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[personal profile] igetthatalot
You know, there are some days when I can't help regretting ever getting out of bed in the first place. No, I'm not talking about hangovers. If I was, you'd know. This is something else- not that I wouldn't mind getting started on a hangover in the first place.

Why, thank you. I had no idea they even had Honnleath brews in the storerooms here.

Now, where was I... Oh, yes. All of this started when Hawke and her sister and a mutual friend of ours- if you haven't heard of Isabela, I feel sorry for you, friend- and I were making our way through the foothills outside of Kirkwall. A journey for which, I assure you, we had perfectly respectable reasons. The place may be crawling with apostates and giant spiders and other unsociable types galore, but we were doing our civic duty and tidying up the place a bit. You know, making the world a little safer for the everyday traveler and merchant.

A fact which I bring up because when we reached the area called Dead Man's Pass, we found exactly that. The merchant part, specifically. A fellow dwarf, as it happens. And, I suppose, the dead man part as well, given how badly the fellow's guards were being torn apart by the giant spiders. I'll tell you, my friend, those things aren't something you forget. Never seen them? Count yourself lucky. They've got fangs like nothing in the world, and smell like something death itself wouldn't want to cross paths with. And they've got the speed to back it up, too, as the humans found out the hard way. Those things were ripping the guards limb from limb and looking for more when we arrived.

At which point, well. Generally as far as magic goes, I prefer to give it a wide berth and I expect the same courtesy in return. Dwarf, after all. But I'll tell you, when those spiders swung around our way, I don't think I've ever been so glad to be traveling with a mage. That girl practically lit up with the stuff, and the next thing you know those spiders found themselves so stuck in whatever spell it was she threw at them that a crippled, half-blind, centenarian human could dance rings around them. Not that they didn't keep trying to attack us, but between what Hawke did with her daggers, what Isabela did with her daggers, and Bianca here- well, let's just say that it was all over for the spiders already, and they just hadn't figured out it was time to lie down and die yet.

When the spell finally died away and the spiders had stopped twitching, the only things left standing were us and the dwarf. Who, I might note, was looking pretty much as you'd expect a man who'd just had a near miss with death to look, but at least didn't seem to be bleeding. "The danger is past," Hawke told him. "Are you all right?"

Well, he snorted, and as I recall, he kicked the nearest corpse. "No thanks to this lot," he said. "Can't get a decent blade at a bargain any more." Now, I've never been the most reverent man in the world, but that comes across to me as pretty poor taste. So does following it up with, "You, though. You're what a man needs- a skilled enthusiast."

I suppose it's a compliment, but really. Hawke just gave him the coolest look you can imagine and said, "Your mess just picked me up on the way by."

"Still," the dwarf said, "better than what I had. Look, the name's Javaris Tintop. I need someone to help pacify the Qunari."

Pretty tall order from somebody you only just met, eh? I had a feeling he wasn't talking about singing them a lullaby.

"Those horn-heads in Kirkwall have a powder," he went on. "That explodes. And it's just dust- no lyrium, no demons. Anyone can use it."

Isabela took a moment away from tidying up her blades to note, "He's right. That stuff's why no sane captain will take on one of their ships without some sort of trick up their sleeve."

"Sounds like magic," Hawke said, but Javaris just shook his head. "Did they offer this to you? I doubt they were eager to sell."

"That Arishok of theirs said I wasn't worthy," Javaris said. "Told me only their outcasts, the Tal-Vashoth, were that mercenary. I said, 'great, I'll go talk to them. Didn't go over well. But, it made me think- maybe he'll bargain if I get rid of something that bothers them more than, well, me."

"The Tal-Vashoth, you mean," Hawke said, and Javaris nodded. "The Tal-Vashoth," he told her. "Are you up for some paid hunting?"

Now, understand, Hawke wasn't exactly swimming in coin at the time. A little bit of the opposite, in fact. On the other hand, she's anything but stupid, and Javaris' story sounded about as reliable as a paper sword. "Your people must have something like that already," she said.

Javaris shrugged. "Small things, shaped to crack faults, not shatter the earth," he said. "Plus they're mostly lyrium. Expensive, poisonous, the Chantry controls it topside, the glow makes you a target. Problem after problem."

All valid points, to be fair. Then again, Javaris wasn't exactly covering himself in trustworthiness at this point. Still, Hawke was thinking several steps ahead, and more for her benefit than his, which is the sign of a healthy thinker. "I suppose there could be a reward for those Tal-Vashoth," she said.

"As long as you do it, I'm happy," Javaris said. "Now, best I could figure, they're up the Wounded Coast, a whole camp of them. Take their heads off and meet me at the Qunari compound in Kirkwall. Get this right, and we'll be richly rewarded. Richly!"

And that was pretty much the end of that, since Javaris went straight to rifling through his dead guards' pockets. Hawke shook her head and we kept moving, but I distinctly remember her saying, "I can't say I enjoy the prospect of working with that man."

Well, Hawke isn't the kind of person who sits around on her duff waiting for the right moment to pursue a way out of an unpleasant situation. We were already on the road; why not take a turn for the coast and head downhill instead of up? Simple enough, and probably a lot less prone to spider attacks. True, it meant running into all kinds of nests of human outlaws, but- well. When you're already hunting one sort of outlaw for a reward, another kind isn't really that much of a change of pace. For Hawke, those raiding bands were nothing but a warm-up. And she was plenty warmed up by the time we found the... you know, I don't know what to call him. 'Renegade Tal-Vashoth' doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, since Tal-Vashoth are renegades to begin with. He was standing at the base of a long, narrow trail like a guard, but when he saw us coming all he did was hold up a hand and call out, "No further, human! Tal-Vashoth control these passages." Didn't draw his weapon or anything.

Hawke, of course, responded exactlly as you'd respect. Which is to say she told him, "I am more than capable of meeting any threat." As if that were ever in doubt.

"So I see," the big bronze fellow said, and I'll tell you, he almost sounded apologetic. Not the sort of thing you expect from an oxman. "I expected to warn off a caravan, not a well-equipped tracker. The path ahead is littered with my kind. If you are as skilled as you look, it would please me if you killed them."

I'm dead serious. That's exactly what he said. 'It would please me if you killed them.'

Well, once Hawke got her eyebrows out of her hairline, she asked him if he'd really turned his back on his kin. And wouldn't you know it, our new-found friend nodded. "Yes, for a second time," he said. "I did not like my- role- so I left the Qun. I do not wish to be a murdering thief, so I left these Tal-Vashoth to warn their victims. You are no victim, so now I will leave."

Wasn't that interesting?

Hawke asked him just what she could expect- not that she trusted him, exactly, but it was worth trying. He said, "They are revelling in chaos. It is a wretched kind of freedom. I still need order, even if I insult the core of the Qun by selling my honor as a mercenary."

"Mercenary?" said Hawke, but, well, he wasn't that mercenary; he wouldn't go after the others with his own hand. Just with ours. There was a lot of that going around, it seemed like. The last thing he said to us was, "You have my word of caution, human. Heed it, or do not." And then he just up and walked off, just like that.

As long as I live, I'll never understand the Qunari.

Not that it matters, mind you. We had our target's location, and we had confirmation that they were repulsive enough that even some of their own members couldn't stand them. If that wasn't enough to coax a proper reward out of the Arishok, what was? Hawke got her daggers ready, I made sure Bianca was loaded and ready to go, and we headed off down the path.

I'll tell you, my friend, the Qunari who wind up outcasts are an unpleasant bunch. I don't know if that's why they leave, or if they get that way once they're off their Qun's leash, or what. All I know is we spent the next several hours up to our eyeballs in battle against the worst bunch of vicious, foul-tempered oxmen I've seen in a long, long time. Both on the surface and in the caverns nearby. They might not have been part of the Qun any more, but they had enough sense to make themselves at home in places they could properly fortify. That was probably my least favorite part of the whole thing- I don't mind battle, never have, but Maker's breath do I hate being underground.

What? I'm not that kind of dwarf.

Anyway, we slugged our way through, leaving the walls practically painted with Tal-Vashoth blood. It would've gone faster if it weren't for the traps they'd set along the way, just in case anyone ever showed up to call them out for what they'd done. When we finally made it to the cave their leader had holed up in, there were probably at least as many of them in there as we'd already run into on our way down, and just the four of us and the dog. So, pretty much an even fight. At least until that blasted Qunari mage came along- you didn't know? They've got mages. They keep them in collars and chains and cut out their tongues, but they're out there. And they pack a mean punch, too. Bethany had her hands full countering that one's spells and not getting cut down in the process. We all did. But in the end there wasn't a single one of those Tal-Vashoth left standing, magic or no, so we swept over the remains of the place and took pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down. If there wasn't a reward from the Arishok, we figured we were at least entitled to that much.

When we made it back to Kirkwall, Isabela remembered an errand she had to run and suddenly left us. At least, that's what she said, but I saw her eyeing a particularly... mm, strapping... example of a sailor haggling at one of the market stalls just before she spoke up. What can I say? The woman's an opportunist. She went her way and we went ours, which involved Hawke going right up to the guard at the gate to the Qunari compound and telling him "Let me pass, I have business with the dwarf Javaris and your Arishok" before he could so much as open his mouth. Which got her a look- you know the one, if you've ever met Qunari- and a comment of, "The short mouth, yes. Enter if you must, basra."

One day I'm going to ask somebody what that word means.

Anyway, we headed on in and over to where Javaris was waiting for an audience with the Arishok. He saw us coming and told the Qunari guards, "My right hand arrives! Summon your Arishok- the bargain is done." And as soon as the guard turned away he said, "About time you showed. I've been here for hours."

Now, is that any way to treat somebody who's just done all your dirty work for you? And before anyone's been paid, either. There's no manners in this world any more.

Fortunately, the Arishok arrived before Javaris could open his mouth again. Let me tell you, if you've never seen him, he cuts one hell of a figure even for a Qunari. The man's huge even by his race's standards, and the horns on him would put wild oxen to shame. Throw in the armor he was wearing and it was like seeing a castle wall sit down in the audience chair. He looked at us, and then he looked at Javaris, and he didn't say one single word.

Which, naturally, set Javaris off. Some men just can't keep their mouths shut under pressure. "I'm here to report that your hated Tal-Vashoth were felled one and all," he said. "Right? Yes? Yes, they were. So! I'm ready to open negotiations. For the explosive powder. As we agreed."

The Arishok looked at him again. Ever see the look on a jeweler's face when he screws his loupe in and finds that the stone he's been handed isn't so much a slightly off-colored diamond as a very badly doctored piece of quartz? It was that kind of a look. You knew what was coming the instant it started, if you had any sense at all, but I can't say Javaris was a sensible kind of man. A sensible man wouldn't've been shocked when that face said, "No."

And a sensible man would not have turned to Hawke and whispered, "He's not getting it! Talk to him, make him understand!"

I'm surprised Hawke managed not to roll her eyes, frankly. She did turn to the Arishok, though, and she said, "I'd heard Qunari don't abandon their debts. May I ask for clarification from the Arishok, please?"

"I have a growing lack of disgust for you," the big fellow answered, leaning forward with his hands on his knees. "The dwarf imagined the deal for the gaatlok. He invented a task to prove his worth, when he has none."

"So there was no bargain to begin with," said Hawke. "I see." And she gave Javaris a pretty hard look of her own.

"If you faced Tal-Vashoth, he is not worthy of dying to you, as he was not worthy of dying to them," the Arishok said. Guess he must've assumed the worst from Hawke's look. Can't say I blame him for that. After what we'd been through, she was looking a little murderous. "Let him live. And leave."

"You'd better take this opportunity to go, Javaris," said Hawke. Polite enough, but with real steel behind the words.

Which, of course, set my erstwhile countryman to sputtering. "But- he has to sell- it's a product! People want it!"

"There is no profit in empowering those not of the Qun," the Arishok told him. "The means of creating the gaatlok is ours alone. It shall be dispensed only to our enemies, in the traditional manner."

"You," said Javaris, "are a frustrating people. And you're fired." That was to Hawke, of course. "Sodding bunch of oxmen and dog lords. The whole lot, breathing smoke. Bah!"

He stomped out, but the Arishok turned to Hawke and said, "You will leave as well, human. There's no more coin for you here."

And that... was pretty much that. A day spent running all over the place outside the city on an errand from someone who practically makes me ashamed to be a dwarf, one that only barely paid for itself in terms of loot, given how much we spent in healing ourselves up afterwards, and not a hair of reward in sight. I'll tell you, if I'd just had the sense to stay home and work on my idea for a romance serial, I'd have come out ahead in the end.

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Varric Tethras

November 2015

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