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Feeding The Masses [Closed]

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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18
#1
((Late Winter, 9:41; Haven; Sati Adaar ))

Despite having the writ signed by Charter commissioning her into the Inquisition’s forces, Vandi had lingered in concealment on the outskirts of Haven for several hours, taking the measure of the place. It was smaller than she had expected; something called Inquisition ought to look less … ragtag.

Granted, it was less than a month since the explosion had decimated the Conclave, killing mage and templar alike, along with a large contingent of Chantry officials and Divine Justinia V. After a disaster of that magnitude, some time would be needed to recover, but with more demons being dumped into Ferelden (and from other reports, across Thedas) by the day, there wasn’t much time to waste.

But Vandi had seen this Herald of Andraste’s ability at work, watched from a distance as she had lifted her left hand with its eldritch, glowing mark and closed one of the rifts that hovered in the air like an open wound after she and her companions had killed all the demons surrounding it. The Blackstones had learned the hard way: killing the demons around the rifts was a waste of time and life. Before the last one fell, more would come spilling forth, as though drawn by the slaughter. And they kept coming, kept killing. The only way to handle them was to keep people away from the rifts, kill the demons who wandered away from the rifts. But it was a stalling action at best, because even without the lure of battle, the demons kept emerging, though more slowly. Sooner or later, the demons were going to win.

Unless …

If asked, Vandi might have described herself as an Andrastean, but she’d seldom set foot in a Chantry, and she’d certainly given no real thought to religion until the last month. She didn’t know if the Maker was the one who had opened the gaping hole in the sky over Haven as judgment for the sins of the world, as more than one hysterical resident of South Reach had proclaimed. Or if the rebel mages had done it. Or the templars. She didn’t know if Andraste had escorted the Qunari out of the Fade and given her that mark to save the world.

But she knew what she had seen. It was why she had returned to South Reach and the Blackstone compound and taken her leave from the place that had been her home, the men and women who had been her family since she was a month old. Why her father had given his blessing and Thaelor had offered the assistance of the Blackstone Irregulars.

Because whoever this Qunari was, she could fix what was broken, and the Inquisition supported her.

The troops drilling outside the gates were a familiar sight, the new recruits easy to pick out among the more experienced fighters, and the stance of the broad-shouldered man overlooking the drills was familiar, as well. He wasn’t pleased. She’d seen her father in the same pose often enough.

Behind the gates, the rest of Haven rose up the slope, simple cottages interspersed with tents, smoke rising from chimneys. Further up, the stone edifice of the Chantry was visible. Above that, the ruin of the mountaintop. And above that, the Breach pulsing green in the sky, wreathed in swirling mists. Just as well she wouldn’t be spending much time here; she’d been able to see the malignancy in the sky for the last three days of her travel. Having to spend days on end right under it had no appeal.

She rose from her crouch, lifted her head with lips pursed for a whistle, then dropped it again, shoulders slumping. Three weeks wasn’t near enough time to erase the habits of fourteen years, and the emptiness at her side still caught her when she least expected it. Dane had been getting on in years; perhaps it was a kindness that he’d died in battle, rather than an irrevocable slide into debilitation. It still hurt.

She picked her way across snow covered stones and fallen branches back to the path. Winter was always slow to leave Ferelden, and when it did, it left mud in its wake as months of accumulated snowfall melted and combined with spring rains. Traveling at this time of year was colder, yes, particularly without Dane adding his heat to her shelter at night, but it was easier. Snow caves could be built with little effort, and if fewer game was out and about, it was easier to spot when it did move, trails easier to identify and set with snares. Two hares hung from a loop on her belt, gutted and skin left on to keep them from drying out; not much, but Scout Harding had mentioned that the growing stream of new arrivals was stretching the available stores.

She was not the only one arriving; a scattering of people on the road coalesced into a short line at the gate. Young men and women, mostly, looking fresh off the farm; the man overseeing the weapons training wasn’t going to be looking pleased any time soon. But there were older folk, as well, some of them bearing what looked to be most of their worldly possessions in bulky packs on their backs or on the backs of tired looking donkeys. Driven from their homes by demons, seeking succor at the only place available. The Chantry had reportedly drawn back to Val Royeaux to squabble over the successor to Divine Justinia and condemn the Inquisition as heretics led by a heathen. But it was these heretics that, after briefly questioning the refugees and checking their baggage, opened the gates to admit them to a place of relative safety.

“Scout Vandi Morganach, reporting for duty,” she stated when it was her turn, presenting Charter’s writ and drawing aside her cloak to display the hares for good measure.

The guard snorted. “They’ll feed a couple, at least,” he observed.

“More than that in a stew with vegetables and barley,” she replied, “and I can get more.” She’d seen druffalo, rams, deer, pheasant. This part of Ferelden had been sparsely populated; wild meat was there to be taken, for those that knew how.

“You’ll definitely be welcome, then,” he told her, handing back the writ. “Take this to the Chantry and the rabbits to Quartermaster Threnn; she's set up just west of the Chantry.”

“I’ll buy those rabbits from you for two silver,” a merchant called out from his stall just inside the gates.

“And sell them for two gold each, Seggrit?” the guard inquired sardonically.

“I’ll sell them for fair market price,” Seggrit retorted defensively. “Hunter! Four silver? Ten!”

Vandi ignored him, striding deeper into the village, automatically taking stock of its defensive capabilities: winding paths and a tiered structure, stands set up for archers … good. She lifted her gaze, sighting on the Chantry; the path before her wound out of sight around what looked to be a tavern, but the general direction looked right, so she kept to it.
 

Sati Adaar

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#2
The mouthy Chancellor had been getting a lot of mileage out of comparing Sati to an animal. She never walked past him without some slur falling out of his mouth. Sometimes he varied the formula and referd to her as a heretic or a demon. She started tallying up his insults in her head; ‘beast’ took the lead, closely followed by ‘ox’. She didn’t do it with the mind of exacting compensation for it later. For a man who clearly had high opinions of his own skills as an orator, he showed a lack of imagination in his speech, and knowing that he lacked that gift was comforting after a fashion.

He also frightened easily. Just by Sati levelling an unbreaking stare at him for a minute following a particularly loud piece of nonsense, he had turned grey and warned her that if she was about to resort to violence with him, it would only prove what he said and everybody else was thinking, before he had skittered away on some pretext. If it were just her, she would have ignored him entirely, but he had been putting himself into everybody’s business and he deserved a rebuke, even it had been a silent one.

He hadn’t learned anything from it. He was talking to the Quartermaster, and from the narrow slant of Threnn’s expression, he was giving her instructions that ran contrary to her bookkeeping. Sati approached, and, knowing full well that it would annoy him, rested a hand on his shoulder. He spun around and yelped. “Get your paws off me!”

“Chancellor. You are needed in the Chantry.”

Roderick brushed off his shoulder as though she’d left dirt on it. “For what purpose, blasphemer?”

“A letter has arrived for you. It’s marked with the seal of one of the noble Orlesian houses.”

That sent him off. Threnn watched him go, visibly relieved. “Wonder who’d be sending him messages? Even now he’s a nobody. How do you know the seals of the houses, anyway?”

“I don’t. There wasn’t a letter. But it’ll take him a while to question the messengers and find that out. It’s usually better to distract a wasp than swat it, or all its companions come out after you.”

That earned a grin. “Well, that’s going to drive him up the wall. I wouldn’t call him much of a wasp, mind. More like an annoying moth, flitting about. Telling me how to keep track of my stores, I ask you. I know we’re running a bit thin with all the new arrivals, but you can put the figures in the neatest columns you like, it’s not going to make food appear out of thin air. We need more people out hunting, and we need more merchants willing to ship grain here. Everybody’s holding back at the moment because they don’t know if…well…”

If the Inquisition was going to be squashed before it was even more than a few weeks old. The threat of other nations, or even Ferelden itself, taking offensive to the independent army growing in Haven and forcing it to disperse was still high. Only time would tell on that one. “I’ll speak to the council. Request that the Commander put a few of his bowmen to use hunting.”

She could easily order it of him, but the thought sat poorly with her. She was issued to issuing commands to small units of mercenaries, not the leaders of armies, and she didn’t intend to press her luck by becoming full of herself.
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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18
#3
Definitely a work in progress. Many of the tents she passed had clearly been erected in haste, and in front of the Chantry, a good number of people milled about aimlessly, seeking the comfort of the stone edifice and casting fearful glances up to the Breach overhead.

Purposeful motion in the midst of the milling caught her eye: an older man in Chantry garb, shouldering people aside as he passed, his expression suggesting that he smelled something foul. Following back up the direction he’d come from, Vandi found a large tent surrounded by stacks of supplies: leather and cloth, ingots of metal, bundles of wood, casks. Behind a desk, a tall human woman faced an even taller Qunari female; Vandi hadn’t seen the Herald of Andraste close up, but she figured there weren’t any others with a faintly glowing mark on their left hand.

“Request that the Commander put a few of his bowmen to use hunting,” Vandi heard her say as she approached.

“Not everyone who can shoot a bow can hunt,” Vandi told them bluntly. A bunch of city slickers stomping about in the wilds would scare all the game for miles.

She stopped, bringing her crossed arms smartly to her chest. Harding had said that she didn’t like to be groveled to, but damned if she wasn’t going to salute. “Your Worship. Scout Vandilenne Morganach, formerly of the Blackstone Irregulars.” She would be again, once this mess got sorted out, but from the looks of it, it was going to take time.

Lifting the two rabbits from her belt, she held them out to the Quartermaster. “It’s not much, but the game gets more plentiful as you get further from Haven.” Her eyes shifted back to the Herald, her stance relaxing but still respectful. “Give me a handful of archers who know how stay upwind and how to move without breaking branches underfoot, and we’ll put some meat on the table.” Not what she’d been signed on to do, but part of being a merc was adapting to the situation.
 

Sati Adaar

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#4
“Not everyone who can shoot a bow can hunt.”

Sati turned her head, her surprise only showing through a slight raising of her eyebrows. The council had offered their opinions of the few ones she’d voiced quite freely, but other than that, most people had been deferential to her, to a degree she was beginning to find somewhat annoying. Following orders was important in an army setting but she wanted people to feel comfortable speaking up if they had a better idea.

Having magic dripping out of her palm and falling out of a hole in the sky did not make her omniscient.

The woman who had spoken was tall by human standards, and all angles. She clipped a sharp salute and then straightened just as quickly. “Your Worship. Scout Vandilenne Morganach, formerly of the Blackstone Irregulars.”

Sati gave the ghost of a smile. “I’ve heard of that group. The Blackstone Irregulars come highly commended. It’s good to have you with us.” Even if thinking about mercenaries turned her thoughts towards the Valo-Kas, and caused a twinge of something like homesickness.

Vandilenne held out a pair of rabbits to Threnn, whose expression remained mostly unimpressed. It wasn’t much, and the scout admitted it, although also that game wasn’t hard to come by away from the settlement. “Give me a handful of archers who know how stay upwind and how to move without breaking branches underfoot, and we’ll put some meat on the table.”

Sati only needed to consider for a moment. Scouts were valuable, but Leliana apparently had scores of them knocking around and none of them would work quite as well with empty bellies distracting them. “You’ll have them. I’ll speak to the council and get some names who would do well in a hunting party.”

Threnn coughed. “Your Worship-” Sati made a faint noise through her nose – “Shouldn’t you give that responsibility to somebody the Inquisition already knows? Or at least have Leliana check her out first?”

Sati looked down at the quartermaster. “Well, at the moment, if she comes back with nothing, it’ll be exactly the same as we currently have. Whereas if she does come back, and with food, we’ve benefited.” She turned her head to encompass Vandilenne in the conversation. “And Sati will do.”
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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Posts
18
#5
The Herald looked nonplussed at the interruption, while the quartermaster scowled outright. Orderly types never responded well to anything that wasn’t on their lists. Even the rabbits got no more than a grunt from her, but mention of the Blackstones got a faintly approving smile from the former mercenary.

“I’ve heard of that group,” she remarked. “The Blackstone Irregulars come highly commended. It’s good to have you with us.”

“Thaelor Hawkwind sends word that the company stands ready to assist the Inquisition - at reasonable rates, of course.” Vandi was pretty sure that the Herald would understand that; you didn’t feed fighters on ideals. The quartermaster’s scowl only deepened, however, and when the Tal-Vashoth (or Vashoth - you couldn’t tell the difference by looking, but experience had taught Vandi that neither responded well to being called Qunari) immediately approved her request for a hunting party to be placed under her, the human woman spoke up in protest.

“Your Worship-” she began, drawing a slightly impatient noise from the Herald. “Shouldn’t you give that responsibility to somebody the Inquisition already knows? Or at least have Leliana check her out first?”

“Well, at the moment, if she comes back with nothing, it’ll be exactly the same as we currently have,”
was the pragmatic response. “Whereas if she does come back, and with food, we’ve benefited. And Sati will do.”

“I answer to Vandi myself,” she replied with a nod, “and Charter recruited me.” She presented the writ to Sati; a lot of mercs were illiterate, but Vandi figured that even if she was, she’d have somebody assigned to read for her by now. “If I go out now, I can bring back a ram on my own by nightfall.” There was no boastfulness in the words; she’d seen the game on her way in. An hour or two of hiking would take her beyond the disruption caused by the human settlement, and if she hadn’t made a kill the hour after that, she’d turn in her bow. A sledge to haul the carcass in would be simple to build, and she could haul a buck along with the ram.
 

Sati Adaar

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#6
Sati had prepared herself for the pulses of pain that followed any thought of her comrades from the Valo-Kas. She had been most central to the chamber when the explosion had happened, and each day she hoped to hear that somebody had survived – but as each day passed with no word, it seemed more likely that she was the only one who had made it. Nonetheless, despite her preparations, it was hard to prevent melancholy from draping its heavy weight across her shoulders, and she was grateful for all distractions.

The logistics of raising, organising and supplying a Chantry-damned army might have been overdoing it.

Nonetheless, all the work that needed to be done did help, and Sati turned her mind to each task as it came. And right now, there would be no army at all if they all starved to death on the edge of the mountains. Hence she had little time for Threnn’s objections to the mercenary’s offer of help.

“I answer to Vandi myself. And Charter recruited me. She held out the writ and Sati looked it over, before nodding once. She didn’t write much but she could read. And she suspected that soon she would be writing more per week than she’d written in her entire life so far. “If I go out now, I can bring back a ram on my own by nightfall.”

Threnn snorted. Apparently it was easy to be critical when you weren’t the one risking your neck to procure food yourself. Sati turned her head, very slowly, and regarded the quartermaster steadily. Whatever comment had been rising to Threnn’s lips died unspoken. Without a flicker in her expression, Sati returned her attention to Vandi. “Agreed. I’ll use the time you’re gone to find some suitable hunters for your group. When you return, please come and see me. I’ll probably be in the Chantry.” A slight roll of the eyes. “Continuing to defile it with my presence, of course.”

Chancellor Roderick had made his feelings about having a qunari called the Herald of Andraste all too clear. Never might she didn’t actually qualify as a qunari in the truest sense, she was a horn-headed heretic and that was enough to almost give him apoplexy.
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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Posts
18
#7
The quartermaster was quite plainly still not convinced, but a glance from the Herald stilled any protest she might have made. “Agreed,” Sati told Vandi “I’ll use the time you’re gone to find some suitable hunters for your group. When you return, please come and see me. I’ll probably be in the Chantry.” Her eyes briefly rolled heavenward. “Continuing to defile it with my presence, of course.”

Vandi chuckled, not without sympathy. “You could always come with me,” she suggested, more to tweak the upturned nose of the quartermaster a bit than any real expectation of the offer being accepted. “Two can haul more than one.” Harding had said that she was a fair shot with a bow, but the Herald of Andraste probably wasn’t going to be allowed to go tramping off into the mountains with a merc, or have the time if she was.
 

Sati Adaar

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#8
Fortunately, Vandi did not appear to be one of those who held the Chantry’s opinions in high esteem. There were a number who were with the Inquisition, for now, but fretted openly about their position, and particularly the fact that the Chantry had declared the whole operation invalid. They would likely not stay the course if safe passage to Val Royeaux was possible, but Sati didn’t much care. What mattered was that their fledgling organisation was the one actually trying to put food in people’s mouths and give them some shelter. Trying being the operative word at the moment, of course. It felt good to give a direction that would actually have a positive impact.

Although Vandi then threw her off a little. “You could always come with me. Two can haul more than one.”

“I would have thought I lacked the stealth necessary, but as you’re offering – yes. I will.” It would be good to get away from the bustle of Haven for a bit. Sati vastly preferred cities and towns to the countryside usually, but she had been starting to feel like a wolf prowling around a pen a few sizes too small for it. She needed to stretch her legs and get away from the general miasma of fear and occasional undercurrents of loathing that still hung in the air.

“Uh…Herald? Is that a good idea?”

“Not really. But it’s a better use of my time than standing around here watching people becoming more hungry and desperate by the hour. I’ll inform the council, and fetch my bow.”

With a brief nod at Vandi, she strode inside the Chantry. She was back out within five minutes; normally respectful of proper procedure for this sort of thing, she had found Josephine had been absent from her desk and had simply left a note explaining where she had gone. It avoided the hectoring questions now even if it meant facing the music later. Sati was feeling uncharacteristically prickly, and this was assuredly the best way to get rid of that feeling without accidentally venting it on somebody who didn’t deserve it. “Let’s go.”

As they headed towards the gate, she decided to learn more about her hunting companion. “Were you simply assigned to help the Inquisition, or did you volunteer for the task?”
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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#9
The quartermaster’s expression was more than worth the suggestion, but to Vandi’s surprise, the Herald seemed to be giving it consideration.

“I would have thought I lacked the stealth necessary, but as you’re offering – yes. I will.”

“As long as you know how to watch where you put your feet, you should do all right,” Vandi replied.

“Uh…Herald?” The quartermaster’s eyes were like saucers. “Is that a good idea?”

“Not really.” She seemed supremely unconcerned by that. “But it’s a better use of my time than standing around here watching people becoming more hungry and desperate by the hour. I’ll inform the council, and fetch my bow.”

Vandi managed not to smirk as she followed the big woman - actually having to lengthen her stride was a somewhat novel experience - opting to wait outside the Chantry. The Herald was back within minutes, and they set off toward the gate.

“Were you simply assigned to help the Inquisition, or did you volunteer for the task?” Sati asked as they walked.

“Little of both,” Vandi replied with a shrug. “Demons popping out of thin air sort of got everyone’s attention, and when we heard about the Breach, my commander assigned me to head west and see what was going on. I ran into Lace Harding and some of her scouts, talked to them, saw you killing demons and sealing rifts in the Hinterlands.” She glanced up at the Tal-Vashoth, her expression serious. “The Inquisition is trying to fix this mess, and you’re the only one I’ve seen that can do a damn thing about those rifts … we lost too damn many in those first few days before we realized that killing the demons just makes more appear. When I told Thaelor - the commander of the Blackstone Irregulars - that you were the real deal and that Charter had asked me to join up, he gave me his blessing. He also said to tell you that the Blackstones are available for hire at good rates - and they’re worth every sovereign,” she added with pride.

Eyes followed them as they walked. Some saluted or bowed to the Herald as they passed, others simply stared and whispered behind their hands. Out the gates, they angled away from the noisy drills being conducted and made for the treeline. “Feels strange not being part of them,” she admitted after a bit. “I was raised in the Blackstones; my Da brought me to their compound when I was just a baby, after my mother died. Never known anything else.” Not worth getting maudlin about, though; she’d be going back to them when this was all over and maybe bring some good recruits with her.

She looked sideways at Sati. “The rest of your company, the Valo-Kas -” She’d heard of them, but the Blackstones had never fought against or alongside them. “Any word on them?” She hadn’t seen any more Tal-Vashoth in Haven, and they did rather stand out. That wasn't a good sign.
 

Sati Adaar

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#10
As they went through the gates, Sati pulled in a deep breath of mountain air, clear and sharp. For a moment she wasn’t the Herald, or a living blasphemy, or a rogue ox-woman in far deeper trouble than she had ever expected to be. For a moment, she was a mercenary again, free of all desires and cares beyond where the next handful of coin or meal came from.

Reality settled back in again with the clashes of swords between the recruits. Cullen was overseeing the training, the back of his head almost hidden by his enormous – and so far as Sati could tell, pointless – fur collar. Sati picked up her pace, hoping they would be amongst the trees before he turned in their direction, with one ear to Vandi’s answer.

“Demons popping out of thin air sort of got everyone’s attention, and when we heard about the Breach, my commander assigned me to head west and see what was going on. I ran into Lace Harding and some of her scouts, talked to them, saw you killing demons and sealing rifts in the Hinterlands.”

Quite the first impression, no doubt. She might have had a different one if she’d been around for the three days Sati had apparently spent screaming nonsense while healers tried to keep her strapped down. But she was pleased that Vandi had seen something better than that. “When I told Thaelor - the commander of the Blackstone Irregulars - that you were the real deal and that Charter had asked me to join up, he gave me his blessing. He also said to tell you that the Blackstones are available for hire at good rates - and they’re worth every sovereign.”

“I’ll pass that on to Leliana.” The spymaster had a history even Sati had paid attention to, and she would know if the Blackstones deserved their reputation. Sati was inclined to think so, if they’d already had somebody come out all this way.

“Feels strange not being a part of them. I was raised in the Blackstones; my Da brought me to their compound when I was just a baby, after my mother died. Never known anything else.”

Sati nodded. “I was not raised by a mercenary company, but the ones I joined eventually became my second family.” Perhaps now she had connections, it might be possible to trace her parents at last. The thought gave her some comfort, but not much – it would be a long time before they could devote resources to something so respectively trivial. There was much that needed doing before then. Although what they would think of her time as a mercenary, she didn’t know. She’d been sent to squire to a knight. It was not what either of them had envisioned for her.

“The rest of your company, the Valo-Kas. Any word on them?”

Nobody had bothered to ask Sati about that yet. She fixed her gaze ahead rather than looking at Vandi. “None. I’m hoping a few of them were close enough to the far perimeter to have survived the blast. With all the chaos after that, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine that they’ve had troubles finding their way back to Haven again.”

And even less of a reach to believe they had all died. But Sati, for all her stoicism, preferred to think positively. “Not all of us came to Haven. The rest of the group is in the Marches at the moment, I believe.”
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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#11
The Herald of Andraste walked as though she were quite certain that they would be stopped before they could leave. Once outside the gates, lavender eyes cut briefly to the drilling recruits and the man barking impatiently at them, and the long legs quickened their stride, requiring Vandi to hustle a bit to keep up as she relayed the tale of how she had come to be recruited by the Inquisition and mentioned Thaelor’s offering the services of the Blackstones.

“I’ll pass that on to Leliana,” Sati told her, visibly relaxing as they entered the treeline and passed beyond the reach of any searching eyes.

“She was one of the companions of the Hero of Ferelden during the Blight, wasn’t she?” Vandi asked. “The Blackstones worked with them then. I didn’t; not directly, anyway.” Vandi had seen them at a distance; the Orlesian’s red hair had been distinctive, as had the massive Qunari and the even more massive golem. The company had given good enough account of themselves then to earn a royal charter from the King; the Inquisitions near-mythical Spymaster would find good use for them now.

She blazed a trail as they walked, cutting thin strips of bark from trees they passed, revealing the pale wood beneath; each mark could be seen at a distance from the next mark. Following them back the way they led would return them to Haven if other means of navigation failed. Vandi was used to being alone in the wilderness, or perhaps with one other person at most. Scouts moved fast and traveled light. But two things distinguished this outing: the absence of Dane ranging afield and returning frequently to her side and the knowledge that she was no longer a member of the Blackstone Irregulars. She wasn’t sure which one weighed more heavily in her chest.

Her companion seemed to understand. “I was not raised by a mercenary company, but the ones I joined eventually became my second family.” There was a distinct touch of melancholy to her face and voice, and Vandi’s query quickly confirmed her suspicion: the other members of the Valo-Kas had not been seen or heard from since the explosion.

“I’m hoping a few of them were close enough to the far perimeter to have survived the blast. With all the chaos after that, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine that they’ve had troubles finding their way back to Haven again.”

There wasn’t a great deal of hope in the words, and Vandi was realist enough not to encourage any with airy promises. She’d heard tales of the devastation wrought at the heart of the explosion. The only survivor to date had literally stepped out of the Fade; a repetition of that miracle seemed unlikely at best, and she felt a knot of sympathy tighten in her chest. Some mercs fought, collected their pay and never forged any connection with the ones they fought alongside. Vandi had never been one of those, and neither, it seemed, was Sati Adaar. Bad enough to be cut off from the only family she had ever known, but to think them dead?

“I’ll keep an ear to the ground when I’m out,” she offered. Scouting was more than creeping through trees and peering around shrubs. Listening to the gossip in a tavern, knowing the right questions and who to ask them of, could net valuable information. If there were large, horned mercenaries wandering the Bannorn, the local populations would be talking about it.
 

Sati Adaar

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#12
Vandi offered to keep alert for any mention of possibly dazed qunari wandering around while she was scouting or hunting in the future. Sati nodded, silently grateful. She’d been asked about the whereabouts of her comrades briefly before now, but it had been clear that the resources to find them – except by happy accident – didn’t exist. She would just have to hope. Praying wasn’t really an option for her.

They tramped on through the trees. Sati had learned a little from the more light-footed in the Valo-Kas how to roll heel to toe in order to reduce the noise of her steps, but the fact remained that she was big and occasionally her horns brushed against branches, releasing the occasional drift of snow across her shoulders and into the back of her collar.

A few white hares dashed across the path ahead of them. Sati didn’t lift her bow; she wasn’t quick enough to get them and loosing an arrow might break it against the stone beneath the snow. Better to save them for bigger, slower prey. Vandi was stripping off bark from the trees as they walked, giving them a trail to follow for the return. Sati’s approval of the woman grew. They could use a few more heads like hers about.

Given that she’d volunteered to check out the Inquisition, and then offered her services, it didn’t seem likely that Vandi would be too bothered about what the Chantry thought of Sati. Nonetheless, Sati decided she wanted to know what Vandi made of the Chantry’s position. “You know the Chantry has condemned the Inquisition.” If she hadn’t known it on arrival she certainly would be aware of it by now. “What’s your opinion of the matter? Personally I don’t care for the institution at all, but I’m being advised to make a demonstration of civility towards Val Royeaux at the moment so they don’t simply call an Exalted March on us.”

Sati strongly suspected that if she walked in through the gates of Val Royeaux, her head would be mounted above some noble’s fireplace by the evening of the same day. She fought for a living but taking on every city guard – and potentially, every templar – in the city would be madness.
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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#13
Sati accepted Vandi’s offer to look for any sign that her company had not been completely wiped out in the explosion with a wordless nod, but the scout couldn’t fault her for not seeming overly hopeful. It was a long shot at best, but if even a few survivors could be found, it might help with the isolation the big woman very clearly felt as the lone member of her kind floating in a sea of humans, elves and dwarves. If the Inquisition had any sense at all (with Leliana part of the workings, surely there was at least some sense to be found), they would do whatever was needed to keep their Herald a willing ally.

For one who claimed not to be a hunter, she had the knack for footwork, though she’d evidently not had a great deal of experience moving through trees with her horns. Still, she didn’t make any sound when the snow she knocked from the branches overhead slipped down her collar, and Vandi adjusted her course when possible to keep them out of the low stuff. Rabbits and squirrels were plentiful, and partridges burst from cover as they passed; good eating for a small group in the field, but they needed bigger game to feed the growing population at Haven.

There, now. A well-worn trail ran through the trees, the hoofprints in the exposed earth fresh and, unsurprisingly, leading away from Haven. The larger the settlement grew, the wider the zone of flight would be and more hunters would need to go ever further afield to secure game. “Have there been any talks with local farmers about providing some livestock in exchange for getting rid of demons and bandits?” she asked in a low voice. People would readily accept help in times like these, but often they needed to be reminded that the helpers might need help in return. A few cattle, some goats and chickens seemed a fair enough exchange compared to losing a whole flock or herd to theft or predation, and it would supplement the hunting.

“You know the Chantry has condemned the Inquisition,” Sati began, keeping her tone similarly pitched. “What’s your opinion of the matter? Personally I don’t care for the institution at all, but I’m being advised to make a demonstration of civility towards Val Royeaux at the moment so they don’t simply call an Exalted March on us.”

Vandi snorted. “From what I’ve heard, they couldn’t organize an Exalted March on a mouse right now,” she remarked sardonically, then looked back at her companion with a faint grin. “But you know the rules: don’t open a second front unless you don’t have any choice.” She shrugged and continued forward, her gaze shifting from the track on ahead, looking for any hint of movement. Considering they didn't even have a clear idea of what the nature of the first front was at this point, that seemed doubly wise. “I guess I’ve always considered myself an Andrastean, but I’ve not been in many chantries.” She shrugged. “The Chantry let things get to this point, though admittedly I don’t have any idea what they might have done differently.” Templars and mages were not her area of expertise. “Their opinion might color the reactions of the populace for now, but it’s the Inquisition who is working to set things right while the Chantry is holed up in Val Royeaux. People are going to notice that. Don’t expect any thanks from the Chantry for cleaning up their mess,” she warned the Herald, “but don’t let them goad you … and they will try. If we keep doing what we need to do, and if it works, I’m guessing that at some point the Chantry will start acting like it was their idea all along.” Her grin grew faintly wicked. “You might even end up the next Divine,” she suggested, knowing that Sati would likely find that prospect every bit as appealing as she would … which was to say not at all.

Movement ahead: a small herd of mountain sheep in a clearing, pawing away snow to reach the grass beneath. Vandi brought a finger to her lips, then slipped an arrow from her quiver and set it to the bowstring, sighting along it until she found a decent looking ewe at the edge of the clearing. She drew, held and released between breaths; the arrow flew true, striking just behind the forelegs, into the heart, and the ewe sank into the snow without a sound. The rest of the herd started slightly, but Vandi remained motionless, and they moved a few steps, then settled back to their foraging.

She tilted her head toward them, eyebrows arched in query. Two would be about the most that they could haul back easily.
 

Sati Adaar

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#14
“Have there been any talks with local farmers about providing some livestock in exchange for getting rid of demons and bandits?”

Vandi was somebody worth keeping around. Instead of fussing over what the Chantry thought, she was thinking about feeding refugees and exchanges with local landowners. “Not so far as I know. I think the council still keeps a great deal from me. Just in case. But I’ll suggest it and see if any of them bite.” Josephine would probably warm to the idea. Her deal seemed to be exchanges of favour and coin, with the very occasional touch of blackmail. In comparison to Leliana’s a lot of blackmail, and Cullen’s method of ‘stamp on it until it dies.’ Which normally she’d have been in agreement with, except it didn’t put food in bellies.

There were some things she was privy to, though. Like that they needed to secure some powerful supporters, and fast. One of them was not a place keen on the idea of a qunari Herald, or even one at all. Val Royeaux could disappear up its own backside as far as Sati was concerned, but the capital had influence and they needed to acknowledge that. She asked Vandi for her opinion.

The opinion – that the capital couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery right now, let alone an Exalted March – was welcome. She grinned in return at Vandi. She wouldn’t take unnecessary risks, that wasn’t her way, but it was good to know that the shouty messages they’d received were mostly hot air.

“I guess I’ve always considered myself an Andrastean, but I’ve not been in many chantries. The Chantry let things get to this point, though admittedly I don’t have any idea what they might have done differently.”

“Whenever there’s something like this there’s always a lot of people complaining it didn’t go the way they wanted, but don’t have a solution to fix it themselves.”

“Their opinion might color the reactions of the populace for now, but it’s the Inquisition who is working to set things right while the Chantry is holed up in Val Royeaux. People are going to notice that. Don’t expect any thanks from the Chantry for cleaning up their mess. But don’t let them goad you … and they will try. If we keep doing what we need to do, and if it works, I’m guessing that at some point the Chantry will start acting like it was their idea all along.” Vandi grinned, in a manner that reminded Sati of one of her fellow mercs. “You might even end up the next Divine.”

Sati laughed, scaring a couple of birds off a nearby branch before she managed to stifle herself. “If I believed in the Maker, I would imagine He would come down and personally punch everybody who voted for me in the head. I’m not His type – I gather He likes pretty, singing humans.”

Fortunately, her burst of noise hadn’t scared away a few sheep grazing nearby. Their ears were unmarked, which set them out as an incredible bounty; they didn’t belong to anyone. Vandi took down a ewe with one shot; Sati followed suit. May as well bring back what they could. The rest of the herd, in the manner of all sheep, ran about fifty yards further away, then immediately forgot the danger and returned to grazing.

“I think this will do for now.” Sati headed over to the sheep she’d dropped, and picked it up over her shoulder with no effort. “And we should maybe see if there’s a shepherd or some sheepdogs around in Haven. If we can herd the lot of them back towards the town, that’ll be a living larder for a while.”

She held out her arm to Vandi. “Do you want me to take yours as well?”
 

Vandi Morganach

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#15
Vandi wasn’t terribly surprised to find that the idea of meat that didn’t have to be hunted down had not yet made it onto the list of priorities, and she wasn’t about to claim that she’d have done any better at dealing with the end of the sodding world. You worked with what you had and fit in the new pieces as they presented themselves.

“I think the council still keeps a great deal from me. Just in case,” Sati admitted “But I’ll suggest it and see if any of them bite.”

Vandi nodded. “They’re likely worried about looking bad if they ask for help from the people they’re helping,” she mused. “Particularly with the Chantry’s squawking. But farmers tend to be a practical bunch, and they know the value of a good trade. You’ll have some try to dig in their heels, but their neighbors will knock them into line.” A good shunning or a lively scolding by the local elders could work wonders.

Nor was it surprising that the Chantry was a source of concern to the ones it was calling heretics, though it didn’t seem likely that what remained of said Chantry was capable of doing much beyond name calling. They certainly hadn’t been out trying to help the downtrodden masses.

“Whenever there’s something like this there’s always a lot of people complaining it didn’t go the way they wanted, but don’t have a solution to fix it themselves,”
the Herald observed gloomily.

“It’s always easier to bitch about something than to fix it,” Vandi responded with a pragmatic shrug. “And then bitch that the way it’s being fixed isn’t they way they wanted it done.” But she’d seen enough bellwether politics to know that if a solution became popular, even the naysayers would fall into line and act as if they’d been there all along.

Her suggestion that Sati might end up the new Divine drew the most genuine sound of amusement she’d heard yet from the Herald. “If I believed in the Maker, I would imagine He would come down and personally punch everybody who voted for me in the head,” she observed as she brought her laughter under control after a pair of jays flew off squawking their disapproval. “I’m not His type – I gather He likes pretty, singing humans.”

“That’s what the Chantry thinks He likes, anyway,” Vandi conceded. “But a whole bunch of that type died in the explosion, and you survived with the one thing that might be able to fix this mess.” She cocked her head, regarding the Vashoth curiously. “You think it’s just a coincidence?” She wasn’t proselytizing by any means, because damned if she knew what it all meant, but it was enough to make her wonder.

Talk ceased as they sighted prey, and if Sati’s shot wasn’t quite as precise as Vandi’s, it got the job done and better than twenty stone of meat, offal, bone stock and hide netted for the Inquisition.

“I think this will do for now,” Sati remarked. “And we should maybe see if there’s a shepherd or some sheepdogs around in Haven. If we can herd the lot of them back towards the town, that’ll be a living larder for a while.”

“Good idea.”
Vandi strode to a sapling, reaching for her hatchet to begin making the sledge. Sheep were among the stupidest animals on the face of Thedas - already the survivors had settled back down at the far end of their flight distance - but if you understood the stupid, you could use it.

“Do you want me to take yours as well?”

Turning, Vandi’s mouth dropped open at the sight of the Herald standing with a full grown ewe slung over one shoulder as if it weighed no more than a rabbit, and reaching out with her free arm for the second. She’d known that qunari were strong, but … damn. “Be my guest,” she invited with a grin, shaking her head in bemused wonder.

Her first clue that their little expedition had not received official sanction was the six archers drawing down on her as soon as they were in sight of the gates. To their credit, they had the sense not to aim at the Herald … and Vandi had the sense to stop where she was and put her hands in the air without protest. Not the first time she’d been in this kind of situation, and she would definitely prefer that it not be the last time.

“A note?” The dark haired beauty with the Antivan accent who strode through the gates couldn’t have looked more out of place if she’d been stark naked: silk and ruffles and not a hair out of order, though she did seem a bit out of breath as she glared up at Sati. “You left with nothing more than a note?” She brandished a scrap of parchment with an aggrieved expression. “Threnn was frantic!” Vandi caught sight of the quartermaster further up the slope beyond the gates, her expression suggesting that they were not going to be bosom buddies, no matter how much meat she brought in.

“What is the meaning of this?” a severe looking woman with a Nevarran accent demanded, glowering directly at Vandi.

“Who are you?” The other two women she might not know, but Vandi recognized the one challenging her now, though the icy blue eyes and forbidding expression bore little resemblance to the tales of the playful Orlesian that she’d heard from the other Blackstones.

That question at least was one that she could answer. “Inquisition Scout Vandilenne Morganach,” she rapped out, drawing herself to attention and producing Charter’s writ. Leliana took it, reading it with narrowed eyes. “Your quartermaster indicated that you needed meat,” she went on when she wasn’t immediately turned into a pincushion. “The Herald was kind enough to offer to assist, which let me bring back more.”

“The meat is indeed welcome,” the man who had been overseeing the training admitted as he approached, scrubbing a hand over the stubble on his jaw. He didn’t look as though he’d had much sleep recently. None of them did, but while that might account for their snappishness, it also meant that they were more likely to make mistakes, so Vandi remained still. “But you should have taken more people; it’s dangerous out there.”

“More people means more noise, which means less meat,” she countered bluntly.

“And the Herald of Andraste is not a pack animal!” the Antivan exclaimed indignantly.

“I didn’t ask her to be,” Vandi shot back tersely, “but damned if I was going to tell her she couldn’t do what she wanted.” These stuffed shirts were treating their Herald like a dog that had escaped the yard, and that was bullshit.
 

Sati Adaar

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#16
Sati knew she was strong. It had been a point of pride for her that she had always been able to best Ser Lehmann’s other squires, and not just out of the natural robustness of her people; she had worked hard for it, and had the iron beneath her skin to prove it. Vandi’s awestruck expression as she reached for the other sheep caused a ripple of pleasure that made a good counterpoint to the dozens of negative sensations she’d been subject to over the last few days.

That warm feeling wore off as they came within sight of the encampment again. A few sets of shining armour made it clear that a search party had been gathered, and those guards on the gates with bows took aim at Vandi. Before Sati could drop the sheep and tell them to stand down (not that she was certain they’d listen to her), Josephine had come tearing through the gates, still as well groomed as ever but certainly more ruffled than Sati had yet seen her.

“A note? You left with nothing but a note?”


A cavalier shrug would have been Sati’s normal reaction. Annoyingly, she found she had quite liked Josephine on their interactions so far, so this resolved itself into a sheepish smile (appropriately enough). It did precisely nothing to calm the ambassador down. “Threnn was frantic!”

Cassandra, Leliana and Cullen were on Josephine’s heels, none of them radiating welcome. Vandi stepped forward to introduce herself. “Your quartermaster indicated that you needed meat. The Herald was kind enough to offer to assist, which let me bring back more.”

Sati nodded, trying not to wince as one of her horns snagged a woollen curl. “I could be of more use doing this than sitting around the village.”

Cullen proved himself a person of sound mind by acknowledging this. “The meat is indeed welcome. But you should have taken more people; it’s dangerous out there.”

Vandi countered; more people meant more noise. Josephine argued that Sati should not have been used to carry the animals, essentially ignoring the fact that they’d brought in food, and the scout argued back. “I didn’t ask her to be, but damned if I was going to tell her she couldn’t do what she wanted.”

“But she can’t do what she wants, when she wants.” Cassandra’s voice was quieter now, but clipped. “If she did, she’d likely be hunted down by renegades who want to hand her over to the Chantry, and she would be dead, well away from our protection.”

She is standing right here. And I’m doing no good scratching my behind all day.” Annoyingly, though, Cassandra did have a point. There would be some opportunists who would try and take her head to win points with the Chantry, as much of a mess as its upper echelons were in right now. “Give me stuff to do to help with this lot-” she gestured to the village as a whole – “Or I’m going to take it into my own hands.”

“Careful, qunari. We could still put you back in the cells.”

Sati lowered the sheep to the floor, slowly. She then walked towards Cassandra until they were barely a hand’s breadth from each other. To the other woman’s credit, she didn’t flinch, although she was one of few who didn’t. A tough human, but still one Sati could likely pull apart without much effort. She heard a bowstring creak overhead. Through long practice, she kept her voice even. “Do not call me qunari.” A pause. “I’m not one of them. My name is Sati Adaar.”

There was a long silence. Cassandra eventually broke their eye contact, although she didn’t take a step back. “Very well. I…apologise.”

Sati suspected Cassandra didn’t really appreciate the full measure of importance behind Sati having her own name, but at least she’d proven she wasn’t so stubborn that she wouldn’t acknowledge being in the wrong. “I’m going to deliver the sheep to Threnn.”

“Herald!” Leliana chose to scrape Sati’s patience a little. “We’re not adverse to you helping us, but please, you need to let send people with you. Or at least deliver your message in person. Should anything happen to you, everyone here is doomed.”

Clever way of letting any eavesdroppers know that turning on Sati would bite them in the arse eventually. “Fine. But I’m not sitting around doing nothing anymore. And we need to sort a group of hunters for Vandi to head – there’s plenty of sheep to be had, we just need more people to go and get them.”
 

Vandi Morganach

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#17
Sati reacted mildly enough to the Antivan’s chastisement, but her features hardened at the reprimands from the others. “I could be of more use doing this than sitting around the village,” she pointed out, shifting beneath her burden, but still not seeming unduly wearied by it.

To Vandi, the answer had been cut and dried: the Inquisition needed meat, the Herald wanted to help in getting that meat, the Herald helped. End of story. But it wasn’t that simple by any stretch, and if she had been focused on something besides tweaking the overly officious quartermaster’s nose, she’d have realized it quickly.

“But she can’t do what she wants, when she wants,” the Nevarran woman spoke up impatiently. “If she did, she’d likely be hunted down by renegades who want to hand her over to the Chantry, and she would be dead, well away from our protection.”

She was right, damn it, and if Valdon had been here, Vandi would have gotten a cuff to the back of the head - for starters. She’d been part of protective details before, knew that sometimes - sod, most of the time - the one they were protecting wasn’t permitted free movement. And if they insisted on it, the contract was voided, because that kind of carelessness put the lives of everyone at risk.

She is standing right here,” Sati reminded them irritably. “And I’m doing no good scratching my behind all day. Give me stuff to do to help with this lot-” she jerked her head up the slope toward the sprawling settlement and the people within - a sizable proportion of which had gathered to watch. “Or I’m going to take it into my own hands.”

The Nevarran’s dark eyes were as cold as the water beneath ice. “Careful, qunari. We could still put you back in the cells.”

Vandi felt her jaw drop. Good luck getting her to close the rifts from there, you jackass, was on the tip of her tongue, but the words died at sight of the look on Sati’s face.

Oh … shit.

The sheep carcasses were lowered into the dirt one at a time, carefully enough that the guts wouldn’t rupture and taint the meat, and then the Tal-Vashoth rose back to her full height and moved forward until she towered directly over the Nevarran. From the top of the wall, the creak of a bow that was not aimed at Vandi, and the scout tensed, ready to step into the arrow’s path if need be, because damned if she was going to be the reason that the Herald of Andraste was killed by her own people.

“Lower your weapons!” Leliana ordered without taking her eyes from Sati and the Nevarran, then, “Now!” Shuffling overhead, and a cautious glance upward confirmed that she had been obeyed.

Which left only one potential disaster, but Sati didn’t seem inclined to be the cause. “Do not call me qunari,” she told the Nevarran, her voice low but measured. “I’m not one of them. My name is Sati Adaar.”

No one moved or spoke for several endless moments. Then the Nevarran looked away from Sati, her gaze meeting that of Leliana and some unspoken communication passing between them. “Very well,” she said at last, turning back to the Herald. “I…apologise.”

Spoken in the manner of one who didn’t get a lot of practice at it, but Sati seemed to accept. “I’m going to deliver the sheep to Threnn,” she declared, still wrapped in that same tight calm that was the antithesis of the image that most folk had of Tal-Vashoth. In Vandi’s experience, they tended to run the same gamut as other mercs, and in roughly the same proportions. Thing was, when someone that big and strong ran amok, it tended to leave a lasting impression that overshadowed all others.

“Herald!” Leliana spoke up as Sati bent to retrieve the sheep. “We’re not adverse to you helping us, but please, you need to let send people with you. Or at least deliver your message in person. Should anything happen to you, everyone here is doomed.”

If the Nevarran’s harsh address hadn’t caused her to lose her temper, this didn’t seem likely to. “Fine,” Sati agreed. “But I’m not sitting around doing nothing anymore. And we need to sort a group of hunters for Vandi to head – there’s plenty of sheep to be had, we just need more people to go and get them.”

Cool blue eyes cut back to Vandi. “Very well. You are from the Blackstone Irregulars, yes? Come with me and we will discuss what you require.”

Vandi nodded, already resigned to the fact that ‘Hey, good job!’ wasn’t going to be included in that talk … and probably shouldn’t be. She had some work to do to fix the stain she had put on her company’s name through her carelessness, and no better time than the present to start.

“Tavern later?” she called after Sati. “My treat.” If they were smart, they didn’t make their Herald pay for her drinks, but if they did, buying a round or three was the lest she could do for the shit she’d stirred up.
 

Sati Adaar

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#18
Leliana had the sense not to hold Sati’s actions against Vandi any further. Although Sati did notice that nobody was thanking Vandi for having the brains to actually go out in search of food, either. The organisation was small, scrappy and barely functioning at the moment, trying to balance keeping the Chantry off their backs while caring for the refugees who continued to come into Haven every day. Small wondered that everybody was irritable to begin with and even more annoyed now by Sati kicking in the races.

She wasn’t going to apologise for that, though. As she’d said to them, she needed something useful to do, and without direction on how to do it she’d gone out and made herself useful. It was what she did; if nothing else, as a spit in the eye to the Qun and all the theories that Tal-Vashoth amounted to little more than mindless, ravaging beasts. She was in control of herself, although she’d felt the urge to give Cassandra a shove just to see how far she could make the woman stumble.

Removing herself from the situation seemed like the best idea, and with as much dignity as she could muster she hoisted the sheep back onto her shoulders. Leliana was issuing instructions to Vandi, Cullen was watching Sati with an expression she couldn’t decipher – apparently bemused, but then he always looked that way to her when he wasn’t scowling – and Josephine had heaved a sigh and turned back towards the gates.

“Tavern later?” Sati paused, turning slightly towards Vandi, one eyebrow just slightly raised in surprise. She would have thought the other woman would attempt to avoid her now since being around her had nearly got her shot, but apparently not. “My treat.”

Sati had been in the tavern once so far. She had not cared for the stares and the whispering, and since then had stuck to gathering cold water from the nearest stream and quenching her thirst with that. It was not a great substitute for ale. Going back to the tavern, but this time with somebody to talk to, had its appeal. She nodded. “An hour. See you then.”

She traipsed through the gates, ready to drop the sheep off with Threnn and inform her that they had some more food coming in soon. Sati decided she trusted Vandi for now; hopefully the quartermaster would do the same.
 
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