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Cullen

Commander of the Inquisition
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Templar
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30
#1
[A few days after In Hushed Whispers - Drakonis, 9:41; Sati Adaar]

The Inquisition was now bound to the rebel mages, and they to the Inquisition in turn. A decision had been made and an alliance had been struck, neither of which the Commander publicly denounced nor embraced. The notion of mages walking freely amongst their ranks, entirely unchecked, had kept Cullen up at night. Alexius being held in one of the Chantry's basement cells was of little comfort, in turn. All the same - thank the Maker for Sati and the others; for their returning to Haven in one piece and for thwarting Alexius' wild magic. He shuddered to think of a world in which Alexius succeeded.

Yet Alexius was a perfect example of how power such as he was capable of wielding could so easily corrupt. How then, Cullen wondered, could Sati have decided to make an alliance with the mages over the templars? The Commander spent the majority of the time outside of Haven's gates - in the encampment - but so long as the now disgraced magister was held in a cell, Cullen opted to divide his time more faithfully between the encampment and the Chantry itself. He was ready to put the mage down himself, if need be - should Alexius make any attempts at escape or at conjuring anything nefarious. In the Commander's absence, Alexius' cell was well-guarded nonetheless. Cullen had made certain of it, posting the Inquisition's best templar recruits, few that they were, to keep watch. What little sympathy Cullen had for their prisoner, rested in Alexius' love of his son. Such did not excuse Alexius' actions, however.

Cullen was speaking with one of Alexius' guards, a templar that had emerged from the Chantry's basement to its upper level following a scheduled rotation, when he caught sight of the Tal-Vashoth taking leave of the Ambassador's office. The Commander always found it difficult to discern whether or not Sati had somewhere pressing to be or if she simply walked with purpose. Given his own height, he rarely found himself in the position of having to keep pace with another taller than himself - the mercenary was the exception.

The Commander abandoned his conversation with the guard and hurried after Sati, hoping to catch her before she took leave of the Chantry. "Madam Adaar!" he called after her. Cullen was, admittedly, still having a difficult time calling the Tal-Vashoth the Herald.

Much to his chagrin, his armor clinked and creaked with comical effort as he caught up to her. Someone even had the nerve to giggle. Ears reddening, Cullen continued, "Might I have a word?"
 
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Sati Adaar

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#2
Sati’s thoughts over the last few days had been tumultuous, to say the least. She didn’t often second-guess her decisions, but she’d barely gone a moment since Redcliffe without batting the pros and cons of taking in the mages back and forth, knowing she couldn’t very well take it back now but unable to ward off her own misgivings.

The fact remained that most of the mages hadn’t been like the violent rebels they’d encountered in the Hinterlands, and most hadn’t been too happy about coming under Alexius’ command, either. That was the former Grand Enchanter’s mistake. They shouldn’t be condemned for trying to find a peaceable solution to keep them safe from renegade templars, even if it had backfired.

How spectacularly it could have backfired was the source of Sati’s concerns. Seeing what Alexius would have made of the world had pushed the limits of her constraint, and she’d almost struck him down the moment they returned to the present. He was no longer an issue, but that wasn’t to say that some other advantage-seeking mage might not try the same thing. With the Veil so thin at the moment, all of their new allies were at greater risk of corruption than usual.

Alexius would die. But he needed to die publicly, following an open trial, and he needed to die for what he had actually done and been planning to do, not the future that could have come to pass. For ousting the arl of Redcliffe alone he would have faced severe punishment; the open attack on the Inquisition and the attempt to take control of the free mages sealed it. But they would need to be cautious. If one of the accusations was that he was building an army on Fereldan sovereign soil - well. The Inquisition was no different. King Alistair had been furious with the mages and probably was none too pleased that the two factions had united, remaining at the borders of his land.

Hopefully, if using the mages succeeded, they could close the Breach and earn some goodwill. Then the Inquisition could be downsized to a point where they could continue helping refugees and fighting demons, but not be perceived as a threatening military force once more.

This was all a lot to think about for one person, let alone one who had spent the majority of her life dealing with problems by hitting them. Fortunately Ser Lehman’s directions on diplomacy and military tactics hadn’t gone completely to waste in that time, and she was learning more from her council every day. Even if they didn’t fully trust her.

The next big issue was obtaining enough lyrium for the mages. Sati was turning over the potential options for that in her head when she heard footsteps accelerating behind her, accompanied by the soft clank of metal. Her hand curled instinctively towards the dagger at her waist, but dropped away when she realised it was Cullen. “Madam Adaar!”

Of her councillors, the commander had been the most visibly reluctant to use the title of Herald. For that, he had a measure of gratitude from Sati. It was still odd to be called ‘Madam’. From people who didn’t know her all that well, she was used to ‘hey, you’.

“Might I have a word?”

Cullen’s ears were reddening; somebody giggled in the background. Sati came to a stop to allow the commander to catch up with her. Given how tense he’d been since Redcliffe, Sati suspected where the conversation was going to go, but all the councillors tended to be edgy about something - apart from Josephine, who never underplayed the seriousness of a situation but maintained a composed mein throughout. “Of course. What’s on your mind?”
 

Cullen

Commander of the Inquisition
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#3
Having caught up to the Tal-Vashoth, and captured her attention, the Commander straightened himself. It was an unconscious effort to make himself seem taller, something others shorter than he had done to Cullen in the past. He wasn't used to having the tables turned on him in this regard.

He considered addressing the greatest of his concerns immediately. Yet upon standing before the mercenary, and taking note of her present mood, he decided to work his way up to the matter of the mage alliance. The Commander's left hand trembled, which he promptly clenched and held behind his back. More mages only meant more lyrium on hand. And more lyrium on hand meant more temptation. He confessed this concern only to Cassandra, in private, thus far. She assured him that he was overreacting and told him not to underestimate his own resolve. The Commander asked her if she thought he should confide in Sati, to which the Seeker had merely responded, "Not right now."

When, then? He wondered. As each day passed, he felt all the more guilty and duty-bound to inform Sati of his condition. Such as it was. Nonetheless, he'd heed the Seeker's advice.

"Have you come to a decision on what you'd like to do with Alexius?" he inquired, "While I wasn't in Redcliffe, and cannot begin to fathom what you all went through there, I'm told he's been a model prisoner thus far." Again, it had only been a few days. Cullen added, sternly, "As far as I'm concerned, however, the magister made his bed."

He went on to assure Sati, lest she have any doubt, "The Inquisition will stand behind your decision, of course. Alexius, for his part, seems resigned to his fate - whatever that may be."

In the meantime, let the bastard rot in the cells beneath Haven's Chantry.
 

Sati Adaar

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#4
Cullen was agreeably direct. He didn’t try to couch his words in soft language, but tended to speak his mind honestly. Of course, this could be a drawback in diplomatic situations, or when discussing topics of a sensitive nature. Then again, Sati wasn’t entirely used to that either. Mercenary groups weren’t usually hired because of their tact. Nonetheless, he probably shouldn’t be questioning her about Alexius with other people around.

Not least because just mentioning his name was enough for Sati’s jaw to tighten.

"Have you come to a decision on what you'd like to do with Alexius? While I wasn't in Redcliffe, and cannot begin to fathom what you all went through there, I'm told he's been a model prisoner thus far.” Not that this was an admission towards leniency. "As far as I'm concerned, however, the magister made his bed."

“Your opinion is noted.”

"The Inquisition will stand behind your decision, of course. Alexius, for his part, seems resigned to his fate - whatever that may be."

Well, most people would know soon enough, anyway. Sati came to a halt and faced Cullen, crossing her arms.

“He will die. My previous intention was to execute him at Redcliffe rather than have our soldiers waste the time carting him back to Haven and preparing a suitable guard for a mage, but…” Sati paused, picking her words carefully. “I’m comfortable with killing a man in the course of a fight. This is different. If we’re going to be the sort of organisation that pronounces death on people, I want the reasons to be clear. The sentencing will be held publicly and the reasons for it listed. Otherwise it will be very easy for people to paint me as a despot, heading up my own private army. Given that King Alistair was prepared to kick the mages out of Ferelden for that, I think it’s best to avoid the comparison where we can.”

Sati glanced towards the door leading down to the dungeons. Even now, she was deeply uncomfortable that a religious house had dungeons. It was not much of a stretch to imagine how the Chantry might have forcibly obtained converts or punished heretics in the past. It didn’t take much to recall waking up sprawled in its damp depths, six swordpoints at her throat. “I’ll carry out the sentencing myself. No need for anybody else to sully their hands because of my decisions.”
 

Cullen

Commander of the Inquisition
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#5
Successfully reading the nuances of Qunari, or Tal-Vashoth, expressions was a skill yet mastered by the Commander.

“Your opinion is noted.”

Tone, however, was harder to mask. Cullen took note of those within the Chantry. Something he should have done before speaking of Alexius so openly to begin with. Sati yet humored his curiosity, however, “He will die. My previous intention was to execute him at Redcliffe rather than have our soldiers waste the time carting him back to Haven and preparing a suitable guard for a mage, but… I’m comfortable with killing a man in the course of a fight. This is different. If we’re going to be the sort of organisation that pronounces death on people, I want the reasons to be clear. The sentencing will be held publicly and the reasons for it listed. Otherwise it will be very easy for people to paint me as a despot, heading up my own private army. Given that King Alistair was prepared to kick the mages out of Ferelden for that, I think it’s best to avoid the comparison where we can.”

The Commander nodded, privately noting that Ferelden would not be the Inquisition's only obstacle to navigate in that light. Orlais had just as many concerns about the Inquisition as well. He considered that, in terms of allies, perhaps beggars should not be choosers. Still, he would have much preferred a templar alliance for their first. Alexius was proof of just how dangerous mages were.

Sati finished, “I’ll carry out the sentencing myself. No need for anybody else to sully their hands because of my decisions.”

Cullen concurred, this time in a lower tone of voice, "A public execution, then. May it serve as cautionary lesson to anyone looking to follow in Alexius' footsteps."

The Commander still wanted to address the issue of the Inquisition's alliance with the mages. Knowing it would be a conversation better had alone, and that it might turn into a heated exchange, Cullen sought to summon an excuse to speak with Sati elsewhere. Away from anyone hoping or curious enough to listen in. "Madam Adaar," he addressed her again, if awkwardly, "We've received a number of supplies, secured for us by Ser Rylen-" It had taken very little convincing from Cullen to bring Rylen and his loyalists onboard with the fledgling Inquisition. He was a good man. "Threnn's had them stored in one of the cabins, but has asked for my input in how best to distribute. I was on my way there now and was wondering if you would join me?" There was a ring of truth to the Commander's words. Rylen had sent supplies and the Inquisition's quartermaster had set them aside for Cullen's inspection. Even had he not wished to speak to Sati in private about the mages, he would have liked her input in their distribution in turn.
 

Sati Adaar

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#6
Cullen didn’t seem inclined to push back against Sati’s choice. Nor would she have expected him to. He was no longer part of the templars but the remains of that life clung to him, in more ways than in his military bearing. He’d been clearly unhappy with her choice to take in the mages - almost as uncomfortable as Sati had been herself. She might have chosen the templars had they kept their discipline and not broken ranks in the face of the Circles being dissolved, but they had proved that a person didn’t need to be a mage to abuse their powers. In the end, she had made her decision because the majority of the mages were innocent of the mistakes of their leaders, and while the templars could certainly fight demons they were less well equipped to seal up holes in the sky.

That didn’t mean she hadn’t spent several sleepless hours over the decision, however.

She had thought that might be the end of the conversation, but judging by the way Cullen was clearing his throat, there was more on his mind. “Madam Adaar, we’ve received a number of supplies, procured for us by Ser Rylen. Threnn’s had them stored in one of my cabins, but has asked for my input in how best to distribute. I was on my way there now and was wondering if you would join me?"

Sati weighed him up for a moment. He had more experience in dividing out supplies amongst large numbers than she did, and it was unlikely there was much she’d be able to offer in terms of advice. However, she appreciated the gesture of inclusion. Day to day she seemed to veer between being kept away from anything at all and then having to deal with every piddling little decision that crossed her path. She also suspected he had more to ask. Thus far, she had not spent much time in conversation with the advisors outside of the war room.

“Of course. Lead the way.”

Sati fell into step beside Cullen as they left the Chantry. As always, Sati looked up at the Breach as though it might have healed itself spontaneously since she last glanced at it. No such joy, although she would have known anyway. The soft pulse in her hand reminded her with every heartbeat that she was still linked to it, even though it wasn’t killing her anymore.

She dropped her gaze to survey the camp. Outside of Haven’s walls, the field of tents was growing. Many of their new allies had come straight here, and feeding them all was one of the main concerns. An area for sheep and goats was staked out and arrangements made with Ferelden to trade vegetables until such a time as the Inquisition could grow their own, but for the moment they were living on a mixture of charity and whatever credit Josie could glean for them with foreign merchants. And this was just one town. Sati had no idea how kings dealt with the logistical nightmare of keeping an entire country fed.

Then again, some of them just didn’t.

As they approached the hut, Sati addressed Cullen. “Was there anything else you wanted to discuss, Commander?”
 

Cullen

Commander of the Inquisition
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Templar
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#7
To his relief, Sati seemed amenable to his request. "Of course. Lead the way," the Tal-Vashoth said. Cullen promptly obliged. His pace, while not hurried, was still purposeful as they took leave of the Chantry. He, too, looked skyward. It was almost impossible not to, when first stepping outside. The rendering of the sky was, for all, the rendering of that which was previously considered normal. It made the hair on the back of Cullen's neck stand up on end every time.

While Sati observed their growing encampment overall, the ex-templar's gaze brushed over every mage who walked by without a templar to govern them. He frowned. The hut serving to store the aforementioned supplies was before them. As he moved to push its door open, Sati inquired, "Was there anything else you wanted to discuss, Commander?"

"There's much to speak of," he admitted. Cullen was ready to broach the topic gnawing at him, but upon taking the first step into the hut his senses were assaulted by an awful stench. He covered his mouth and nose with the crook of his left arm. "Maker," he nearly gagged, "What happened in here?!"

The hut was filled with at least two dozen crates. Much needed supplies ranging from vegetables, to grains, to even a number of special herbs had all been tampered with. Recently, it seemed. Some foul substance had been poured upon all of it. Cullen undeniably suspected it to be urine. He lowered his arm, grimacing. Given that some form of sabotage was afoot, his conversation with Sati would have to wait. "Who... would do... this?" The fledgling Inquisition certainly had enemies but, Cullen had thought up until that moment, none so churlish or unsophisticated.

Then, the thought struck him. While the Inquisition had officially allied itself with the mages... there was still a spattering of templars in its ranks, many just as unhappy as he about the decision. None of his lieutenants would have been involved, for they were men and women he trusted, but... the wayward recruits perhaps... though Cullen hoped he was wrong. He wouldn't direct blame upon them just yet, but he abruptly stepped back outside for fresh air. "We needed those supplies," he stressed, "This warrants a thorough investigation. Mark my word, whoever is responsible will be held accountable." He exhaled harshly through his nose, still trying to relieve himself of the stench.
 

Sati Adaar

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#8
Sati grimaced as Cullen pushed open the door. The reek was overpowering, and immediately recognisable. The commander gagged. “What happened in here?”

She didn’t answer at first, her gaze sweeping the room. Some crates were still neatly stacked, but others had been pulled out from their piles and the lids yanked off, so that the perpetrator could more easily contaminate the contents. Her jaw tightened. “Sabotage.”

It wasn’t surprising. They should have had more of a guard on the supplies. The Inquisition was hated by multiple factions, and even with the efforts of the council to get Haven running smoothly after the Breach, it was all too easy for people to slip in and out. Cullen was still gawking. “Who...would do this?”

“It could have been any number of people.” She wrinkled her nose. “Judging by the number of crates they managed to...douse, it may have been more than one. Or somebody dedicatedly filling up a few jars ahead of time.” So they were either dealing with several people who were this aggravated about the Inquisition, or somebody who was really dedicated to making life as difficult as possible.

Cullen backed out of the room. Sati was only too happy to follow. “We needed those supplies.” Of course. Haven was not the most accessible area of Ferelden, and just persuading merchants to cover the distance had been tricky enough without also having to convince them that they’d be safe from demon attack along the way. Not that Sati had been involved in any of that, but she knew Josephine and Threnn were working themselves to the bone trying to keep the Inquisition supplied. That made it even more of a slap in the face - it wasn’t as though they were an invading army, lording it over the locals and taking their supplies. Although the comparison could be made…

“This warrants a thorough investigation,” Cullen continued, bringing Sati out of her reverie. “Mark my word, whoever is responsible shall be held accountable.”

“Is there usually a guard stationed here? If not, we could question those who might have been nearby. Even if they just caught a glimpse of something out of the ordinary, it would give us a place to start.”

Not that Sati really wanted to spend her day hunting down whoever had drenched their supplies with piss, but this whole thing was going to result in further rationing until they could restock. They needed to indicate to any other disgruntled parties that it wasn’t worth the consequences.

She also wanted to look the guards in the eye, just in case any of them were responsible. It would be a sensible place for a saboteur to take; guards tended to have access to a great many places that civilians did not.
 
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