I’m considering my answer, when I hear a muffled thud from Sylas’ room, and a mix of crashes, cursing, and Caleb shouting something about flaming knicker weasels.
Vaellen raises an eyebrow at that last bit, and I laugh. “I think I really do need that drink right now.”
A faint smile curves his lips, and he politely gestures for me to go ahead. The tavern below is noisy as we descend the stairs to the first floor, below the inn, but I’m acutely aware of his presence behind me.
We find a relatively quiet corner, away from the rest of the patrons, and settle into a booth there. Once we have drinks in front of us, I take a sip, trying to push down that strange shyness creeping over me again. It’s been more than half a year since the last time I’ve been alone with a man besides Sylas or Caleb.
Or at least with one I’m not trying to kill.
“You’re putting a lot of trust in me,” I say, holding my cold mug between my hands. Resting my forearms on the table, I try to read him, but it’s always hard to tell what he’s thinking behind his quiet expression.
“Like I said, if I’m going to take a chance on someone, I’d rather it be you,” he says easily, giving me that faint smile again.
“The Blades are a mess right now,” I say, considering. “If we do help you, there may still be times where I have to prioritize them.”
He nods, expression carefully blank again. “I understand.”
I laugh darkly, shaking my head. “Caleb probably isn’t going to be happy about this, but I want to help you.”
He takes a deep breath, looking relieved. “Thank you.”
There’s a short pause as he drinks his ale, and I know he’s gathering his thoughts. Not that I mind. I’m willing to give him plenty of time to consider, since it gives me a chance to study him.
He hesitates then, tilting his head at me. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
I shrug, taking a measured sip of my drink. “Sure.”
“I may not have a great deal of experience, but that thing with Jeremiah today…” he begins, and I think I know what he’s getting at. “It seemed personal between you two.”
I sigh, unable to help it. “It was,” I admit, taking another small drink. “It’s been over between us for a long time though. The closure I got today was more about myself than him.”
“You weren’t the only one he betrayed,” Vaellen says, seeming to understand.
I nod. “I think I never really knew him at all,” I say, staring down at my drink. “I hate to think that my inability to see him for who he really was may have gotten people killed.”
“You can’t blame yourself for his choices,” Vaellen says, quick to defend me.
“Sylas and Caleb think so too,” I say, chuckling to myself.
“Then you should listen to that,” he says, and there’s a slight change in his tone then. A subtle warmth tingeing his words, and curving his lips.
I feel myself blushing, and quickly raise my mug to my lips to try and hide it a little. His silvery gaze is so direct as he watches me across the table, it’s hard not to react. He’s one of the most attractive men I’ve laid eyes on, but when he gives me that small, partial smile… he’s just devastating.
“What you said before,” he says, studying me as I take another small sip. “I’ve been thinking I might like that.”
I nearly choke on my drink, my thoughts in dangerous territory again. I cough, and have to clear my throat before I can speak again. “What?” I manage, sputtering.
He tilts his head, his gaze narrowing slightly, in an unexpectedly seductive way. “I said I might like it,” he repeats, and I can tell he’s actually teasing me for once. “You mentioned before that you find me interesting. I believe you even said you would show me?”
I’m blatantly staring at him again, but I don’t know how to stop myself.
“I think we both need time to think about it,” he says far too reasonably. “Get our heads in a better place.” Reaching across the table, his fingertips brush my cheek as he tucks my hair behind my ear. “But I’d like to get to know you better in the meantime.”
When he drops his hand, it feels natural to catch it, and entwine our fingers in response.
With Jeremiah gone, it’s like Karinn has disappeared completely. Every lead we follow seems to end with nothing. As the days stretch on, we all agree we need to go back to Denerim to get the Silent Blades in order. We haven’t given up the search, but I can’t just leave the Blades in chaos.
I’m leading them now, with Sylas and Caleb supporting me. The remaining members have all renewed their oaths, and anyone who wanted to become mercenaries have long since left.
Vaellen has joined us, for the time being, still afraid to be left alone, and Briall travels between our hideout in Denerim and his home in Minrathous. The Silent Blades contact there is still working alongside Briall’s connections, looking for any sign of Karinn.
But weeks have turned in to months, and I can tell Vaellen is suffering. Some days he seems fine, but others I can tell he didn’t sleep well. The risk of possession is so much higher when he’s sleeping, it’s no wonder he tries to avoid it, even to his own detriment.
Being a mage himself, Briall has used this time to teach Vaellen how to protect himself better from the demons and their temptations, but even he doesn’t know how to stop them from targeting Vaellen.
Briall is back in town for the next couple weeks, having just returned from Minrathous with a depressingly small amount of new leads on Karinn. Even her associates don’t seem to know where she went.
With nothing to do tonight, we’re all sitting around playing a game of Wicked Grace at the large kitchen table. Sylas suggested it, knowing Vaellen is trying to put off going to sleep a little longer.
We’ve all had a few drinks, and everyone’s subtle attempts at cheating are getting sloppier. It’s an expected part of the game that has us all cracking up every time one of us fumbles.
“The Angel of Death,” Briall says after drawing a card, a confident grin spreading across his face. Three of his five cards match, and I know I’ve already lost.
Vaellen and I both only have two matches each.
Caleb curses, tossing his cards down. None of them are matches, and Sylas chuckles, shaking his head.
“How can you be so incredibly bad at this game?” he wonders out loud, showing his winning hand of four matching Song cards.
We joke and tease each other, and even Vaellen laughs and cracks a few tired smiles throughout our games, but eventually it gets late.
I bid goodnight to the others as they leave, and loiter around the table, taking my time cleaning up. It’s become a habit to stay up late with Vaellen when he’s having a rough night. From the way he’s hesitating, the last to get up, I can tell this may be one of those nights.
“You alright?” I ask, once we’re alone.
He gives me another of his weary smiles, finally rising to his feet. “I’m fine,” he says, but I’m not entirely convinced. “It’s just the lack of sleep.”
“You sure?” He looks a little pale to me, and I’m annoyed at myself for not noticing sooner. Looking at him now, I’m glad he’s still sharing a room with Sylas. “You’ll let us know if something feels off, right?”
He nods, taking my hands in his. “Truly, I’m fine,” he says, laughing softly. His thumbs caress the backs of my hands, and a comfortable warmth spreads through me at the contact. “I think I’ll be able to sleep better tonight.”
Even though we’re still taking it slow, we’ve gotten so much closer over the past couple months, it’s easy for me to tell that he’s just trying not to worry me.
He gives my hands a gentle squeeze, saying goodnight and excusing himself. As he gives me a wave over his shoulder, I can’t help but frown at his back. I know I’m probably just being paranoid, but he seems more tired than usual to me.
A loud pounding at my bedroom door has me shooting up in bed, my hand going for the dagger on my bedside table.
“Ilara!” Sylas shouts through the door, and the urgency in his voice has me scrambling for my clothes. “Ilara, Vaellen needs you!”
I haphazardly pull on my leather pants and throw on a loose linen shirt, in such a hurry I don’t even bother with the buttons at the top. Out of breath, I wrench the door open, shirt hanging off my shoulder. All the essentials are covered, so I’m not concerned. I reach down to pull on my boots. “What happened?”
“I think he’s been possessed,” he says, and I pause.
Cursing under my breath, I rise and finish buttoning my shirt, grab my short swords, and head for Sylas’ room.
“He was talking in his sleep, and tossing around,” he says, his longer legs easily keeping pace with my hurried strides as he fills me in along the way. “Some of my things started floating around the room.”
“Don’t forget the demons coming out of the damn walls,” Caleb mutters, meeting us halfway.
“It’s been dealt with,” Sylas says when I shoot him a look. “The Blades are going through the hideout now to make sure we got them all.”
When we reach the room, Briall is standing over Vaellen’s bed, chanting some kind of incantation. His hands are glowing with a white light, and Vaellen seems to calm a little under his influence.
My heart clenches painfully in my chest when I see how deathly pale Vaellen is now, a fine sheen of sweat on his brow. Even in his sleep he’s frowning, and his breaths are shallow.
“You know what he wanted,” Caleb says, and everything inside me rebels at the implication. Before, when we were in Minrathous, I know he wouldn’t have said it so gently. Even he’s taken a grudging liking to Vaellen over the past months, but the change in his tone does little to comfort me.
“No!” Briall drops his hands, turning to us. “You have to go after him.”
“Sure, but it shouldn’t be her that goes,” Caleb says. “There are other mages in the Blades. It would be better to send them, since they know the Fade. She should stay, in case…”
Everyone is silent at his hesitation. None of us want to fill in the end of that sentence.
“I’m with Briall,” Sylas says, glancing from Vaellen to me. “He knows you. Let us watch keep watch, while you go after him.”
“Whatever possessed him will be waiting for you,” Briall says, being honest with me. “Bring more of your mages here to help me, and I’ll support you while you’re in there.”
(What do you choose?)
~ It would be better to have actual mages go in after him. Don’t enter the Fade. (7b: A High Price)
~ There’s no question here. I have to go after him. He’s become very special to me, and I won’t let the demons take him. Enter the Fade. (7c: By His Side)
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.