“Why?” Caleb grumbles beside me, picking the lock to the back door of Karinn’s estate. “Why do I follow you into these situations?”
“For the money, usually,” Sylas says, sighing. “It couldn’t possibly be about doing the right thing.”
“Your disapproval hurts,” Caleb mutters, glancing up at him. “Truly, how can I go on when it’s your good opinion I live for? Excuse me while I throw myself on your sword.”
“Quiet,” I whisper, glaring at the two of them. It’s late, well past midnight, and no light shines from inside. Briall had told us Karinn won’t be home tonight. Even so, we can’t risk making too much noise. “If we’re going to do this, we need to be careful.”
The others fall silent, and I hear a soft click as Caleb unlocks the door, then carefully opens it. Sneaking inside is surprisingly easy, and it makes me wonder again if this could all be an elaborate trap of some sort.
I glance around uneasily as we make our way through darkened rooms and wide hallways, not liking the feel of the place. It’s expensively decorated, with intricate sconces along the walls, pretty paintings, and little baubles placed on tables and shelves, but the entire place feels wrong somehow.
We enter what looks to be a study, high bookshelves lining the walls on either side, and I head straight for the ornately carved desk at the far end. Moonlight streams through the tall windows, lending me extra light to pick the locks on the drawers. As Sylas and Caleb busy themselves looking through ledgers, I hurriedly search for clues.
Financial papers. Old, faded correspondences with another magister, from over a decade ago. They were signed simply with a ‘D’ at the bottom of the pages, and seemed to be about some kind of magical experimentations. Blood magic, something about lyrium tattoos, and the worst kind of atrocities committed in the name of power.
I feel a chill looking at the damning letters. It looks like I’ll be leaving something for the Silent Blades contact at least, if I find nothing else of interest here.
I notice a reference that catches my attention as I’m skimming over them. I quietly call the others over, and begin reading a section of the partially written letter out loud.
“‘I have contracted a mercenary named Jeremiah to find the relic. Perhaps their organization can be of further use,’” I read, frowning down at the page. Already agreed upon targets were listed that Jeremy would be eliminating.
“We’ve got him,” Sylas says.
“‘Where the fools that came before were once cast out, I will be the one to find a way back in…’” I frown, reading the last line. The rest is unfinished, but we have enough now to expose Jeremiah.
“Let’s go,” Caleb says, heading for the door.
“We have to search for information on Vaellen,” Sylas reminds him, grabbing his arm.
“We did, and there was nothing.” Caleb shrugs his hand off. “We’re not exactly invited guests. Staying here all night looking around isn’t an option.”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. Folding the letters, I tuck them inside my cloak and go to the bookshelves. Scanning over the spines of the ledgers, I hope something, anything, will jump out at me. “There must be something here. Some evidence that she has Vaellen. Another letter, or some research, or something.”
Caleb grumbles, glancing out into the hallway. “This is a mistake,” he says, keeping his voice low.
“It’ll go faster if you help,” Sylas says pointedly, raising an eyebrow as he grabs another ledger.
Those letters are heavy in my cloak as I continue to search. I know I’m missing something. Precious minutes pass, and I feel the pressure building. The longer we stay, the greater the risk. Any minute a servant could pass by, or the magister herself, returning home unexpectedly.
As Caleb mutters about us dying in horrible ways, flipping through more correspondence with obvious resentment, I pause in front of the next bookcase, my gaze resting on one title in particular. It’s a book on the Black City.
Where the fools that came before were once cast out…
I slide my fingers over the top of the book, trying to pull it out, but feel a gentle resistance. I can’t see it, but I recognize the subtle tension of the mechanism behind the fake book. As I’m about to trigger it, I hear a rumbling behind me, and Caleb cursing.
There, in the middle of the room, a swirling black vortex is slowly opening in the floor, a thick, oily smoke leaking out like deadly vines reaching for us.
“A demon,” Sylas says, drawing his sword.
I draw my own swords, my pulse picking up. There’s little I hate more than demons. I’ve seen so many since the conflict in Kirkwall, and it’s only getting worse.
“It’s that damn dreamer’s doing,” Caleb says, nocking an arrow into his bow.
“We don’t know that,” Sylas says.
A claw-like hand, with long, gnarled fingers, is the first thing I see, reaching out of the ground. Then glowing eyes, and another hand.
Its waxy, twisted visage is horrifying as it frees itself from the vortex. I rush forward, after Sylas, slicing with both blades and swinging around behind the demon.
It roars, swiping at Sylas and knocking him back into one of the shelves. I leap back as it turns on me and lunges forward. One of Caleb’s arrows whizzes by, striking the demon squarely in the chest.
It’s slowed down, but not nearly enough. It leaps at me again, its claws slashing into my arm before I can block it, and I stumble. Two more arrows strike it, and it’s pushed back.
I roll forward before it can recover from the impacts, staying low to thrust both of my blades up into its chest. Sylas charges forward again, taking its head off with a single powerful swing from behind.
I back away quickly, pulling my swords free as I try to catch my breath, and the demon falls to the ground. My arm is killing me, and I glance down to see blood staining my armor.
“This is too much,” Caleb says, still clutching his bow. “We’re getting in the middle of something we shouldn’t.”
“Probably,” I admit, going back to the bookshelf. “But there’s no turning back now.”
Caleb curses, checking the hall again, and Sylas stands ready beside me as I pull on the book. There’s a low, grating kind of sound, and the bookshelf in front of me begins to open away from the wall. There’s a narrow doorway behind it, just wide enough for us to pass through.
Stone steps take us down, the way lit by dozens of candles in alcoves along the walls. I keep my swords ready, and we move as silently as possible. Reaching the bottom, it takes my eyes a moment to adjust to the dim, dungeon-like room we find.
It looks like it’s used as a kind of laboratory. There are tables littered with research, notes, and stands of glowing vials. Off to the left side, there’s a blood-stained altar of some kind that I don’t want to get anywhere near.
“Ilara…” I hear Sylas say. Looking over, I notice the other two are focused on some point on the opposite side of the room.
Following their gazes, I feel something cold and hard grip my chest at what I see.
I see a human man, lying in what looks like a jail cell, half shrouded in shadows, and I somehow know this has to be Vaellen. The shape of his face reminds me strongly of Briall. His plain linen shirt and pants are ragged and dirty, and he’s barefoot, sleeping on his side on a filthy pile of blankets. His shoulder length black hair is so tangled and stringy, it’s clear he hasn’t been offered the option of bathing in a long time.
He slowly opens pale eyes, seemingly unsurprised to see me. For some reason, I feel like I can’t break away from his stare. It’s so cold and detached. Lifeless.
I think all of us are so shocked by his appearance that none of us are able to move for a second.
“Great. He’s already been made tranquil,” Caleb finally says, loud enough for the man in the cell to hear. “Let’s get this over with. The way he’s looking at me is disturbing.”
Sylas is the first to step forward, muttering a low warning to Caleb as he passes us. “He’s being kept like an animal. Tranquil or not, don’t further insult him by talking like he isn’t in the room.”
I don’t want to say it out loud, but I feel a chill as I step closer to the man’s cell. It’s like icy fingers are reaching inside my stomach and squeezing. I feel shaken looking at him, and I don’t know why. An anxious kind of awareness is skittering its way up my spine. A survival instinct telling me I should keep my distance.
The man sits up slowly, as though his body aches, and doesn’t bother to stand.
“Are you Vaellen?” I ask, stepping closer to the bars than I’d like.
“Have you come to kill me?” he asks in a low voice, sounding far too tired to be tranquil. There’s no fear in his tone, however. No anger, or even resentment, over the situation he’s in.
I remember what Briall said. That Karinn has had this man since he was a boy. Ten years have passed by now. How bad must it have been that he doesn’t seem to care if he lives or dies?
I’m not really sure what to say, so I go with the truth. “I’m here to take you back to your grandfather.”
I hear Sylas somewhere behind me, rifling through papers and moving things around as he searches, but I still can’t look away from the man. There’s something haunting and sad about him.
After a moment, Sylas returns with a ring of keys and approaches the cell.
Vaellen holds up a hand. “If I leave this cell, Karinn will know you’ve taken me.” He rises slowly to his feet, and walks towards me, not breaking eye contact, and I realize his eyes are so pale because they’re an odd silvery-blue color I’ve never seen before. “If you want to risk taking me, fine. I will not fight you. Or kill me, if you must,” he says, stopping in front of me. He grips the bars in his hands, begging me to have mercy with his desolate expression. “All I want is to be free. Whatever you decide, just don’t leave me here.”
“He’s too dangerous,” Caleb says quietly, eyeing Vaellen with distrust. “We’ve already had to deal with one demon. He could be possessed for all you know.”
“We’ll have to risk it,” Sylas insists, glaring at Caleb. “Leaving him in this place would be too cruel.”
“So kill him,” Caleb says, scowling back. “It would be a kindness compared to that.”
All the while, as the others argue back and forth in hushed voices, Vaellen continues to watch me. He calmly awaits my decision, as though it doesn’t matter either way.
(What do you choose?)
~ There has to be a way to help him. Rescue him. (4a: Leap of Faith)
~ After everything I’ve seen here, it’s too risky. Put him out of his misery. (4b: Mercy)
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.