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.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 13

Thane was as slow and thoughtful in kissing me as he was in so much else. I luxuriated in the feel of his mouth on mine. But when my hands began to wander too far afield he stopped me. "Siha, are you sure?" he asked. I glanced up at him, prepared to laugh, but his face stopped me. He looked concerned, tentative. I ran my finger across his lower lip, giving myself a moment to seriously consider the question. The hell of it was that I couldn't, as much as I wanted to, say yes.

I heaved a massive sigh. "No." Thane knew me too well. I may have decided to put Kaidan on the back burner, if not in the fridge entirely, but that didn't mean that I had gotten over him. They say the best way to do that was to get under someone else but it was still too soon. I wrapped my arms around Thane again and snuggled in close. As badly as I wanted to be with him I simply wasn't ready. "I seem to spend half my time thanking you, Thane," I said, "right after I apologize."

He held me close and I lay still, listening to his heartbeat and his not-quite-right breathing. "We need not rush," he said calmly. "This will suffice for now."

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 11

The Qun Demands

Happily—or not, actually, as it made him furious—the Arishok already knew of Petrice’s prior misdeeds and did not doubt her involvement. That said rather a lot about his spy network considering how tightly the giants kept to themselves and how very noticeable they were among the human population. In the only display of emotion I’d ever seen from one of his race, the Qunari leader raged about the chaos that surrounded the compound.

The trap he’d set had been intended to catch the thief they had been chasing through the storm that had shipwrecked them outside Kirkwall four years earlier. They could not return home without the loot and the one that had stolen it. Now this elf and her shadowy supporter were inciting the citizenry against the Qunari as punishment for accepting converts from the human and elven residents of the city and still they could not leave.

Tidbit Tuesday: Betting on Myself

I came home, damp from a drizzly afternoon of battling slave traders along the Wounded Coast, to find the Prince-in-Exile of Starkhaven standing near the fire talking to my dog.

Mabari war hounds are widely known for their ability to understand what is said to them and obey complex commands but not for their sparkling wit. It was getting a little ridiculous how often I found one of my friends chatting with him of an evening. If they hadn’t often stayed for a drink and a game of cards I might have started to think they liked him better.

Prince Vael’s swept-back hair still sparkled from the light rain, showing he hadn’t been here long. His back was to the door and he hadn’t heard me enter. I kicked off my boots, wincing at the noise their mailed tips made in the corner, while I loosened or removed what armor I could without being thoroughly indecent. Then I stepped into the room, pretending to be preoccupied with a stubborn buckle, and bumped lightly into his back.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 12

Good, Clean Fun

I established the tank with EDI’s assurances that it would sustain the hulking infant for the time being. No sooner had I finished than Joker told me that TIM wanted to chat about something so I made my way up to the briefing room where a holo chamber beamed me to wherever he sat. I seriously wondered if he wasn’t stashed somewhere on the ship, quantum entanglement explanations be damned, considering the nigh-instantaneous nature of the system no matter where in the galaxy I might be but I figured he wouldn’t really put himself in direct danger. That was for those he considered inferiors, like me. Damn, I hated him.

He popped up in his wacky room, the only smoker in a four-system area, acting suave. Sorry, TIM darlin’, but you’re trying too hard. I rolled my eyes while he had his back to me then I gave him an earful about how useless his “intelligence” network was in compiling the so-called dossiers. I would happily forgo details of gory exploits if it would get me information on basic things like gender, current employer, and the likelihood that they’d be dead before I got there. I may be playing nice but he’d hardly expect me to be a pushover, particularly when he’d endangered my team.

Prompt Response: Laundry Day

The sun had woken Hawke a couple of hours earlier, shining through the window as it rose. Anders slept on, exhausted by the events of the past few days. She’d left him there, quietly dressing and gathering some things that she took out to be cleaned.

After she’d dropped them off with a laundress she returned, stopping in her kitchen to grab some bread and cheese for later. Not even Bodahn’s attempts to feed her a hot breakfast could distract her from getting back to her bedchamber as quickly as possible.

When she came back in she found him still curled in the blankets, one thin arm flung out to his right where she’d been sleeping. His hair had fallen across his forehead, having been released from its usual haphazard confinement, and she smiled at the contentment on his face before turning to see to the rest of the mess.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 12

The farther we got from the drifting Reaper the less I felt like my helmet was the only thing keeping my head from exploding. I pulled myself together for the debriefing and considered with my crew the implications of bringing a functioning geth on board. Everyone had felt the same presence I had to some degree but no one seemed as concerned. Had I been singled out, was I more sensitive or vulnerable to indoctrination than the rest of my crew? The question ate away at me as we discussed the installation of the friend or foe signal.

Regardless of the dangers we couldn't go after the Collectors until the Omega relay would talk to our ship. Finally everyone seemed done rehashing the same questions. Jack, Thane, and I headed to the med bay to get checked out by Dr. Chakwas. While the husks didn't fire weapons they did, from time to time, explode. The three of us had been beaten badly and sustained bruises and burns everywhere.

The doc checked us out, treated the worst of our injuries, and gave us painkillers with strict instructions to rest for several hours. Jack threw on her clothes and stalked off to her cubby below Engineering. Thane emerged from behind the screen where Chakwas had been treating him buttoning his jacket as he walked.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 10

Like Déjà vu All Over Again

Petrice was, with the help of her pet Templar, busily erasing every trace she’d ever been in Lowtown. Being a sporting soul I spoke to her before the planned shield back-hand. I was stunned by the venom in her voice as she attempted to explain why she’d laid such a trap. She seemed to think that our deaths at the hands of the Qunari would have caused an uprising and that the people of Kirkwall would turn the godless heathens out of the city, despite the disdain or disgust with which most of the citizens regarded us refugees and outsiders.

In the face of such delusion I couldn’t bring myself to actually strike her. Clearly she had problems that the Maker alone could fix, all of them in her head. I made a mental note to ask Sebastian about her and then ordered her to get out of Lowtown and not return. Finally, the rest of us went to get those drinks. We’d well earned them by then, nearly dawn or not.

That was the sum total of my experience with the Qunari before I travelled to the Deep Roads, three accidental encounters, only one of them with the Arishok. So you can imagine my surprise when I received, at the end of those three years of relative leisure, a summons from Viscount Dumar who proceeded to tell me that the Arishok had specifically requested my presence for an unspecified reason. What had I done to draw his attention beyond killing other Qunari? I could only spread my hands in confusion when the viscount asked.

Tidbit Tuesday: A Place Among Friends

The young man emerged, blinking in the sudden light, and spied his father down the landing platform standing at parade rest, as casual as he ever got. Both men ran a hand over the wavy black hair they shared and froze when they realized how the gestures mirrored one another. Kaidan hadn't realized that he'd picked up the habit from his old man. The two laughed and came together for a firm handshake.

The Alenko men had never been close. Between his father's frequent absences on Alliance business and his own physical struggles with the effects of his burgeoning biotic powers as a child Kaidan had never gotten to know him well. Though he'd missed his mother dreadfully when he'd gone to Brain Camp at the age of fourteen he'd been relieved to be away from the near-stranger who had months before moved the family to his new post Earthside in Canada.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 11

And Baby Makes Three

Garrus, Jack, and I made our way back to the Normandy, leaving Joker to do whatever it was that he did to get aboard when no one was looking. He must have some secret cloaking abilities because he turned up in his seat without anyone being able to say how or when he arrived. At times I suspected Cerberus had installed a secret passage between the bridge and his bunk. No one wanted to know how he relieved himself considering how rarely he was out of that seat while on duty. I mean, would you ask him how he peed without ever leaving his leather chair? I left calls of nature between him and EDI, hopefully not literally.

I delivered the goodies I’d picked up on the Citadel to muster morale and loyalty among the crew. As I’d be relying on them for the foreseeable future I wanted to make sure they had no reason to distrust me or sabotage my ship. Donnelly in Engineering was excessively grateful, not at all to my surprise, but I let him down as easily as I could while holding down my lunch. Sure, he was attractive, but he came on awfully strong.

While meandering around the bowels of the ship I was reminded of another piece of waste that I’d forgotten: Zaeed still occupied his spot by the trash compactor. As we’d already left dock I resolved to deal with him on our next vaguely-civilized stop. He’d not actually performed any service other than riding around the galaxy and eating my food so I hoped he wouldn’t insist on my completing the agreed mission before he’d leave. I’d hate to have to jettison a cube of bounty hunter regardless of how convenient the machinery to his bunk.

Prompt Response: Misguided

Anders wandered aimlessly around his clinic, the afternoon's events weighing heavily on his mind. The brief surge of courage that had allowed him to tell Hawke how he felt, to finally kiss that tempting mouth, had abated and left him terrified.

Justice had clamored at him for hours, telling him that they had more important considerations than his libido. As a conscience, the spirit inside him was a harsh taskmaster. As a sympathetic friend it had a good point.

Yet how many hours have I wasted mooning about over her? Anders thought. If she truly desires this surely being with her will help me focus...after. Justice was having none of that rationalization. On most topics it prevailed, the fire of its belief and the plain fact that its very existence was dedicated to right and truth giving it the edge in every argument. Anders sometimes bitterly regretted his decision to give his exiled friend a home within his own body. This was one of those times.

Frustrating Fridays: Frustrations, Chapter 11

I stayed at Vigil’s Keep long enough to put things together again. Anders wandered off one day with no explanation. He’d been increasingly strange since we’d returned to the stronghold and spent most of his time alone. I was sad he had left without even a farewell but hoped he could find happiness somewhere. He’d seemed to take the loss of Justice especially hard so perhaps a place that reminded him less of the spirit that had become our friend would do him some good.

A messenger sent with a report to Denerim returned to say that the king had not yet returned from whatever trouble he’d gone to the Bannorn to address. I knew that Alistair fought with Bann Teagan at his side and that the pair of them would be just fine. With nothing more to hold me on the surface at long last I turned my feet to my underground kingdom.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 11

If I'd had any doubts about the privacy of my conversations with Thane they were proven over the coming days. It started with a comment from Joker when I was giving him the coordinates for the theoretically-derelict Reaper vessel. The Illusive Man had thoughtfully decided to share the information that he had sent a team to investigate months earlier and that they'd stopped sending reports and responding to messages. I headed to the bridge to watch the jump.

"You and the green guy, hunh?" asked Joker. He'd been friends with Kaidan and I wondered how badly this conversation was about to go. Joker must have seen something on my face because for once he didn't crack any jokes.

"Look," he said, "I saw what happened on Horizon and I know it's been hard on you. Go for it, Commander. At least one of us should be getting some on this ship. I kinda figured it was my turn after you and the lieutenant but you beat me to the punch."

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 9

It's a Trick: Get an Axe

In telling of the Qunari earlier I find myself to have been disingenuous, another of Varric’s influences. I did, in fact, have rather more to do with them than ogling their half-nude forms on occasion. The sorts of encounters we had with their race were typical examples of life in Kirkwall for us.

While still gathering the coin to buy into Bartrand’s Deep Roads expedition we’d killed off some bandits that attacked us on one of the many paths that wound up from the city into the surrounding hills. A weasel of a dwarf named Jevaris Tintop, whom we thought we had been rescuing, promptly asked us to assume the job for which he’d hired the men that now lay dead around his feet. He promised us a share of his profits if we would kill the Tal-Vashoth, as Qunari that left the religion were called, to show his good faith to the leader of the still-faithful.

The rebels had camped north, up the Wounded Coast. Apparently Jevaris would get some secret formula for an explosive in return for their elimination, something powerful that would be in demand among the Coterie factions that controlled the caverns and passages, collectively known as the undercity, that riddled the hill on which Kirkwall was built. I needed the sovereigns so we did as he asked and then accompanied him to the Qunari compound to claim his reward.