Shaking my head, I turn away, only to have Sylas grab my arm immediately.
“Ilara, you can’t seriously-”
“Watch me,” I snap, scowling at him. Sighing at the disappointed look on his face, I soften my tone and place my hand over his. “I’m tired, and this is none of our concern. Just more political maneuvering that I want nothing to do with.”
“Trouble we don’t need,” Caleb agrees.
Sylas turns away from me without another word, drawing his sword as he approaches the two men at the end of the alley. Cursing under my breath, I follow grudgingly. I may not agree, but I’ll support him.
Sylas’ blade is at the man’s throat before he has time to notice they aren’t alone anymore. Beside me, Caleb crosses his arms, and we watch as Sylas intimidates the thug into immediate silence.
Not that I can blame him for being afraid. Sylas values self control and approaching situations calmly, but his quiet intensity is more than enough to convince me I’m lucky he likes me.
“The money,” Sylas demands, holding out his free hand.
“What do you say?” I wonder out loud, smirking at the man over Sylas’ shoulder. “One minute?”
Caleb snorts. “Too generous,” he says. “Thirty seconds.”
“W-what does that mean?” the man stammers, handing over the gold.
“A friendly bet on how much longer you’re going to live,” I say, grinning.
Caleb chuckles. “Was that it?” he asks innocently. “I was betting on how long before he wets himself.”
“Hmm…” I pretend to consider. “I want to change my bet. He’s going to get himself killed, but only after he wets himself.”
“Believe it or not, I’m the nicest one here,” Sylas says, releasing the man. “You breathe a word of this to anyone, and when I find you, I’ll let my friends take care of you.”
“Life expectancy less than ten seconds, in that case,” I say.
“Agreed,” Caleb answers with a smirk.
“I won’t say anything, I-”
“Leave,” Sylas cuts him off, grabbing him by the collar and shoving him away.
Waving my fingers at him as he stumbles, then breaks into a run, I watch until he disappears from sight.
Sylas holds the pouch of money out to Briall. “No good can come of making deals with those kinds of people.”
He takes it back, glancing uneasily between the three of us. “What do you want?” he asks, in lieu of thanking us.
“This is why I hate Tevinter,” I mutter, rolling my eyes. “We want nothing-”
“Information,” Sylas interrupts, surprising me. He glances at me, and I shelve my impatience for the moment. “In your dealings with your… associate we were just talking to, did you hear anything about a man named Jeremiah?”
Briall frowns in thought, tucking the money pouch out of sight into a deep pocket in his coat. “The name isn’t familiar,” he says, shaking his head.
Caleb strolls away, grumbling under his breath. “Waste of time.”
“Heed my friend’s warning,” I say, resisting the urge to sigh at Briall’s foolishness. “Go home.”
Thank the Maker Sylas follows me as I walk away. I’m tired, and I want nothing more to do with Briall and whatever political scheme he’s most likely trying to maneuver.
The sleep I manage to get at the inn is fitful, at best. I can’t shut my mind off long enough to relax.
The Silent Blades wouldn’t have followed Jeremiah if he’d simply had me killed. He had to frame me, destroying my name first. Had the woman I found been one of Jeremiah’s targets? Or just an acceptable casualty in having me arrested?
Had Jeremiah taken that woman’s life himself? How many innocents had he killed to secure his place in the Silent Blades?
All these thoughts are slowly driving me crazy, but what can I do? There’s nothing, but to keep moving forward. So I do my best to push aside the chaos in my heart and mind, and focus on finding Jeremiah.
The three of us split up outside the inn, each taking a different path through the city to see what we can turn up. I spend the better part of the day chatting with patrons at taverns, and subtly questioning merchants. Anyone he could have come into contact with, or made deals with. I keep my conversations casual, nothing too pushy or specific that could give away my purpose here.
All the while, I’m careful to avoid the one Silent Blade contact I know lives in Minrathous. She could believe us to be traitors as well, depending on whether Jeremiah approached her. I only pray we can escape detection long enough to find the sorry bastard.
The first day of searching passes without much progress, but I don’t let that slow me down. I know he isn’t going to be easy to find. He knows how to disappear.
On the second evening, I’m sitting in a tavern, chatting with patrons I’ve managed to get close to, and pretending to be drunk. Some of the shadier circles frequent this particular place, and several of those patrons are awfully talkative given the right amount of liquid incentive.
I glance at the small group of smugglers I’m sitting with over the edge of my tankard as a take a sip. I have a high tolerance for alcohol, but I don’t want to risk becoming clumsy. They’re all busily congratulating themselves on a successful venture, and I listen intently. Jeremiah has always had several contacts who were smugglers, and I’m hoping I’ll hear something useful from them.
I pretend to be interested in their business, asking leading questions here and there, and sharing fake stories of my own exploits in Ferelden.
“You should join us!” the woman to my left says, throwing an arm over my shoulder. “We could always use another sword.”
“Sounds good to me,” I say laughing. “I need the money right now anyway. Had a deal with this mercenary, but it fell through.”
“Damn mer-canaries,” the smuggler agrees, drawing out the last word to try not to slur it. Releasing me to down the rest of her drink, she nods decisively. “Can’t be trusted!”
“Agreed!” I say, taking another measured drink myself. “If I could find ‘im, I’d make ‘im give me what he promised.” I look over at her, raising a brow. “Don’t s’pose you’ve seen any new faces ‘round here lately?”
“No’n…” She giggles, slurring her words, and rests her cheek on her hand. “No one.”
Growing impatient, I finish off my drink. I’ve had enough of this for one night. “I should be going.”
“There’s jus’ that mannerm… magern-sir…” She laughs as if she’s just told the funniest joke in the history of jokes.
“Magister?” I say, grinning as I push away my empty tankard. I’m about to get up when she catches my wrist.
“Tha’s right!” she says, eyes wide. “She’s got a new mer-canary friend!”
Coincidence? Or is the Maker merely playing with me again?
“What did you say her name was?” I ask, trying to keep my tone casual.
“Karinn,” my new friend says cheerfully, happy to help. A name I’m not familiar with, but it reminds me of the burned letter in Jeremiah’s office, so I continue to listen. “She-”
“Maker, you want to get us killed?” another woman across the table snaps, interrupting us. Drunk or not, this one seems to take our conversation seriously. I’ll have to be careful with her. “Keep your voice down.”
“You afraid of ‘er?” I joke, laughing with the woman next to me. “I doubt she cares about us. I’m more worried ‘bout her mercenary friend.”
She glances around, leaning towards us a little and lowering her voice. “She’s one of the worst,” she says, apparently in the mood for some gossip, despite what she said. “Her slaves disappear quicker than anybody’s, and I’ve heard some of the other magisters are even afraid of her.”
I lean forward too, resting my forearms on the table. “What about her mercenary?”
The other lady shakes her head. “He’s not from here. Got his own thing in Ferelden. She just hired him for a job.”
I talk with them for another hour or so, getting what information I can about the magister’s possible involvement with Jeremiah without being too obvious. By the end of the night, however, it doesn’t really matter. Everyone else at the table is too far gone to pay too much attention to my interest in the subject, and I stay late into the evening.
I share what I’ve learned with Caleb and Sylas in the morning, planning our next move. We split up again, heading to different locations to learn what we can about Karinn.
This is both easier and harder than asking about Jeremiah. Everyone knows something about her, which is nice. Any suspicious questions about a magister could get us into serious trouble though, and this one sounds especially dangerous.
I’m not sure how long it takes me to notice. I’m so focused on not slipping up while trying to get information, it takes a while before that unsettling feeling of being watched really starts to set in.
At first I dismiss it, but if I’m not mistaken…
I move to another merchant stall, careful to keep the cloaked figure just at the peripheral of my vision. About twenty feet away, obviously trying to stay out of sight behind me, the figure moves as well. It’s troubling how close they’ve managed to get without me noticing.
Whoever it is, they aren’t very stealthy, which makes me all the more annoyed at myself. It’s clear from their stillness they’re not interacting with the merchants at all. They’ve paused just a little beside a table where various fabrics are on display, probably to obscure them more from my view if I happen to turn around.
My eyes roam over different stalls, barely hearing the merchants as they try to peddle me their wares. They think I’m interested as I pause to study some fine silk on one table. Some jewelry on another.
And so does the person following me.
Moving to the next stall, I ask the weapon merchant about the intricate scroll work along the blade of one of the daggers he’s offering, shifting it to catch the light. The blade looks more decorative than practical, and is so highly polished that I manage to catch the blurry reflection of my pursuer for just a moment.
Either careless, more perhaps just too cocky for their own good, they’ve begun to slowly close the distance between us.
Nodding my thanks to the merchant, I hand the dagger back and leisurely head off towards a nearby alley. As I’m about to duck into the first darkened doorway I see, another cloaked man steps out of the shadows ahead of me.
Dropping into a defensive stance, I immediately draw my short swords, backing towards one of the walls. I know my pursuer from the market isn’t far behind, and I don’t want my back to either of them. As I look over, the first one is already there, boxing me in between the two of them. I can tell from their builds that they’re men, but I can tell nothing else about them from their plain cloaks. Their hoods cast shadows across their features in the dingy alley, so I can’t really make out anything of their features either.
“And here I thought you were being sloppy,” I say, eyeing the two men.
“Karinn wants to meet with you,” the one that had stepped out of the shadows says.
I decide playing dumb may be for the best. “Karinn?”
“She knows you’re searching for Jeremiah,” the other man says. “She’s willing to help you with that, on the condition that you agree to meet with her.”
“Why does she want to meet me?” I ask warily, never dropping my guard for a second.
“You, and your companions,” the second man corrects me, pointedly ignoring the ‘why’ part of my question. He tosses a folded scrap of paper onto the ground, wisely deciding not to get too close to me. “You can find her here.”
Both men turn and leave in opposite directions, disappearing into the crowds at either end of the long, winding alley. Sheathing my swords, I grab the scrap of paper they left and head for the inn.
There’s no time to waste. If this magister knows we’re searching for Jeremiah, she could easily tell him at any time.
Nearing the inn, I see Caleb and Sylas talking in front of a shop just down the street. Catching Sylas’ eye, I signal him, and they both follow me into the inn, keeping their distance to avoid attracting too much attention to our group.
I go to my room, and don’t have long to wait before the others join me.
“What did you find?” Caleb demands the moment the door is safely locked behind them.
I hand them the paper. “Karinn sent two of her men after me.”
Sylas frowns, and I can tell he’s worried about me. “What happened?”
“They got me alone in an alley,” I admit, sighing in annoyance. “I noticed one of them, and thought I could ambush him, but he ended up herding me right where they wanted me. All they wanted was to pass this along though,” I say, gesturing to the paper. “They said she’d be willing to help us find Jeremiah if we meet with her.”
“It’s a trap,” Caleb says, scowling.
“Probably,” Sylas agrees. “But what choice do we have?”
“We need to find out what she knows,” I say, but I don’t like the idea.
We agree on a strategy, in case things turn bad, and a couple hours later I’m knocking on the intricately decorated front door of Karinn’s estate.
An elven servant shows us in, and just seeing the state she’s in disturbs and angers me. Her plain dress is clean, and her appearance is tidy, but the faint bruise on her cheek and still-healing cut on her lower lip speaks volumes to the type of mistress Karinn is. The servant is so stiff and skittish, it’s clear she’s terrified of doing anything to anger Karinn.
I’m mentally altering our strategy into a more violent version as the servant leads us to a closed door.
“Calm, lethallan,” Sylas whispers, and I know he’s probably saying it out loud to remind both of us.
She lets us into a large sitting room, and quietly closes the door behind us. I glance around uneasily, not liking the feel of the place. It’s expensively decorated, all gold and rose hues, but the entire place feels wrong somehow. Several comfortable-looking chairs and a large sofa are spaced out around the large room, all arranged to face towards the center. With early evening light streaming through the tall windows, it looks inviting.
But I know better than to relax. I’m on edge, and I know the others are as well.
The door opens again, and an elegant older human woman enters the room, her blood red mage robes swishing gently as she walks. It’s obvious from the way she carries herself that this is Karinn. She looks pleasant enough. Her dark gray hair has a few streaks of white here and there, fashioned to fall around her shoulders, and her hazel eyes are framed by smile lines.
There’s a definite coldness there, however, despite her appearance, that puts me on edge. I also haven’t missed the fact that she’s holding her staff.
“Welcome to my home,” she says, gesturing around vaguely before taking a seat in one of the chairs. She doesn’t seem to see us as a threat as she coolly looks each of us over in turn. “Wise of you not to ignore my invitation.”
“Wise of you to get to the point,” Caleb says pointedly, raising an eyebrow at Karinn.
“You know who we’re looking for,” I say, not liking how comfortable she seems. “If you’re offering to help us, I know it won’t be free. What do you want in exchange?”
She laughs at that, narrowing her eyes at me. “The only thing that really matters,” she says easily, idly lounging in her chair. “Power. And the necessary resources to keep that power once I have it.” She seems so sure of herself. So positive I’m going to give her what she wants. “Help me, and I’ll give you Jeremiah.”
“Why would you do that?” I ask, eyeing her warily. “Isn’t he working with you now?”
“More for than with,” she clarifies, and the cold smile that curves her lips gives me chills. “He’s become more trouble than he’s worth,” she says, and her pleasant expression hardens a little.
“He can’t get you the power you’re looking for?” Sylas asks, and even though his tone is without inflection, I can tell from his stiff posture that he’s disgusted.
“Oh, he has,” she says, tilting her head. “But now he seems to want it for himself.”
“What a shock,” Sylas mutters. “A dirty, back-stabbing mercenary acting exactly as you would expect.”
“Which is why I want you to kill him,” she says as easily as if she were asking for a glass of water. “He knows too much about my personal matters, and must pay for crossing me.”
“You want us to silence him for you?” I ask, not sure how I feel about this. I don’t agree with her motives at all, and the details of her dealings with Jeremiah concern me… but to have Jeremiah finally within my grasp. To possibly clear my name, and see justice served…
“Precisely,” she says, watching me closely.
“Why not do this yourself?” Caleb asks. He doesn’t seem to be struggling with this situation as much as I am.
“Too messy,” she says, frowning delicately. “Too much potential for it to lead back to me, and raise questions about his work for me.” She glances at the others, but her speculative gaze always returns to me. “But, as you said, we should get to the point. Do you want my help or not?”
“It’s not worth it,” Sylas whispers beside me, the disgust plain in his tone.
“We have him!” Caleb growls under his breath. “She wants the same thing we do.”
“No,” Sylas says, glaring at the other man. “She wants him dead, but not for the same reasons.”
I know both of them have a point. This kind of decision would have been so easy before.
But all I can think of is Jeremiah’s betrayal.
Of me and the Silent Blades.
Of the innocent people he was supposed to be protecting with the Silent Blades.
My personal feelings only confuse the issue more and more. That burning anger is building in my chest again, and my mind is racing as I consider her words.
Karinn smiles at me knowingly, as if she can read the struggle going on inside me.
Is it really worth it if it means allying myself with someone like her?
(What do you choose?)
~ I have to do this. It’s the only way to give Jeremiah the payback he so richly deserves. (3c: A Dangerous Ally)
~ No, I can’t trade one evil for another. Whatever Jeremiah helped her with can’t be good. (3d: Hunting a Predator)
For easy navigation, and do-overs. ~ DA FF: Blades (Chapter Master Post)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lore, etc. are the property of BioWare, and their respective writers. The only things that are mine are the original characters and plot of this story – DA FF: Blades. I am in no way associated with BioWare. No copyright infringement is intended. This is for entertainment purposes only.