I study Vaellen, considering his request.
I understand his fear. If Karinn truly has the power to slip into his mind, he’s not really safe anywhere.
The idea of that bothers me. She could be hunting him with her demons, even now.
Hasn’t he suffered enough? And how can he be so calm about this?
He’s just watching me, those unreadable eyes of his glued to me. I feel a little shy suddenly, and try to crush the feeling.
Inappropriate is a tame description of what I’m feeling right now.
He’s been caged and experimented on for ten years. I doubt he’s interested in the fact that I find him oddly attractive.
“When you ask to stay with me…” I tilt my head, unable to resist teasing him a little. “Are you suggesting you should stay here, in my room?”
His eyes widen, and a faint pink tinges his cheeks. “No!” He clears his throat, brows creasing in a subtle frown of confusion. “No, I only meant that I want to stay at the inn with you. Close by, in case I need you.”
I can’t help laughing at his embarrassment. “I was joking,” I say, shaking my head. “But shouldn’t you stay with someone, if you’re worried about being possessed?”
“That…” He pauses, watching me like he’s trying to figure out what I’m thinking. “That would probably be a good idea.”
“Don’t worry.” I give him a smile, nodding in understanding. “We’ll watch over you.”
“Thank you,” he says, seeming unsure of what to do next. It looks like he wants to say something further, but he holds himself back.
It’s strange, especially under the circumstances, but I find myself wanting to get closer to him. I want to know more about him. To see him give a full, genuine smile.
He has a quiet, thoughtful demeanor, like Sylas. Unlike with Sylas, however, the last thing I feel around Vaellen is calm.
I have to admit to myself, as I wrack my brain for my waning common sense, that I can’t really keep comparing him to Sylas at all.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” he asks, and I realize I’m openly staring at him.
“I’m trying to figure you out,” I say honestly.
He tilts his head, studying me in return. “There’s nothing to figure out.”
I almost laugh, until I realize he’s actually serious.
Karinn hadn’t cut him off from the world entirely. He’d been around people throughout his captivity, but he’s still missed out on so much.
He truly doesn’t seem to understand how fascinating he is, especially to me. That’s probably for the best, considering my focus is supposed to be on finding Jeremiah.
Unfortunately, my mouth has a mind of its own.
“Stay here, with us,” I say, the words just slipping out. Even though I’ve already agreed to help him, my meaning when I ask him this is different.
He raises an eyebrow, still watching me with an almost comical mixture of confusion and curiosity. “Now you sound like you’re asking me, rather than the other way around.”
I slowly close the distance between us. “I am,” I say, stopping in front of him. “You’re far more interesting than you give yourself credit for.”
“Interesting?” he repeats, becoming very still.
“Yes. I’ve never met a somniari before,” I say, shrugging casually. I brush past him on my way to the door, a little closer than necessary, but not quite enough to touch him. Turning to him, I rest a hand on the doorknob. “Maybe along the way I can show you.”
He looks at me a long moment again, considering my words, and then a small smile kicks up the corners of his mouth. There’s a subtle change in the way he’s watching me now, and it makes my heart thump in my chest.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he says, and even his tone sounds a little different. I can still sense his caution, but there’s something just a little warmer about him.
I lead Vaellen to Sylas’ room, explain the situation, and arrange for them to share until we’re sure Vaellen will be alright on his own. I know Caleb is more likely to stab him in his sleep if he so much as twitches, so this is probably the best arrangement. We send word to Briall, so he doesn’t worry, and I bid them goodnight.
I’m too tired to even think of my next move as I finally fall into bed. It’s only Vaellen’s faint, barely there smile that sticks with me as I drift off.
With Briall’s connections, it’s only a matter of days before we find Jeremiah’s hideout. It’s tucked away in the outskirts of the city, in a quiet area.
Briall and Sylas enter from the back of the building, while Vaellen and I sneak in the front. Caleb finds a way into a second story window, and looks for a position to rain arrows down on people.
Vaellen moves quietly beside me, neither of us speaking as we stick to the shadows in the hideout. I have to incapacitate a few of Jeremiah’s mercenaries along the way, and I’m glad Sylas is with Briall. Even though Briall assured me he’d be fine, I feel better with the way we’re split up.
We make our way to a large room, towards the center of the building, and find a group gathered around a table. They seem to be looking at maps, planning something out.
“Is that Jeremiah?” Vaellen whispers, and I’m momentarily distracted by how close he is now. I’m crouched low, peering around a doorway into the room, and he’s tall enough that he can easily kneel beside me and place a hand on the wall above my shoulder while he looks over my head.
Caged in, I feel his body heat, and warmth stains my cheeks. “Yes,” I manage, trying to focus on the matter at hand. I sternly remind myself that now is not the time. “That’s him, on the right.”
He’s as handsome as I remember him, dressed in a black mage coat and pants, but I’m completely unmoved for once. I see that he’s still wearing my pendant, and I’m filled with an uncomfortable mix of loathing and regret.
I catch sight of Sylas and Briall in the shadows of a hall at the opposite end of the room. “Watch yourself in here,” I whisper to Vaellen, glancing up at him. I lose the rest of whatever else I was going to say, because he’s already looking down at me, and our faces are far too close to each other.
“Same to you,” he says, and I catch his faint smile. Then he quickly rises and backs away, ready to support me when the fight starts.
Getting my racing heart under control, I draw my swords, and signal Sylas across the way. I rise to my feet, and step into the room, making sure I have everyone’s attention.
His gaze locks on me the second he hears my voice, and I see his hand tense on his staff. There are at least a dozen mercenary Blades in the room as well, and they start towards me, just as planned. Magical energy charges the air as Briall and Vaellen step out and begin picking them off with spells.
Shouting fills the room, chaos breaking out as Sylas and I charge forward from opposite sides. I hear an arrow whiz by as I fight my way towards Jeremiah, and an impact and a groan somewhere behind me. Caleb watches my back, as always, and I place my trust in him, never slowing.
Jeremiah sends deadly shards of ice shooting through the air. I manage to deflect or dodge most of it, but his magic still tears into my limbs and body. Sharp, slicing pain cuts into me, but it’s not nearly enough to distract me as I finally reach him, lashing out at him with both of my blades.
He’s forced to block with his staff, and shoves me away.
“Ilara, wait!” he growls, obviously thinking there’s still some chance he could possibly talk me down. “It doesn’t have to be like this!”
“You betrayed us!” I shout, leaping at him again.
Jeremiah scowls at me, managing to hold me off with his staff and spells.
A bolt of lightning shoots past me from behind, taking out a mercenary that was trying to come to Jeremiah’s aid. Then a magical barrier drops over me, protecting me from more of Jeremiah’s spells. Jeremiah’s ice strikes it seconds later, shattering harmlessly before it gets near me.
I can’t take my eyes off Jeremiah long enough to look, but I know it’s Vaellen helping me now.
Jeremiah curses, at a disadvantage suddenly, having to rely solely on his staff for close combat. He still gets several good hits in, blocking my swords to the side on my next attack, and cracking me in the ribs with his staff. The wind is knocked out of me, and I stumble.
Pressing his advantage, he lifts his staff high, ready to bring it down on me, when another bolt of lightning crashes into his shield, distracting him. I dart in, ducking under his staff, and slash across his middle with both of my blades as I leap around him. I hear his gasp, and immediately turn to bury one of my swords in his back.
The fighting dies down around me as Jeremiah’s men are defeated, and he slumps to the ground at my feet. Most of his men are dead, but the others left a few alive for questioning.
Reaching down, I tug my pendant off Jeremiah’s corpse, and drop it to the ground. I crush it beneath my boot, and take a deep, calming breath. My body aches from the fight, and I can feel a hundred little cuts throbbing all over my body from Jeremiah’s ice shards.
But I also finally feel at peace again.
“You alright?” I hear Vaellen’s concerned voice beside me, and raise my eyes to his.
“Better,” I say, giving him a tired smile. “Thank you for helping me.”
Sylas joins us, laying a hand on my shoulder. “It’s over now,” he says, giving me a reassuring squeeze before releasing me.
Caleb and Sylas watch our captives while the rest of us split up to search the hideout for evidence. It doesn’t take long to find proof that Jeremiah framed me, and that he’s been planning on changing the Blades into mercenaries for a while.
The only loose end now is Karinn.
After clearing our names with the Silent Blades contact, we regroup at the inn, in Sylas’ room. Sylas wants to stay and help with bringing down Karinn, while Caleb just wants to get back to the Blades and start re-building.
“The relic Vaellen mentioned wasn’t there,” Briall says, glancing at his grandson.
Vaellen’s expression is unreadable, but I can tell he’s troubled. I can’t say I blame him. I wouldn’t like the possibility of somebody crawling around in my head either.
“Karinn must have it,” Sylas says.
“Fantastic,” Caleb grumbles. “And let me guess, we’re going to put off going home to get it?”
“Not that I don’t appreciate your concern,” Briall says, completely ignoring Caleb. “But don’t you already have enough on your plate with the Blades?”
“More than enough,” Caleb says, crossing his arms.
“And what about the demons plaguing Vaellen?” Sylas asks, shooting a glare at Caleb.
Throughout all of this, Vaellen doesn’t comment. His expression is carefully blank, but that only serves to worry me more.
Needing some liquid patience if I’m going to listen to Sylas and Caleb bicker their way through this, I excuse myself for a moment to get a drink from the tavern attached to the inn. The others wave me off, content to argue amongst themselves for the moment. Stepping out into the hall, I rub at the pressure building in my temples.
The door creaks open behind me, and I turn to see Vaellen slip out of the room too. The others are still discussing, but it seems like he wants to talk to just me for now.
“What do you want to do?” I ask, studying him in the quiet hall.
“I have to go after her,” he says immediately. “But I understand if you can’t help this time. It sounds like Jeremiah has turned the Blades upside down, and they need you right now.”
I tilt my head at him, considering. “Between Briall and all his friends in Tevinter, you have the advantage on her, relic or not.”
“You’re right,” he says, his gaze never wavering from mine. “But I don’t know those people. I know you. You’re the one who made the decision to free me, and the one I fought beside today.” He shrugs, as if it’s no big deal, but I can tell it is. “I’d rather put my trust in you, than in people I’ve never met. Please, help me free myself from her, once and for all.”
I hesitate, not entirely comfortable making this decision without the others here for input. This concerns them too.
“You were headed to the tavern?” he asks, stepping closer. “I’d like to settle this with you. Could I buy you a drink, while we discuss it?”
I know my surprise shows on my face, because he laughs softly, and my heart thumps almost painfully in response.
(What do you choose?)
~ My fascination with him is getting out of hand. Help Vaellen, but put a friendly distance between us again. (6a: Facing Demons)
~ I like him and all, but it’s time we go our own ways. Don’t help Vaellen. (6b: Separate Paths)
~ I feel strangely protective of Vaellen, and I want to keep getting closer to him. Help him. (6c: For Him)
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.