would have claimed them if they were still considered worthy of use on Tuchanka.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 31

Making the Best of It

Varric laughed when we told him the scope of Isabela’s exploits. “You have to admit, Rivaini’s got bigger balls than the Arishok,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what he says.”

Off the four of us went to tell him that we knew why he couldn’t leave and then convince him to turn over the “converted” murderers that Aveline wanted. None of us was optimistic about our chances of success.

While we’d been at The Hanged Man Aveline had sent word for a contingent of guards to meet us outside the Qunari compound. When we arrived, however, the men at the gate refused to allow them inside. This did not increase my confidence.

After a tense moment during which I thought Aveline might behead the poor man just doing his job, we agreed that just the four of us would enter. As ever, the Arishok’s sources had informed him of recent events faster than we could. He was pacing agitatedly, axe the size of Varric in hand, but spun to a stop as we reached the base of the stairs to his rough throne.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 32

Old Friends, New Problems

While we’d been marking time and exploring various systems for resources with which to make the Normandy as strong as she could be, Jacob had been patiently testing and investigating—for weeks—the guns we’d picked up on the Collector ship. He was thorough, I had to give him that. I suppose he didn’t have much else to do since I never took him anywhere.

After we returned to the SR-2 he invited me to the armory to hear the results of his intensive study. Jacob and I played around in the shooting range for a while so that I could get a feel for how each of the new guns handled. Between clips he ran down the specs and how they differed from what we already carried.

Though it looked impressive, the sniper rifle simply couldn't outperform my Viper, the only gun I'd ever wanted to tuck into bed with me like a teddy bear. I love that thing.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 30

An Evening of Surprises

I spent the afternoon making the rounds, visiting my friends in their various homes around the city. Varric regaled me with tales of Merrill’s latest midnight wanderings and how much it cost him to hire thugs to guard her from thugs. Anders told me about his more colorful patients and let me cajole him into clean robes and a hair brushing.

Sebastian showed me where he’d added my mother’s name to the prayer wall. Merrill nattered on about the eluvian and described how much more she could do with the arullin’holm. She took my refusal to hand it over with equanimity, however; she hardly expected a different answer after all these months.

I crossed the bay to the Gallows on the off chance that they would let me see my sister. Cullen, sweetly apologetic but firm, told me that the mages were all sequestered and could have no outside contact. He did let me know that a message had come from Uncle Gamlen so at least Bethany knew that Mother was dead.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 31

Once Upon a Time

Hackett had promised Alchera to be a deserted, frozen wasteland but I wasn’t taking any chances. We slapped armored environment suits and pistols on the doc and Joker and the four of us took the shuttle down to the surface with the monument on a hover cart.

It was a shame that such devices were notoriously unstable or we’d just have rigged up a chair on it for Joker and let him fend for himself. As it was we constantly had to keep the silly thing from tipping the chromed wave onto its side as it passed over rocks and drifts.

He had started out sitting on the cart but, after several close calls, decided that he’d walk for a bit. Dr. Chakwas paced his slow progress, ready to spring into action should her favorite patient stumble. Even such a minor incident could result in a broken ankle or shattered foot bones, after all. It came to me that her leaving the Alliance might have had less to do with me than with how needed Joker made her feel, despite her claim to the contrary. Certainly no other patient would put up with Chakwas clucking over him like a broody hen, scolding and encouraging in turns.

Sideline Wednseday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 29

Resolutions

When I woke some time later the fading embers in the grate provided the only meager light in the room. I’d turned in my sleep, pulling my knees to my chest, and Fenris was curled around me, one hand draped over my waist. His breath tickled the fine hairs on the back of my neck and I became acutely aware of his solid presence behind me.

It soothed me that he had come tonight, despite his own reservations. I fought against the hope that it was more than a renewal of our close friendship.

As I stirred, he woke with a start, his body tensing against mine. A moment of silence stretched out before I felt him relax behind me. “Hawke,” he said finally, his relief obvious. I wondered where he had thought he was, what ghosts had haunted his dreams.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 30

Put That Thing Away

“No,” he interrupted me, “don’t finish that sentence. If you try to justify what you did it will only piss me off again. I’ve been thinking about it all day: you were right. The satisfaction of shooting him would only have lasted for a moment.”

His face hardened into a fierceness that would have frightened even a krogan warlord. “I needed to know what happened. He pays every second for what he did, as he deserves. I’d rather he kept paying.”

He placed a hand on my shoulder, talons digging into my back as he gave me what I think was intended as a friendly squeeze. I laid a hand over his and we tentatively smiled at one another, Garrus in that peculiar turian way that mostly involved the mandibles and chin. Perhaps we’d be all right after all.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 28

Comfort and Compromise

My bitter laugh sent more tears spilling down my cheeks. “Better late than never, right?” I swallowed my gorge and my anger. This was the last conversation I’d ever have with her. Vomiting could wait and revenge had already been exacted. For once I’d pay attention.

“I’m so proud of you,” she said. “I should have told you that long ago. You’re so like your father.” One of those mystery hands rose unsteadily. Chilled fingers brushed my cheek. “He would have loved to see you so fierce, fighting for the people that need help most.”

Andraste’s ass, why now? I thought. I couldn’t remember the last time she’d said she was proud of me. Certainly she hadn’t since she’d accused me of letting an ogre crush my brother while we fled the Darkspawn horde into the Kocari Wilds. “This would be a lot easier if you told me off for wearing a helmet that clashes so badly with my chestpiece,” I told her.

We smiled at one another. She knew my abrasive words were meant to shove my pain aside. “Let’s get you out of here. Surely someone at The Gallows can help…you,” I finished feebly. We hadn’t even found the rest of her.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 29

Ups and Downs

I spent a few minutes in the privacy of a nearby ladies’ room rolling my eyes at the foibles of my team then headed for Admiral Hackett’s office. With Thane and Garrus sitting on the Normandy with their respective missions accomplished in my usual, quasi-successful style, I was free to focus on more pleasant matters. I breezed into the admiral’s office with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. It had been a ridiculously productive day and it wasn’t even 1600 hours yet.

My bouncy entry screeched to a halt when I saw what filled the room. A bizarre, swooshy-looking thing occupied half of the floor space and reached up almost to graze the ceiling. I presumed the wall was hinged because there was no way anyone had gotten that monstrosity through the door. At the pinnacle was a shiny metal replica of the SR-1 about the size of my hand. Hackett grinned at me around its chrome.

I cocked my head to the left, one eyebrow raised, and asked, “Is this the best they could do?” Nowhere on the thing did the names of the dead, the still-deceased crew members much less my own, appear. It seemed a pretty sorry memorial to me. I only recognized the old Normandy because she’d been mine for a time, Joker’s baby and my own. I imagined this silly thing sitting on a plain near some wreckage, shining dully under an alien sun, and my mood deflated a bit.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 27

Into the Mouth of Madness

I’d tossed down a torch before I climbed into the basement of the foundry and, by the time I’d negotiated the ladder, Bela had used it to light others that hung ready around the walls. Clearly this was no bolthole but a regularly-used passage.

The door on the far end opened onto a larger space around which half of the brands had already been lit. A quick scan of the floor revealed nothing more than a few widely-spaced droplets. I had no time to look for more, however, as shades appeared all around us. Whether they’d been summoned because the killer knew we approached or they had been set to attack anyone hardly mattered.

At first I assumed the stench the filled the space came from the summoned creatures themselves. Anders, however, reminded me that none of our previous fights with shades or other denizens of the Fade had smelled this awful. It was the stink of rot and decay, the funk of death, and it did not come from the otherworldly fiends.

An Apology: Formatting Trouble

My darling readers, I must apologize.  Blogger has taken it upon itself to eat the paragraph breaks in I don't know how many of my last posts.   I'll be working my way backwards to fix the problem but, in the meantime, I'm sorry you've been confronted with these walls of text.  It was not my intention.  I know how hard they are to read and appreciate your patience in getting them fixed.  I promise I'll check how the actual posts look from now on, honestly.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 28

Like Father Like Son…or Not

While we waited for Samara, Thane told me about his family life and admitted that he hadn’t seen or talked to Kolyat in several years. Apparently, the assassinations he’d performed had brought the wrath of some psychos to hunt down his family in revenge. They’d taken it upon themselves to torture and kill his wife.

When Thane had found out he’d gone a little nuts, something even his controlled nature and training could not restrain. He’d done precisely what I would have: he had exacted vengeance slowly and with great fury on each of those involved, hunting them down no matter how long it took. By the time he’d finished, Kolyat, whom he’d left with extended family, had figured out that the whole thing was Thane’s fault and would have nothing to do with him.

About then Thane had begun to feel the effects of Kepral’s Syndrome and, in his fragile mental state, had decided that it was some sort of divine retribution for the way he’d lived his life and failed his family. That had started him down the path that had led him to join my merry band of misfits and miscreants. And so here we were.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 26

All Is Revealed

I sent ‘Bela, Sebastian, and Varric back to The Hanged Man and walked past my own front door, sparing it a longing glance before I continued past and up the nearby stairs to the Viscount’s Keep. This was going to be an uncomfortable confrontation but putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier.

During the day the bright stonework hosted a couple of minor food stalls and a number of nobles milling about, seeing and being seen. But this late at night thugs and criminals often lurked in the shadows of the white pillars hoping for easy pickings as unwary residents made their way home from dinner parties and card games. Happily, I didn’t encounter someone looking to rob me or worse as I crossed the courtyard in front of my door.

The keep’s grand entrance hall stood nearly empty, only a few guards scattered about the vaulted space and up the steps to the second level. I’d never known there were so many stairs in all the world before I’ve moved to Kirkwall. With everything built on top of itself even the slums, like Gamlen’s hovel, had two or three levels and were stacked to conserve space.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 27

Doing the Right Thing

As Joker once again settled us into dock at the Citadel, I reviewed our credit status and how much we’d been paid for our recent efforts. It looked like I could pick up a few more upgrades while on-station and perhaps get myself a few fish for that enormous empty tank in my cabin. A quick check with Joker confirmed that he hadn’t received any information on pending package delivery but I thought I might pick up a little something for Kaidan in my explorations, should something suitable present itself. I could always stash it in my quarters for later.

The ever-helpful and seemingly ever-present Captain Bailey greeted us after we’d passed through security, such as it was. Thane waited until we’d passed the sentry we ought to have alarmed before he noted that measures instituted since his last visit still left a number of holes through which a resourceful assassin such as himself could slip.

Garrus and I nodded ruefully. We’d gotten through the first time on the strength of my and his father’s names rather than actually not being threats to the safety of the folks on the station. This time the three of us waltzed through with our weapons prominently displayed simply because I vouched for Thane. I stuffed my derision for the moment, though. We needed information from Bailey and it wouldn’t do to antagonize him.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 25

Awkwardness

After a quick plea for Donnic to have just one more drink and another few minutes of excruciatingly-awkward conversation I looked up to see Aveline pacing behind the others. She turned her panicked face toward me, waving her arms, and mouthed, “I’m sorry.” Then she fled back up the stairs to Varric’s rooms.

Donnic had noticed my nonplussed expression and turned to see at what I had been staring. My friends hurriedly pretended game of Wicked Grace and he looked back at me, frowning. I gave a little “heh heh”, about the only thing I could think to say for a moment. “So,” I finally came up with, “that Aveline is great.” I gave him an encouraging smile.

He shook his head disapprovingly. “Look,” he said sternly, “if this was all a plot to get close to me through the captain I have to tell you, you’re not my type. I like a woman with a little backbone, none of this pussyfooting around.” He stood brusquely and gave me a little nod of a bow. “Thank you for the drinks.” Then he stalked out the door before I do more than protest, “No, I…”

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 26

Everybody Wants Some

Once I’d discussed our location and itinerary with Joker and EDI, I secured the weapons we’d found and took them to Jacob. His eyes lit up, much as mine had, and he descended upon them with a glee I’d never seen from him before. He promised to check them out and have Mordin verify that no booby traps, infections, contaminants, or other dangers lurked.

From the “ooh, toys” look on his face I knew he’d try them out in the shooting range the second he believed they wouldn’t blow up in his hands. I hoped they turned out to be as deadly as they looked.

In the meantime, I thought I’d get in some quality looming time at the galaxy map. Exerting my autonomy with TIM had purged the worst of my anger but I was still feeling mean. I stepped onto the platform and mentally reached out, plucking suns from their clusters and popping them into my mouth like berries. Take that, Horsehead Nebula! I cried in my mind. Just as I was starting to relax I felt Kelly’s hand tugging the hem of my shirt. Still in my pretend world, I backhanded her with what biotic power I commanded, causing her to fly into the elevator and be deposited in some sub-floor below Engineering from which she could not escape. One deep breath later I found it in me to smile. “Yes, Yeoman?”

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 24

A Warrior’s Problem

What had driven Du Puis and Emeric from immediate attention started the next morning when I presented myself, Merrill, Isabela, and Varric at Aveline’s office bright and early. Bela seemed immune to hangovers and Varric never actually drank much despite the constant presence of a mug in his hand but only the Guard Captain’s urgent request the night before could have roused me from the floor in Varric’s rooms.

I was thus impatient when all she did was ask me to deliver something to one of her guardsmen, a fellow named Donnic who stood in the barrack’s dining room nearby. For this she had been so agitated? But this was Aveline, a woman I admired and who had stood by me through some unsavory escapades so I agreed to do it nonetheless. It must be important to have her so upset.

You can imagine how thrilled all of us were when Donnic removed the wrapping to reveal a copper relief of marigolds. He looked at me, after my pronouncement that it was critical he open it, like one would a grown man found playing in the mud like a toddler. Had it not been for the fact that Aveline and I had rescued him from a group of bandits in our investigation of the corruption of the former guard captain he’d likely have assumed I was a complete fool.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 25

Fool Me Once, Shame on You The afternoon went as badly as I’d suspected it would. We popped out of FTL travel and cruised to the coordinates we’d received. Garrus and I stood behind Joker, staring as the ship came into view. All of us recognized its design. Indeed it looked identical to the one that had been abducting colonists on Horizon which had been, coincidentally, the very same one that had killed me two and a half years earlier.

I heard Garrus growl beside me and I put a hand on his shoulder in agreement. No matter how comparatively well things had turned out so far we still had a score to settle with the bastards. They’d wrecked our first team, the one that hadn’t included thieves and liars and turncoats. The bastards had killed some of my closest friends and destroyed the only home some of us had had. If I could find a way to blow up that pile of crap I was going to do it today, no matter what TIM wanted.

Miranda and Jack met me at the shuttle and we flew over to land on an outcropping of sorts that I presumed served as a cargo bay. We worked our way in cautiously. Along the way we found piles of rotting corpses, colonists discarded like table scraps, that made all three of us gag in our helmets. I angrily considered the thousands upon thousands of pods stacked throughout the corridors and lining the walls of vast chambers.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 23

Suspects and Evidence

We continued our search of the Du Puis mansion, finding shades guarding several passages. By then we were suspicious enough to begin opening closets and cupboards in search of clues. Such intrusiveness yielded quick results: in one of the guest rooms we found a chest filled with luxurious dresses.

Emeric had told us that Gascard was single and we saw no other evidence of a woman living in the house. It certainly looked incriminating, though Anders pointed out that the good messer could enjoy wearing the clothes himself. They alone wouldn’t have convinced me but then we found a rack of blood vials sitting on a desk on the second floor. Anders confirmed that they had been used in some sort of blood magic, though he was unfamiliar with the exact enchantment.

The expansive sitting rooms down the corridor held a reply from the Starkhaven Circle of Magi to an inquiry about their missing mages. Unsurprisingly, it told Du Puis in no uncertain terms that lost enchanters, if any, remained the province of the Templars and not some minor noble in a different city. Why the man would be looking for a lost mage in the first place none of us could guess.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 24

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

I fell into bed, still fully clothed, and slept like I’d been shot. Four solid hours later I blearily opened my eyes, feeling like I’d had a very long and refreshing blink. I hadn’t moved a muscle in all that time and various parts of my anatomy had failed to wake with my brain.

I hobbled my way across the room, pins and needles jabbing me, and settled into the chair at my desk, glancing at the photo that Councilor Anderson had given me. Kaidan leaned forward and looked awfully grim, like he was rushing the person who took the picture. I wondered what had been going on when it was taken. I brushed my fingers over his fiercely-drawn brow, mentally wishing him a good morning, and turned to my terminal, still active from the night before.

Leaping in with both feet, regardless of how numb one of them remained, I went straight for the message from TIM. Instead of a dossier, it asked me to give him a call in the holo chamber. Wow, I thought. That was easy. I read through the rest of the notes quickly, smiling at a couple of thank you notes and a bit of spam from a merchant with whom I’d dealt on the Citadel back when we’d still had the SR-1. It looked like I really was alive again if I showed up on such mailing lists once more. I’d almost missed offers of help to increase the size and function of my imaginary man-parts.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 24

“Oh, Kaidan,” I said in exasperation. “If things had been different, if we could have been together, I would never have known Thane as more than a suave assassin, another piece of my team. I never stopped loving you; I just didn’t see any hope for us.” He pulled back in consternation but I hadn’t finished.

“You told me in no uncertain terms where I could stick Cerberus and I was left drifting on my own. What happened with Thane, what grew between us, was so much different than what I had with you.” I stood and paced around the long table.

“You’re this whole person, this wonderful other that stood up to me and stood with me. We’d lived by the same rules, been given the same training, and served with the same people. You knew how to remind me what was right and make me remember why.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 22

Interrupted Investigations

Varric would be sorely disappointed in my ability to weave a story, even after so much time spent at his side listening to him effortlessly pull a dozen such lines together. Yet again I’ve forgotten an important thread in my own tale. But our investigation into Kirkwall’s disappearing women came home to roost with a vengeance that even Justice could have envied.

It started early on, one of the first jobs I took after my year with Athenril when Bethany and I were still amassing the funds we needed to buy our way into the Deep Roads expedition. A thoroughly distasteful but wealthy man by the name of Ghyslain de Carrac, his Orlesian accent so thick you could have used it for mortar, hired us to find his wife. Apparently she’d disappeared and her family suspected him of foul play, a concern he found more disturbing than the fact that she’d gone missing.

The only hint he gave us was the name Jethann, a whore at the Blooming Rose. Ninette had been rather free with her favors, it seemed, even with those whose favors were not free. Ghyslain had only found out about the elf when Jethann had sent the woman lilies just before she’d gone but the prostitute wouldn’t talk to his customer’s husband.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 23

Back in the Saddle Again

Miranda started scolding like a magpie as soon as she was within finger-shaking distance. Somehow I had to find a way to bribe EDI to quit announcing my arrivals and departures so people stopped ambushing me like this. I really, really needed a nap.

“Where the hell have you been, Shepard?” Miranda started. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Garrus’s head snap around at her tone. I decided to let him take point on calling her a bitch while I stayed reasonable and found out why she was so mad in the first place. I could hear his rumbling growl and had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from showing my amusement. He couldn’t stand her and I figured she was going to push his buttons if he took my side…when he took my side.

I smiled sweetly at her and cocked my head to the right. “Whatever business is it of yours? Have I missed a planned event?” Kelly would have envied the perky innocence in my voice.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 23

I struggled to sound reasonable. “Kaidan, we need to clear the air or we can’t work together. Anderson and Hackett think they’re being cute but I’ve wanted to talk to you for so long. I just…couldn’t find the nerve to start.” My voice failed a bit in admitting my fear.

“You didn’t seem to have any trouble talking to everyone else on the Citadel about the toils and perils your wonderful new team faced while they worked to save the galaxy and…and about how much you loved Thane.” The bitterness that filled those words tore at me, both hearing him say Thane’s name and the pain I could feel in his words. Yet had I ever said that, spoken of Thane so bluntly or publicly?

I didn’t believe that I had, that those words had been broadcast anywhere. Obviously Kaidan was getting his information somewhere closer to me. But we’d come to the root of the problem now and denying I’d told any interviewer about my personal relationship with Thane wasn’t enough.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 21

Fixing the Family

Viscount Dumar shuffled along the shadowed entry and into the moonlit expanse below us. His ashen face showed me that Aveline had already broken the news. I’d never before considered the man old, despite his balding grey head, but at that moment he seemed ancient. Aveline helped him up the stairs and he all but fell beside his son’s body.

As the guards cleared away the survivors Dumar gathered Saemus into his lap. For a time it appeared that he spared no thought for what surrounded him. Then he spoke to me, though his eyes never left the young man’s face. “Who did this?” he quavered, throat clogged with grief.

“She’s dead, sir.” Aveline spoke as matter-of-factly as ever. “We’re rounding up the accomplices that survived and they will stand for what they’ve done.”

“And the Arishok?”

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 22

‘Round and ‘Round She Goes

Kaidan took my hand and pulled me past the couples lined up for their turns. This appeared to be the place to be for a romantic evening. I tried to protest the unfairness of cutting ahead of them all but he shushed me. “That’s the advantage of calling ahead.”

When we neared the front of the line I saw an area cordoned off within which a few people craned their necks to watch others swooping skyward or drifting down again. Kaidan gave a name to the Asari standing just outside this seeming VIP section. She checked her omnitool and gestured us through the boundary. The already-stately pace began to slow and the thing came to a stop. Squeals of delight issued from above our heads as the oval cages tilted and swung.

Within a few minutes we were ensconced in our own little coop. A bench ran along one side with just enough room to stand side by side before it. The door clanged shut and a lock hissed, ensuring we wouldn’t be foolish enough to leap from the thing fifteen stories in the air. After the prison ship incident I was a little nervous about being locked up but as soon as we began to move I forgot my concerns.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 22

It has been five months since I helped Thane die. Kolyat and I met briefly, painfully, a few times. I’d signed over Thane’s body to his son, to be given to the sea as Irikah had been. The boy had wanted to know more about his father but couldn’t contain his anger at my place at the end of Thane’s life that Kolyat felt his mother should have had.

I told him stories about his father’s regrets, his beliefs, and his love for his family. We cried, in the same room but not together. He sought my presence grudgingly, torn between resentment and his desire to believe that Thane really had loved him. Our conversations were stilted but I thought he at least accepted that Thane had tried to do his best for his Kolyat, whatever mistakes he may have made.

I'd spent the first six weeks on Earth, numb and staring. My ship had returned, freshly painted and logo-free. Garrus had arranged to have some black market techs on Omega go over every line of EDI's code as well as chase every wire in the ship to ensure that Cerberus could no longer snoop.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 20

Not long after Sebastian described the new tack some Chantry members were taking I received yet another summons from Viscount Dumar. The note arrived just before I returned, with ‘Bela and Fenris in tow, from another jaunt up the Wounded Coast. Fenris and I remained friendly in a stilted way that left much unsaid. He remained my strongest fighter, though, and I wasn’t about to let personal matters interfere with business.

That’s what I told myself, anyway. In truth, I couldn’t stay away from him. The lazy evenings drinking wine and talking, just the two of us, had ended but I invited him on jobs regularly and he still joined the group at The Hanged Man. The others seemed as determined as Fenris and I were to avoid our being alone. That eased the worst of the awkwardness most nights.

Some undertone to Dumar’s message that evening urged me to respond quickly. Instead of playing Wicked Grace with my Mabari as we’d intended we headed right back out the door and up the nearby steps to the keep. Seneschal Bran ushered us into the Viscount’s office immediately. His normal, snooty disdain carried overtones of anxiety, ratcheting up my concern another notch.

Prompt Response: Disaster

“It’s a disaster!”

Anders threw his hands in the air and dropped back onto his heels. I dodged from his left but blood still spattered my cheek. My flamboyant healer did insist on melodrama after a battle when the injuries were relatively minor. When the wounds were serious it brought out his concentration and best bedside manner but the slash on Aveline’s leg inspired only histrionics.

“These edges won’t line up. What did that thug hit you with, a rose bush? You’re going to have another scar.”

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 21

Miranda was pacing the CIC when we got back, anxious to head for the planned rendezvous with Niket, the old friend who’d arranged the relocation. The fact that we had a full hour to travel the five hundred feet to our destination mattered nothing to her but I had to eat something or I was going to fall down halfway there. Thane and Jack came with me and I hit up Gardner for a mess of nachos.

I had been kidding, not expecting he'd have the ingredients, but he produced an enormous platter filled with some sort of green chips, beans, and all of the trimmings. I offered to promote him then and there but he declined with a proud smile. “Just keep enjoying my cooking so much and I’m happy right here,” he said.

I did a little spicy dance of thanks and ferried the whole pile over to the table where we fell on them with a will, tasty Elcor cheese flying and sour cream from the milk of who knew what creature decorating the corners of our mouths. Thane said he’d never had them before but that he would again be requesting a plate. I was pleased to introduce him to some Earth cuisine, of a sort, and asked him to have Gardner fix us something Drell enjoyed later.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 21

A flurry of activity swirled outside the windows of the med bay as the refugees made their way to the airlock. It would take some time to process them all through that choke point. Dr. Chakwas returned and began packing things into a bag for me to take.

“I wish there were more I could do,” she said. I thanked her, both for the sentiment and for not trying to talk me out of what I was doing. As we spoke, Thane shifted and I turned back to him.“Why have we come to Earth?” he asked.

“You said you wanted a desert,” I answered. “They've got the only one I could think of that doesn't require breathing masks or full environment suits.” He looked at me with an unreadable expression. I could see surprise and pain but other layers that I couldn't recognize lay beneath those. If he wanted to see a desert before he died then he was damned well going to see one.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 19

Confrontation and Dismissal

Anders face settled into a serene smile and I wanted to take him in my arms to protect him from himself. He stared into my eyes, that pain I’d longed to erase hiding as he simply looked at me for once. That little crease between his brows that never seemed to disappear had gone and we just stood quietly. It was the most content I’d ever seen him look.

“Maker, I love you,” he breathed, snapping the moment. The enormity of what had happened struck me with the force of one of Varric’s bolts. I pulled free of him, my face aflame as I tugged my smalls into place, my eyes on the floor. My brain worked furiously trying to decide how to respond to him.

I hadn’t come here with the intention of seducing him, hadn’t meant any of this to happen. Yet here I was, half-clad and sweaty, catching increasingly confused looks from the corner of my eye as I restored my blouse to something resembling decency. Oh, sweet Andraste’s flaming left ear, what had I done?

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 20

Doesn’t Everyone Live by a Code? Thane seemed a serious fellow but he accepted my request to join the team for what was considered a suicide mission by explaining that he was dying anyway so why not? You had to respect his spirit and it saved me a fair amount of time negotiating his fee. Apparently he was out to atone for some evil deeds, not too hard to believe for a man who had so ably demonstrated his ability and willingness to kill. I hoped that his assassin credo wouldn’t make him balk at the clean-up work we’d be doing on merc bases around the galaxy along the way. We were hardly a peace-loving, spare-the-ammo bunch and there were geth galore to wipe out between TIM's Collector hints. It wouldn’t live up to his high-profile targets but we’d definitely keep him busy. When we’d returned to the Normandy I got Thane settled, brushed off Jacob’s tiresome objections to bringing yet another killer for hire aboard, and stopped on the way to get some breakfast, though the ship’s clock read 3:04 AM. I’d shown Miranda the extent of what I’d learned, burning off the huge dinner I’d eaten hours earlier. I hammered down a big mug of cold coffee and made myself some sausages and toast. I wrapped one in the other and brought them with me to the trash compacter. I didn’t want to get sidetracked again before I’d had it out with Zaeed.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 20

My heart stopped in my chest until I noticed the monitors still hooked to his body. They beeped along, flashing erratically, signaling that he was still alive. I forced my numb legs to carry me across the med bay and stared hard at Thane’s chest under the sheet, willing it to rise and fall. When I reached the side of his bed his eyes flickered open and I braced my arms on the frame as my knees buckled.

I smiled gently, hiding my reaction to how ashen his rich complexion had become. I recovered my balance and took his hand. “Thank you for keeping your promise,” I said softly. I wondered if he was somehow holding on until I released him from it but I couldn’t let him go, not yet. That may have made me selfish but just then I had too much to say to him.

“Always, for you,” he whispered around the breathing mask. I could hear the weight of his guilt, of the broken promises he’d made to his family, in the phrase. Even this close to death, after saving the entire human race from extermination, he couldn't forgive himself. I kissed his hand gently as Dr. Chakwas stopped beside me.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 18

Taken By Surprise

[NOTE: This chapter is NSFW and not for those under the age of 18. You've been warned.]

Bodahn never once expressed shock or concern when I came home coated in filth and blood as I did that afternoon. I suppose his experience traveling with the Hero of Ferelden had trained him to expect such behavior from women. He and Sandal did wonders with the things that dried to impenetrable crusts in the joints of my armor, as well. I’ve missed them sorely since they decided to leave for Orlais. I have offal from three fights ago still crunching in the articulations of my gauntlets.

Normally I’d have sunk into the bath and taken my time cleaning every last inch of myself but I was nearly frantic with worry. I didn’t even sit, just scrubbed down and splashed water over myself to remove the soap. Looking down after I stepped out of the tub I saw that had been a fortunate choice. Flakes and chunks of sewer goo floated on the surface and the smell could have felled a Qunari.

I threw on some casual clothes, a skirt and bloused shirt. My mother had managed to have the Amell family crest put on the back of half of my wardrobe, something I usually forgot when I was out of my armor. I’d been reminded about it embarrassingly often when drinking at The Hanged Man, one of the many reasons we mostly ended up lounging around Varric’s rooms casually intertwined, rather than down in the common rooms with the usual Lowtown crowd.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 19

Tall, Green, and Handsome

Having had the wind so thoroughly taken out of my sails by Miranda’s unexpected capitulation, I decided to try a different tack. “I need to know why you did this, Miranda. Did you change something to give me biotic abilities or were you testing to see if the implant would work without them? If you’ve done things to my body that you haven’t told me, now is the time to come clean.”

Conflicting loyalties showed clearly on her face. Sure, Cerberus had been home to her but I was in control of whether anyone went along to protect her sister from the mercenaries their father had hired. No matter how skilled or determined she may be she knew she couldn’t do it alone. It felt pretty sleazy to use that leverage but knowing that I was going to go with her anyway made it bearable.

“It’s a standard L5 implant,” she said after a few minutes’ consideration. “Since the whole point of the project was to bring you back, personality and quirks alike, we didn’t dare try gene therapy to add biotics but we wanted to see if someone without powers could still use the device. Without specific action from me it should not have begun working. You’ve fought dozens of biotics in the past few weeks and you’ve spent plenty of time with Jack. What happened?”

Questions: Alistair and Teagan

“Can I ask you a question, Alistair?” He sat, apart from the others but still near the evening’s fire, cleaning the shield Arl Eamon had given him. When I spoke he set it aside and rose, polite as ever. If he stood a little closer than he used to, well, that was fine with me.

“At your service,” he said, bowing just the tiniest bit. I regularly pestered him with queries about the Grey Wardens, his Templar training, and about a dozen other things. He was patient and self-derogatory, sometimes sarcastic and a little silly but always willing to talk. But the brewing tension between us had me curious and I’d decided to just come out and ask him.

I tried to phrase it delicately. “So, if you were a Templar have you never…” The phrase dangled limply while I searched for a tactful term.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 19

By the time we reached the end of the last corridor at the outside of the base every one of us was bleeding and splashed with gore. The Collectors had thrown everything they’d had at us, husks and soldiers alike. The sight of the Normandy floating beside the base lifted all of our spirits enough to fuel one last burst of speed for a leap through the low gravity to the open airlock.

I saw a few of my crew members and even Joker providing covering fire as others caught the team and hauled them aboard. I thought my heart would break as I saw my friends rushed into the waiting arms of those few we’d managed to save. Finally I was the only one left.

The first of the explosions rocked the station back from my ship as I sprinted toward the lip. Unable to check my momentum, I pushed off with all I had, windmilling my arms as though that would somehow provide me enough thrust to bridge the gap. I might as well have flapped them for all the good it did.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 17

Sudden Reversals

Anders explained that one of the senior Templars, Ser Alrik, had been agitating for what he termed the Tranquil Solution under which all of the mages in the Gallows would have their connections with the Fade, and thus their magic and their emotions, severed. Isabela and Merrill looked as horrified as I felt. Such a program would go against everything the Circle was intended to do.

The Rite of Tranquility was supposed to protect people from mages who were too weak-willed to face a Harrowing or who had already proven dangerous without that test. Enchanters who transgressed went to mage’s prisons rather than undergoing the Rite. It was not used to punish the outspoken or disagreeable and the Chantry would never approve it for all mages.

Would they? I thought. Meredith was a little nuts and Elthina had shown all the backbone of an earthworm in defying the woman she’d appointed Knight-Commander. By the time Orsino appealed to the Divine and received an answer it could be too late to save any of the mages. Clearly the First Enchanter didn’t have the power to prevent his charges being made Tranquil against his wishes, unless he was complicit in the plan as well, something I found impossible to believe.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 18

Oh, for the Love Of...

“And I thought my training was intensive,” Kaidan said later that night as we were eating again. We’d been hard at my practice for two full days. My head throbbed from the unaccustomed effort. We took another nap and continued working on my newfound biotic abilities, including generating and funneling my own energy without running around like a loon. The fact that I had no innate abilities made everything harder, despite the juice supplied by the L5 in my head.

“You’ll never be really powerful,” Kaidan told me, “but with the implant you can at least create a decent barrier or knock down someone’s shields to give yourself an advantage.” I still intended to have it out with Miranda over putting the damned thing in my brain and then apparently just hoping it didn’t get activated. I hoped she’d enjoy the surprise when I knocked her over with a blast.

Another few hours and a hefty snack later, Kaidan decreed that I was ready to start shielding myself from the energy that biotics naturally put out and from absorbing too much when one of them touched me. He explained how he had learned but that everyone had to create a personal method that worked because differences in brain chemistry and structure made no one technique effective for everyone.

Prompt Response: At the Beach

The city of Kirkwall may sit, brooding and white, at the edge of the Amaranthine Sea but the closely wound alleys and stairs trap the freshening breezes that should ease the heat of summer. The months when the sun bakes the southern end of the Free Marches bring lethargy to the wealthy in Hightown, who cannot not be bothered to stir from the cool of their stone homes, and misery to the poor that squat below them.

Hawke stretched in the warm sand, wind drying the spray that dotted her bare skin. She turned to Anders where he lay propped on his elbows, head tipped back and ribs showing. His smile of contentment was worth the lie she’d told to lure him away from his fetid clinic in the rankest corner of Darktown for the afternoon.

She’d only discovered this little stretch of beach because a bandit she’d been pursuing had fallen from the jagged rocks above in his flight. A narrow ledge sloped beneath the forbidding edges, tucked into a small overhang in the cliff face, and from the paths of the mountain the way was utterly invisible. Coated in sweat already that morning, she’d determined that the refugees and slum denizens of the city could do without their healer for a day.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 18

“They’re alive!” I yelled as the others piled through the doors behind me. As I watched in horror, Chambers’s face became blotched and the skin began to peel away. The fluid in her pod turned a frothy, bloody pink and she beat at the port with hands from which the flesh had sloughed down to bone. “Get them out,” I screamed frantically.

We hammered and pried at the pods on the floor as the eight plugged into the network of tubes along the wall flushed obscenely behind us. I didn’t know who had been in the other seven pods, didn’t want to know. I may have scorned Yeoman Chambers’s attempts at manipulating my life but nothing she could ever have done could have merited the torture and dissolution that she’d suffered. I saw Garrus help Dr. Chakwas stand shakily and would have started crying if tears hadn’t already been streaming down my face since the moment I saw that at least some of my crew was still alive.

We opened the pods that we could reach, finding twelve more of my crew and seventeen colonists. Empty pods hung across the vast walls and across the ceiling. Hundreds of them filled each of the distant outcroppings that dotted the chamber. There was no way to tell if those were empty and no way to reach them directly, beyond the fact that the Normandy couldn’t carry all of them even if we could release the prisoners. My heart ached as I realized that anyone still alive in this chamber would have to be left behind. I wanted to smash each of those pods, preferably with the face of a Collector, and save every human on this station but we simply couldn’t. They were as doomed to die as if we’d never come.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 16

Back and Forth

A worthy battle we found atop overlooking the quarry: the mother dragon that had spawned the dragonlings we’d fought with in the tunnels. Yet after facing down Flemeth’s high dragon form a regular full-grown dragon didn’t intimidate me as much as I’d have thought. The biggest challenge lay in keeping out of its way when it loosed a full-throated trumpet that battered your ears and made your whole head swim. My shield provided enough cover so the gouts of flame barely singed the fringe on my armor but the teeth and claws were a different matter.

Isabela danced to stay behind mama dragon while Sebastian jockeyed for position on the piles of rock around the cave we’d just left, trying to stay out of her line of sight. He sank arrows into the hollow at the base of her neck and after a time it began to look like the dragon was wearing a ruff of feathers. Aveline and I kept her attention as much as we could, striking at intervals from behind our shields but mostly just letting the others chip away until she lay, magnificent and bloody, unable to fight back any longer.

Aveline and Sebastian argued about who should get the death blow until I finally walked over and ended the beautiful thing’s suffering. They both pouted the entire way back to Kirkwall, Isabela’s jibes pricking each of them. Meanwhile I dreamed of being able to transform as Flemeth had.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 17

Accommodations

Liara flared with her own power, the glow skating over the lighter blue of her skin. I was getting nervous and the wild energy loose in the room was doing nothing to calm me. The pressure in the back of my head made me dizzy and I swayed a bit, trying to keep my balance. Kaidan must have seen it, focused though he was on Liara, and immediately tamped down his biotics.

“Shepard!” I felt his arm around me and for a moment Liara's face twisted with some emotion. Then she, too, stopped pulsing. Kaidan helped me into a chair and then stepped back a few feet. I held up a hand to stop Liara as she moved closer. “If you two are going to have a fight I need to leave the room,” I said. I hated how weak my voice sounded but something seriously weird was sapping my energy and stuffing my head. I seemed to be reaching some critical mass. Despite my protests, she put a hand on my shoulder and then jumped back as I squirmed in the chair, a stuttering blue glow of my own leaping briefly to life. “I do not understand. Why would Cerberus have implanted you, Shepard?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.” I shook my head a little, trying to clear it. “That's actually why we came to see you so quickly.” I pretended not to notice the hurt that crossed her face at that. I never said that tact was my strong point. “Kaidan says I need someplace to hide out while we get a handle on this thing. It's been active for all of fifteen minutes, now. Can you help us find a spot?” Her expressive face shifted between alarm and concern. She was worried about me but Kaidan must not have been overreacting if she dropped the question of why in favor of helping us to solve our little problem. After a few moments, she nodded.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 17

The dock crew at Illium had us loaded and ready to go before my hair was even dry. It looked like The Illusive Man had played nicely for a change. I had EDI and Tali scan everything we took aboard for surveillance equipment or unpleasant surprises but they both came up empty.

By the time we finished our jump back to the relay near Omega and I went down to check on Thane he was back in the life support room, up and dressed as stylishly as ever. His breath came roughly still but some of the new medical supplies had helped to ease his laboring lungs. He ran his hands through my hair and kissed me thoroughly while I wallowed in my disappointment that he was no longer nearly nude and in a bed.

“You appear to have recovered from our adventures on Zorya. I fear that my days of stealth are over, however,” he joked. “My targets would hear me through the walls.”

How sweet he was, trying to reassure me despite how obviously he had deteriorated in a single day. His face looked drawn, serious despite his light tone. Had it really been so short a time since he was dancing destruction through the geth on Haestrom, laughing? His quick fluidity had slowed to a smooth grace in the past few weeks. It was clear that the Kepral’s Syndrome had spread far beyond his lungs. Guilt stabbed at me. I’d been hauling him around the galaxy, thrusting him into situations that would only worsen his condition, and he had actually thanked me for doing so. He’d saved my life and risked his for me countless times and all I had to offer him was death.

I held him as tightly as I dared. “I need you to be careful, Thane,” I said, swallowing tears yet again. “Promise me. Promise you’ll be back here with me after we destroy these bastards.”

He held my face in his hands and pressed his lips against my forehead, each of my cheeks in turn, the tip of my nose, and finally my mouth. “I promise, siha,” he answered solemnly. I wished I’d asked him more about his language so that I could have a name for him as beautiful as his for me.

Both of us knew keeping that promise was essentially out of his control. It calmed me, though, to have told him at least a little of how I felt and to have him so clearly accept what I offered. Had there been time I would have hauled him to his cot then and there but I suspected that Thane, ever composed and deliberate, had never heard of a quickie. Instead, we made our way to the briefing room so that the whole team could discuss strategy while EDI and Joker performed the half-blind calculations that might allow us to live through the coming jump.

There wasn’t any way to prepare for what would happen. We tossed ideas around and considered some what ifs but as soon as Joker announced that we were approaching the relay I kicked everyone free and headed for the bridge. Thane and Garrus both came with me and I was thankful to have my closest friends around me. I was terrified, though I wouldn’t allow it to show. The Omega Four relay swam into view. Most relays pulsed a familiar, biotic blue, a color with which we’d all become comfortable. The mysterious machine we faced, however, glowed a diseased purple-red, a threatening bruise of color that clearly warned us away. I’d half hoped that the IFF handshake would turn it the reassuring cobalt of the others but that didn’t happen. The roiling brilliance grabbed us and threw us to the heart of the galaxy.

I doubt anyone breathed as we were decelerated on the other side. Then we made up for that breathless moment hyperventilating as Joker threaded the Normandy through nigh-invisible gaps between the broken, blasted, and otherwise destroyed ships that choked the space around the relay. It must keep a clear field in the debris around itself but the landing distance was incredibly short. I reminded myself to kiss Joker on the cheek for being good enough to not only make the jump that accurately but to react so quickly to the thousands of looming threats. We’d upgraded the shields and the hull but it was his skill that squeaked us through the minefield.

No sooner had we cleared the bulk of the mess than sentinels sprang to life around us. It looked like the Collectors were not relying on the debris field alone to knock out those lucky enough to survive the trip. Their lasers forced us back into the wreckage and a high-speed game of chase ensued. Between our weapons and more of Joker’s unorthodox piloting we finally managed to destroy the last of them. Our shields were all but depleted and the hull scored in many places but we were still flying. EDI confirmed that the worst of the damage had been superficial. We cruised to the object of our collective hatred, a bizarre structure that looked as though random asteroids had been strung together with titanium beams and the spit of some enormous nest-making insect.

Sliding from a dock in the behemoth was none other than our friend, the Collectors’ ship, according to EDI the very one that had killed me and then kidnapped my second crew. That fucker was going down if I had to launch myself out of the airlock and attack it with a hand knife. Happily, I didn’t need to: Garrus showed us all the value of the hours he’d spent calibrating our new Thanix cannon when EDI sliced the damned thing to ribbons as Joker spun us around its flanks. I cursed it colorfully the entire time, willing us out of the path of its weapons as we dodged and weaved about the ponderous thing.

I hadn’t noticed that I’d grabbed Thane’s hand at some point and was crushing it in my anger. He made a small noise of protest as the other ship broke apart before us. My frustration at being unable to assault the ship myself broke as I apologized for hurting him. He really needed both hands to be effective inside the base and there I was, trying to break his fingers. My own hand was sore from squeezing so tightly. With the other I punched Garrus on the shoulder in thanks and congratulations. The look of satisfaction on his face cheered me.

We scraped to a landing on the surface of the base, too damaged in the fight to maintain our distance. The Normandy hadn’t been designed to land rather than dock. My whole ship was leaning to port and EDI poured a stream of damage reports into my omni-tool. I cut it off with a curt, “Can you fix it?” I wanted the bottom line: could we still get back home? EDI reassured me that the supplies we’d taken on in Illium had included plating and replacement power cells that she and Legion could use to repair any hull breaches and restore the shields, given a few hours. While I could have used Legion’s precise marksmanship with me it was more important that everyone know we had a ship in which we could return. We needed that hope to sustain us.

I ordered Grunt to release Miranda and everyone but Joker piled out of the Normandy's canted airlock. We made our way to the nearest opening as EDI scanned the base for our best attack route. There was no real way to know where my crew lay in the massive structure but the time had been relatively short and we could hope that they hadn't been killed outright and tossed aside like those on the ship we'd cleared weeks ago. With any luck we'd interrupted the Collectors on their way to do whatever it was they did with the humans in their pods and they'd be along a main path. Of course, with any luck they wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The team split and reformed as we followed the network of corridors along the circuitous path EDI had mapped to the heart of the structure. I sent Tali crawling through the ducts to hack locks, racing to stay ahead of her to keep valves open before she cooked behind one. We slaughtered Collectors wholesale, wiping out every one of the creatures we found. There would be no prisoners taken on this enterprise. It was an exercise in vengeance and a bitter satisfaction flowed through my team as we progressed. Then we came together in an enormous chamber filled with pods hanging from the walls and strewn about the floor. In the one just to the left of the door stood Yeoman Chambers, her eyes open and her mouth screaming silence.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 15

A Plague of Dragons

Suddenly frustrated, Fenris spun and stepped even closer, stopping with his face an inch from mine. He growled, “Maker’s breath! Are you a mage, like your sister, to have bewitched me? Ever since we talked I can think of nothing else.”

I blinked at him, unable to form a response. The heat in his gaze and the sudden change of mood made it hard to think. It was nice to know that he’d been thinking about me, at least. Yet his markings began to glow as he continued.

“How can I accompany you into danger when I’m more concerned with keeping you safe than completing any task? How can I fight at your side distracted by watching the muscles of your shoulders slide under your skin when you swing your shield, by seeing the flash of sweat trickling down your neck as you spin to strike down a foe?”

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 16

Who Did What to Whom

After spending almost my entire stash of credits and arranging to have the loot delivered to the Normandy I let Joker know that we were ready for that drink. He promised to meet us there. I notified EDI that non-essential crew, including Garuus and Jack who were with me, were off-duty and on shore leave until 0800 the following morning, ship time. That gave us the cover to shut off our comm units and secrete them in a potted plant on the way. Joker would probably just leave his on the bridge.

I’d give the skeleton crew that provided security and replenished supplies with a day’s leave tomorrow but I wanted to be sure that we could leave at a moment’s notice should the need arise. We browsed through a souvenir shop to kill time as we made our way to Eternity, the nearest bar. We found Joker in the farthest, darkest corner booth, behind some cheery, fern-like trees, sitting with the package.

I froze, unsure whether my eyes were playing tricks on my or if Kaidan really was grinning up at me, eyebrow raised in amusement. I’d missed that quirked brow so much over the past weeks. I wanted to fling myself on top of him and run my tongue over it, but first I had to convince my mouth to close and my feet to move. “It took you long enough to get here,” he said. I didn't know if he meant the lounge or Illium in general.

Prompt Response: Delirious

It was sheer torture. Hawke tossed and burned, her fever continuing for a third day, and Anders could think of nothing more to do for her. Broken bones and infestations of a personal nature were nothing, he could cure those in a trice. But the common cold remained the bane of all healers, magical or herbal.

If she were only ill Anders could have dealt well enough with the situation. He did, after all, run a clinic helping the sickest, dirtiest, and most hopeless people in Kirkwall. It was the delirium that promised to drive him mad.

At first she'd only talked to her father, something Anders had found fascinating. She had loved Malcolm Hawke, trusted and been devoted to him, and the man had escaped from the Circle here in Kirkwall, lived as a mercenary traveling Thedas, and then settled down with the love of his life to raise three amazing children, one of them a mage that he'd trained to be a strong and independent as he'd been. Anders rather wished he'd had a chance to meet the man.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 16

The hull was intact as we approached the ship. None of us was prepared for the destruction we found inside. We stared at the remnants of the cargo, what had been secure enough not to get blown out of the hold when EDI had opened the doors. I made my way through the halls and rooms, finding only two of my own crew, both dead before the decompression had gotten to them, as Garrus and I supported Thane on the way to the med bay with the hope that we could do something for him.

But Dr. Chakwas was gone and Mordin had his hands full just running triage on the team’s injuries. We got Thane settled into a bed, back on oxygen as dry and pure as it came. I wanted nothing more than to stay beside his bed, stroking his forehead and holding his hand. He shooed me away, however, speaking calmly despite the rumbling in his chest.

“Joker needs you now,” he said, “more than I do.” I wanted to argue but I knew that we had to go straight after the Collectors. I would be damned if I would let them have my entire crew, regardless of their nominal employer. These were my people. I kissed his fingers and headed for the bridge.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 14

Rough Vindication

Though I wanted to maul him right there I held back, waiting to see what Fenris chose. Apparently he wasn’t quite ready to set aside that physical reserve that held him apart from the rest of our circle. He moved around me and back to the chair on which he’d been perched earlier that evening, the tension I’d barely registered showing clearly in the stiff line of his back when I turned. The intimate moment passed and, although I briefly considered a trip to the Blooming Rose that evening to take the edge off my suddenly-powerful frustration, I wasn’t about to push him.

Weeks passed after that evening and nothing much changed. Fenris seemed to avoid being alone with me but so subtly that I could not decide whether it was intentional. Yet he smiled more and joked with Varric on our frequent trips about town cleaning up messes with and for Aveline. Even Anders remarked that he’d not received yet another lecture on the evils of magic from Fenris when they’d met at one of the regular card games Varric arranged at The Hanged Man. I decided to let the matter lie until Fenris brought it up again but as the days passed I grew less sure he ever would.

It may seem from my descriptions that Fenris led a bored and petulant life, squatting in the mansion and closely guarding his hatred and distrust, drinking and gambling like a wastrel. In fact he had reason as the years passed to believe that Denarius hunted him still. We regularly encountered groups of slavers plying their trade using the refugees and elves that filled the lower reaches of Kirkwall. Many of them knew to whom he was to be returned, should they manage to capture or kill him, and they taunted him with their intent to reap the reward. They all paid the price for their foolish arrogance.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 15

Getting to Know You

We wended our way across the galaxy once more, stopping to check out distress signals and perform other research projects for the Alliance and Cerberus. We dropped probes on twenty or more planets along the way and generally had a leisurely journey. Until I heard more from TIM about how to chase the Collectors we were mostly chasing our tails. I decided to take a little time on the way to learn more about my crew and the members of my team that I’d mostly ignored. Since I wanted to work out some of the weapons upgrades we’d picked up on the Citadel I started with Jacob.

As I chatted with him about maximizing damage and restocking ammo for our power weapons I tried to draw him out about his history as well. He told me he’d been rated an M6 before he’d left the Alliance. That was pretty impressive. My own N7 ranking was the highest you could get before they classified your entire existence and made you an O-Zero.

O0 meant that they’d mark your record KIA, deny you were ever born, and may eliminate any living relatives who would swear differently. A lot about the O0 program didn’t make sense. That wouldn’t have been a problem for me but the few other N7s I met were a bit concerned about walking that fine line in job performance: if you do too well you disappear forever and your mom gets axed but if you don’t do well enough you get busted down in rank or a court martial or you die from sucking at your job, any of which might kill your mother with grief, if I understood this family thing correctly.

Prompt Response: Anders in Song

We all know that, in the Dragon Age universe, Anders is not our tortured mage’s real name but a nickname based on his nationality. Whatever the powers-that-be at Bioware decide as far as accents go, the idea that people from the Anderfels have German accents has been bandied about the discussion forum and has stuck in my head as canon. Yet Anders does not have a German accent.

And thus, we come to the Pale Young Gentlemen and their song Fraulein. Despite the song title being a German word you’ll find no accent here, either. That’s rather too tenuous a connection to make this Anders’s theme song for the three years between Act 1 and Act 2, however. The secret lies in the lyrics.

If I could draw, I would make you a pretty picture. But I can't. And so I invite you, if you will, to picture Anders hanging out at The Hanged Man, watching Hawke and Isabela dancing on the tables. He’s been warning Hawke away from himself for a more than a year, now. This song is running through his head. He is, in fact, pining, as the chorus so clearly illustrates. The lyrics for the last verse of the song run thus:

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 15

After we returned to the Normandy, EDI explained that it would take a couple of days to crack the IFF and hook it up to the requisite systems. I reviewed the status of ship upgrades with Mordin, cleaned up a few errands around the galaxy, and pondered the fact that the only people to whom I wanted to say goodbye were all on this ship, except one. I was essentially preparing to be dead for good, something I'd never had a chance to do the first time.

I wrapped up every loose end I could, slashing my cash reserves down to the bone, and burned fuel and probes like mad to make sure I was ready. Jacob and I worked out weapon improvements, Garrus calibrated the main guns to an exactitude even Mordin would admire, and in general my crew did everything they could to make the SR-2 as ready as she could get. The only thing I couldn't bring myself to do was to respond to Kaidan's message. I felt like I owed him something more than the silent treatment after all we'd been to each other. But what could I write to him?

“Dear Kaidan, I appreciate your message and agree that we should talk if I live through the next few days. If I don't, thanks for the memories.” Nope.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 13

Betrayal and Temptation

When we entered the camp the disappointment at our being alone showed on every face. Even the Keeper could not keep her dashed hopes from showing as we approached and handed over the amulets of the slain hunters. We confirmed that we had killed the varterral and I asked why it had been killing the hunters.

“I do not know,” Marethari said sadly. “It has long lived in that cave and never before bothered members of our clan. Perhaps the elder spirits, now so restless atop Sundermount, share their agitation with the one at its roots.”

If even one so experienced and knowledgeable could not explain the trouble with an ancient power how could Merrill assume she knew how the eluvian would work? Before I could ask for the what tool we’d come to retrieve would do Merrill burst out, “Why does everyone fear me so, Keeper? What have you been telling them?”

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 14

Ooh, That's Gotta Hurt

“I thought you were dead,” he said, nearly giving me whiplash with the change in tone. “I loved you and you disappeared for two years and now here you are, a goon for Cerberus.” I don’t think I’d ever heard him sound so furious.

“I was dead,” I protested, foolish though I knew it sounded. How convincing could you be, telling the love of your life that you were a reanimated corpse? “And I’m not a goon, I just happen to be working with Cerberus. I…can’t explain right now.” I was mindful of the comm unit in the ear opposite the one that still tingled with Kaidan’s breath. Garrus tried to back me up but Kaidan cut him off with, “I should have known you’d be right there with her, Vakarian.”

What the hell did that mean? Was this for what he had apologized two minutes earlier? Before I could compose a response he turned on his heel and stalked back around the same corner. “I…but…” I said weakly. Grunt was holding Garrus back and staring at me as if to ask why badasses like us would let someone get away with talking to us that way. Obviously there was something more going on here. Yet again I was going to have to suck it up and keep going. I sighed and asked Joker to send the shuttle back down to us. “Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s go home.”

Prompt Response: Silence Gives Consent

Anders was a young man with an affinity for stone but even he found the windowless confines of the tower that housed the Circle of Magi oppressive. As far as he knew, the only openings outside of the enormous main doors were narrow slits circling the room at the very top. The rest of the walls were unbroken, smoothly dressed stone dry-fitted with impressive precision, except those around the basement that had been carved out of solid rock.

He’d lived in the tower for seven years and had passed his Harrowing, the final test required to retain his powers, a few months before. He’d hoped that the ritual would allow him to prove his trustworthiness but the Templars that guarded the mages for the Chantry still shadowed him. They seemed to take the one time he’d swum for freedom across Lake Callenhad just after he’d been taken from his family as a sign that he was a troublemaker and seven years’ worth of submission hadn’t been enough to dissuade them.

Tonight Anders intended to do something he’d never told anyone he could and escape the constant pressure of that distrust and surveillance. Templars patrolled the halls and checked the rooms of all but the most senior mages all through the night. But there was one place they never went.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 14

At least with Legion nominally on our side I could leave him alone with EDI. I trusted the AI to take care of itself for the time being, at least with a guard still posted nearby. I did arrange for someone to bring Legion something with which to clean itself. It looked awful and smelled worse.

It would be best for me to visit Tali before she heard about the geth's activation from someone else. No sooner had the elevator door opened on the Engineering level than Yeoman Chambers pinged me. "Tali wants to talk to you, Commander." I rounded the corner as she said it and the woman herself looked up at the sound.

"I'm already here, Chambers," I replied. Tali seemed agitated and I thought we could use some privacy. I hoped that no one had run to tell her about Legion. I gestured for her to follow and we headed up to the briefing room. "So, about that geth..." I began and proceeded to explain what had happened.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 12

Myths, Memories, and Mistakes

Viscount Dumar sent the bodies back to the Qunari compound with a letter explaining our suspicions and what he intended to do about them. With Petrice’s public denouncement of Varnel as the guilty party and so many of the flock dead or fled it turned out to be much harder than we’d thought to prove that she was behind the kidnapping. All we heard from the Arishok was stony silence.

The Grand Cleric was no more forthcoming than the Qunari leader. Though she admitted Petrice had been more and more furious in her condemnations of the foreign religion Elthina could not bring herself to admit that her recently-promoted sister of the cloth would lower herself so. With no clear proof Dumar decided it was pointless to attempt to bring Petrice to justice publicly. I made it a point to stop by the Chantry one evening I knew Sebastian was at The Hanged Man and let her know that she’d better watch her step.

The uneasy peace continued to hold, both sides aware that a third factor was agitating to cause conflict. We found plenty else to occupy our time while the Qunari stewed and the Viscount paced. The bandits and mercenaries outside the walls of the city didn’t care about religious tensions and the thieves inside were too desperate to concern themselves or were selfish enough to use it to their advantage.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 13

Mordin lived up to his reputation for innovation, thank heavens. The scatterbrain sang me a couple of show tunes while he readied a demonstration and explained things at length. And here I'd thought coffee the only delightfully bad habit that other species had picked up from Humans.

The gist of his solution involved armor and some sort of negation field that made us undetectable to the little bugs. The big ones would see us just fine, but there was only so much he could do with what we’d given him. I ordered the team to bring every piece of armor they owned to the lab. I had one more thing to do before we reached Horizon so I headed down to check on the baby.

He floated in his tank, eyes closed and head down. I recalled what Okeer had said, that this was a perfect specimen of the Krogan species, one who would defeat the genophage by ignoring it. I didn’t know what the hell that was supposed to mean, but I did know that I needed the brute strength and determination on my team. With any luck I wouldn’t have to shoot him and blow him out of the cargo doors. I certainly wasn’t going to let Cerberus have him for a toy.

Prompt Response: Relief

Though he knew what would happen, he knew what he and Justice had done and why, the actual explosion of the Chantry that towered over Kirkwall, symbolically spreading its shadow down to the very roots of the city, stunned Anders. He staggered over to a crate on wooden legs, falling onto it as his knees unhinged entirely.

It was one thing to discuss putting a bomb in the seat of religious power in Kirkwall, to rail about the abuses its denizens allowed and even encouraged and how they deserved to be made an example. It was quite another to see a building a thousand years old deconstruct itself in a matter of seconds, the clearly-magic light of the cause spearing through the roofs and walls.

Anders leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and fought not to pass out as he considered the sheer number of people he had just killed. Dozens of sisters and brothers lived there, needy of both the spiritual and financial stripe sought aid there, and only a few Templars regularly guarded the place. Though Justice had convinced him that killing them all in spectacular fashion would spark the rebellion that had fumed in Circles around Thedas for centuries, that mages would rise up against the oppression of a religion and its army to claim their own humanity once more, seeing it happen brought no thrill of victory, no sense of beginning.