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Standing Calmly At The Crossroads, No Desire To Run [Closed]

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Canon Character
Grey Warden
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352
#1
((Wintermarch, 9:41; 2 days after Through Thick And Thin; late morning; Sofia di Castelbuono ))

The stables were deserted, more than half the stalls empty, the only sound the occasional snort and the shuffling of hooves in hay. A sizable contingent of Grey Wardens had departed an hour earlier on a joint sortie with the Denerim guard in response to reports of demons straying from a rift toward a village. Cauthrien had known better than to even suggest accompanying them, but she intended that this be the last day that she was forced to stay behind.

The previous day, after getting caught up on the things that had happened while she was sequestered and seeing to some correspondence, she had spent several hours with Lucien, learning how to mix the draught of refined lyrium and calculating the lowest possible daily dose that would allow her to utilize her abilities without any ill effects, along with the supplemental doses that might be needed in prolonged combat. He had warned her that the required amount would likely increase over the years, warned her also that when (and he clearly believed there to be no ‘if’ about it) she found herself tempted to consume the supplemental draughts out of combat, she should consult him immediately to determine a new dose.

She had promised that she would, while privately resolving to never reach that point. It had been late enough in the day when they were done that Lucien had advised against taking her first dose, and this morning, he had gone out to deal with the demons. One or more templar-trained individuals were included in each sortie, along with healing mages, and after one of the few templars remaining in Denerim’s chantry had been more interested in attacking the Warden mage than the demons, the Grey Wardens had filled that role, as well.

With no idea when they might return, or in what condition, Cauthrien had decided not to wait, and the stables offered the privacy that she wanted. Word of her intention had gotten around, and while everyone tried to hide it, she had caught the worried looks. She didn’t blame them, but neither did she want an audience while she experienced the effects of lyrium for the first time. Bad enough that they had all seen her half dead a few days earlier. Her philter kit was in her pouch; Lucien hadn’t told her where he had gotten it and she hadn’t asked. Everything she needed to mix her first dose of lyrium was contained within.

First things first, however.

“Stop that,” she admonished Dragon, who had pinned his ears and backed deeper into his stall at the sight of her, tail whipping in irritation. “I’m sorry it’s been so long. I couldn’t leave my sodding room.” He snorted disdainfully but watched as she reached into her pouch and withdrew an oatcake. Fresh apples were still several months away, but Cressa had been prevailed upon to bake treats for the Grey Wardens’ mounts. His ears flicked as she broke the cake apart, then leaned on the stall door and held out a piece in the palm of her hand.

“Your choice.”

He held out for a few moments longer, then ambled forward with studied nonchalance. Five years ago, such a presentation would have risked a bite, but today, only velvet-soft lips brushed Cauthrien’s palm as Dragon took the treat and munched on it with relish. She fed him the rest of the cake piece by piece in the same fashion, looking him over as he ate. The wounds on rump and shoulder had been healed, the lines of the scar tissue outlined in fine white hair. His coat was rough, mane and tail still tangled. In quieter moments, he would allow the stable hands to groom him, but evidently his agitation from the fight and headlong run back to Denerim had lingered, and at such times only Cauthrien could approach him. She fed him another cake, then an unprecedented third, before fetching the grooming tools and entering the stall. Dragon snorted, but not so harshly as before, and his ears were no longer flattened.

“You did well,” she told him quietly as she began running the brush over his coat, working out the dust and dried sweat. “We wouldn’t have made it without you.” She brushed careful fingers over the scars; the flesh twitched beneath her touch, but he did not shy away. “Sorry I got us into that. I’ll try to keep it from happening again.” They’d been caught off guard then, forced into a fight that favored the enemy. Lyrium would even the odds, as would more fighters and time to devise better tactics, but anything could happen once a battle was entered.

Dragon was less patient at her attempts to comb out his mane and tail, but the last of the oatcakes provided an effective bribe. She checked his hooves one by one, and was unsurprised to find the shoe on the left front missing; that would need to be replaced before they rode out again. “You’re getting more grey,” she remarked. “We both are.” The smith had looked at his teeth and guessed him at seven years when he’d arrived six years earlier. Thirteen wasn’t geriatric for a horse, but neither was it young. Much as forty was neither old nor young for a soldier. She didn’t mind the silver strands that touched her hair or the lines that had begun to show on her face; vanity had never been one of her vices. She did mind the aches and pains that had begun to encroach on her movement, but so far they were only an annoyance. When they advanced further, well … dying in battle didn’t frighten her, but what did haunt her thoughts was someone else dying because she hadn’t been fast enough, strong enough, good enough. It had happened five days ago, and if it had been Sofia instead of the Blackstone who had been killed -

She shook her head violently, dispelling the unwelcome thought. Dragon snorted and shied back a step. “Sorry,” she murmured, scratching his neck until he settled again. Even before, losing the mage would have torn something inside her, and now - She huffed a sigh, setting the comb, brush and hoof pick aside. Now she wasn’t sure what to think. On the job, they remained professional, but the Antivan had shown an uncanny knack for catching Cauthrien alone and initiating kisses that left her head spinning and pulse racing. Sofia, of course, could step away from such encounters with total aplomb to return to her duties, but Cauthrien generally required a minute or two to reassemble her thought process. Not that she was objecting; she trusted that the mage would not distract her in that manner on the verge of combat, which was really the only time that she couldn’t spare a minute or so.

So far, there had been no time for anything but the kisses, and while they left Cauthrien wanting more, the prospect of it actually taking place made butterflies the size of ravens start swooping in her belly. She was acutely aware that all of her prior lovers to this point had been fellow soldiers, and while she had never bedded anyone that she had not at least liked, such trysts had been primarily an outlet for the unspent energy of battle and a sating of physical wants more than any expression of affection. To say nothing of the fact that it had been - Maker, she didn’t want to think how long since she had been to bed with anyone. Sofia was a Grey Warden, true enough, but she was of noble blood, and a beautiful woman, and while she had never been one to flaunt her lovers, neither did she shy from the fact that she had them. Most, if not all, undoubtedly had more skill than an aging warrior who hadn’t had a bedmate since well before the last Blight. Cauthrien didn’t want to disappoint, but more than that, she didn’t want to lose what they had in the aftermath of a disastrous romantic encounter. What seemed exhilaratingly possible whenever the Antivan was in her arms fell prey to the relentless tumble of her thoughts when she was alone. What if she was awful? Sofia would undoubtedly be too kind to say as much, and then things would be awkward between them, and -

She heaved another sigh and sank onto the manger. This was getting her nowhere, and had nothing to do with why she had come here. Dragon’s ears flicked forward as she reached into the pouch at her hip again. She withdrew the leather case containing the philter and allowed him to sniff it. He snorted and stepped back, shaking his head in disgust.

“That’s reassuring,” she murmured, opening up the kit and staring down at the contents. She had already dispensed her first dose into a stoppered vial that lay beside the flask and measure. “Do me a favor,” she told her horse as she picked up the vial. “If I pass out, don’t step on me or shit on me.”
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
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104
#2
Sofia had seen off the riders an hour previously, ostensibly to carry out her usual checks that everybody had the medical supplies she personally required every Grey Warden to carry. She didn’t want anybody falling because they’d got separated from the mages and couldn’t patch themselves up. Of course, Muriel could have done it, but over the years Sofia had seen off almost every Warden through those gates on a mission when she hadn’t been joining them, and it had become a tradition of sorts. Sofia had never admitted to anybody that while part of it was ensuring that she did the best for them that she could, she also sent them off with a silent prayer. Every goodbye to a Grey Warden could well be the final one, but each time she asked the Maker to spare them one more time.

It usually seemed to work.

It had felt more urgent than ever that she did so today. The Wardens were off to help fight demons, not darkspawn, and while darkspawn hordes could be thinned, the best they could do with the demons was try and keep their numbers at a controllable level. The rifts could conjure a new one every few minutes. There was a good chance that not everybody was going to come back from this.

Ideally she would have gone with them, but Muriel had been strict. Sofia had worn herself to the dregs fighting, then used those dregs on the flight back to Denerim. A day of rest had not been enough to compensate for that, or the following days while Cauthrien had been incapacitated and Sofia assumed her mantle. After the longest sleep of her life, Sofia was capable of mixing some medical supplies and answering letters, but had been sternly warned not to do more than that.

She had mostly obeyed, but had made an exception for Cauthrien. Ignoring the voice in her head chastising her for thinking of herself at a time like this, Sofia took delight in spotting opportunities to steal a kiss from the warrior. The moments of sweetness were like a clear draught of water after a long, hot day, and revived her, leaving her with a bounce in her step that helped alleviate her lingering exhaustion. The adorable stunned expression on Cauthrien’s face also made it absolutely worth it.

It was hard to believe she wasn’t imagining all of this. Between the nightmare of the Conclave and the sudden realisation of years of idle daydreams, occasionally Sofia wondered if she’d just fallen right into the Fade. But the warmth of pressing close to Cauthrien, the press of her lips, the strong arms winding around her, and the joy those moments bought, were a good argument for this being real.

There was another practical reason for Sofia not to have joined the Grey Warden contingent that had left that morning; she had to care for her horse. The man and girl they’d rescued from the rift had reappeared at the compound two days after Sofia and Cauthrien had returned, Gawain in tow, but he had been limping and shivering violently, his eyes rolling back every time somebody approached him. It had been almost as difficult to get him into a stall as Dragon, and Sofia’s heart had broken to look at him. She hadn’t had much time over the last couple of days to spend with her horse, and after the riders left she’d needed to finish dealing with some letters, but now she was determined to actually take care of him. Apparently he had calmed a little but was still far more skittish than he used to be. Sofia tucked away her correspondence neatly and pinned her hair out of her face, before heading towards the stables.

Dragon was there as well, but he didn’t raise his head to eyeball Sofia as usual. His head was bent down, and Sofia heard somebody murmuring. As she approached, she realised Cauthrien was in the stall, the high walls obscuring her from view of anybody more than a couple of yards away. For a moment, Sofia forgot Gawain, her face lighting with a smile, but it dimmed quickly as Cauthrien held out a vial for Dragon to smell and Sofia felt a familiar tingle dance along her limbs.

“Do me a favour. If I pass out, don’t step on me or shit on me.”

Sofia held back for a moment, rearranging her face. She’d already explained her reservations regarding lyrium to Cauthrien once, and the warrior didn’t need to hear it again. It was still discomfiting, and Sofia was even more uncomfortable that Cauthrien was choosing to do this for the first time on her own. These were not ideal conditions, especially if Cauthrien reacted badly to it.

Fortunately, she wasn’t alone.

Sofia propped her arms on the edge of the stall, and smiled wryly at Cauthrien. “While I admire your boldness, mi cara,” she said, carefully keeping any tone of accusation far away from her voice, “I would suggest that taking this journey for the first time in the company of a very large horse known for his tendency to kick just because the breeze is blowing the wrong way is perhaps worth reconsidering.”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
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DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
352
#3
Dragon gave Cauthrien a bit of warning, flicking his good ear toward the stall door in the moment before Sofia leaned over the top.

“While I admire your boldness, mi cara, I would suggest that taking this journey for the first time in the company of a very large horse known for his tendency to kick just because the breeze is blowing the wrong way is perhaps worth reconsidering.” Her smile was friendly enough, and her tone light … perhaps too light, given the faint lines of tension at her eyes. Worried and trying not to show it; would she have been so restrained a week earlier? ‘Mi cara’ was a new sobriquet that she hadn’t looked up yet; the tone in which it was spoken - always when they were alone - never failed to kindle a pleasant warmth curling beneath her ribs, but for the first time a twinge of unease accompanied it. She would almost rather have been scolded.

“He wouldn’t hurt me,” Cauthrien replied as Dragon abandoned her and nosed up to Sofia, hoping for a treat. “He might well shit on me, though,” she conceded, packing up the kit and tucking it back into her pouch as she stood. “I didn’t want to do it with half the compound staring at me,” she said with an awkward shrug, working her way past her horse to the door and out into the corridor. “Lucien said I should take it early in the day; he won’t be back until this afternoon, at least, and I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow.” Didn’t want to have to watch another team ride out to fight without her. Didn't want to risk a death that she might have been able to prevent if she'd just gotten off her ass sooner.

She latched the stall door and turned to face Sofia, aware of her proximity in a way that she was still getting used to. Far from unpleasant, but definitely unsettling. “You still don’t think I should take it.” Not a question. They had not discussed it since Sofia had left her quarters two days ago, and that lack of discourse was as telling as any lecture. “It didn’t seem fair to make you babysit me.” Not when the mage had already pushed herself to her limits and very nearly beyond while Cauthrien was recovering.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
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104
#4
Cauthrien looked up quickly, but Dragon was a little faster off the mark; he nuzzled at Sofia’s shoulder, and she was quick to reward him with one of the carrots intended for Gawain. Dragon could be almost sweet when he sensed food was available, but was also quick to let his disapproval be known with a nip if not supplied quickly enough. Sofia smiled anyway. She was fond of the warhorse regardless, and had especial reason to be thankful to him given he had saved both their lives only a few days ago. She murmured soft thanks, rubbing his broad nose as he munched.

“He wouldn’t hurt me,” Cauthrien said, belying years of playful butts, nips and the odd kick. “He might well shit on me, though.”

“All the more reason not to be sitting down near him right now.” Sofia stepped back, giving Cauthrien the room she needed to leave the stall once she had packed the lyrium kit up. Cauthrien preempted the next question on Sofia’s mind.

“I didn’t want to do it with half the compound staring at me. Lucien said I should take it early in the day; he won’t be back until this afternoon, at least, and I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow.” Cauthrien pushed her way out of the stall, and met Sofia’s gaze. There was an uneasiness there, although no indication that Cauthrien wanted to get away. “You still don’t think I should take it. It didn’t seem fair to make you babysit me.”

Sofia directed Cauthrien to a bench that sat against the back wall of the stables, guiding her to sit down. “There are those amongst the Wardens who don’t think we should have unfettered mages, but they work alongside them and assist them because they recognise that we’re helpful to the order. It’s not quite the same principle, of course, but it is similar.”

Once they were seated, Sofia covered Cauthrien’s hands with hers. “And if this is something that needs to be done, I would rather you didn’t feel like you had to hide it from me in order to do it. It is best to be open with each other, si?” She smiled, a touch teasingly. “Besides, I am your second. I could have words with you for even trying to hide it in the first place.”

She lifted one hand, resting her fingertips against Cauthrien’s temple. The thought of Cauthrien dealing with the side effects of lyrium made her skin crawl; but for a while, at least, it would spare her the crushing headaches, and hopefully mean that she would never suffer as much from using her abilities as she had after their last battle. The gesture softened, resting against Cauthrien’s cheek, and she leaned in for a slow, soft kiss.

When she pulled away, she had made a decision, although it took her a second to form a coherent sentence. “You should take it now. I’m here, the compound is empty. And if you feel steady enough, I can supervise while you conduct some practice.”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
352
#5
Cauthrien figured that she was in for a scolding and had probably earned it, on both the professional and personal levels, but she hadn’t wanted Sofia to have to participate in something she didn’t agree with. The mage simply took her arm and urged her to the back of the stable, where there was a bench that doubled as a mounting block for the smaller members of the order. “There are those amongst the Wardens who don’t think we should have unfettered mages, but they work alongside them and assist them because they recognise that we’re helpful to the order.”

“More than helpful,” Cauthrien replied. “Vital.” She’d been dubious at first, still clinging stubbornly to Loghain Mac Tir’s dismissive attitude toward anything outside of traditional military tactics and harboring the typical Fereldan suspicion of magic. She’d been so damn wrong: Sofia, Maya, Mysaria, Anders -

All right, fuck Anders, but even through her lingering anger at the rogue Warden who had set the mage-templar war into inexorable motion, she remembered the abuses that he had suffered in the Circle. The same abuses that nearly every mage who had joined the Wardens after escaping the Circle had reported. It had poisoned him, made him vulnerable to the demon that had taken over him. But she still wanted to kick his ass. For letting himself be lured into that ambush. For leaving alone and going into hiding. For killing hundreds in an act of insanity that had set the stage for the current crisis.

“It’s not quite the same principle, of course, but it is similar,” Sofia continued, and Cauthrien nodded, sitting down on the bench and letting Sofia take her hands

“And if this is something that needs to be done, I would rather you didn’t feel like you had to hide it from me in order to do it,” the mage told her. Cauthrien started to protest, but stopped because regardless of her reasons, that had been precisely what she had done. “It is best to be open with each other, si?”

“Yes,” Cauthrien agreed. Colleagues, friends, lovers: honesty was important to all, and she had let her pride get in the way of that.

Eyes the deep blue of twilight gleamed with gentle mirth, but something more serious lay beneath. “Besides, I am your second. I could have words with you for even trying to hide it in the first place,” Sofia teased her, reaching up to turn the Warden-Constable’s gaze back to her when she started to look away uncomfortably.

I expect you to, Cauthrien was about to say, but words and thought alike were scattered by soft lips pressed to her own, and she willingly lost herself in the kiss, lifting one hand to cup Sofia’s cheek and leaning into the contact. The mage was nothing if not thorough, and by the time she drew back, Cauthrien felt lightheaded, her cheeks flushed. She was marginally reassured by the fact that Sofia seemed similarly affected, though she recovered more quickly.

“You should take it now,” she said in the tone of one who had just reached a decision. Cauthrien stared at her uncomprehendingly, mind still feeling utterly adrift. “I’m here, the compound is empty. And if you feel steady enough, I can supervise while you conduct some practice.”

Oh. Right. Lyrium. “All right.” She ducked her head, rummaging through her pouch a bit longer than necessary to give the blush time to subside. She withdrew the tooled leather case, wondering not for the first time what had become of the templar who had owned it. Taking out the vial, she held it in her hand for a long moment.

“I’m used to doing things on my own,” she said quietly without looking up. “It’s not that I don’t trust you or meant to hide from you. When I was in the army, if a woman asked for help with anything, it was taken as a sign that she was weak. So I learned not to ask for help. It’s just a habit. I do trust you.” She lifted her head, meeting Sofia’s gaze. “I want you to hold me accountable if I’m messing up, and I don’t want this … us -” She gestured awkwardly between them, “to affect that. Don’t hold back on me. Please.” She lifted the vial, pulled the stopper, and offered a weak smile to her companion. “Bottoms up.”

Raising it to her lips, she downed the contents in a single swallow, grimacing a bit at the taste and feel: slick and cool, with a faintly metallic tang. It rolled down her throat in a palpable wave to her stomach, and then … nothing. She looked quizzically at Sofia. Five seconds … ten …

“Whoa.” She sat up straighter, looking around in wonder. It was as though the world had just come into sharper focus, the distant songs of birds outside suddenly clear in her ears. Nor was that all; she felt energized, as though fresh from a full night of restful sleep, and the aches and pains that she had gotten used to ignoring were gone. Not reduced. Gone. She stood, took a few steps, bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet, hands itching for the hilt of her sword, power singing through muscle and sinew. She felt better than she had in years, ready to take on a pride demon on her own. Maybe two of them. “Is it like this when you use it?” she asked, turning back to Sofia. The expression on the mage’s face brought her up short, and she forced herself to stop and take stock of the changes objectively.

“I … can see why templars become addicted,” she remarked, more subdued now despite the new power that coursed through her limbs, begging for an outlet. She would not let it control her. Not now. But would she be able to do the same six months from now? Her gut instinct was to pitch the philter in the midden heap and walk away, but cold logic reminded her that more than her own life was at stake and ruthlessly called forth the memory of that disastrous last fight.

“Can you cast a spell, please?” she asked the mage. “Something small, like a wisp? I want to see if I can feel it.” Normally, even the most powerful of magics failed to register on her awareness unless she was in a near meditative state of focus. She would master this as she had the sword and her templar skills: through discipline and practice.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
104
#6
She could have enjoyed the kiss for longer. In fact, if she had been minded towards it, Sofia could likely have distracted Cauthrien from taking the lyrium today altogether. After all, there were few people left in the compound, and while their fleeting moments of privacy had a thrill, Sofia was keen to see what would occur with more time to themselves. But then Cauthrien would still try it later anyway, and likely without Sofia present. She would be a good Warden first and then - later - give Cauthrien the opportunity to discover what else she was good at.

She enjoyed the red flush that painted Cauthrien’s face, though.

The moment passed, softened, as Cauthrien kept her gaze down and explained herself. “ When I was in the army, if a woman asked for help with anything, it was taken as a sign that she was weak. So I learned not to ask for help. It’s just a habit. I do trust you.” Cauthrien looked up, and Sofia was struck by the rare sight of vulnerability in her eyes. “I want you to hold me accountable if I’m messing up, and I don’t want this...us...to affect that. Don’t hold back on me. Please.”

“I promise.”

Cauthrien opened the vial, offered a toast of sorts, and downed it. For a moment her face was simply puzzled, but Sofia was watching her with a healer’s eye now, and saw the exact moment Cauthrien’s pupils expanded. Her bearing had always had a military straightness to it, but now it seemed to come more easily, as did the movements that followed, with all the joy of a child throwing their limbs around for the first time. Sofia knew what Cauthrien would be feeling; that giddying rush, the sensation of invincibility. For that moment alone was why so many templars lost their minds trying more and more lyrium, to achieve that initial high, and Sofia couldn’t quite rearrange her face in time before Cauthrien turned to her. “Is it like this when you use it?”

“I think the Fade mitigates it for mages, a little. But mostly yes. It’s why I only use it sparingly.” Mages could become addicted too, but the Chantry didn’t let them have access to it as much as they did the templars. One crazed, powerful templar was a lot easier to subdue than a power-addled mage.

Her tone, or her expression, brought Cauthrien down a little. Under normal circumstances she’d have delighted in seeing her friend so carefree, and felt bad about interrupting. However, she was reassured by Cauthrien’s response.“I...can see why templars become addicted.”

“They come to see it as a right, a small taste of what we channel every day. I’ve known more than one templar become bitter that we don’t actually need lyrium to obtain that strength.” It was a statement rather than a warning. Sofia had every intention of interfering if she noticed Cauthrien starting to develop an addiction.

“Can you cast a spell, please? Something small, like a wisp? I want to see if I can feel it.”

Sofia nodded. “Of course, mi cara.” It took almost no effort at all; like skimming the surface of a pond with her fingertips, she stirred the air and a small globule of light appeared, warm and humming very slightly. It hung in the air between them, the gleam reflected in Cauthrien’s shining eyes. “What do you feel?”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
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DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
352
#7
In the years since Sofia had arrived in Ferelden, Cauthrien had come to count on the Antivan. As a friend yes, but more importantly - so far as she was concerned - as her second-in-command, someone who would not hesitate to tell her if she was wrong. That what was developing between them might change that, make the mage reluctant to speak her mind, had blunted some of Cauthrien’s pleasure in exploring the feelings that had been awakened. The promise given so readily now soothed that worry somewhat, though the Warden-Constable knew herself well enough to know that she would continue to over-think it in idle moments. She could not afford to let herself become complacent, especially now.

She had known for several years that lyrium was highly addictive, but even after talking with Lucien and the other former Templars in the order, she had believed that the Chantry’s requirement of its use was the main reason that it was so prevalent. She could not imagine anyone willingly courting addiction to a substance that would steal their mind bit by inexorable bit.

Now, with the stuff coursing through her like lightning, making her feel younger and stronger than she had in years, she began to understand. The wonder and exhilaration almost drowned out the voice of caution, but seeing Sofia’s worried face grounded her.

“I think the Fade mitigates it for mages, a little,” Sofia told her quietly. “But mostly yes. It’s why I only use it sparingly.”

Cauthrien accepted the warning with a humble nod, resolving anew to do the same. For the first time, she felt a twinge of empathy for the templars under the Chantry’s command … but only a twinge.

“They come to see it as a right, a small taste of what we channel every day,” the mage observed. “I’ve known more than one templar become bitter that we don’t actually need lyrium to obtain that strength.”

Cauthrien had encountered that sense of entitlement before; Rendon Howe had embodied it, used it to justify every atrocity that he committed in his determination to get all that he felt he deserved. He hadn’t needed lyrium addiction to be an abusive bastard, and neither did the templars. What they did was a choice, the lyrium just a handy excuse.

She could feel her body adjusting to the physical effects of the lyrium and judged it time to determine how well it served its intended purpose. Sofia summoned a wisp with ease, as Cauthrien had seen her do scores of times. Before this, however, all that she had been aware of was the light emanating from the erratically bobbing Fade denizen. Now -

“What do you feel?” Sofia asked, watching her closely.

“I -” Cauthrien closed her eyes, searching for the words to describe this new sense, falling back on the more familiar experience with the old ones. “When you cast, it was like feeling a light breeze or hearing a soft chime. Now, it’s like standing next to a small stream running over rocks.” She opened her eyes, studying the wisp with new curiosity. “That’s it’s link to the Fade, isn’t it? That’s how it helps your spellcasting.” She had known that wisps served a purpose beyond providing light - most mages’ staves could perform that function, but she understood more clearly now, understood as well how even such a small use of magic could alert a templar close enough to sense it. It seemed amazing that she could not feel it before.

She backed up one slow step at a time, head cocked slightly, focused on the fading feel of the wisp. She stopped when the sensation vanished entirely, glanced about appraisingly. Just outside the stable doors: about thirty feet. Dragon had poked his head out of his stall, peering at Sofia, snorting and pawing restlessly. Horses tended to be antsy around mages initially, but most of them grew accustomed with time. Dragon had been around magic a good many years - long enough to associate it with combat.

“Easy.” She paused to stroke his neck and feed him the last of the oatcakes before returning to Sofia.

“Up for a bit of sparring?” she suggested. “I can grab a staff from the armory.” They had gone staff against greatsword before, and Sofia could hold her own, but with Cauthrien intending to block the magic that was the Antivan’s strongest advantage, evenly matched weapons would make for a better fight. She fully intended to test her friend’s ability to defend herself without her spells - more critical than ever with the templars unfettered - and with a staff she wouldn’t have to hold back.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
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Posts
104
#8
Cauthrien closed her eyes, absorbing the new sensations for the first time. “I - when you cast, it was like feeling a light breeze or hearing a soft chime. Now, it’s like standing next to a small stream running over rocks.” She examined the wisp. “That’s its link to the Fade, isn’t it? That’s how it helps your spellcasting.”

Sofia nodded. “Just so. It requires less focus for me now to connect, because I now have a path to follow created by the wisp.” Although the word path suggested distance, and there was no distance between the Fade and the real world. Only the gossamer curtain of the Veil. Such was the nature of magic that it defeated direct description. She knew exactly what it was and in time, so would Cauthrien.

Cauthrien tested the strength of her new senses, backing up as far as the stall door. Thirty yards wasn’t far in terms of the wider world, but it was much further than Cauthrien could have managed alone and with more practice - and more lyrium - she’d be able to expand that distance, picking up traces of magic from further and further away. Sofia’s skin prickled with unease. She trusted Cauthrien more than she did anybody else on Thedas, but she knew the lure of strength was a difficult one to resist. She was grateful she’d been here for Cauthrien’s first trial, to put a human face against what Cauthrien was training to fight.

Cauthrien was soothing Dragon, who had also picked up on the magic and was turning his ears about uneasily., before she turned her attention back to the matter at hand. “Up for a bit of sparring? I can grab a staff from the armoury.”

Sofia nodded. While no warrior, she had managed to hold her own against Cauthrien before, although it would be different this time as Cauthrien would essentially be using two weapons against her. This wasn’t going to be easy on her, but she knew Cauthrien would back down if she needed her to. As Sofia would do for her. “I’ll limber up while you get it. I’ll start with the smaller spells first, then work my way up to the more powerful ones. If you’re struggling, don’t try and tough it out. We need to find where your limits are before we push them.”

As Cauthrien went to fetch a staff, Sofia went through the stretches she usually did preceding a battle. Too many mages relied solely on their magic, paying little attention to footwork, how to measure their fatigue, or how to defend themselves when their connection to the Fade was weakened. Sofia had had years to train in all of these, but she was still a little wary. Having the connection broken was like feeling the ground fall away beneath her feet, and even a weak smite could utterly disorient her. Quick, clever fighting was key, not brute strength.

Still, she squared up as Cauthrien returned, drawing on her powers. A few pebbles first, just to throw about Cauthrien’s face and aim to distract her as they fought. “Ready?”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
352
#9
Sofia agreed readily enough to a sparring match, but there was the faintest of shadows in the blue eyes. She had been spared much of the abuse that templars visited on mages in her years in Antiva’s Circle, but she had seen enough, then and in the years since, to make her wary of the powers that enabled that abuse.

“I’ll limber up while you get it,” she told Cauthrien. “I’ll start with the smaller spells first, then work my way up to the more powerful ones. If you’re struggling, don’t try and tough it out. We need to find where your limits are before we push them.”

Cauthrien nodded and headed for the armory, reviewing everything that Lucien had taught her, feeling the power singing through her veins, ready to be loosed at will. It was a heady sensation, kept in check by the resolve that she never give Sofia reason to look at her as she did most templars. She selected a quarterstaff from the rack and returned, slowing her step to watch Sofia stretching.

From her arrival in Ferelden, the mage had devoted herself to martial training, learning how to defend and attack without relying on her magic, and more than one foe had been felled by a sharp blow from that silverite staff. Her skill translated into a grace that was almost like dancing, and she had drawn Cauthrien’s eye early on, though it would be much longer before the warrior recognized it as attraction, and even longer before she acknowledged it.

The mage brought her staff into position as Cauthrien approached. “Ready?”

“Ready,” the Warden-Constable confirmed, mirroring her stance, feeling the ripples in the Fade as Sofia began drawing upon her magic. She was so absorbed in analyzing the unfamiliar sensations that she damn near forgot to dodge. A hasty sweep of her staff sent one of the small stones flying off on a tangent; she ducked away from another, felt the third thunk into her bicep.

“Oops.” She allowed herself a sheepish grin - she’d been the careless one, after all. Then her eyes narrowed as she focused, comparing the memory of the disturbance she’d felt with the minor spell that had been loosed. Wasteful to counter such with her own power just yet; as strong as she felt, she knew that it had limits, and she would need to learn to use it to best advantage.

Instead, she stepped in quickly, aiming a blow toward Sofia’s arm only to reverse and sweep down toward her thigh. Neither of them were armored, so the shot was carefully calibrated, but it would still leave a bruise if the mage didn’t block it.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
104
#10
Cauthrien confirmed her readiness, but her eyes unfocused a little as Sofia lifted the pebbles. She’d be feeling that drawing of power. It was a distracting sensation, and one she’d have to get used to in the heat of battle, which was why Sofia didn’t wait long before sending the few small stones forwards. While this was definitely a gentler way of helping Cauthrien adapt to her new abilities than letting her work it out alone would be, Cauthrien wouldn’t thank her for being too soft on her. It was one of the things Sofia liked about Cauthrien. She held herself to the same high standards she asked of others.

Still, there was something surprisingly adorable in the smile that Cauthrien shot her when one of the pebbles found their mark. It was self-deprecating and playful, an expression almost unknown on the Constable’s face, and Sofia had to pull herself back to the present as the expression suddenly vanished to be replaced with the far more familiar focus. She managed to block Cauthrien’s incoming blow, but only just, and the contact sent shivers through the wood and up her arm, making her fingers sting. Nonetheless Sofia maintained her grip and spun away, before casting another stone - just one this time, but bigger - aiming for Cauthrien’s shoulder.

“What are you feeling now?”
 
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