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Of Somewhat Fallen Fortune [Closed]

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
Posts
31
#1
((9:41 Dragon, summer, after this thread Sati Adaar ))

Josephine paced upon the rug before the fireplace in her office. Summer was warming much of the rest of southern Thedas, but in the towering mountains where Skyhold nested like a miraculous jewel, snows still blanketed the earth outside the walls and fires were still very much needed to warm the buildings. Whoever had built the ancient and mysterious redoubt had wrought well, and the thick stone walls kept in the heat radiating from the blazing hearth. The chill that raised stubborn gooseflesh on Josephine’s arms came from within this day, however, and refused to be dispelled by her proximity to the fireplace.

Had she known what would happen, she would never have proceeded as she had, but that did not lessen the guilt that gnawed at her. Lives had been lost because of her … and she did not even understand why!

She should not have asked for Sati to come; the victory at the Winter Palace had bolstered the reputation of the Inquisition and led to even more demands upon its leader. There had been no time even for them to revisit the conversation that had been interrupted at Halimshiral … or perhaps Sati had simply changed her mind. Or perhaps Josephine had imagined it all … and why was she even thinking about that right now?

If Sati did not come with her, she risked never finding those responsible, risked having the redemption of her family’s honor forever beyond her reach … but had she any right to burden one who already shouldered far too much for what was, after all, a purely personal matter? But she had already sent word to Sati, and she returned to her desk, sifting among the papers in search of something - anything - else to claim as the reason for the summons.
 

Sati Adaar

Prominent member
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108
#2
Frustratingly, almost the moment Sati had returned to Skyhold, she’d been whisked into a whirlwind of correspondence, training, consultations as to the logistics of the building, and recommendations for the deployment of the soldiers they needed to send out. Of course Josie was present at most of the briefings, but she wasn’t going to discuss personal matters with her in the middle of business - she wasn’t quite so lovelorn as that - and on the few occasions she’d not simply collapsed into bed after her final meal of the day, their ambassador had been neck deep in her own work. As much as Sati wanted to talk to her, there hadn’t been a good moment for it yet. What she had to say was worthy of a proper conversation, not something to be blurted out while she was dashing between missions.

She should have tried to catch her in the travel back from the Winter’s Palace, but Leliana was with them, and the fact that Sati caught the Left Hand watching them meant that Leliana intended for Sati to see it. She was not altogether comfortable with talking to Josie while the spymaster was in the immediate vicinity. Leliana might be less than half Sati’s bodyweight, but Sati had known from their first meeting not to underestimate the redhead. And she clearly had a protective instinct towards Josie.

So now she was still waiting for an opportune moment to talk. Ser Lehmann had drilled into her that duty came first, and while romance was a key element in any story about knights, it was not to be pursued at the cost of that duty. She waited.

And Josie found the moment first.

Sati had received a summons to speak with Josie in private. She wasn’t altogether sure what to expect from the meeting, but she’d taken the time to be smartly dressed and well groomed first. At the very least she could show her respect by not being as mud and/or blood splattered as she usually was.

The moment she entered Josie’s office, however, she knew it wasn’t good news. The ambassador was almost as skilled as Leliana in concealing her thoughts, but right now it was obvious that she was worried. Sati gently pushed her misgivings down to the pit of her stomach. Whatever happened now, she would deal with it with honour.

“You needed me, Josie?”
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
Posts
31
#3
Josephine’s resolve to claim some other purpose for her summons lasted only as long as it took for Sati to arrive. In the days since the return from Halamshiral, they had seen each other, but always in the course of their duties, and in the company of others. This was the first time they would meet alone, and while the Inquisitor was not so elegantly attired as she had been at the ball, she had plainly taken the time to clean up and change clothes. She cut a striking figure, and Josephine felt the orderly array of her thoughts scatter like leaves before the wind.

She had more than half convinced herself that she had misinterpreted the other woman’s intentions during their dance, or at least that Sati had changed her mind, and she had accepted that, though not without a twinge of regret that she had scolded herself for. The eldest of House Montilyet and Ambassador of the Inquisition could not let herself be distracted from her duties by such frivolity … and the leader of the Inquisition should not be forced to deal with an adult woman mooning like an adolescent over a first crush. And yet, she had found herself lingering beside windows or other discreet spots to watch Sati sparring with the others, admiring the way she could match Bull in sheer power, Cassandra in focus and Blackwall in technical skill. She had caught Leliana observing her once, but her friend continued to keep her own counsel.

“You needed me, Josie?”

The wording of the query - surely inadvertent - completed her mental undoing. Josephine felt her cheeks pinking in a reaction that the most crude propositions from drunken courtiers could not provoke. To feel Sati’s strong yet gentle arms around her again, to feel supported, protected, safe, would be sublime … but what would the Inquisitor think of an ambassador who could not stand on her own two feet? “I -” She ducked her head, her eyes falling upon the documents she had selected: a report of a rift near a cluster of farms; a minor dignitary who would be visiting Skyhold tomorrow; a request from Orlais to lend the Inquisition’s influence in a dispute of succession. Any of them would suffice as an excuse for her summons.

But … her family.

“I need your help,” she admitted, feeling the heat in her cheeks growing, from shame now. How could she have bungled this so badly? “But it is a personal matter … it has nothing to do with the Inquisition.” She pressed her fingers to her forehead, rubbing lightly. “I should not ask; you already have too many demands on your time.” Maker’s breath, she was bumbling about like an utter novice! How could she be entrusted to oversee the diplomatic needs of the Inquisition if she could not manage her own affairs?
 

Sati Adaar

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108
#4
Josie hesitated, gaze dropping away from Sati’s. Sati hid the lurch of misgiving in her chest as best she could. She was usually good at schooling her features to suit the occasion, but it didn’t help that butterflies of nerves were trying to fight their way out of her limbs right now. She wanted to promise everything would be fine, but how could she do that when she didn’t even know what the problem was yet? Maybe the reassurance was more for her than it was for Josie.

After a painfully long pause, Josie found her words. “I need your help.” Sati cocked her head in question. “But it is a personal matter...it has nothing to do with the Inquisition.”

Now Sati was really curious. They had spoken several times about Josie’s family before, and on a couple of occasions about the roles Josie had filled before coming to be ambassador, but most of their conversation came back to the demands of the Inquisition. She immediately wanted to know more, especially given the way Josie was behaving, but Josie started to pull away. “I should not ask; you already have too many demands on your time.”

Sati couldn’t very well say that she would ignore quite a lot of important things for Josie’s sake - such a confession could well horrify the ambassador rather than reassure her. She groped for some words of her own for a moment, before coming closer to the desk and leaning over it, almost hooking a finger beneath Josie’s chin before thinking better of it - far too intimate a gesture - and gently touching the back of her hand.

“The wellbeing of my - of my council is of utmost importance to me.” She waited until Josie’s gaze met hers again. “You all guide me and offer help when I am unsure where to turn. It would be a failing on my part not to extend the same courtesy. Besides - you were instrumental in rescuing those of the Valo-Kas who were captured following the Conclave.” Leliana had found where the missing mercenaries had gone, true, but Josie had negotiated for their release. "In a sense, you saved my family."

She stepped back, and pulled up a chair alongside Josie’s, facing her. Given this had been framed as a personal request, Sati drew her own conclusions about the source. “Is this anything to do with your family? Do they need help?”
 
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Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
Posts
31
#5
Josephine was regretting making her request as soon as the words left her lips, not because she feared that the Inquiitor would not help her, but because she knew that she would. From the beginning, Sati Adaar had shown herself willing to assist any in need, regardless of how trivial the task might seem. Taking flowers to a grave for an old man unable to risk the dangers of the trek or returning a stolen wedding ring to a widow did not supplant the primary task of finding and closing rifts, or dealing with the myriad hostile forces that threatened folk, but they were remembered and fulfilled in the rare quiet moments between.

This meant that she had precious little time to herself, and Josephine was loathe to encroach upon it further, but as she cast about among her papers for some vital bit of business to offer up instead, a hand reached across the desk to touch hers, the contact sending a jolt of frisson along her awareness that, while far from unpleasant, did absolutely nothing to help her gather thoughts which insisted on fluttering about like trapped birds.

“The wellbeing of my - of my council is of utmost importance to me.” The pause made Josie’s heart stutter, but when she managed to lift her gaze, there was only concern in the violet eyes. “You all guide me and offer help when I am unsure where to turn. It would be a failing on my part not to extend the same courtesy. Besides - you were instrumental in rescuing those of the Valo-Kas who were captured following the Conclave. In a sense, you saved my family."

“They were in the service of the Inquisition when they were captured,” Josephine replied. “To have abandoned them would have been wrong.” Technically, they had been hired by the Chantry, but many had disagreed with Divine Justinia’s decision in the matter, which had in part been intended to reinforce her philosophy that all were the children of the Maker. After her death, the remnants of the Chantry had been all too willing to leave the Valo Kas to their fate (Josephine had even been told by one Revered Mother that if they were truly the children of the Maker, then He would save them). It had been a disheartening realization, but their loss had been the Inquisition’s gain. Shokrakar and her surviving mercenaries were potent - if colorful - additions to the fighting forces.

“Is this anything to do with your family?” Sati wanted to know, drawing up a chair and settling in it. “Do they need help?”

Josephine drew a breath, made her decision. It was the only way. “In a manner of speaking,” she began, attempting to order her thoughts. “I told you before that the Montilyet family fortunes had declined over the years; that was … an understatement. At the beginning of the Blessed Age, we had a fleet of hundreds of trading vessels, protected by our warships, and a trading empire that spanned Thedas. Then, one of my ancestors became embroiled in a feud with a family in Val Royeaux: the Du Paraquettes.” She shook her head, feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment. “You saw the petty, self-involved machinations at the Winter Palace; they are much the same now as they were over a century ago. The details have been lost - only that it began with a matter of marriage and infidelity, and how it could have escalated to a point that my entire family was exiled from Orlais is something I cannot comprehend, but that is precisely what occurred.” She lifted her hands, shrugging helplessly. “We lost all of our trade contracts within the empire: a blow from which we never recovered, each generation seeing the business shrink a bit more. Most of our fleet was sold off; we have only a handful of ships now, and I have been selling off land to pay bills, but much more and we will have nothing to build on.”

She rubbed her hands nervously against her thighs; the contact with the smooth satin was soothing, but not nearly enough to ease her inner turmoil. “My acceptance as ambassador to Orlais was a hopeful sign, and when I inquired, I was told that the long-ago edict could be lifted if the proper documents were presented. I spent weeks assembling records of trade and assets, letters of support from nobles and merchant houses in Orlais and Antiva attesting to our house’s honor, and dispatched them by couriers just before we departed to the Winter Palace - it would not have been seemly for me to present them myself at an event where I represented the Inquisition,” she added, anticipating the question that the ever-practical Inquisitor would pose.

“Now, I have received word that my couriers were murdered just outside Val Royeaux, the documents they carried destroyed and left with the bodies.” A clear signal that the deaths were not simply the predations of bandits … and a warning against future attempts. Why?

She rose and began pacing, unable to contain the agitation boiling beneath her skin. “I sent them to their deaths, and I do not even know who killed them, or why! The Du Paraquettes have not been among the rolls of Orlesian nobility for sixty years!” She stopped and gripped the edge of her desk. “I must notify their families, see that they are supported financially …” She trailed off, swaying slightly, then struck the sturdy surface with a balled fist. “Dannazione!” Her Antivan blood demanded vengeance, but her diplomat’s training reminded her that it was just such an exchange of hostilities more than a century earlier that had led to the current predicament.
 

Sati Adaar

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108
#6
Josie took in a breath, clearly steeling herself, before she started to lay out her problem. In previous conversations they had touched on the fact that the Montiliyets were not so solvent as Josie’s regular finery suggested, but that Josie, as well as giving her time to the Inquisition, was making steps towards remedying it. Sati had expressed concerns previously that doing both might burn the ambassador out, but since then she had seen firsthand how adept Josie was at juggling so many different roles. It had also spoken well of her that for all the responsibility heaped on her shoulders, the familial affection between her and Yvette had been clear. Many others in Josie’s shoes might have become overbearing or distant with their siblings as they tried to push them into a suitable mold.

And Josie’s efforts had been bearing fruit. “My acceptance as ambassador to Orlais was a hopeful sign, and when I inquired, I was told that the long-ago edict could be lifted if the proper documents were presented. I spent weeks assembling records of trade and assets, letters of support from nobles and merchant houses in Orlais and Antiva attesting to our house’s honor, and dispatched them by couriers just before we departed to the Winter Palace - it would not have been seemly for me to present them myself at an event where I represented the Inquisition.”

Sati accepted the wisdom of this. The rules of etiquette in Orlais were so fine tuned that a person could cause offence by turning to the left rather than the right in order to sneeze. She wouldn’t question Josie’s decision not to approach the courtiers directly. However, she sensed a ‘but’ coming, heralded by the distress on Josie’s face.

“Now, I have received word that my couriers were murdered just outside Val Royeaux, the documents they carried destroyed and left with the bodies.”

Sati drew in a sharp breath. Accidents and bandit attacks along the roads were common, especially now, but for the documents to have been destroyed suggested they had been the target of the attack as much as their carriers. Which meant that somebody, somewhere, was interfering with the Montiliyet’s attempts to restore their status.

Now Josie was pacing, her guilt and worry as clear as Sati had ever seen. “I sent them to their deaths, and I do not even know who killed them, or why! The Du Paraquettes have not been among the rolls of Orlesian nobility for sixty years! I must notify their families, see that they are supported financially …” Josie struck the desk sharply, cursing in Antivan.

Sati was on her feet in seconds, catching the ambassador’s hands before she could punch the desk again. She remembered losing sight of herself when they’d fought the templar who had taken a qunari horn trophy, and how she’d bloodied her fists on his face. She didn’t want Josie to sink to that place, and while her hands remained over Josie’s, she spoke to her as she would any warrior driven to frustration. “Easy, Josie. Look at me. Take deep breaths; find your balance.”

It was somewhat distracting to have Josie’s gaze fixed on her so directly, but Sati ignored it for now. Just as she was ignoring the flare of rage that had leapt up when she realised that Josie had been prevented from helping her family. Viciousness on behalf of the ambassador would solve nothing. “Now. You did not send those couriers to their deaths. You sent them to carry out an errand on your behalf, and somebody else got in the way. You won’t be able to erase the guilt regardless, but it was not your fault.”

Sati released Josie’s hands then. “It was somebody else who arranged that. Now. Who informed you of their passing? How did they come across the bodies? It may be worth questioning them further, if that’s possible.”
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
Canon Character
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Posts
31
#7
Josephine abhorred violence, had always believed fervently that diplomacy and communication could in most cases render it unnecessary. Finding herself in an organization whose chief function was martial had been both disconcerting and disheartening, but of course, demons could not be negotiated with, nor could beasts or criminals, such as the bandits that preyed without shame or mercy on those already reeling from the chaos unleashed by the rifts. Whenever it was possible, however, in their councils she always looked for and advocated diplomatic solutions, and had been gratified that Sati frequently seemed to agree with her.

That violence had intruded upon her efforts to restore her family’s status, and without any warning whatsoever, baffled and angered her. Anger at those who had done the killing, certainly, but anger at herself even more, because surely she had missed something, overlooked some clue or warning, and lives had been lost as a result. She had struck out at no one in anger in over a decade, but her frustration - and yes, fear - demanded an outlet. The desk was sturdy enough, and the impact surprisingly satisfying, but before she could repeat the action, two callused hands caught hers, their grip gentle but firm.

“Easy, Josie. Look at me.” That was far from easy. Realizing that she had lost control of herself in front of the Inquisitor added humiliation to her list of woes, but when Josephine summoned the will to lift her gaze, Sati’s eyes were kind and calm, if worried. “Take deep breaths; find your balance.”

Controlling her breathing was an exercise she had done often enough, seeking to steady her nerves before entering into an important negotiation. She nodded, keeping her eyes on Sati as she drew the air slowly in through her nose, held it for a few seconds, released it just as slowly through her mouth. Only a few repetitions were needed before she felt her agitation subsiding to a more tolerable level, though the regard of the violet eyes kept her heart beating a bit faster than it should. Only a step or two would place her in the taller woman’s embrace, but as much as part of her yearned toward that comfort, she did not want Sati to think her weaker than she already must. “Thank you,” she said, drawing a last breath and letting it out in a relieved sigh

“Now.” Sati did not release her hands, and Josephine made no attempt to withdraw them; the contact was as reassuring as the calm surety in her words. “You did not send those couriers to their deaths. You sent them to carry out an errand on your behalf, and somebody else got in the way. You won’t be able to erase the guilt regardless, but it was not your fault.”

“You are right,” Josephine conceded. “I know this. It is just -” She shook her head helplessly. “Sati, I very nearly asked one of my brothers to take the documents to Val Royeaux!” Only the glum certainty that Roberto would squander coin in Orlais that they could ill afford to lose had kept her from it, else it might have been him dead by the roadside. “Bad enough that innocent lives have been lost, but -” What if whoever it was net chose to target her family directly? Breathe, she reminded herself, realizing that she was clutching Sati’s hands like a lifeline. She drew a few slow breaths and relaxed her grip to allow Sati to withdraw her hands. She was ambassador to the Inquisition, not some clinging child.

“It was somebody else who arranged that,” the Inquisitor reminded her gently. “Now. Who informed you of their passing? How did they come across the bodies? It may be worth questioning them further, if that’s possible.”

“A message was delivered by a courier who knew nothing of the contents,” Josephine told her. “Leliana had her agents investigate; they confirmed it, and have identified an Orlesian noble who claims to know who is responsible. His name is Comte Boisvert, and he will meet with me in Val Royeaux to tell me what he knows, but -” She bit her lip and ducked her head, “-only if you accompany me.” That the Inquisitor might be drawn into tawdry status-seeking because of this shamed her, but more worrisome was the thought that Sati might be the ultimate target, the murder of the couriers nothing more than a gambit to draw her in. “Leliana’s people can find out who is responsible,” she said, trying to sound more certain than she felt. “There is no need to indulge this man’s foolish vanity.”
 

Sati Adaar

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#8
Josie gathered herself more quickly than others might have, likely aided by her years of practice in schooling her emotions. But still a shrapnel of pain remained, and her hands tightened on Sati’s as she explained that it might have been one of her brothers who had ended up dead. Sati did what she could to reassure her, and eventually Josie eased her grip. Sati didn’t remove her hands right away. The situation was too important for her thoughts to linger on how warm and soft the ambassador’s hands were, but that didn’t stop her from thinking about it. She waited until a fraction of a second before it would have become strange before dropping her hands and quizzing Josie on the facts she needed to know.

“A message was delivered by a courier who knew nothing of the contents. Leliana had her agents investigate; they confirmed it, and have identified an Orlesian noble who claims to know who is responsible. His name is Comte Boisvert, and he will meet with me in Val Royeaux to tell me what he knows, but -” Here Josie looked away, appearing almost ashamed. “-only if you accompany me.”

It wasn’t the first time somebody had requested Sati in particular. Leliana vetted all such requests, most of which were either minor nobility seeking a little status by association, or poorly-laid traps. Sometimes both. As the Inquisition had started to recover from the events at Haven, Sati had gone out less often on smaller missions; although she knew it was the practical thing to do, and the Inquisition sent out groups of soldiers to almost every request for aid received, it was the antithesis of what Ser Lehman had taught her about being a knight. She wanted to go to everybody who needed help.

She was presented with no such dilemma here. Josie hadn’t even finished speaking before she made her decision.

“Leliana’s people can find out who is responsible. There is no need to indulge this man’s foolish vanity.”

“Then he should consider himself lucky, because I will.” Sati had drawn herself up straight. “I know Leliana has her methods, and they are effective, but I know you would prefer to avoid bloodshed if at all possible.” Leliana was good, but to obtain the necessary information, somebody would likely get hurt. If this Comte Boisvert did happen to actually be telling the truth, they could try and end whatever this was without heaping the weight of more lives on Josie’s head. “Accept his invitation, although inform him that for the sake of safety, I will come armed, and accept no food or drink while I’m there. If he is sincere about his information, then he’ll agree to the terms.”

Her gaze gentled a little as she finished her statement, and she lifted her hand towards Josie’s shoulder; instead, she found herself resting it against her cheek, as softly as she was able. Worried as she was, Josie was no less beautiful than she’d appeared on the balcony at the Winter Palace. “You’ve done much for the Inquisition - and for me, Josie. Let me do this for you.”
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
Canon Character
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31
#9
Everything about involving Sati in this situation felt wrong. Even if it was not a trap intended to lure her from Skyhold, to have the Inquisitor intervene on a purely personal matter simply to give bragging rights to a minor noble went against every rule of etiquette and protocol that Josephine knew (and she knew a good many, indeed).

And yet, she felt a wash of relief when Sati refused to be dissuaded, then felt guilty for feeling relieved. “I know Leliana has her methods, and they are effective, but I know you would prefer to avoid bloodshed if at all possible.”

“I … would.” Her Antivan blood clamored for revenge for the slain couriers, and had it been Roberto dead, the urge would have been stronger still, but she refused to surrender to it. Justice, not vengeance, was what was needed, and that meant discovering who was behind this. Justinia’s death had changed Leliana, hardened her. The bard had always been dangerous, but the compassion that had balanced that had been replaced with a ruthlessness when it came to protecting the Inquisition and the few that she allowed herself to care about. Josephine wanted no murders on her behalf if it could be helped.

“Accept his invitation,” Sati told her, “although inform him that for the sake of safety, I will come armed, and accept no food or drink while I’m there. If he is sincere about his information, then he’ll agree to the terms.”

The precautions were sensible, and should be sufficient; the requested meeting was in Val Royeaux, after all. Hardly the place for an ambush, given the high regard in which the Inquisition was held following the events at the Winter Palace. And still, Josephine hesitated.

A warm hand cupped her cheek, and she looked up into eyes the color of amethyst. “You’ve done much for the Inquisition - and for me, Josie,” Sati told her earnestly. “Let me do this for you.”

Her insistence warmed Josephine more than Leliana’s had; she knew why, but now was not the time to explore it. For the moment, she simply nodded and tilted her head into the contact. “Thank you,” she said softly, feeling some of the weight lifting from her shoulders for the first time in - how long had it been? Longer than she could easily recall, it seemed. It felt … good. “I will make the arrangements for our travel.”

Perhaps it would be all right after all.

XXXXX

Three days later, sitting in the parlor of the masked man who had introduced himself as Comte Boisvert, the thought seemed laughably naive. It had not been a trap for Sati, at least, but the revelations that had been made had her head spinning. A century-old contract with a guild of assassins, made by a rival whose noble house had been extinct for sixty years, yet was still considered binding, according to the Comte.

Or perhaps not a Comte. Josephine felt a chill that she kept well hidden; what if the trap were intended for her, rather than the Inquisitor?

“You are exceedingly well informed, Comte Boisvert,” she remarked, fixing their host with a penetrating gaze, refusing to let her fear show. “Your missive to me stated that you had heard rumors, at best?” And yet, he had not only presented her with a copy of the contract (correctly drafted and still legally binding, unfortunately), but was able to state with confidence that the House of Repose would continue to enforce the terms of the contract: to kill any who attempted to reverse the Montilyet trade exile from Orlais, including Josephine herself.

And here she was, easy prey, but for one who would defend her with their own life. It must not come to that!

“A bit of subterfuge,” the man replied calmly. He bore no weapons that she could see, had honored their terms by offering neither food nor drink, but any Antivan knew that it was the blade that you did not see that was most likely to kill you. “The contract on your life is an ugly business, one that the House of Repose deeply regrets.” He sounded sincere, and likely was; while many so-called assassins’ guilds were little better than hired thugs, the oldest approached their deadly trade in a businesslike manner. But while a less professional organization might be convinced to abandon the contract for a price, the House of Repose would consider no such offer.

“But this is Orlais,” he went on, as though reading her thoughts. “Even an assassin’s word is his bond. Given the circumstances, however, it was felt that an explanation was warranted.”

“That is … most gracious of you,” Josephine managed, “but why request the Inquisitor’s presence?”

His chuckle sent chills down her spine. Not that it was a cruel sound. Quite the opposite: it was the epitome of good humor, as though she had said something mildly amusing to him at a luncheon. “Would you have believed that an Orlesian noble would have been willing to offer you anything if there were nothing for him in the deal?”

No, she would not, and the knowledge that Sati had been led to her death as window dressing hurt even more than imagining her parents receiving the missive informing them of the death of their eldest.
 

Sati Adaar

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#10
By the time the Comte had finished his explanation, Sati had begun to wish this had been a trap after all. It would be much easier to single-handedly take on a gang of bruisers than try to unravel the nonsensical notion of a guild of assassins carrying out a hundred-year-old contract in the name of a family who had long since fallen from grace and, in all likelihood, had no memory of feuding with Josephine’s family in the first place. Ridiculously the only thing keeping this going supposedly pertained to a code of honour. There was no honour in murder, no matter how prettily it was dressed up, and Sati’s jaw had started to clench before the explanation was finished. She kept silent, however, gaze shifting between the Comte and Josie, waiting for her next cue.

Josie was as astute as ever, pointing out that the Comte had more details than would normally be imparted by rumour. He even had a copy of the contract. Sati didn’t reach for Ruin, but her fingers rested by the dagger at her hip. The Comte’s eyes flickered behind his mask and he nodded slightly, acknowledging the threat before answering Josie’s indirect accusation.

“A bit of subterfuge. The contract on your life is an ugly business, one that the House of Repose deeply regrets. But this is Orlais. Even an assassin’s word is his bond. Given the circumstances, however, it was felt that an explanation was warranted.”

There would be no point in Sati threatening to slit his throat unless he called off the contract. There would be others willing to finish the job, and until the contract was declared null or destroyed, Josie’s life would remain in danger no matter how many Sati killed. That didn’t prevent the temptation from being strong. It was on the tip of her tongue to call him out, but Josie didn’t let herself slip.

“That is...most gracious of you. But why request the Inquisitor’s presence?”

The Comte - probably not actually a Comte - chuckled. Sati glanced around the room quickly, as though somebody had melted through the walls in the last two minutes. They were still alone. “Would you have believed that an Orlesian noble would have been willing to offer you anything if there were nothing for him in the deal?”

Sati had remained standing throughout the conversation. Therefore, it was easy enough to reach towards the Comte, grasping him by the front of his shirt and lifting him cleanly out of his chair and off the floor. It had been a considered decision not to grasp him by the neck. Her usual grip on her outward emotions had evaporated, and her voice was laced with disgust. “You should tell your compatriots that if anybody from your... House of Repose... makes the attempt, they’ll be signing their own death warrant.”

The man’s sangfroid was not the least bit ruffled, even as he held onto her wrists to balance himself. “Will you protect her night and day, Inquisitor? Can you be with her every moment? Let Thedas fall to the rifts? No. Better that the lady abandons her attempts to restore the family name. Besides, you might be well trained for a mercenary, but you are a hammer. You cannot use brute force to succeed against us, and you know that.”

Sati shifted one hand to his throat. “I can’t do anything about the contract, but I can make sure she at least leaves here alive.”
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
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#11
Sati had held her peace throughout the exchange, her expression giving no clue to her thoughts, but Josephine had been embarrassed that her practical and honorable friend should be exposed to the seamy underbelly of Orlesian and Antivan high society, where retaining an assassin was done with as little thought as hiring a gardener. But worse was the thought that the Inquisitor might come to harm because of her; Sati was a formidable fighter, but the adversary in this was not simply a disgruntled rival, but an entire assassins' guild, and a renowned one, at that. The false comte might be the only one at the table, but he was not alone. Josephine would wager what remained of her family’s fortune on that without hesitation.

The Vashoth’s patience ended at the messenger’s mocking rejoinder, which was ironically accurate. Josephine had taken the bait that they dangled before her, and now she could only watch in horror as Sati closed the distance between then in a stride and lifted the man from his chair by his shirt.

“You should tell your compatriots that if anybody from your ... House of Repose... makes the attempt, they’ll be signing their own death warrant.” Her tone was heavy with scorn, undercut with a quiet but implacable menace, but their host seemed unperturbed by it, or by the fact that his feet dangled a full foot from the floor.

“Will you protect her night and day, Inquisitor?” he asked calmly, grasping her wrists, not to free himself, but to shift his position a bit. “Can you be with her every moment? Let Thedas fall to the rifts? No. Better that the lady abandons her attempts to restore the family name. Besides, you might be well trained for a mercenary, but you are a hammer. You cannot use brute force to succeed against us, and you know that.”

He was right, and Josephine knew it. Sati could not abandon her duties as Inquisitor to become a bodyguard, not could Leliana spare any of her assets for that purpose. Sati must know it, too, but her stony visage did not waver, and one hand released its grip on the silk blouse to settle around his throat.

“I can’t do anything about the contract, but I can make sure she at least leaves here alive.”

“No!” Josephine sprang forward, placing both of her hands on Sati’s wrist. “Not for me. Please.” And not only because she did not want the man’s death on her conscience. Killing him would end both of their lives; none of the backup had put in an appearance, but Josephine could feel their eyes, watching and waiting.

“It would be unnecessary,” he replied with the same perfect composure. “We would not be so churlish as to warn the signora and then kill her outright. As I said before, due to the unique situation, we wished to warn her of the consequences of attempting to overturn the ban, then allow her to choose her course. If the Montilyets walk away, no further blood need be shed.”

And her family would continue to die by degrees. Josephine stared up at him, her mind working furiously. “The Du Paraquettes have a surviving branch,” she began slowly. “They are commoners, but if they could be elevated back to nobility, could they rescind this contract?” Back on familiar ground, she was not surprised when he nodded - as much as his current position allowed, at least.

“They could, indeed,” he said, actually sounding pleased. “A most innovative solution, Lady Montilyet, but I must warn you that the contract will remain in effect until it is rescinded, and we are bound by honor to fulfill it. Do not tarry.”

Josephine nodded. “I understand.” She glanced back to Sati. “Release him, please?”
 

Sati Adaar

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#12
Sati would have done it. The powerlessness she felt over this situation was bad enough, but she’d felt like a pawn of outside forces from the moment she’d woken up on a prison cell floor. She could deal with powerlessness. What she struggled with was knowing that even if she ended the man right here, she couldn’t help with Josie’s situation. At least if he’d been planning on attempting an ambush, he wouldn’t be around to pick up his pay.

But Josie’s plea stayed her hand. And as it transpired, the assassin wasn’t here to make an attempt himself - or so he claimed. If Josie walked away from trying to restore her family’s fortunes, she would be safe.

Josie’s keen mind was already at work. “The Du Paraquettes have a surviving branch. They are commoners, but if they could be elevated back to nobility, could they rescind this contract?”

The assassin actually smiled. “They could, indeed. A most innovative solution, Lady Montiliyet, but I must warn you that the contract will remain in effect until it is rescinded, and we are bound by honor to fulfill it. Do not tarry.”

“I understand. Release him, please?”

Sati slowly lowered him to the floor. The assassin smoothed his doublet, showing no indication that he’d felt the least bit threatened by her. Perhaps he’d known for certain that Josie’s kindness would intervene. Maybe that was even part of why he’d asked Sati along as well - to demonstrate that simply trying to end whoever came after Josie wouldn’t work in the long term. It was like trying to stop a swarm by swatting one fly at a time.

“I don’t understand.” She folded her arms. “Why do the Du Paraquettes have to be elevated? I would assume they had paid in advance, or the House of Repose might not be so keen to fill a contract they wouldn’t get paid for.” They might set themselves up as practitioners of the fine art of murder, but like any other enterprise, they’d be stupid not to get the money up front. If the Du Paraquettes were commoners, it didn’t matter how much the assassins might press them after the deed was done, they wouldn’t be making a profit on it. “So if the money is already paid, shouldn’t their word be good enough as it stands to end the contract on J - Lady Montiliyet’s life?”
 

Josephine Montilyet

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#13
Sati lowered the messenger until his feet touched the floor, then released her grip, but her features remained set in planes of stone. He seemed unaffected, straightening his clothes as though they had been mussed by the wind.

“I don’t understand.” The Vashoth stepped back a bit, crossing her arms over her chest and looking down at the man, making no attempt to hide her disdain. “Why do the Du Paraquettes have to be elevated? I would assume they had paid in advance, or the House of Repose might not be so keen to fill a contract they wouldn’t get paid for. So if the money is already paid, shouldn’t their word be good enough as it stands to end the contract on J - Lady Montiliyet’s life?”

“A valid question,” he congratulated her, “but what you suggest is impossible for two reasons. Firstly, the House of Repose has a reputation that must be upheld. We only conduct business with a certain … quality of client. Our leadership simply will not accept the petition of a commoner. Secondly,” he cast his eyes toward Josephine, “grudges in Orlais are not lightly surrendered. The Du Paraquettes paid dearly for the original contract; I am given to understand that the sum involved was great enough that it contributed to the family’s eventual downfall. Their antipathy toward the Montilyet line must have been great indeed, and it is unlikely that they will agree to rescind the contract without some form of incentive … if they can be persuaded at all.”

He was right, but before Josephine had time to consider this unwelcome prospect, a muffled shouting and clunking arose from within a sizable armoire against the far wall. She stared at their host with rising dismay. “You did not -”

“A sedative, nothing more,” he assured her, his eyes twinkling behind the mask. “Your spymaster is exceedingly well informed, so a counterfeit noble would not suffice. We simply borrowed Comte Boisvert’s name and estate for a time. He will be none the worse for wear; he should even be able to free himself within a few minutes.” A pause, then, “He does not, however, know about any of this, so unless you are fond of awkward explanations, I recommend that you join me in vacating the premises before he emerges.”

Josephine could not even begin to count the number of ways in which this was so very wrong, but as it would not do to have the Inquisitor associated with a man being tied up and stuffed in a closet, there was little to be done but follow the suggestion. Once out on the street, the assassin immediately lost himself in the bustling crowd.

Josephine drew a slow breath, her head still spinning from the revelations of the last few minutes. It seemed impossible that the world that they had emerged into was the same one they had left, and yet, she knew it was so.

She glanced back at the Boisvert manor, decided they were still too close. “Walk with me?” she invited Sati, glad of the other woman’s presence, even as it worried her. Surely the House of Repose would not immediately begin their attempt to fulfill their contract, after having gone to such measures to warn her?

They wandered through the narrow, wending paths of the Summer Bazaar, past fountains and cafes, modest stalls and grand emporiums, graceful statues and lovers’ alcoves draped with flowering vines, until at last they stopped at a vast expanse of water that reflected the blue sky and wispy clouds above and the few gilded gondolas that drifted on its surface with almost preternatural clarity.

“The Miroir de la Mère,” Josephine told her companion. “Built by Reville Valmont, the Mad Emperor, in the Blessed Age, as a massive reflecting pool used for divination; he hoped to draw the spirit of his departed mother back across the Veil.” She shook her head bemusedly. “It was not completed until the week that he died, so it was never used for its intended purpose, half the original bazaar was destroyed to make room for it, and because the bottom was coated with lead to improve its reflective properties, fish cannot survive in it, nor is swimming advisable. But -” she gestured as a gondola carved into the likeness of a swan glided past, the gaily chattering women aboard paying no mind to the labors of the gondolier or the people on the shore, “it looks pretty.”

She turned her back on the scene with a pensive sigh. “Such is Orlais,” she murmured. “At least, the Orlais of the upper classes. When I was a girl, I thought it all very fine and exciting; I loved the idea of the Grand Game.” She glanced up to Sati, a self-deprecating smile playing at her lips. “I even thought to be a bard, once.”
 

Sati Adaar

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#14
Oddly, the assassin appraised Sati with somewhat more respect than she was used to receiving from anybody with an Orlesian accent (Leliana excluded). People did tend to be surprised that she had a mind behind her brawn, and could put it to use. Sati was so used to it that it no longer even slightly irritated her, and even if it did, right now it would be subsumed by the near-trembling anger that the assassin’s words were provoking in her. When the Du Parasquettes had raised the contract, they had been good enough to do business with; now they had lost their station, they were no longer worth it, even though the House of Repose had long since taken their money. Even if they agreed to end the contract without bloodshed, they couldn’t, because the guild didn’t deal with people below a certain social strata. Once again Sati felt an ugly tinge of bloodlust that she had to fight down. She would not prove the preconceptions of her to be a brute as true, and more importantly, she would not put Josie through that suffering.

And there was the sheer idiocy of the contract in the first place. Presumably the Du Paraquettes had been a rival family, hoping to push the Montiliyets from favourable trading ventures, and had put so much money towards their destruction that they’d bought it on themselves. So the current generation might be bitter enough about the decisions their ancestors had made to take it out on the people who had been the cause of the downfall, even though said ancestors were the ones to actually start the whole mess.

Sati’s temples were throbbing. “If they’re so constrained by the foolish - no, stupid - actions of their grandsires to continue a grudge against the Montiliyets, I suspect their line would have eventually fallen from grace anyway.”

“I suggest you do not take that line when presenting your argument to them, Madame Inquisitor,” the assassin answered, with a chuckle that made Sati want to jab two fingers through the eyeholes of his mask. She was about to respond when a cabinet in the corner of the room started rattling, and Sati immediately reached for a weapon.

Josephine was quicker off the mark. “You did not-”

“A sedative, nothing more.” So that was where the Comte had ended up. “Your spymaster is exceedingly well informed, so a counterfeit noble would not suffice. We simply borrowed Comte Boisvert’s name and estate for a time. He will be none the worse for wear; he should even be able to free himself within a few minutes. He does not, however, know about any of this, so unless you are fond of awkward explanations, I recommend that you join me in vacating the premises before he emerges.”

“And no further.”

They exited, and went their separate ways from the assassin. Josie let out a long breath, looking back at the manor. “Walk with me?”

Sati nodded, courteously holding out an arm for Josie to take if she wished. She had just had quite a shock. They both had. It was about as close to cold-blooded murder as Sati had ever come, although Alexius still took the lead on that.

They walked through the streets of Val Royeaux. It was busy and bright with sunshine; there were people from across the empire and beyond, traders hawking, musicians playing, bright banners and clothes lighting every corner. For somebody now watching every twitch of movement in case it concealed a dagger, it was a nightmare, and she was relieved when they came to the edge of a lake, with fewer people around. Leliana’s agents would be nearby, as they always were; it was unlikely either of them would be picked off by an unexpected arrow.

Josie indicated the lake, giving its name and its history. Like so many other things in Orlais, it was largely bereft of function, although Sati would concede that it did look pretty, her lips curling in brief amusement when Josie said so. The amusement did not last long.

“Such is Orlais. At least, the Orlais of the upper classes. When I was a girl, I thought it all very fine and exciting; I loved the idea of the Grand Game.” Josie looked up at her with a wry smile. “I even thought to be a bard, once.”

The idea was not out of the realms of the possible, given what Josie was capable of stitching together from a few pieces of gossip and an item left where it should not be, but it was hard to imagine her taking a life. Sati eyed her curiously. “Did you go beyond thinking of it?”
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
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#15
It was ridiculous, possibly even dangerous, to allow herself to feel safe in Sati’s presence, when in all likelihood it was her own presence that was putting the Inquisitor in danger. But walking with her hand tucked into the crook of the other woman’s arm, Josephine did feel safe, logic arguing that the House of Repose would not begin their attempt to fulfill their contract without allowing her to at least initiate the counter that she had proposed.

Val Royeaux was much as she remembered from her years as the Antivan ambassador to Orlais … but she had changed. Oh, the warmth of the sun was a welcome change from the perpetual chill of Skyhold, and the finery of the clothes, the opulence and variety of the wares offered for sale by the shops were pleasing after the austerity of the last few weeks. But having committed herself to a cause worth fighting for, it was difficult to forget all the petty intrigues and schemes going on behind the masks that they passed, particularly knowing that her current predicament was the direct result of such pettiness.

Her current companion had played no small part in the changes that had taken place in her perspectives. Sati could comport herself as properly as any noble in Thedas, but she had never engaged in the games that so many of the upper crust seemed to delight in, and her disgust at the Grand Game had always been plain. Josephine admired her as she had no other person before, and her good opinion mattered greatly. It was difficult to admit that she had once been so like these foolish, self-absorbed folk that she had considered the life of a bard as something worth striving for.

Sati looked surprised at her revelation, but the disgust that Josephine had feared was not in evidence. “Did you go beyond thinking of it?”

“For a time,” Josephine replied. “It is a favored pastime of many young nobles, to don a mask and practice playing the game in such a fashion. I was attending university in Val Royeaux when I learned about bards.” She turned away, looking out over the lake, the revelers in their gondolas, all lively and inane chatter as they floated atop a dead body of water. Perhaps she had not been quite so vapid and self-absorbed in her younger days, but looking back now, the girl that she had been seemed impossibly naive and foolish. “There was an air of such romance about them!” she sighed, shaking her head bemusedly. “Stories of secrets, trysts and fascinating people, and a group of us, young gentry from Antiva, decided that this exciting life was for us.

“As my father’s heir, it was a foolish risk to take,” she said candidly, “but it was my first time away from home, my first time to be seen as someone besides the dutiful eldest child, and I embraced the chance.” She paused, then added with a wry smile. “I was … quite good at it, at least as far as intrigues and secrets went, and there were a few trysts.” Her cheeks pinked slightly. “Danger - or the perception of it - is a potent aphrodisiac. But in the end, we were all children, playing in the waves at the seashore with no idea how quickly it was possible to venture into deep water and dangerous currents.”

Her eyes grew distant, her expression somber. “My patron sent me on a mission to recover some compromising letters,” she began, feeling her heart fluttering in her chest like a trapped bird. “After gaining entrance to the manor, I encountered another bard on the same mission, sent by my patron’s rival.” The noble houses of Orlais had felt no compunction at putting these eager novices into play in the Grand Game, letting them fight the proxy battles in the shadows while they maneuvered around each other with exquisite politeness in parlors and ballrooms.

“We fought.” She snorted softly, lips thinned in a mirthless smile, heart beginning to pound. “Scrapped would be the better term, really. Both of us hidden behind our masks. Playful at first, then more and more desperate as we realized that we were ever more likely to be caught.” She swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. “We were … at the top of a steep flight of steps. The other bard drew a knife, and I -” She faltered, her gaze fixed in the past, remembering the first twist of real fear at the gleam of the blade. “Perhaps he was just hoping to intimidate me, but I … I pushed him away.” She dropped her head, shoulders sagging. “You can imagine the result,” she said softly. The result had never left her mind's eye in all the years since.
 

Sati Adaar

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#16
For all that Josephine had been a steadying, calm presence at the war table, Sati had seen early on that the ambassador had depths only hinted at in conversation. Her longstanding friendship with Leliana was the first clue; the Left Hand’s history was well known, and Sati had heard references to their younger years that betrayed a love of mischief and games. Then there had been her occasionally unconventional suggestions for dealing with problems arising from the nobility. Josie had a mind for detail and an astonishing ability for recall. It should perhaps have been less of a surprise that she might have been interested in being a bard at one point.

She’d not been alone in it. Many young nobles found the life romantic and appealing, and Josie had thrown caution to the winds in adopting the life - although not recklessly, as it appeared she’d had an aptitude for it. “I was … quite good at it, at least as far as intrigues and secrets went, and there were a few trysts.” Sati struggled - and did not quite succeed - in keeping her mouth from twitching with amusement at the colour in Josie’s cheeks. “Danger - or the perception of it - is a potent aphrodisiac. But in the end, we were all children, playing in the waves at the seashore with no idea how quickly it was possible to venture into deep water and dangerous currents.”

Sati’s glimmer of amusement died as Josie turned serious. “My patron sent me on a mission to recover some compromising letters. After gaining entrance to the manor, I encountered another bard on the same mission, sent by my patron’s rival.”

It was clear from Josie’s tone that this would not end well, and it ended worse than Sati had expected. The other bard had eventually pulled a knife, and Josie had reacted defensively. The flight of stairs behind them finished the job. “Perhaps he was just hoping to intimidate me, but I … I pushed him away. You can imagine the result.”

Surveying the landscape, and taking into account all the possible variations on the field of battle, had been drilled into Sati’s head from an early age. The best fighter on earth could be finished because he caught his foot on uneven ground, costing him a vital half-second. She was surprised at the anger that bubbled up within her. Yes, both Josie and the young man had been foolish in venturing into such a world, but their masters had let them. They’d sent their untrained emissaries to act as their pawns while they themselves likely never took much of a risk. Sati’s contempt for the ‘Great Game’ deepened further than she had already thought possible.

Expressing the thought would not help Josie. Her pain and regret was palpable. Sati cupped Josie’s cheek with one hand, encouraging her to meet her gaze. “You did not intend to end his life. And he may well have ended yours, had you not acted as you did.” Her expression was sympathetic. “It was a hard moment, but it did not involve a choice.” Unlike the squire that had killed Ser Lehmen. He had chosen to draw his dagger, he had chosen to drive it into their mentor again and again. Josie could no more have done that than travel to the moon. Sati's first kill, too, had been largely involuntary.

There was more to the story, she imagined. “What came after?”
 
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