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Celeste Monroe

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276
#1
((Guardian, 9:41; at sea between Jader and Val Royeaux))

‘Herald of Andraste’ was a grand-sounding title, and at first glance, its bearer was no less impressive, from her height to her broad shoulders to her horns, which, while not as large as Gideon’s, were still formidable. But if Sati Adaar believed all of the breathless rumors being spread about her, whether the Maker’s chosen or a heretic leading the gullible astray, she gave no hint of it.

Quiet and serious, she largely kept her mouth shut and her eyes open as the dark haired Nevarran woman attempted to renegotiate the bargain that Celeste had struck with Varric, evidently operating on the assumption that they should be donating their services to aid the noble cause of the Inquisition. Which was all well and good, except that paying jobs were few and far between these days, and she never knew when she was going to have to take on a boatload of terrified people to get them away from demons and keep them fed until she could drop them off somewhere safe. And it wasn’t as though she were gouging them on the price; passage for four on a voyage that barely took sunrise to sunset and shaved better than a week off the journey overland wasn’t going to break anybody’s budget, but it still took a bit of haggling before a fee was agreed on and the Herald, Varric, Cassandra Sodding Pentaghast and a bald elven apostate with odd taste in fashion accessories boarded and they cast off.

The elf - Solas, as he had solemnly introduced himself (Varric called him Chuckles)- almost immediately vanished into one of the two cabins they had paid for. Princess Grumpy-ass strode the deck scowling, while Varric stationed himself in the galley, as far from the ocean as he could get. Celeste had resigned herself to a long day’s sail when Sati had upchucked half an hour under way, but there had been no recurrences, and she kept to the rail, her pensive gaze on the horizon and her hands holding only slightly more tightly than normal to the wood.

“Been at sea often?” Celeste asked as she approached. The seas were good and the winds favorable; she’d turned the helm over to Dax once they were at sea. Gideon hung back; coiling rope in the shade of the fo’c’sle. He’d taken Varric’s warnings against flirting to heart, but he was curious, and Celeste couldn’t blame him. She could count the number of female Tal-Vashoth she’d seen on one hand with fingers left over, and never up close. And none of the others had sported a glowing green … whatever on one hand.
 

Sati Adaar

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#2
Sati was not fond of the sea. She could appreciate it from an aesthetic point of view, and sunset or sunrise dancing off the waves against a pale pink backdrop was always appealing. She also liked the sense of space, something somebody of her size rarely found in the city. What was harder to deal with was how it wouldn’t stop sodding moving.

It was the same reason she rarely drank; she didn’t like that sensation of the perception of her surroundings being off. Every step she took either landed too hard or too light and caused her to stumble, and her recently filled stomach had disagreed with the perpetual motion strongly enough that it wasn’t long after they left for her to empty it out again.

Thankfully that had been the only sign of internal rebellion so far, but sweat still beaded slightly on her forehead and the dizziness was enough that she only felt secure holding tightly to the side. Watching the dip of the waves didn’t really help, but being holed up below decks would be worse. Instead she kept her eyes on the horizon, where the sea barely seemed to be moving at all, gaze unwavering until the captain, a handsome woman with a shock of blonde hair barely held back by a bandana, came over.

“Been at sea often?”

Sati shook her head. “Not especially. I’ve had occasion to travel once or twice, but found it – disagreed with me.” She offered a wry smile. “I seem to be getting better, though. I am not quite the same shade as my hand.”

People’s reactions to the scar ran a wide gamut. Some ran shrieking. Some wanted to poke it. Some seemed almost hypnotised. The overwhelming reaction was some form of fear, but from what she’d gathered about Celeste, the woman didn’t scare easily.

Other than the obvious care the crew had for the ship and the good price the captain had offered, Sati’s eye had been caught by the fact that there was another qunari on board. Rare enough to see another of her kind, let alone one as a sailor, and evidently trusted by the others he worked with. Sati inclined her head towards him. “What’s his story?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#3
She hadn’t fully acclimated yet; sweat still dampened her forehead and temples, and her features had that tightness that Celeste had seen in plenty of passengers, but she wasn’t making a big fuss of it, or trying to hide it.

“Not especially,” she replied to the query about her oceangoing experience. “I’ve had occasion to travel once or twice, but found it – disagreed with me.” Her lips quirked into a rueful moue. “I seem to be getting better, though. I am not quite the same shade as my hand.”

“Some people do acclimate,” Celeste agreed, “and I’ve had some poor bastards heaving their guts from casting off to tying up, so count yourself lucky.” And that’s all it was: luck. No way to tell who was going to be susceptible to seasickness, or how badly. The big and brawny could be felled by it while the skinny and frail were just fine, and vise versa. “Our healer has a draught that does a pretty good job of settling stomachs. Tastes like shit, though, so I don’t recommend it unless you can’t stop feeding the fish.” The formulation was similar to the hangover remedy that Brannigan was alternately cursed and blessed for.

The violet eyes left the horizon and she tipped her head in the direction of the first mate. “What’s his story?”

“Gideon?” Celeste followed her gaze as Gid responded to the scrutiny with a polite nod. “He’s Tal-Vashoth. My husband and his father pulled him out of the ocean in the Ventosus Straits after a shipwreck when he was fourteen. He’s been on the Wicked Grace ever since.” Anything else was Gideon’s to tell, if he chose.

“What’s your story?” she asked, since that particular door had been opened. “I’m guessing you didn’t just wake up one morning with an urge to knock religion in southern Thedas on its collective ass.” If she had, she had succeeded splendidly; either way, the holy prigs were having conniptions, which Celeste approved of on general principle.
 

Sati Adaar

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#4
As uncomfortable as she was right now, Sati felt lucky not to be one of the poor folk whose guts churned from the moment they stepped on the gangplank to the moment they disembarked. Mild discomfort was where she was at, now that her breakfast was no longer in her stomach to jump around in time with the waves. Hopefully the sweating would alleviate with time too. Fortunately she was not without options. “Our healer has a draught that does a pretty good job of settling stomachs. Tastes like shit, though, so I don’t recommend it unless you can’t stop feeding the fish.”

She managed a smile, although it felt a little forced. “I seem to be all right for now. But I will take your recommendation if I take a turn for the worse.”

Sati had long ago worked out that the best way to deal with pain or discomfort, once the initial cause had been addressed, was distraction. Fortunately, there was plenty aboard the Wicked Grace to offer in that way. From the captain who presumably had a story to back up each scar to the wide range of people serving aboard it, to the other qunari – or not-qunari – quietly making himself useful in the background. Sati, wary of potential confrontation, asked about him first.

His name was the first tell that he’d shed any link to the Qun. Sati’s parents had chosen her name from a human book, but it was sufficiently qunari-ish that not many people were surprised by it. ‘Gideon’ was as human a name as one could get. “He’s Tal-Vashosh. My husband and his father pulled him out of the ocean in the Ventosus Straits after a shipwreck when he was fourteen. He’s been on the Wicked Grace ever since.”

Some of the tension in Sati’s shoulders had relaxed during the short tale. It was not unheard of for qunari to go undercover as Tal-Vashoth, although they tended to prefer to make the viddathari do the dirty work for them. She doubted Gideon had planned back as far as that, though. “A reliable sort to have at your back in a battle, I’d warrant.”

A fair exchange was demanded; Celeste wanted to know about her. “I’m guessing you didn’t just wake up one morning with an urge to knock religion in southern Thedas on its collective ass.”

A small smile curled the corner of Sati’s mouth. “No, that urge has been fairly consistent since I was aware of what the Chantry actually was.” She leaned a little less heavily on the rail; while her story of how she had come to her current place was not a fun one to tell, the distraction was working.

“I was part of a mercenary company hired to serve as general muscle at the Conclave. Apparently our patron didn’t trust either the mages or templars to behave themselves.” Officially, they had been employed by the Divine, although naturally it had been an under-under-under cleric of some description who had hired them. “My next memory after running a patrol or two was waking up in a prison cell, with this on my hand,” she held out her palm for Celeste to see – “and being accused of blowing everybody up. Everyone wanted to execute me for a while, then they found out I could close rifts, and then only a lot of people wanted to execute me.”

She closed her fist.

“I could have run, a few times, or refused to have anything to do with it, but I think that would have made me fairly unpopular.” This accompanied by a faint, sardonic smile. “And my code of honour would not have allowed it, anyway. This world is already hard enough work for most people without throwing demons into the mix.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#5
The wariness seeped out of Sati’s features as Celeste offered the abbreviated version of Gideon’s life story; that it had been there was not surprising. Most Tal-Vashoth tended to be cautious when meeting another of the race for the first time, owing to the inordinate fondness that most Qunari had for killing Tal-Vashoth on sight. And one that had been spit out of the Fade with a magic mark on one hand and the moniker of Herald of Andraste following her around … well, Celeste was pretty sure they wouldn’t be wanting to make her the next Arishok.

“A reliable sort to have at your back in a battle, I’d warrant,” the big woman offered.

Celeste nodded, an easy grin quirking her mouth. “In a battle, in a storm, in pretty much any other shit you can name,” she agreed. Gid had been a constant in her life since she’d been sixteen: rock solid when there was trouble, but down for any shenanigans that could be devised. “Looks good in a dress, too,” she tossed out, just because she could, before asking about just how present company had managed to knot pretty much every pair of knickers worn under Chantry robes.

“No, that urge has been fairly consistent since I was aware of what the Chantry actually was,” Sati admitted with a sly smile that Celeste immediately liked.

“You’re on the right ship then,” she congratulated the Herald. “Do you make a habit of overachieving to this level?”

“I was part of a mercenary company hired to serve as general muscle at the Conclave,”
Sati explained. “Apparently our patron didn’t trust either the mages or templars to behave themselves.”

Celeste snorted, her smile turning brittle at the edges. “They nailed that. They’re nearly as bad as the fucking demons.” If you had one of each within a mile of each other, they’d fight, regardless of what - or who - lay between them. The mages, at least, tended to try to stay low profile when the templars weren’t around - most of them, anyway, though the exceptions were bad enough to make you forget about the decent blokes. Blood mages, abominations … great fun. And the sodding templars running about accusing people of being mages for lifting their hands to cover a sneeze … then killing them. Again, not all of them, but again, it was the assholes that stood out. And all of it was feeding into the chaos that had turned the world upside down and was making it impossible to track down Nicolette … which meant that Celeste was more than ready to just kill them all and let the Maker figure out who went where.

“My next memory after running a patrol or two was waking up in a prison cell, with this on my hand,” Sati went on, holding out her left hand, palm up, the mark obscuring the flesh beneath a play of flickering green light, “and being accused of blowing everybody up. Everyone wanted to execute me for a while, then they found out I could close rifts, and then only a lot of people wanted to execute me.”

“Don’t feel too bad,” Celeste offered, eying the mark with interest, wondering if asking to touch it would be rude. It was undoubtedly crazy, but she was curious. “From what I recall, Andraste had the same problem.” Of course, everyone knew how that had ended, so maybe not the best comparison. “You could heal the sick, fart rainbows and piss single malt whiskey, and somebody would find something to be offended by.”

“I could have run, a few times,” Sati mused, “or refused to have anything to do with it, but I think that would have made me fairly unpopular.” A smirk acknowledged the understatement. “And my code of honour would not have allowed it, anyway. This world is already hard enough work for most people without throwing demons into the mix.”

That … was intriguing, and Celeste could see Gideon regarding the Herald with surprised respect. Honor wasn’t a word that got tossed about on the high seas all that often, but sometimes right and wrong were so starkly delineated that keeping to the grey areas wasn’t even an option … for Celeste and her crew, anyway. Slavers were one of those issues, demons another. And while there was little doubt that there would have been resistance to the newly anointed Herald cutting and running, with a good, heavy glove to cover the mark, she probably could have done it, and it sounded as though she had been given ample reason to not to want to stay.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad you stuck around,” Celeste told her. It was definitely food for thought, though: the one survivor of the explosion had both the means to combat the insanity that had been unleashed and the willingness to do it, even knowing that she’d likely receive little credit and plenty of shit. And the fact that she was not only not Andrastean but not even human confirmed one of Celeste’s long held beliefs:

The Maker definitely had a sense of humor.

“You were with the Valo-Kas?” Gideon spoke up, hanging up the coiled rope. “I knew a couple of them: Kaariss and Meraad. Any chance they survived?”
 

Sati Adaar

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#6
Celeste pointed out that Andraste had had about the same problems with everybody trying to murder her. The comparison yet again to the woman grated, but at least in this instance Sati couldn’t argue. There were a lot of people who wanted her dead.

Fortunately, nobody on this ship. In fact Sati’s refusal to back down from a fight she was unlikely to win seemed to have earned her some consideration from the other Vashoth. In build, he reminded her quite a lot of the leader of the Valo-Kas. Not for the first time, Sati’s chest ached with the longing for her adopted family. When they’d first taken her in, she’d been wallowing in the pain of Ser Lehmann’s death and her frustration at facing the same treatment wherever she went, day in and day out. Inch by inch, she’d been coaxed out of that, and while she was never the easiest person to raise a smile from, she found it a lot easier with them than she’d ever done before.

Mind, various members of the Inquisition had their moments.

She was remembering The Iron Bull doing an unnervingly accurate impression of a pompous Chantry priest when Gideon joined the conversation. “You were with the Valo-Kas? I knew a couple of them: Kaariss and Meraad. Any chance they survived?”

Sati snorted quietly. “Why am I not surprised it’s those two you knew?” The pair were about as mischievous as you could get; while everybody in the Valo-Kas was good at disruption, they paired their formidable fighting skills with a sense of humour. More than once Sati had braced herself against the force of an expected grenade in the middle of a battle only for a brightly coloured spray of flowers to erupt. If you weren’t used to it, it could cause a fatal distraction.

“Kaaris was with me at the Conclave.” Kaaris, with her laughing eyes and her way of tweaking Sati’s earlobe when she felt that she was being too serious. There had been a few charred skeletons that might have been the right build for her in the ruins, but it was impossible to tell. There was no need to spell out that she hadn’t made it.

“But Meraad did. Our spymaster found him and a few others being held captive in a noble’s cellar a few weeks after the explosion. All of them came out spitting mad, of course, but glad to be alive. There was more of them than I expected there to be. They’re off doing odd jobs for the Inquisition at the moment.”

For those weeks, she’d been under the impression she’d lost everyone who’d come with her to the Conclave, and she’d fought with the abandon that came from half-hoping a stray arrow would finish her off and she could join them. But her training had held fast and she’d survived long enough to discover they had.

“They’re having the time of their lives at the moment, cutting up demons and getting paid for it. I’d hate to be the one that popped out of the Fade and my first experience of Thedas was seeing one of that lot charging at me.” Sati’s voice was tinged with affection; that she was proud of her family was something she felt no need to hide.

She turned her attention back to Celeste. “I imagine you have a similar bond with your crew?”

The seasickness hadn’t distracted her at the beginning from observing how quickly the sailors moved to obey their captain, or the ease with which they bantered with her. She didn’t seem the kind of captain who commanded respect through fear.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#7
Gideon being a Tal Vashoth wasn’t something that came up often, to be honest. In the circles they moved in, he had long since become an accepted sight. He was sailor and first mate on the Wicked Grace, simple as that. Away from the sea, though, he stood out more, depending on where they were. People stared, whispered, but seldom more than that. Celeste knew that he sometimes headed out on his own in port, had occasionally seen him in the company of what she assumed were other Tal Vashoth, but he didn’t talk about it, and she didn’t push. The things that had happened to him before Quinton Monroe had fished him out of the ocean hadn’t broken him, but they’d left their mark, along with a near-equal hatred for Qunari and Tevinters.

When he asked about two of her erstwhile squadmates, the Herald gave a snort. “Why am I not surprised it’s those two you knew?” she asked wryly, then grew more serious.

“Kaaris was with me at the Conclave,” she said quietly. She didn’t need to say more. Gid’s lips thinned, and he nodded grimly. Better luck for the other one - Maraad. “Our spymaster found him and a few others being held captive in a noble’s cellar a few weeks after the explosion. All of them came out spitting mad, of course, but glad to be alive. There was more of them than I expected there to be. They’re off doing odd jobs for the Inquisition at the moment.”

“Good that some of them survived,” Celeste told her, feeling a strong twinge of sympathy. Losing the Wicked Grace and her crew wasn’t a prospect that she could even begin to wrap her mind around, but she remembered all too clearly how the deaths of each and every one they had lost felt, like losing a piece of herself. And Nico -

She’s not dead, damn it. They’d gotten separated, that was all, just like Sati and at least some of her mates. They’d been found, and sooner or later, the Wicked Grace would catch up to her minstrel.

“They’re having the time of their lives at the moment, cutting up demons and getting paid for it,” Sati observed, her expression suggesting that she would rather be with them. “I’d hate to be the one that popped out of the Fade and my first experience of Thedas was seeing one of that lot charging at me.”

Celeste grinned. “Yeah, seeing Gid tends to make a lot of pirates think twice,” she acknowledged, tipping a nod to her first mate. “I’d imagine that a dozen or so like him might even set a demon back on its heels.” Or maybe not. The ones they had encountered had not seemed to give any thought to how the odds might be stacked against them. They never showed fear, never tried to escape. They just kept on attacking until they were dead … or whatever it was that happened to them when you hit, stabbed or shot them enough.

“I imagine you have a similar bond with your crew?” Sati asked her.

Celeste nodded, feeling a different twinge now. “We’ve all been together for quite a while,” she agreed. They’d take on newcomers here and there: sailors looking for a berth or willing to work off passage to another port; landlubbers dreaming of a life at sea; kids looking for adventure. Some stuck longer than others, but the current roster had been fairly solid for the last five years, except -

“We got separated from one when this all started.” She tried to keep her voice casual, but she could hear the tension beneath the words. “We’ve been looking ever since, but it’s been a bitch trying to reconnect. You might keep an eye out for her when you’re out and about. She’s a minstrel. Long brown hair, usually in a braid.” Eyes like amber in moonlight. “Amber eyes, Orlesian accent.” Beautiful, kindhearted, intelligent, talented, adventurous, passionate. “Got a big shaggy hound that travels with her.”

“Name’s Nicolette,” Gideon supplied. “The dog’s Thibault.”

Celeste nodded, clearing the tightness in her throat. “If you see her, tell her we’re looking for her,” she said gruffly. Surely Nico knew that? The sudden notion that her minstrel might be out there thinking that she had been deliberately abandoned settled in the sailor’s gut like a lead weight. “And let Varric know. He can get word to me.” Enough of that, on to subjects that wouldn’t put her in the mood to punch someone or get drunk. “So, how does that -” she nodded toward Sati’s right hand, “work, anyway? It closes the rifts, right? Does it just happen, or do you have to … fire it?”
 

Sati Adaar

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#8
Sati had been lucky. She hadn’t lost all her friends at the Conclave, although she’d lost enough that the annual vigil she kept for Ser Lehmann would now have a few other names added to the litany. Still, she didn’t get to see them as much as she’d like, and her duties as Inquisitor meant she couldn’t go along with them most of the time when they were fighting demons. They’d come some way dragging the world’s slowest druffalo back to a farm through a countryside filled with rifts and warring templars and mages. Now she was only sent on important assignments. And occasionally to make an impression. Apparently when they dropped off the steel from this one, she’d be sitting down with a few nobles so they could ask her the same hundred questions everybody did.

Fortunately she didn’t need to deal with that yet. Instead she asked Celeste if she had a similar connection with her crew as Sati did to the Valo-Kas. The captain nodded. “We’ve all been together quite a while now.”

The pain that crossed Celeste’s eyes in the next second was more striking than a dark cloud suddenly blocking the sun, and it was impossible to ignore. Despite the faint roiling still occurring in her gut, Sati was arrested by the look.

“We got separated from one when this all started. We’ve been looking ever since, but it’s been a bitch trying to reconnect. You might keep an eye out for her when you’re out and about. She’s a minstrel.” A minstrel? Not usually a regular position on ships. “Long brown hair, usually in a braid. Amber eyes. Orlesian accent. Got a big shaggy hound that travels with her.” As Gideon supplied them, Sati made a mental note of the names, not needing Celeste to spell out why finding one minstrel in the middle of all this chaos was so important. “If you see her, tell her we’re looking for her. And let Varric know. He can get word to me.”

Sati nodded. “You have my word. I’ll spread her description around.”

The scouts of the Inquisition had a lot to do and it would be frowned on to send any of them out specifically looking for a random woman, especially in a time when so many people had gone missing, but it wouldn’t hurt if a few of them knew that this Nicolette was of interest so they could make note of her if they saw her during the course of their work.

Celeste signalled the end of that conversation by drawing them back to a familiar topic. “So, how does that…work, anyway? It closes the rifts, right? Does it just happen, or do you have to…fire it?”

Sati held her palm out. “I have to focus on the rift, so it’s usually better if we’ve killed the demons first. But once I do – it’s like the point of a compass being drawn north. I feel a tugging along my arm, and then it connects. The rifts are too bright to look into directly, but it does seem to work like a wound being sewn shut, with the magic circling around the tear. I pull tight, and it snaps closed.”

She flexed her fingers. “Perhaps I might understand it better, were I a mage. As it is I think that circumstance couldn’t have landed on anybody less likely to understand what’s going on.”

Although another mercenary, in her shoes, might not have had the training as a knight which taught her when stabbing things wasn’t required. A diplomat, or cleric, wouldn’t have survived the demons long enough to get close enough to the rifts to close them. Sati didn’t like those thoughts – they came a little too close to the ‘chosen one’ theory that she was so keen to dispel.

She held out her hand. “You can touch it, if you want. A lot of people ask me if they can.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#9
There had to be scores - hundreds - of people who were looking for loved ones in the aftermath of the chaos that the Breach had unleashed; Celeste was thankful that Nicolette possessed a few traits that would make her easier to pick out. A beautiful minstrel traveling with a huge dog would be remembered … as long as she still had Thibault. But that was another of those things that Celeste tried not to think on, because she couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

Emphasis on tried.

Though she had to hear stories like this and the accompanying requests on a more than daily basis, Sati listened to Celeste and promised to keep an eye out, her manner strongly suggesting that her words were more than just rote assurances. Not that Celeste could do a damn thing if they were, but it did make her feel marginally better. Only marginally, though, so she quickly changed the subject, asking about the famous mark and how it worked.

“I have to focus on the rift,” the Herald explained, holding her left hand out, palm up, the mark flickering with fitful green light, “so it’s usually better if we’ve killed the demons first. But once I do – it’s like the point of a compass being drawn north. I feel a tugging along my arm, and then it connects. The rifts are too bright to look into directly, but it does seem to work like a wound being sewn shut, with the magic circling around the tear. I pull tight, and it snaps closed.”

“Sounds easy enough,” Celeste remarked, though the idea of having a part of her body acting outside her control was unsettling. Celeste wouldn’t like it; fortunately, she didn’t have to.

Sati curled her fingers into a fist, then opened them again, regarding her hand thoughtfully. “Perhaps I might understand it better, were I a mage,” she mused. “As it is I think that circumstance couldn’t have landed on anybody less likely to understand what’s going on.”

Celeste snorted. “The Maker has a weird sense of humor sometimes.” That He had one had never been a matter of doubt to her, but these last few months, she had to wonder if He had gotten hold of some divine hooch and gone on a bender after Andraste dumped him or something.

She extended the hand toward Celeste. “You can touch it, if you want,” she offered. “A lot of people ask me if they can.”

Not one to turn down the opportunity, Celeste ignored Gideon’s rumble of warning and cautiously probed into the light with a single finger. Faint warmth and a sudden metallic zing in her mouth that triggered a flood of spit, but she didn’t go up in a puff of smoke, so call it a win. “Weird,” she murmured as she drew back, swallowing and working her mouth to lose the strange sensation. “Good thing it’s not on your ass,” she quipped with a smirk, as images of curious hordes patting the holy Herald’s butt warred with those of her closing rifts by bending over and letting one rip. No, ‘devout’ was never going to be a descriptive that could be applied to her.

“The wound closure is an interesting analogy.” Brannigan had drawn near to listen and eyed the mark with wary interest. “Does it hurt at all? Oliver Brannigan, ship’s healer,” he introduced himself belatedly, bowing slightly. “Seasickness starting to ease up?”
 

Sati Adaar

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#10
One strange side effect of having the mark – and her status as the supposed Herald – was that people were far more keen on touching Sati than they had ever been before. While she wasn’t as stone-faced as some of her kind, she was still forbidding enough that most people had kept their distance. Now, even if they didn’t want to touch the mark, people brushed their fingers over her arm, asked to see if she had fangs, or if they could feel the texture of her horns (sometimes not even bothering waiting for a reply before doing so). Most of this was conducted with a quavering, reverential air that both annoyed Sati and unnerved her slightly. Although she hadn’t discouraged Leliana and Josephine using the ‘chosen one’ story where needed, she had rebuffed it if asked directly.

Celeste had not touched her without permission, and her interest seemed born of simple curiosity. So Sati offered the hand and watched in mild amusement as the woman started a bit. She didn’t freak out, though, which was better than how some people had reacted.

“Weird. Good thing it’s not on your ass.”

This elicited a rare roar of laughter from Sati. “I sincerely doubt any claim to the divine would have stuck with me long if that were the case. Not even our spymaster could put a positive spin on me closing rifts with my behind.”

One of the other crewmembers had sidled up, equally curious. “The wound closure is an interesting analogy.” He had a pleasant voice, albeit one that caused a brief flash of pain. The Starkhaven brogue was one of her favourite accents, and Ser Lehmann had had a perfect example of it. Sati had dulled her own version of it a while back, although it occasionally got stronger if she was angry – or drunk. “Does it hurt at all? Oliver Brannigan, ship’s healer.” He bowed; Sati returned it. “Seasickness starting to ease up?”

“Nice to meet you. And yes, I think it’s getting a bit better.” Her stomach still felt like somebody was walking about in it but she was no longer at risk of trying to eject them.

She stretched out her hand. “It was agony when I first awoke with it. I spent the first three days after the explosion in a coma, and when I woke it was hard to think. The pain came in pulses, getting stronger and faster moment by moment. Then we closed the rift at the Conclave and-” she closed her fingers. “I was knocked unconscious again, but when I recovered, the pain had receded dramatically. It still throbs, from time to time, but it’s bearable.”

In truth, when she came close to the rifts, there was still pain, but it ended the moment she closed them. And trying to kill all the demons surrounding each rift provided adequate distraction.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#11
Celeste’s remark about the possibility of the mark being in a more posterior location got a belly laugh that sounded as though it didn’t get used nearly enough. “I sincerely doubt any claim to the divine would have stuck with me long if that were the case,” Sati exclaimed. “Not even our spymaster could put a positive spin on me closing rifts with my behind.”

“The minstrels would have a field day,” Celeste smirked, striking a grand pose. Boldly forth she strode and bravely presented her behind, then gave out a mighty blow whose smell did strike the demons blind.” Best she could do without booze, good enough to get hoots of laughter from the crew close enough to overhear, but she felt her smile grow brittle at the edges, thinking of how Nicolette would have groaned, then laughed, then likely produced a much better sample of verse.

Brannigan came to the rescue, introducing himself and inquiring about their passenger and the mark.

“Nice to meet you,” Sati replied politely, the shadow in her eyes there and gone too quickly to identify what in the healer’s greeting had caused it. "And yes, I think it’s getting a bit better.”

“Good.” Brannigan examined the outstretched hand, probing around the palm in toward the center. “Fascinating,” he murmured, not the least bit intimidated by the glow.

“It was agony when I first awoke with it,” Sati admitted, looking down at it. “I spent the first three days after the explosion in a coma, and when I woke it was hard to think. The pain came in pulses, getting stronger and faster moment by moment. Then we closed the rift at the Conclave and-” she folded her fingers over her palm. “I was knocked unconscious again, but when I recovered, the pain had receded dramatically. It still throbs, from time to time, but it’s bearable.”

“I’ve some salves that you could try on it,” Brannigan suggested, “but I would imagine that the Inquisition has no shortage of healers on call.”

“None better,” Gideon announced, which was quite true. Celeste would put him up against any non-magical healer in Thedas and more than one of the magical variety.

“What’s the Inquisition like, anyway?” Celeste wanted to know. With Sati and Varric on the team, they couldn’t all be a bunch of holy prigs, but the Nevarran princess had a stick up her ass roughly the size of the ship’s mast, and while Celeste wasn’t sure what to make of the elf, it looked to be a safe bet that ‘Chuckles’ wasn’t a tribute to his sparkling wit.
 

Sati Adaar

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#12
Celeste’s response to the idea of Sati winning a battle with her arse was to come up with a verse that had Sati, and quite a few of the crew, laughing until they gasped. The discomfort in Sati’s stomach was entirely bearable now, and she thought that this must be a good crew to be part of. Shokrandar would like Celeste, definitely. She didn’t miss the fact that Celeste’s smile became a little tight, though, and she wondered why.

Before she could think of how to delicately phrase the question (why wasn’t Josephine with them?), the ship’s healer arrived to look over her mark for himself. The pain these days was ignorable, but Brannigan generously offered the use of some salves. “But I would imagine that the Inquisition has no shortage of healers on call.”

“None better.”

“I will try one. See if it helps.” No sense in not trying, anyway.

“What’s the Inquisition like, anyway?”

“As varied as the people who make it up.” The Inquisition was becoming larger by the day, as refugees, mercenaries, healers, apostates and former templars all threw their lot in with her. “We have a qunari with us; he doesn’t act like any I’ve met before. He likes being of the Qun but he can drink and fight and tell filthy stories with the best of them. The Iron Bull.” The Chargers were pretty well known in mercenary circles, so the crew might know them. “Most of the inner council are a bit on the severe side, except for our ambassador.”

She paused, breathing in the clean sea air. Out here, it was almost as though her life was back to normal.

“It’s not bad. We’re trying to help people who’re in trouble, for the most part. There’s always going to be those who try and take advantage of the desperate, and when we find them, they get short shrift.” Everybody got a chance. Just one. A hungry person stealing food didn’t count; somebody tricking the food out of other peoples’ mouths when they had plenty of their own would be driven out or killed. “I miss being able to come and go as I please, though.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#13
Sati accepted Brannigan’s offer of a salve for her hand, and the healer made his way back to the infirmary. Hopefully, it wouldn’t extinguish the mark, though Celeste wondered if the Herald would really mind. She was pretty sure a bunch of other people would.

“As varied as the people who make it up,” Sati replied when asked about the Inquisition. “We have a qunari with us; he doesn’t act like any I’ve met before. He likes being of the Qun but he can drink and fight and tell filthy stories with the best of them. The Iron Bull.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Gideon remarked, eyes narrowing a bit in sudden wariness. “I thought he was another Tal-Vashoth. He follows the Qun?” That would be unwelcome news for her first mate; he’d been fucked over thoroughly by the Qunari before being found by Quinton and Daniel, and he knew good and well what most of them thought of those who rejected their precious Qun. Strange that the Inquisition would let one into the fold.

“Most of the inner council are a bit on the severe side, except for our ambassador.”

“That’s the way of it with the higher-ups everywhere,” Celeste commiserated with her, watching as she lifted her head into the breeze, breathing deeply. “Glad it’s not me.” Fortunately, the Maker’s sense of humor wasn’t that twisted.

“It’s not bad,” the Herald mused. “We’re trying to help people who’re in trouble, for the most part. There’s always going to be those who try and take advantage of the desperate, and when we find them, they get short shrift.” That sounded reasonable, though Celeste suspected that ‘short shrift’ didn’t include itching powder and fart bombs, more was the pity. “I miss being able to come and go as I please, though.”

“That would definitely suck.” She’d go nuts in record time. “Well, if you ever run across us in port, you’re welcome to come aboard for a run or two, if you like.” If she got over her seasickness quickly, she might actually enjoy the longer voyages.

The first hint of a shadow appeared on the horizon ahead. “Another couple of hours,” Celeste told Sati, shading her eyes with one hand, judging the distance. “Want us to stick around? Fast getaways are one of our specialties.” And pissing off the Chantry was another one. Win-win.
 

Sati Adaar

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#14
Gideon had heard of the Chargers, although he hadn’t been aware that The Iron Bull was a full-blooded qunari. “I thought he was another Tal-Vashoth. He follows the Qun?”

Sati understood the concern in the first mate’s voice well. She’d experienced it when she’d been sent to the Storm Coast to meet up with the Charges, and had been expecting a full ambush. Qunari didn’t tend to bother making the distinction between Vashoth and Tal-Vashoth - they were all wanderers from the only path the Qun allowed. “He is. But he is somewhat...more enlightened than any qunari I met before. He offered his services to the Inquisition, and showed no sign of concern over the fact that I don’t follow. Nor am ever likely to. He has a very live and let live attitude.” The corner of her mouth quirked. “Plus, if I turned him away, there would be a long, miserable line of his former bed partners outside my door the next morning asking me to change my mind. He’s proven to be quite generous with his free time.”

Not that Sati had taken him up on the offer when it had been put to her. The Iron Bull was a magnificent fighter and she’d go toe to toe with him in the sparring ring anytime, but there was nothing there to pique Sati’s interest any further in that direction. The same was true of most of the inner circle, apart from Josephine.

All in all, being part of the Inquisition had become more bearable over time, although she lamented being able to move at will. Celeste commiserated. That would definitely suck. Well, if you ever run across us in port, you’re welcome to come abroad for a run or two, if you like.”

Sati smiled. “I may well take you up on that, once I stop feeling as though I have a cat in my guts.”

Celeste spotted land on the horizon - or at least, Sati assumed she did, the shadow could have been anything to her - and gauged the distance. “Another couple of hours. Want us to stick around? Fast getaways are one of our specialties.”

Sati didn’t need to weigh up her answer for long. She was pretty good at getting the measure of people quickly, and while she doubted that Celeste kept her ship running entirely by legal means - in this climate that would require a fleet of trading ships, which would be fat pickings for the numerous pirates taking advantage of the chaos - she wasn’t going to pry closest. “Sure. If we decide to stay, I’ll come back and pay you for the time. And I’ll ask our ambassador to issue you with a writ that announces you’re a safe trader for us to use.” She gave Celeste a sly sideways look. “It may prove useful under certain circumstances.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#15
“He is,” Sati confirmed when Gideon asked in surprise about this Iron Bull’s status as a follower of the Qun. “But he is somewhat...more enlightened than any qunari I met before. He offered his services to the Inquisition, and showed no sign of concern over the fact that I don’t follow. Nor am ever likely to. He has a very live and let live attitude.” A faint smirk touched her lips. “Plus, if I turned him away, there would be a long, miserable line of his former bed partners outside my door the next morning asking me to change my mind. He’s proven to be quite generous with his free time.”

Celeste snickered. “That’s one thing you have in common, anyway,” she told Gideon.

“Maybe.” Her first mate didn’t look convinced, and she couldn’t really blame him. Being subjected to the tender attentions of their re-educators would leave a lasting bad taste in the mouth of anyone who still had a mind of their own after.

A change of subject seemed in order. Sati didn’t exactly jump at the offer of another voyage, but she did seem interested.

Celeste’s offer to stick around to provide transportation for the return trip met with a more decisive response. “Sure. If we decide to stay, I’ll come back and pay you for the time. And I’ll ask our ambassador to issue you with a writ that announces you’re a safe trader for us to use.” The look she directed at Celeste was a knowing one. “It may prove useful under certain circumstances.”

“I’m always up for a mutually advantageous relationship,” Celeste replied amiably. Regular jobs had gotten harder to find since the Breach; a gig that provided regular pay was nothing to sneeze at, and they could still supplement their legal cargo with a bit of contraband. The demand for lyrium had taken a decided upswing in the last few months.

As they tied up at the docks at Val Royeaux, the bald elf emerged from his berth. “I have never encountered a ship with such strong ties to the Fade,” he remarked with an enigmatic smile. “It must have seen great joys and sorrows; it almost has a spirit of its own.”

“She does,” Celeste agreed, not quite sure what else to say, watching warily as he strode down the gangplank.

“Don’t worry about Chuckles,” Varric told her. “He’s always like that.”

“That must be fun.” She wasn’t going to ask what the elf had meant; she probably didn’t want to know.

Varric shrugged. “Keeps things interesting. You staying around?”

“Until we know if you need us or not, anyway,” Celeste promised, tipping a nod and a grin to Sati. “Have fun scandalizing the Chantry!” That earned her a scowl from Princess Pentaghast that she answered with a sunny smile. The Nevarran made a disgusted sound and stalked off the ship.

She’d only just lost sight of Sati’s horns over the curious crowd that teemed around the ‘Herald of Andraste’ when the distinctive hiss of an arrow overhead had everyone on deck ducking for cover, just in case one of the faithful had decided to express their displeasure more directly. It hit the mast with a heavy thunk, and when no more were delivered, Celeste glanced upward cautiously. A scrap of parchment was wrapped tightly around the shaft, tied with a fluttering length of bright red ribbon.

“Honestly, Sera,” Kali huffed an exasperated sigh as Piotr clambered up the mast to retrieve arrow and message and brought it to the captain.

“She knows how to get our attention.” Celeste untied the ribbon, freed the paper and read the message with interest. No name; the method of delivery had been the only signature necessary. “Looks like we’ll have something to do while we’re waiting.”
 
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