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Never Go Against an Antivan When Wine is on the Line [Closed]

Cam

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#1
(( 7 Justinia, 9:29 - Seleny, Antiva - Late afternoon, at a dock near the river - Sofia di Castelbuono ))

According to Matteo, most people celebrated their nineteenth birthday by getting absolutely shit-faced in a tavern somewhere with a few of their closest asshole friends.

Eva knew it to be biased advice, because Matteo was almost always a little drunk, and almost always surrounded by the crew of the Catalina Bella, who definitely counted as his asshole friends. He’d invited her out, even offering to pay for the night’s drinks, and Eva didn’t plan to refuse. She just had something she needed to take care of first.

When they’d followed the river up from Antiva City a week ago, she’d overheard a couple of men talking about a deal they were working on with a merchant in Seleny. It hadn’t taken much effort to blend in and get the details, especially when she’d done her best impression of a little lost Fereldan lamb and had let them buy her drinks and talk at her for hours on end.

Apparently they were owners of a vineyard of some renown. And by renown, they’d meant “the worst reputation in all of Antiva,” as Eva had later learned. They passed off swill to foreigners who wanted the status associated with buying expensive Antivan wine by the case, but had no actual taste for fine things. Apparently they’d just made a massive deal with a lord from the Free Marches who’d eaten up their sales pitch with no further thought.

It was underhanded, but Eva wasn’t above being underhanded. Especially if it meant she got the chance to scam someone who had more money than sense. As that seemed the case both for the chuckleheads who’d talked her up at the tavern and the Orlesian merchant who was going to meet them upriver, she had no moral hangups whatsoever about her plan.

She still didn’t, even as she stood at one of the docks that dotted the river, dressed in what could probably pass as fine Antivan silks to the casual observer. They were certainly colorful, the red and gold dress cut with a high slit along the leg that could distract if someone chose to look too closely at her clothing, and thankfully stopped just below the strip of leather that held her dagger in place.

She’d expected to do this alone, but Andrea had chosen to follow her around much of the day, not being remotely subtle about how much his gaze lingered on her ass, the only part of her that really sold the outfit. Andrea hadn’t been subtle about most things, but he was useful in a scrape. Sometimes. And he was harmless in the way a puppy was harmless. Liable to get over-excited and piss on your floor, but cute enough that he was hard to stay mad at.

“You should probably let me do most of the talking,” Andrea said, the native Antivan rolling off his tongue with ease.

“Are you saying my accent needs work?” Eva gave him her best doe-eyed look and her most awful Antivan accent before switching back to something serviceable. “It’s not like they’re going to know the difference. These idiots are here for a lie, they might as well get the whole thing.”

Speaking of said idiots, she could see a small boat in the distance, carrying two people wearing ridiculous hats. Her brows arched at Andrea and she let a smirk overtake her features before schooling them into something more pleasant.

The boat was rowed up to the dock and tied off, the two occupants who certainly weren’t doing any of the rowing only getting off once the vessel stopped moving so much. Eva stood with her hands folded demurely before her, a smile on her painted lips.

“Ah, buon pomeriggio!” one of the Orlesians, an older man in the most garish hat she had ever seen--and one that looked unsurprisingly phallic--spoke in the absolute worst approximation of an Antivan accent.

It was the kind of accent someone used when they thought they were being very clever. The kind that impressed their Orlesian friends in their fancy parlors, but no one else. Beside her, she thought she felt Andrea suppress a shudder.

“You must be… ah, I am actually unsure who you must be,” the man continued in common speech. “The people I have corresponded with were using names that sounded more… masculine. Obviously you are not--”

“What my dear husband is trying to say,” Eva’s lips twitched. She already liked this woman better than her husband. Shame she was about to be parted from her unearned gold, “is that it is a pleasure to meet you, Madame…?”

“Castel,” she said, extending her hand like the delicate flower she was pretending to be. “My father wanted a son, so your husband is not wrong.”

It was probably true. Who knew what her father wanted. He had five children he’d barely ever seen, and her least of all.

“This is my associate, Gabriele.” Andrea bowed at her introduction. “Normally I would conduct business over a glass of wine, but you have traveled far, and we are discussing this over wine in our own way, are we not?”

The smile she gave them had a sly edge to it that was designed to make them think they were in on the joke. Both of them laughed, and Eva snapped her fingers as a means of instructing Andrea to lift the cloth from the crates they’d hauled all the way out here. Crates that were filled with all the terrible wine even Matteo felt guilty about unloading. “Not fit to piss into,” she believed he’d said.

“Shall we take a look, then?”

She signaled for Andrea to pry open one of the crates, but before he could manage it, she caught sight of two men and a woman walking toward them with purpose. They were dressed in polished leathers, all three of them wearing the same style of half-cloak. Not Crows. At least, she didn’t think they were. But they were some kind of hired muscle, and she didn’t like the look of them.

“I’d advise you to be on your way monsieur, madame,” the woman said, flicking her cloak back to reveal the gleam of a dagger. “We’ve no business with you.”

Predictably, the Orlesians were quick to scramble back into their boat, telling the man who was doing the rowing to make haste. Eva could feel Andrea getting twitchy beside her, and she slowly reached to put a hand on his arm.

“I don’t appreciate seeing a perfectly good deal so rudely interrupted,” she said, casting a glance at the woman’s dagger.

“And we don’t appreciate having our deals spoiled by a charlatan who thinks she can one-up us.”

“Dammit, Eva,” Andrea’s voice broke, “I told you. You don’t try to sell wine in Antiva!”

“Shut. Up,” she hissed, elbowing him in the side.

“The boy is right. And I’d add to that: Take special care not to try and pass off someone else’s wine to pull the exact same scam.”

The woman reached for the dagger. Slowly. Slow enough to reveal a tattoo of a blooming vine wrapped around an anchor. It colored her wrist in black ink. Andrea must have seen it at the same moment she did.

“They’re pirates! You tried to steal from pirates? I’m not fucking dying for this.”

Before she could grab him, Andrea ran for it. The three “pirates” made no move to follow, but even still, she heard him bump into someone in his haste to leave her high and dry. Comparing him to a dog was apparently too generous. Dogs were at least loyal.

Eva sighed, dropping the lofty accent that had accompanied her Antivan before. “I’m sure we can sort this out. No sale was made, so no harm was done, right?”

“Wrong,” the woman said, a smile curving her lips as she brandished her dagger, the men who flanked her doing the same.

Well, shit. Apparently nineteen was going to be a birthday to remember. Either that, or it was going to be her last.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#2
Three weeks had passed since Sofia’s Joining. The nightmares had been hard to shake, but at least she had an advantage most did not; a lifetime of steeling herself against demons in her sleep. The images of the darkspawn were horrible but did not shake her so badly as if they might have had she not long since seen almost every variety of monster the Fade had to offer.

What was somewhat harder to overcome was her newfound freedom. Warden-Scout Giacomo had accompanied her almost everywhere the first couple of days, apologising profusely for her enforced conscription, but he had other duties to attend to and he could not hang on her every moment of every day. It had taken another two days after that before she finally set foot out of the compound on her own, looking over her shoulder every moment to check a templar was not about to come bearing down on her. She had received word that her handler, Ser Laziel, had been found dead shortly after news of her conscription had reached the Circle, but she still thought he might return at any moment and be enraged to find out what had happened.

Then again, it was entirely his fault for not protecting her in the first place.

Although perhaps ‘fault’ was too harsh a word. Certainly, she’d almost died as a result of his negligence, but now at twenty-eight years old, she took her first unaccompanied walk of her life. For all her self-confidence, the experience had been a little unsettling – but it had not taken long to get past it. The uniform not only guaranteed respect from most of the people she spoke to, it also appeared to alleviate their fears. She walked through the city unmolested, and returned to the compound beaming all over her face.

There had been no expeditions recently and most of her work in the infirmary involved patching up small training related injuries. She was working with another mage, Olek, a stone-faced Ander man who was starting to teach her some combat spells, but he didn’t keep her at it the whole day. So it had become her pleasure, each day, to walk through the city for an hour or two and try to find something new each time.

Today it was the docks. She had not been near the sea since before being taken to the Circle, and as she walked towards the seafront and the masts of the ships slowly rose above the roofline, she felt a little thrill. She had read many books about explorers and travellers and in every single one, the docks had been painted as a hive of activity, ripe with sailors, barmaids, spies, mercenaries and the like. She might even get to sit in a tavern and order an ale not made by a Tranquil, even pay for it with her own money.

She followed the roads until she was a street or so away from the docks, when a man barged past her, almost knocking her over in his haste to get by. Sofia caught herself from falling with her staff and whipped around, but the man had already disappeared down some alleyway or another.

She couldn’t catch him. But what had he been running from?

She slipped around a corner and took in the scene. A young woman, barely more than a girl, was standing in front of some crates. Confronting her were three armed people, none of them friendly. Sofia cast a quick look over them and saw nothing to indicate that they were part of the guard. Well, then – no harm in getting involved. She tapped her staff against the ground twice to get their attention, as she had done for her younger students at the Circle when they were getting noisy. “Signors. Signora.”

The three of them whipped around, all brandishing daggers. Sofia gauged them carefully. Her combat abilities were still limited…but they didn’t have to know that. It was time for some careful words. “What powers does this young lady possess that there are three of you against her – unarmed, no less? She must be truly fearsome for such caution to be necessary.”

One of the men had turned pale, and jabbed his female associate in the ribs. She curled her lip. “This isn’t your business, Warden. Walk away.”

“Yeah, there’s no darkspawn around here.”

Sofia made no move to take a step forward. “True. But did you know, not all Wardens fought before they were conscripted? I was a teacher. Of a sort. And I like to think I was kind, and gentle, and patient, especially to those who just needed a little extra help in order to understand the lesson. But a child using their superior strength or ability just to bully another?” She clicked her tongue. “Well. I found then that patience is not always a virtue. And I had very few repeat offenders in my class.”

This was quite exciting. She hoped her bravado wasn’t about to get the young woman killed, though.
 

Cam

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#3
Yvie had often told her that every Xuresh inherited a keen and analytical mind. Growing up she'd assumed that was just another thing she didn't have--another trait that marked her as an outsider in her own family. Turned out, her version of analyzing didn't involve poring over books and notes for hours on end. It was more based on quick thinking and improvisation--taking the factors she knew and weighing her choices against what might happen.

Right now, Eva saw three choices. She could try to charm her way out of this situation; maybe strike some kind of a deal. Seemed more likely to get her gutted and robbed than anything else, but it was an option. The next was to fight, which also felt like a very bad idea that would rival some of the worst decisions Matteo had made over the years. The last option--the one that was looking most likely to save her hide--was to just run. In slippers that pinched her toes and a dress that let in a draft.

She wasn't opposed to running, per se, but running meant conceding the point which meant she'd lost. And who wanted to lose on their birthday?

As she was choosing between the other two options, her fingers twitching with the urge to go for her concealed dagger, a fourth option presented itself. An option that came in the form of a pretty woman with pretty words--her favorite option, truth be told--wrapped in a Grey Warden's uniform--less of a favorite.

“What powers does this young lady possess that there are three of you against her – unarmed, no less? She must be truly fearsome for such caution to be necessary.”

It took some effort for Eva to avoid smirking at that. She had yet another decision to make, this fourth option giving her the chance to lean into the role of damsel in distress, or stall just long enough to get a solid hit in. If she could disarm the woman, she was pretty sure the other two idiots following her would think better of their own life choices.

“This isn’t your business, Warden. Walk away," the woman said with a sneer, one of the men echoing the words in the most obvious way possible, pointing out that--to everyone's great astonishment--there were no darkspawn here.

The Warden--very obviously an Antiva native, her words flowing with a grace and poise Eva envied--stood her ground. “True. But did you know, not all Wardens fought before they were conscripted? I was a teacher. Of a sort." Eva's brow arched. Now there was a story she'd like to hear. "And I like to think I was kind, and gentle, and patient, especially to those who just needed a little extra help in order to understand the lesson. But a child using their superior strength or ability just to bully another? Well. I found then that patience is not always a virtue. And I had very few repeat offenders in my class.”

She couldn't help thinking of the matrons in Redcliffe who'd thwacked her over the knuckles too many times to count. This woman didn't look like one of those old crones, thankfully, but the threat was far from intimidating in Eva's mind, and she found herself looking for another out.

"When I say this isn't your business, I mean you're wasting your time. And mine." The woman used her dagger to gesture to Eva. Rude. "This 'young lady' is trying to sca--"

"Back on that old song and dance, I see." Eva let out a beleaguered sigh. "And in front of a Grey Warden." She turned to the Warden, making use of her peripheral to keep an eye on the others. "We're having a little trade dispute. Their employer agreed to pay ten gold a case for this wine, but he's changed his mind and has sent these lovely people to 'negotiate' a lower price."

"You lying little shit," one of the men spat. "That's our wine. You don't have the right to sell it to anyone."

She turned back to them, her gaze leveled at the man, practically daring him to press his luck. Or hers. "Who do you think she's going to believe here? The one of me who's unarmed and not tossing around threats, or the three of you who've been waving your daggers in her face?" Eva glanced at the Warden. "Signora?"

Over the course of the 'conversation,' she'd drifted closer to the newcomer. It wasn't her policy to trust strangers--or anyone, really--but this one was currently her best bet of making it out of this situation alive. Either she'd be handy in a fight, or she'd be a useful shield. Eva didn't care which.

"I was going to let you walk with a couple of scars on that pretty face of yours," the woman said, her gaze intent on Eva, "teach you a lesson in manners. But if the Warden wants to get involved, we might as well make it a fair fight."

No killing. That was literally Matteo's only rule. Killing was messy and it left a trail that always led back eventually. She wondered if her savior shared the philosophy. Given her little speech, it seemed a fair bet.

"I hope you know how to use that fancy walking stick of yours, maestra," she murmured, putting special emphasis on the word, "you're probably going to need it soon."

Without any further preamble, Eva leaned back, bracing herself against the Warden briefly as she kicked the side of the crate with all the strength she could muster. It would've been easier in boots, and she was pretty sure she broke a toe, but the wood splintered outward toward the so-called pirates, sending several bottles of wine crashing to the ground. Glass shattered in every direction, terrible wine splashed upward, and Eva used the brief distraction to lunge at one of the men, trying to wrench the dagger from his hands.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#4
The woman evidently in charge of the three decided she hadn’t got the message, and tried to argue Sofia into leaving. The word ‘scam’ wasn’t quite finished, but she did hear it, and her gaze moved between the young woman and her enemies as both parties spouted accusations. It was entirely possible that the young woman had been attempting to dupe a (now presumably former) business partner out of some money, for which punishment would be expected, but that could be done with an official visit from the guards.

This looked like it was intended to be a much more personal kind of punishment, and Sofia could not countenance it. It lacked justice.

Then the woman threatened them both. "I was going to let you walk with a couple of scars on that pretty face of yours – teach you a lesson in manners. But if the Warden wants to get involved, we might as well make it a fair fight.”

Hm. Well. Sofia hadn’t fought before. And technically these three might be the wronged party. If she stood down, the young woman might escape with a few scars, whereas she could die if things escalated. On the other hand –

It turned out the world outside the Circle did not offer the chance to pause and consider her options very often. Before she could come to a decision about which side she would take, the young woman (who was now by her side) kicked out and knocked a crate off the pile. It broke apart and wine crashed across the paving, and then in a move that Sofia in a charitable moment would have referred to as ‘bone-headed’, the young woman launched herself at one of the armed men and tried to pull the dagger away.

Apparently she was in this now. Her first fight that did not involve whacking a darkspawn over the head and then contracting Blight sickness.

Actually, given how things had gone last time, this could only be an improvement. The other man was bearing down on the woman, raising his weapon as well.

Sofia swirled her staff through the air, calling on the Fade, pulling through fragments of rock from the Fade. Nothing too big, she wanted to stun, not kill. Placing her feet as Olek had shown her, she turned, and swung her arm about like a child winding up to throw a ball. She then jettisoned the rock towards the man, catching him hard on the foot. Cursing, he dropped the dagger and hopped backwards clutching his undoubtedly broken toes –

And went into the water with a splash. That was immensely satisfying. She turned back to the remaining two. “Next?”
 

Cam

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#5
There were many points in her life where Eva had been called reckless and impulsive.

Actually, that wasn’t true. Few people used those words to describe her. Most were a lot less charitable. Just last week, Matteo had called her a “selfish, bull-headed, mess of a person” and she’d told him to make sure they read that out after she died. Not a few months’ past, Andrea had accused her of being “obsessed with making bad decisions.” And she would never forget her sister collapsing in a fit of rage-fueled tears, her voice hoarse as she asked her why she wanted to “fuck up her entire life” worse than their father already had.

Eva couldn’t argue with any of it. Some twisted part of her was proud of these things, even if she knew they’d likely get her killed one day. They might even get her killed today, and take this pretty mage down with her just because she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She did feel bad about that, but not bad enough to run when she could teach a few thugs a lesson in common courtesy.

Admittedly she could have gone about it in a smarter way. Strength wasn’t her thing, and so trying to grapple the man she’d pounced on went about as well as expected. The only leverage she gained was because she’d surprised him, and that was quickly lost once he got his feet under him. He threw her back, forcing Eva to use her actual strength--being as slippery as possible--to evade, the edge of the man’s dagger lashing out just inches from her neck.

Ducking beneath another blow, she was barely aware of the other man coming at her. Her focus was on the first and she let his momentum carry him past her before using her heel--thank you, ridiculous shoes--to jab him right in the back of the calf. He swore and Eva heard a splash nearby. With some surprise she saw the other man was taking a nice little dip in the river.

“Next?” the Warden asked, apparently getting a taste for trouble.

A delighted smirk tugged at Eva’s features. It would be worth it just for that.

“You might as well save her the trouble and toss yourselves into the river,” she goaded the two remaining thugs.

Which maybe wasn’t the smartest idea when they were both still more interested in stringing her up by her insides than on making the Warden pay for that. The woman who’d done most of the talking at least had the sense to keep an eye on the mage, but it was obvious she wanted to avoid getting Warden blood on her hands if she could.

The blood of a two-bit grifter whose plan had failed spectacularly, however…

Eva dodged to the side, cursing as her dress tangled in her legs. Going for her dagger, she used it to hack off a length of the “fine” Antivan “silks,” a plan only beginning to form in her mind. Another strike from her dagger and she was cutting the rope that held one of the crates closed, ducking and weaving and going for a bottle. She wrapped the cloth around it, then swung the thing at the man who was pressing the attack.

It hit the side of his head and shattered inside the cloth. The man crumpled to the docks instantly, his dagger falling with a clatter. But at least his not-so-pretty face was spared any additional scars from the broken glass.
 
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Sofia di Castelbuono

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#6
This was quite fun. The men, while clearly used to wielding the blades, apparently had also relied on their strength and size back themselves up, and left actual skill a little way behind. Their movements were fairly easy to read even for a novice, and Sofia experienced no small amount of elation as their first opponent ended up in the river. The young woman, also apparently lacking a bit in the common sense department, had thrown herself on the other man who had quickly taken advantage once he regained his footing. She barely missed a slash at her neck.

Whether or not the woman had been attempting a scam, these seemed a little over the top in terms of a reaction. Especially as she seemed quite young. Sofia decided to take her side for the moment and she could get to the bottom of it later.

Perhaps sensing this, the young woman chose to goad the remaining two. “You might as well save her the trouble and toss yourselves into the river.”

The remaining man bellowed like a bull and charged her. The young woman dodged, then started hacking away at her skirt; Sofia watched the fight but kept one eye on the woman who had stayed back. She was clearly somewhat smarter than her goons – the second of which was now hitting the floor, courtesy of an improvised weapon. Sofia shot the girl an impressed look…

And then realised the woman had taken advantage of her distraction to produce a throwing knife, which she was currently in the act of pulling back.

Time for another new trick. The ground around the woman glowed, the veins stood out in her neck, and then she stopped moving entirely. Only her eyes rolled in her head, her face still stuck in the rictus grin of triumph she had undoubtedly pulled before realising Sofia had her. Hopefully the glyph would hold on for a little while yet.

“Nice work. And nobody had to be killed!” Killing darkspawn was one thing, but she was not keen on the idea of shedding human blood any sooner than she had to. And now she could test both sides of the story.

She wandered over to the crates, and lifted one of the broken bottles that had managed to keep some of its contents. Sofia, careful of cutting her tongue, poured some of the liquid into her mouth, shifted it from cheek to cheek, considered the taste, and then spat it out.

“If that is not the worst variety of dreck I have ever had the misfortune to experience, I don’t know what is.”

The paralysed woman made a grunting sound in her throat that amounted to ‘I told you so!’ Sofia turned her attention on the young woman. “How did you come by this, then?”
 

Cam

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#7
Two down, one to go.

Eva tried not to be overly-confident as a rule. She preferred agility and the ability to think on the fly. But even she didn't see a problem in feeling a little good right now. Even if the last thug was marginally more competent than the other two, it would probably still be a fair fight.

Unless the woman got the jump on them, which seemed about to happen when the Warden did... something. Eva felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, the magic a little more obvious now that she wasn't focused on surviving her own battles. The effect was near instantaneous, the last attacker freezing in place, arm drawn back, shit-eating grin still on her face and everything.

Eva let out a crack of laughter that was half surprise, half delight. The woman held in stasis didn't look nearly as amused.

“Nice work. And nobody had to be killed!”

"Always a bonus," Eva said, sliding her dagger back into the strap on her thigh.

Matteo always stressed the importance of not killing anyone unless it was absolutely necessary. "Too much mess and a lot of lost coin trying to cover it up." So far it hadn't been necessary and Eva hoped it never was.

As the mage went over to grab a bottle from the open crate, Eva waved a hand in front of the paralyzed thug's face. Muscles twitched, but nothing else happened. She strongly considered going through the woman's purse, but some moves were too blatantly reckless even for her. This Warden was the type of do-gooder who involved herself in things she shouldn't, and Eva didn't imagine it would take much for her to end up just like the thugs.

“If that is not the worst variety of dreck I have ever had the misfortune to experience, I don’t know what is," her savior declared after tasting the wine the same way Matteo seemed to imagine Antivan nobles did. “How did you come by this, then?”

"Oh, you know. Mutually beneficial business contract."

The thug made another sound of protest. That was mildly amusing and a fun toy, but the one who'd ended up in the river had finally managed to reach an area where he could pull himself up. It was just taking a couple of attempts, since his clothes were soaked through and much heavier than he'd counted on them being.

"Why don't I tell you about it somewhere that's not here?" she asked, already moving away from the docks. Her gaze cut to the man she'd knocked out. Still breathing, which meant her conscience was clear enough. "I'll buy you a drink; something to wash the taste of that 'wine' out of your mouth."

Eva didn't have any problems showing her gratitude. Not to this woman, anyway. She would've been just fine on her own--she always was--but the mage sped things up a bit and made them a lot more entertaining. She didn't wait for the woman, though. If the Warden was going to turn on her, she wanted to be far enough away to escape. Even if she wasn't, that spell couldn't last forever, and the dog-paddling meraviglia was almost on the docks now.

"Just a quick detour," she said, ducking into an alleyway.

Andrea had most of her kit, and who knew where that idiot had run off to. Eva had to settle for the pouch of cosmetics she'd hidden behind a loose stone, pulling out some white chalk. She scraped the pieces together, her palms quickly covered in coarse dust that she spread through her hair. With a cloth she wiped the rouge from her cheeks, then dabbed at the color staining her lips. A little chalk was rubbed in instead, giving her skin a paler appearance.

It wasn't a perfect disguise. Anyone looking at her for more than a few moments would see she was a nineteen year old woman with chalk in her hair, but it might pass at a distance. If the observer had very poor eyesight.

Searching around, she found the dingy brown cloak she'd also deposited in the alleyway--part two of her escape plan--and wrapped it around herself, tying it closed in front. Hunching over, she shuffled her way to the end of the alley, amusement lighting in her eyes as she saw the Warden hadn't bailed yet.

"Would you help an old woman to the nearest inn, young lady?" Her tone was playful, but caution played in the back of her mind.

It was obvious she wasn't completely innocent in what went down. Innocent parties didn't stash disguises in dirty alleyways. The mage could decide to call the guards on her. She'd just have to be prepared for that.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#8
Something was awry about this situation. The wine was awful, which all but confirmed some sort of scam was to take place, and the young woman evaded the question about her source. Nonetheless Sofia still felt she had joined the correct side of the conflict; even if the woman had been trying to scam the other three, they had been ready to carve her up, which seemed like a bit of an extreme reaction when they had caught her red-handed. That was what the town watch was for.

None of the three were in a condition to argue at the moment, and the young woman was planning not waiting around for that to wear off. “Why don’t I tell you about it somewhere that’s not here? I'll buy you a drink; something to wash the taste of that 'wine' out of your mouth."

Sofia, amused, nodded. This was not at all what she had planned for her first outing, but it had been well worth it. And if the woman’s reasons for running the scam were based in greed rather than need, it would not be too hard to keep her nearby until a guard happened past. “Lead the way.”

They left the three to their own devices, and the young woman sped away, ducking sharply into an alley. “Just a quick detour.”

The alley was a dead end, which appeared to be part of the plan. The woman dug in a pouch at her side and proceeded to apply some cosmetics. Sofia was well-versed in that practice, but what the woman was doing was clearly not intended to enhance her features. When she reappeared, she had added about forty years to her appearance. If one squinted. Otherwise, she looked like a young woman who had made a series of regrettable decisions and then not glanced in the mirror before leaving the house in the morning.

“Would you help an old woman to the nearest inn, young lady?”

Ah, that was what she was doing. Sofia extended an arm for the ‘old lady’ to lean on, and walked beside her at a pace consistent with that of the average geriatric. “You will have to point the way to the tavern. I don’t know the streets around here that well.”

Once they were a street removed from the threat, she glanced down at the other woman. “So. You were clearly prepared for that to go wrong at some point. Do you feel like sharing what that was about, or would you rather have a drink or two first?”
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#9
Something was awry about this situation. The wine was awful, which all but confirmed some sort of scam was to take place, and the young woman evaded the question about her source. Nonetheless Sofia still felt she had joined the correct side of the conflict; even if the woman had been trying to scam the other three, they had been ready to carve her up, which seemed like a bit of an extreme reaction when they had caught her red-handed. That was what the town watch was for.

None of the three were in a condition to argue at the moment, and the young woman was planning not waiting around for that to wear off. “Why don’t I tell you about it somewhere that’s not here? I'll buy you a drink; something to wash the taste of that 'wine' out of your mouth."

Sofia, amused, nodded. This was not at all what she had planned for her first outing, but it had been well worth it. And if the woman’s reasons for running the scam were based in greed rather than need, it would not be too hard to keep her nearby until a guard happened past. “Lead the way.”

They left the three to their own devices, and the young woman sped away, ducking sharply into an alley. “Just a quick detour.”

The alley was a dead end, which appeared to be part of the plan. The woman dug in a pouch at her side and proceeded to apply some cosmetics. Sofia was well-versed in that practice, but what the woman was doing was clearly not intended to enhance her features. When she reappeared, she had added about forty years to her appearance. If one squinted. Otherwise, she looked like a young woman who had made a series of regrettable decisions and then not glanced in the mirror before leaving the house in the morning.

“Would you help an old woman to the nearest inn, young lady?”

Ah, that was what she was doing. Sofia extended an arm for the ‘old lady’ to lean on, and walked beside her at a pace consistent with that of the average geriatric. “You will have to point the way to the tavern. I don’t know the streets around here that well.”

Once they were a street removed from the threat, she glanced down at the other woman. “So. You were clearly prepared for that to go wrong at some point. Do you feel like sharing what that was about, or would you rather have a drink or two first?”
 

Cam

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#10
Well, she hadn't immediately called the guards. That was something.

“You will have to point the way to the tavern. I don’t know the streets around here that well.”

New in town, then? She did have that fresh-faced sheen about her, and most people with half a wit didn't get involved in others' business in a place like Seleny. Or anyplace, honestly. As she took the offered arm, Eva began spinning stories in her mind of who this woman was beyond the obvious uniform.

The truth was probably something very boring. Maybe she really was new in town. Maybe she just didn't know this particular area. Whatever the case, Eva steered them in the right direction.

"Lucky for you I know the good places." She'd already dropped the old lady voice, though she maintained the slow, hobbling walk. "Good enough, anyway. Someplace where no one's going to cut your purse strings, which is more than I can say for most taverns."

She started toward the Midnight Dove, a tavern that was honestly up its own ass a little more than Eva could stand, but a safe and clean place that wasn't too pricey. Before they left the immediate area, she glanced over her shoulder. The streets were a little bare which was strange, but no one was following them. She headed for a less obvious route just in case.

“So. You were clearly prepared for that to go wrong at some point," the woman said."Do you feel like sharing what that was about, or would you rather have a drink or two first?”

"Oh, I'd always rather have a drink or two first," Eva flashed the woman a grin, "but I can appreciate you've kept the guards out of this even though you suspect I'm not exactly innocent here. And you're right. I'm not."

She hadn't tried to hide that. Especially not now, considering the woman had literally seen her "disguise" herself with the scraps Andrea hadn't run off with.

"You know I've found that all the coin in the world can't buy some people common sense," she said, turning down a side street. The Dove's metal sign creaked in the distance, a gust of wind blowing it back. "I'm not going to act like I'm doing anyone any favors by making use of that fact, but I'm not exactly leaving the world any worse than I found it."

She gestured to a small ramp leading down. The Dove was below the rest of the street, mostly hidden from view save for the sign. The people who frequented the place liked to think it gave them an air of mystery. Eva just thought it was shit-awful design and a good way to have a business ruined by flooding.

Stopping right outside the entrance, she ruffled both hands through her hair, shaking as much of the chalk dust out as she could. Using a cloth, she wiped it off of her face. Mostly. The end result just made her look like she'd taken a turn through a stone mason's workshop, but it would do. Reaching for the door, she held it open for her companion, giving her a wink as she passed.

The inside of the Dove was exactly as Eva remembered it. Pretentious without actually being rich. Purposefully dark, moody lighting, the glow of a few lanterns giving enough to see by. There were incomprehensible paintings on the wall that some idiot had paid way too much for, every piece of furniture was either upholstered in or painted a gaudy purple, blue, or black--sometimes all of the above--and a minstrel sat on a single chair atop a dais, playing what Eva could only describe as a dirge.

"What's your poison?" she asked the Warden, summoning the barkeep with a wave.
 
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Sofia di Castelbuono

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#11
The young woman promised to take her to a place where nobody would cut her purse strings. Sofia didn’t mention the fact that she wasn’t carrying a purse on her. She had been well-cared for all her life; never once had she had to think about money. Even when she had bartered for herbs and other necessities for the infirmary at the Circle, it had been with little knowledge of how much these things were actually worth in the outside world, and she had relied on the presence of the templars to keep the merchants honest. The coin that had been paid to them had been handed over by a templar as well. Receiving her first handful of coin had been thrilling, if also slightly baffling. As a result, she had put it in a safe place in her room and consequentially forgotten to take it with her every time she left the compound.

The woman was looking about her as they went. Between her shifty air, and the obvious poor quality of the wine she had been attempting to pass along, it seemed quite likely she was a conwoman, and a known one at that. Sofia found this to be exciting rather than distressing. She’d never interacted with an actual criminal before! At least, not one who hadn’t abused their charges or resorted to blood magic. She softly challenged the woman, although not without making it clear that she was prepared to wait a bit for the story.

“Oh, I’d always rather have a drink or two first. But I can appreciate you’ve kept the guards out of this even though you suspect I’m not exactly innocent here. And you’re right. I’m not.”

Sofia eyed the streaks of grey in the woman’s hair, and chuckled softly. “Suspect is perhaps a little too soft of a word for it.”

"You know I've found that all the coin in the world can't buy some people common sense. I'm not going to act like I'm doing anyone any favors by making use of that fact, but I'm not exactly leaving the world any worse than I found it."

It was a selfish point of view, but as the woman had said – she wasn’t adding to general misery, just inconveniencing people. And given the people she had been inconveniencing seemed like they didn’t care if they left the world worse, Sofia wasn’t going to demand atonement for it.

They stepped down a flight of stairs, and the woman scrubbed as much of her disguise away as she could while Sofia surveyed the design with interest. She did not generally have positive connotations with places underground; the dungeons in the Circle, where she had occasionally been taken to treat prisoners, for example, and the little she had read about the Deep Roads so far. But this place seemed warm and welcoming, the wood rich and dark. It also gave everything an air of being a gathering place for conspirators, plotting together to overthrow a kingdom.

Perhaps most of her associations were based far too much off the fiction she had read.

“What’s your poison?”

Sofia blinked at her, and then worked out the meaning from context. “Oh! I’d love a Valencia Red, 9:02, if you have one, please, barkeep. A 9:07 would do, but please, not from the year either side! Those were dreadful,” she added, as an aside to the woman. “Thank you. As we are to be drinking together – may I have your name?”
 

Cam

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#12
The barkeep came over, and after a moment, the Warden put in an order that wasn't all that surprising, considering how she carried herself. Eva had to bite her lip to keep from laughing outright, though.

“Oh! I’d love a Valencia Red, 9:02, if you have one, please, barkeep. A 9:07 would do, but please, not from the year either side! Those were dreadful."

She might have given the barkeep a "beats me" sort of look and a shrug, but the people who owned this tavern were all Antivan, and she'd found out through Andrea that they kept a decent wine cellar. Presumably in case of a revolt when they were found lacking. Every country had their vices, though, and Eva wasn't going to begrudge Antivans for theirs.

Instead, she fished out more than enough coin to pay for it--she hoped--and gave her own order. "Ale, the darker the better," she said on reflex, then smirked to herself. "You know what? I'm feeling frisky. Make it a brandy."

If Yvie could rub shoulders with nobility and pretend she hadn't come from an absolute shithole, so could Eva.

“Thank you. As we are to be drinking together – may I have your name?”

She jerked her head toward a nearby table, beckoning her new drinking companion to join. It wasn't any more or less lit than any other table in the dark tavern, but it was a little out of the way. If nothing else, it would give her a good vantage point for people-watching, just in case this Warden was somehow the most boring person in the room--as much as she doubted it.

"Eva," she said, taking a seat. She used one foot to nudge the other woman's chair out, as well. "Yours?"

She could almost guarantee it would be better than hers. She'd never liked her name. She wasn't much of an "Eva." Only when she'd consciously tried to play that role had she ever come close, and she'd hated every second of it. She realized after the fact that she could've lied to this woman--it wasn't like she was going to see her again after this--but eh. It didn't matter.

"So." Eva draped one arm across the back of her chair. "As much as it hurts me to agree with anything our mutual friends said, they were right about one thing: You shouldn't have intervened. Can't imagine intercepting petty criminals is part of a Warden's job description. So why'd you do it?"
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#13
Judging from the look that the barkeep gave Sofia as she placed her order, it was clear that not too many people came in asking for specific vintages of wine. To be fair, not many places did, and she didn’t feel as ruffled as she had the first time out of the Tower, asking for a Potorni 8:99 only to be solidly laughed at and told ‘red, white, beer or mead.’ It was a shame that such a large quantity of people missed out on the joy that was sipping an ambrosial glass that brought all the richness of the grape with little of the burn from the fermentation process. However, the barman did bring her the 9:07, so she concluded that they must have good supplies.

The woman asked for a dark ale, then changed her mind to a brandy. The barman danced his fingers along the bottles on the shelves, glancing back to see what choice was being made – when his touch passed over a suitably decent one, Sofia gave him a slight nod. Thus prepared against thirst, Sofia asked for her drinking companion’s name.

“Eva. Yours?”

“Sofia Elena Ami di Castelbuono. A pleasure to meet you.”

And it had been, sort of, although it had been clear that Eva had jumped headlong into the mess she had found herself in. Had she not been attempting to sell inferior wine, there might have been no issue. Sofia would not have stepped in had the producers she’d stolen from brought the guard along and conducted the arrest with due process, but she was hardly going to stand there and watch somebody be knifed in front of her. It had been quite fun, really.

“So. As much as it hurts me to agree with anything our mutual friends said, they were right about one thing: You shouldn't have intervened. Can't imagine intercepting petty criminals is part of a Warden's job description. So why'd you do it?"

Sofia chuckled softly. “I’m new. If anybody asks, I can claim I didn’t realise that. And I was used to stepping in and assisting my friends in the Tower, if I felt they were being unfairly treated.” At least in that way she’d been able to use her connections to help other people, instead of just herself. “And while yours was the first crime, I didn’t see the justice in allowing them to mete out their own punishment. Running a scam is one thing-” she had dropped her voice enough to prevent them from being overheard – “but running them through in the street, quite another. I decided I could not simply walk away and potentially allow a murder to take place.”
 
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