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Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
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Posts
297
#1
((Wintermarch, 9:41; Outside Denerim; Sofia di Castelbuono ))

The sun was shining in a cloudless blue sky, but the air was frigid and the snow that blanketed the ground would not even begin to melt for another month or more. The breaths of human and horse alike billowed in the air as Cauthrien rode with Sofia along the West Road. The Antivan had grown no fonder of Fereldan winters, but being cooped up indoors for months on end suited her even less, so they had made a circuit of the communities just outside of Denerim, with the mage offering healing to anyone in need and the Warden-Constable ostensibly checking for any reports of darkspawn (there had been none; their presence had been decreasing each year as the Thaw progressed) and actually providing assurance that no templars would interfere with the Warden mage.

Technically, since the College of Enchanters had voted to separate from the Chantry, the templars no longer had authority over any mages, but technicalities mattered little these days. The tension between templars and mages had boiled into open war, with circle after circle toppling after Anders had blown up the Kirkwall chantry, and the discovery that the mage who had murdered Grand Cleric Elthina and scores of others had been a Grey Warden, albeit a deserter, had added greater fuel to the antipathy that a good many templars bore for the Wardens.

But thus far, most of the chaos had bypassed Ferelden, which was likely why Divine Justinia had chosen to hold the Conclave meant to bring the conflict to an end in Haven, at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. The unease about the Wardens that had swirled in the populace in the weeks following the events at Kirkwall had been dispelled as the Grey Wardens of Ferelden had remained at their posts, fighting darkspawn, providing magical healing and assisting the local guards in dealing with bandits and raiders. Even the dissolution at Kinloch Hold had been relatively peaceful, with many of the mages taking refuge at Redcliffe as they awaited the outcome of the Conclave.

This run had been a good one: a few broken bones and sprains mended, a few coughs treated with herbs and one widow's cow delivered of twins that had been turned wrong. Cauthrien had actually handled that last, and if it had stirred up memories of Natty's death, it had still been satisfying to see the spindly legged calves staggering to their feet and moving to nurse, knowing that their sale when grown would likely give the woman and her children enough to live on for several months. More than one person had asked about the Conclave, and the Warden-Constable had been quite content to tell them that she knew nothing about the matter.

Dragon shied suddenly, shaking his head and dancing sideways. “What was that?” Cauthrien drew back on the reins, pulling her mount to a stop. She’d felt … something: a ripple in the Fade, like water disturbed by a stone’s throw. She looked inquisitively at Sofia. “Did you feel it?” After more than five years, she still struggled to sense the Fade most days, and using the templar skills that she’d learned almost always led to a skull-splitting headache a few hours later. And while Dragon was sensitive to the presence of magic and mages, as most horses seemed to be, he generally had to be in close proximity. She glanced around, saw nothing, and the air was still; any sounds of combat would carry, if templars and mages were locked in combat nearby, but silence reined. Even the birds that had been calling moments earlier had gone silent, she realized uneasily.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
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#2
It was cold once again, but Sofia could get through it with a minimal amount of complaining these days. She had prepared herself for the winter and while her attire occasionally drew some amused glances – striving for a marriage between Antivan style and the Fereldan love of heavy furs had created some interesting results – she was warmer than she had expected. Of course, staying indoors would be warmest, but after so many years in the Circle, it had not taken long for the freedom of simply stepping out of doors to come with a dizzying tang, and subsequently she was not eager to spend half the year inside.

A ride around the towns surrounding Denerim was just the thing to get her out in the open air and to keep her distracted from the increasingly depressing reports of rising tensions between mages and templars. Sofia had been staunchly against the idea of the Circles disbanding, but as a Warden she had no voice in it, and she felt sorry for the mages who were now running for their lives because of something that had happened entirely at the behest of others. Some sort of holding plan should have been put in place first; but panic and fear, exacerbated by the events in Kirkwall, had won out.

But fortunately it hadn’t seem to touch Ferelden too much yet, and it was hard to be in a poor mood, with the blue sky so clean above them and the soft crunch of snow beneath their horse’s hooves. They had healed a few people, both with magic and non-magic methods, and Sofia was satisfied that she had gone on her way causing a few people to be slightly less scared of mages.

When the apprehension came, trickling like cold down the back of her neck, she was confused, initially sensing no source for it. She sat up in the saddle and scanned the road, wondering if she had picked up on a darkspawn – but no, the feeling wasn’t right for that. The feeling was familiar, but deeply…wrong.

Dragon and Garwain shied and pranced, whinnying in distress, and Sofia was aware of something approaching, fast, but no matter where she turned, she couldn’t see it.

“What was that? Did you feel it?”


Sofia only barely heard the words as the universe let out the breath it had been holding in one, powerful blast.

When she reached for the Fade, she had often likened it to dipping her hand into water; there was very little in textural difference between one side or the other initially, but you started to feel the small eddies around your fingers when you concentrated. In places where the Fade was weak, it was like placing a limb into a strong river.

This wasn’t a body of water – this was a deluge, the power of the Fade suddenly all around, as overwhelming as if she’d been shoved under a waterfall, and she fell forward, clinging to the reins with as hard a grip as she could manage to keep herself from toppling from the saddle altogether. She gasped for air, as completely afraid as she’d ever been in her life.

Then it receded, not all around but she could still feel it as raw as an open wound beneath her clothes, and it was with shaking limbs that she managed to straighten up. It took a few garbled noises before she finally was able to speak.

“Cauthrien…I think…something’s happened to the Veil.”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
297
#3
Sofia’s cry pulled Cauthrien’s attention from the eerily quiet landscape that surrounded them; she turned to see the mage sagging forward in her saddle, her face gone ghost-pale.

Templars? The thought was enough to have the Summer Sword out of its scabbard in the space between one breath and the next, the silverite blade gleaming in the sun as the Warden-Constable wheeled Dragon about, her teeth bared in a snarl as she searched the area once more, still seeing nothing but trees and snow. An attack by templars was the only thing that she could think of that would affect Sofia so, but to be close enough to do that, they would be in view.

“What is it?” She tapped her heels to Dragon’s ribs; the horse’s ears were pinned back in response to his rider’s agitation, but he obeyed, taking her close enough to Garwain that she could reach out to steady Sofia, still trying to look everywhere at once. “What happened?”

The Antivan struggled upright, but Cauthrien could feel the tremors running through her, and the fear in her expression sent a chill of foreboding through the warrior. They had faced down darkspawn and bandits aplenty together, and while the mage was never reckless, neither had she ever shown the terror that clawed at her features now as their eyes met, her mouth working, fighting to form the words that finally made it out.

“Cauthrien…I think…something’s happened to the Veil.”

“The Veil?” Cauthrien stared at her stupidly. She might as well have suggested that something had happened to the sky overhead or the ground beneath their feet. The Veil … just was. “What do you mean? How is that even possible?” She could feel something, like a sound just below the register of human ears. She gathered herself and reached out, trying to catch the sensation that hovered just out of reach. Lucien had said, not completely in jest, that a brick would be more sensitive to the Fade than the Warden-Constable. If she were a member of the Templar Order, she would be consuming lyrium to boost her abilities. Lucien had confirmed that aptitude varied between individuals; certainly, King Alistair did not experience any real difficulty in utilizing templar skills without lyrium, nor did Lucien, though he admitted that his powers were not so strong, and did not come so easily as they had when he was consuming lyrium.

But as far as Nathaniel and Cauthrien were concerned, the harm done by the substance - the addiction and the loss of memory with prolonged use - outweighed the benefits; any templar who joined the Grey Wardens was allowed to cease using it if they wished, and given support as they fought their way through the grueling process of withdrawal. To date, most had chosen to quit lyrium and most of those had succeeded. The ongoing arrangement with Orzammar kept those who continued to use lyrium supplied, along with the Grey Warden mages.

Cauthrien was not among that number and never intended to be. The headaches that she dealt with after facing down a darkspawn emissary were annoying, and occasionally enough to keep her abed for a few hours if they faced more than one, but that had been increasingly rare as the Thaw advanced. The idea of surrendering control of her will to a substance … well, that was why she seldom allowed herself to get drunk. Damned if she was going to use something that would steal away her mind, bit by bit. As the advance of years began to make itself known in the aches and pains that had begun to slow her reflexes ever so slightly, her ability to think on her feet would become ever more vital.

But she had to acknowledge that lyrium would have helped now, as whatever was affecting Sofia drifted from the edges of her questing awareness like smoke in the wind. The Warden-Lieutenant was more than her second-in-command at the Denerim compound; in the years since her arrival, she had become Cauthren’s closest friend in the Wardens, apart from Nathaniel. They made an oddly matched team on the surface: the fashion-conscious and undeniably feminine mage and the warrior who could count the number of occasions that she had worn a dress on one hand with fingers left over. But their strengths and weaknesses complemented each other, their personalities meshing in an oddly satisfying way, and each of them was equally dedicated to the Grey Wardens.

And friendship aside, any templar that attacked a Grey Warden mage would be dealing with a very pissed off Warden-Constable. Cauthrien had killed more than one of that order since the Chantry’s control of mages and templars alike had begun to fray, and she would do it again without hesitation. But if templars were the cause of this disturbance, they were using an ability that Cauthrien knew nothing about. She could cut off a magic user from the Fade, but to disrupt the Veil itself?

A high pitched, ululating scream rose on the still air, followed by a man’s shout, and Cauthrien twisted in her saddle, trying to pinpoint the direction it had come from as Dragon danced beneath her in agitation and chills of nameless dread chased down her own spine. “Can you ride?” she asked Sofia, loathe to simply leave the mage. She looked steadier now, but still shaken.

“Papa!” A girl’s voice, shrill with terror, and another of those unearthly screams. Cauthrien spurred Dragon off the road, and the roan plunged into the banked snow without hesitation, plowing forward and churning up white fans to either side of his path. He would still nip or step on Cauthrien in an idle moment if she was not paying attention, and she would cuff him in response, but there was a rough sort of affection in the exchange now, and when it came down to fighting, the two of them had become a near seamless unit.

What they found when they rode into a tree-ringed clearing, however, was neither darkspawn nor bandits. What the shimmering patch that hovered about ten feet off the ground was, Cauthrien did not know, but the handful encounters with demons she’d had in her life made the identification of the shapes beneath it certain, if far from welcome. Two glowing, vaguely humanoid shapes drifting just off the ground and two gangling figures striding about on sticklike legs.

And one man lying dazed where he had apparently been thrown against a tree, with a girl of perhaps eight tugging on his clothes, trying desperately to rouse him as one of the gangling demons stalked toward them.

“Get them out!” Cauthrien shouted to Sofia, gathering her will and releasing a wave of protective power that would shield horses and humans alike, just as the demon opened its mouth and emitted another of those screams. Fear tried to roll over Cauthrien: the scream that she heard was Natty’s as she fought to deliver the babes that had killed her, the broodmother as the Grey Wardens attacked what had once been a woman. But the effect was muffled by the protective aura, and while Dragon shied briefly, he recovered and charged in at his rider’s urging, putting them between the demon and its prey. Another mental push, and the Summer Sword flared with energy in the instant before her sweeping strike connected. The demon screeched in pain and fell back, but a bolt of energy from one of the glowing green shapes struck her. The aura protected her from the worst effects, but Cauthrien still felt a brief wave of nausea and weakness try to take hold before she shook it off, giving a challenging shout, drawing the attention of all four of their foes to herself.

One meat shield, ready to give her mage the space and protection to do some damage.
 
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Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
67
#4
Sofia had been in many battles over the last few years. Not always versus darkspawn. Templars who resented her freedom, opportunistic bandits who fancied their odds against Wardens, demons. She had accepted the fear that came with these confrontations as only natural, given that she was fighting for her life or that of others. But right now, there was no overt cause for the terror that swamped her, and that in itself made it worse. By the time she figured out the root of it, the realisation of what it meant rendered her nearly insensible. Small wonder that Cauthrien simply gaped at her.

“What do you mean? How is that even possible?”


“I don’t know. I don’t know!” In the wake of the ripple came the incessant voices, calling for her to succumb, offering power or relief from this unknown nightmare. As a young girl, Sofia used to clamp her hands against her ears, not knowing that it wouldn’t help. Now she was full grown, and she found herself doing it anyway, desperate for a few seconds of respite that didn’t come.

Breathe. Breathe.

She’d been commended for her behaviour and her control before. She could pull herself back together again. Sofia inhaled, exhaled, and slowly started to section away the temptations from her own whirling thoughts.

A scream broke her concentration, but simultaneously provided distraction. A child’s voice, raised in distress, was impossible to ignore, and Sofia jerked upright in the saddle as Cauthrien addressed her. “Can you ride?”

A simple nod sufficed. Sofia clung to the reins and spurred Garwain after Dragon. Her horse was far better-natured than Cauthrien’s, but even he was acting strangely. When they tore into the clearing, Sofia couldn’t blame him. Her mouth gaped at the huge, unseemly rip in the air, an open doorway straight through to the eerie green-and-black world of the Fade. And demons. Four of them.

Off to one side, a girl was tugging desperately at her semi-conscious father’s arm, her thin voice tight with shrieks as the fear demon prowled towards them. Here was something she knew how to deal with. Sofia was pushing Garwain forwards even as Cauthrien bellowed and shielded them all from the worst of the influence.

Sofia threw up a ward of her own, and the demon bearing down on the stricken pair bounced off it, screeching angrily. By the time it recovered, Sofia was out of the saddle, staff at the ready. She needed to get both of them on horseback and get them out of here, but the man was too heavy for her to move alone. Some quick spellwork was required.

The close proximity of the Fade, while daunting, also poured power behind Sofia’s spell, as she called forward rock, stone and earth into a giant fist, and put as much force behind it as she was able. The demon was knocked backwards twenty feet, and even as it howled its rage Sofia was crouching beside the man, passing her hands over his head.

She had made some headway with her skills as a healing mage over the last few years, and after many long, gruelling attempts, had finally forged an alliance with a Spirit of Learning. It helped her focus at the most critical moments and she used it now, knitting fractured bone and injured flesh back together far more quickly than she would normally dare. The man screamed - magical healing was not painless - but when he opened his eyes again, they were a little more clear.

“Get on the horse!”

Sofia would say it was fear as much as her healing abilities that got him back on his feet so quickly; whichever it was, he had seized the girl and thrown her into the saddle first, before climbing up himself. Cauthrien was managing to keep the demons at bay for now, but it wouldn’t be long before one or another broke past her.

Sofia wasn’t going to either put the pair at risk by making them stay while she and Cauthrien fought, and nor would she leave Cauthrien to face this alone. She delivered a resounding slap to Garwain’s backside; the horse whinnied sharply, reared, then bolted away amongst the trees.

Back to the demons, then. Sofia turned, and gathered her focus again; doing the ward, the stonefist and healing all in quick succession was draining, but she still had some energy left for the fight. Spreading her arms, she cast two glyphs ready for unwary demons to stumble into, and then started to hurl one stone after another at the monsters.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Canon Character
Grey Warden
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Posts
297
#5
Cauthrien was unsure when in the past six years the horse that had once been the bane of her existence had become a trusted - though still occasionally exasperating - ally. It had been a gradual process, to be sure, but in moments like this, they fought as one, Dragon responding to the pressure from her knees and heels, freeing up her hands to wield the Summer Sword, his mass and momentum joined with hers to add devastating force to each blow.

And they needed every advantage they could claim. They had been outnumbered by darkspawn often enough, but demons were generally encountered in ones and twos - and even that was rare.

“Get on the horse!” Cauthrien heard Sofia shout behind her, but she didn’t look back. They’d fought together often enough by now that the Warden-Constable knew that her second had surrendered her mount to get the man and child to safety and was fighting on foot. Seconds later, three magically conjured stones flew past in quick succession, striking one of the wraiths. The demon wavered in the air, flaring brightly for a second, then vanished. Taking out the ranged attackers first was standard procedure, and Cauthrien focused her will on the second wraith as another bolt of energy struck them and one of the terror demons let loose with another unearthly wail.

She felt Dragon shudder beneath her, but the gelding held his ground as his rider unleashed a smite on the wraith: a bolt of white-hot flame lanced down from the sky above. Lucien theorized that her agnostic leanings hampered her abilities to call upon what he considered a gift of the Maker; Nate chalked it up to her damnable logic. Whatever the reason, from her earliest trainings, she had been required to wrench the power out of herself through sheer force of will, paying a price each time. The jab of pain behind her eyes was there and gone, easy to ignore, but Cauthrien knew from experience that it would return with reinforcements in about three hours. A small enough trade for evening the odds, but as the second wraith quivered out of existence, the nearest terror demon lashed out with spindly claws, and Dragon screamed as four parallel gashes were opened in his shoulder.

Gritting her teeth, Cauthrien urged him backward, out of range of the next attack, meeting it with a powerful sweep of her blade, cleaving through the gnarled arm at the elbow. The forearm fell away, dissipating into a swirl of shadow before it struck the ground. The demon screeched in pain, but made no attempt to withdraw. Like darkspawn, demons had no concept of fear or self-preservation. They fought until they died, and survivors stepped into the gap with no apparent thought for those who had fallen.

Two down, two to go, and Dragon was pissed. Rearing, he struck out with steel-shod hooves; they didn’t do as much damage to the demon as the silverite sword, but it caused the demon to stagger back. Movement in the corner of her eye warned Cauthrien, and she urged her mount in a sideways dance, narrowly avoiding the assault of the second terror demon and opening it up to Sofia’s magic. Not so far that they couldn't provide protection, however; Cauthrien released a fresh surge of power to shield her companion from the demon’s fear attack, ignoring the stronger pulse of pain in her head that warned that she was pushing her limits.

Kill the demons now, deal with the skull-splitting headache later.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
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#6
Cauthrien’s strength of will was an extraordinary thing, and Sofia had acknowledged a quiet admiration for the other woman more than once; templar abilities did not come naturally to her and yet she had persevered, to the point that she was quite adept. A smite from the heavens split one of the demons in two within the same heartbeat that Sofia had thrown her second stone.

This only seemed to curdle the rage of the demons remaining. One struck out towards Cauthrien and caught Dragon, earning an ear-splitting screech of the kind only a horse in pain could produce. Sofia tried to keep half an eye on them as another of the demons slithered in her direction, a probing voice whispering inside her skull.

Promises of wealth and power were nothing new by this point; Sofia ignored them easily. This demon, however, chose to get a little more personal.

You won’t save her.

Sofia experienced a sensation like her foot slipping unexpectedly on ice, and quickly grounded herself. Low tricks weren’t unusual for demons, but this one had angered her. The other one, despite losing an arm, was still trying to advance on Cauthrien. Sofia couldn’t engage them both at once.

She slammed her staff into the ground, causing the earth to tremble and a long fissure to split between herself and the whispering demon; Cauthrien sent out a cleansing blast that cleared Sofia’s mind for long enough that she could send a freezing blast of ice at the demon harassing Cauthrien’s side. It froze solid, ready to be shattered by the other woman’s sword.

The whispering demon attempted to go right over the fissure and got stuck, obviously still unused to an environment that didn’t constantly reshape itself to its whims. Low on energy, Sofia lifted her staff, raising the blunted metal end above its head and them slamming it down as hard as she could. It screeched and swiped at her; Sofia struck again, and again, until it finally decided that Thedas wasn’t worth the effort and evaporated.

Panting, she turned back to Cauthrien – and noticed a massive, clawed hand starting to reach through the rift.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Canon Character
Grey Warden
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#7
Fighting alongside mages was an acquired skill. Cauthrien had gotten her eyebrows singed or found her armor coated in a fine rime of frost more than once before she figured out the optimal distances to maintain, a trick made more difficult by the fact that each mage differed from the rest in their abilities. Cordelia could hurl fire a truly impressive distance, but she also had a tremendous level of control over the radius of effect. Others were not so precise, but in general, when you heard ‘Get down!’ or ‘Get back!’ from the back ranks, obeying without taking the time to ask why was a very good idea.

Magic was a solid advantage in any fight, and on occasion, it could be tremendously satisfying. Cauthrien and Sofia had worked out the ‘freeze and smash’ routine over the years, so when the icy blast of power swirled around the terror demon just after it got in a blow that was going to leave the Warden-Constable’s ribs black and blue beneath her armor on one side, she swung the Summer Sword without hesitation. Her position on Dragon’s back gave her the space to sweep the blade down and up in a full circle, building momentum before adding her left hand to the hilt, delivering a crushing blow from above. The demon shattered, murky ice bits glinting briefly in the sun before dissipating.

She wheeled Dragon to assist Sofia, but the mage had trapped the last demon in a crevasse in the ground and was hammering it with her staff; a final blow, and the monster flared and vanished. Sofia appeared unhurt, but the Warden-Constable still felt a crackle of irritation that she had expended her magic on Cauthrien’s opponent when she had a foe of her own to deal with. The words of reprimand died on her lips at the expression on the Antivan’s face as she stared past Cauthrien, and she twisted around to see -

Oh. Shit.

The disturbance in the air was a gateway of some sort, and coming through it -

Pride demon. Cauthrien had never encountered one, but she had seen pictures, and read enough about them to know that they were incredibly powerful, and incredibly dangerous. Dragon had apparently done the same reading; as the massive creature emerged fully from the pulsating tear in the fabric of reality, he reared and backpedaled, pawing at the trampled snow, ears pinned back and teeth bared in agitation.

Time to go, boss. This one’s above our pay grade.

He was partly right. Beneath the racing of her heart and the dull throb of the headache, Cauthrien’s mind turned over the options with a strategist’s dispassionate eyes and came up with exactly one that made sense. She dismounted, catching the reins and tugging the roan’s head down until she was looking him in the eye.

“Go to Sofia,” she instructed him, patting him on the neck, then slapping him on the rump. “Go!” All the Warden mounts had been trained to accept multiple riders, and while Dragon’s temperament made him suitable for a fewer number, the Antivan would call him out on his antics, which meant that he respected her. He snorted and tossed his head, but obeyed.

“Take him and get out of here!” she shouted to Sofia. With her magic exhausted, there was nothing for her to do here but get killed. They couldn’t just leave this thing to roam unchecked, and if that tear was going to keep spitting out demons, somebody needed warn the nearby settlements, then get back to Denerim, warn the king and get word to Nathaniel in Amaranthine.

And it was highly unlikely that it was going to be her.

She turned back as the pride demon rose to its full height, towering over her. She held no illusions of her chances; her job here was to keep it engaged long enough for Sofia to get clear and spread the warning.

“Come on, then,” she told it, feeling strangely calm as she brought the Summer Sword up. Funny … she’d never really expected to last the full thirty or so years, but she’d always thought she’d die fighting darkspawn. Well, she had once.

The immense, alien head cocked, the array of eyes regarding her briefly. A rumbling, resonant laugh rose from its throat, washing over Cauthrien in a suffocating wave of contempt, carrying with it the memories of every man who had ever laughed at her and told her she’d never make it as a soldier, every man who had ever laughed at her and told her that she’d earned her rank on her back.

You are nothing … girl.

Bile flooded the back of her throat, rage and pride rising hot in her chest. She’d proved them all wrong time and again. She was still the best damn fighter in Ferelden, and she’d prove it to this ugly bastard, as well.

“Come on, then!” she shouted now, the surge of adrenaline blocking the flare of pain as she again summoned holy fire into her sword in the seconds before she charged.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
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#8
Mages had been dealing with demonic influence for centuries, and while they could be fought, on the subject of their whispers there was only one hard and fast rule: resist. In theory old mages should find it easier to do so given long practice, but in reality some reacted to each instance like an extra straw added to the burden on their back. One time too many, and they broke. It was a sad truth that anybody could succumb, if they listened for a second too long.

And that didn’t just include mages. While Sofia was still staring with dread at the vast, horned being that was now forcing its way into Thedas, Cauthrien had taken the measure of the beast and responded by getting off Dragon and forcing her horse in Sofia’s direction. “Go! Take him and get out of here!”

The enormous horse, normally so full of fire, was almost dancing on the spot in fear, but he held place alongside her, ready to accept her as his new rider. He was fast; within moments, she would be safely away, and she could find the father and child and direct them somewhere safe before passing on the message to somebody - anybody - who might be able to help.

And Cauthrien would assuredly die alone right here.

“No.”

She didn’t think Cauthrien heard her; the other Warden was now facing the pride demon square on. The monster looked down at her and cackled. Cauthrien’s initial challenge was repeated with a bellow, and then the other woman charged, whitish-blue flames flickering along the line of her sword.

She looked magnificent, and in any other circumstances Sofia might have paused to watch. But pride demons were dangerous; those receptive to them could find their egos swelled to the point where they could justify anything they did, and those who fought back found their greatest shame pulled from them and dangled in front of their nose. It was a hard thing to fight.

Sofia stepped around Dragon and reached quickly into the satchel at her waist, pulling out a vial that gleamed blue against her fingers. She threw back the bitter contents and gasped as fresh energy flooded her; she could feel her heart beating fast, the pulse in her throat, the low distant crackle as the demon began to summon lightning -

Merda!

Old tricks worked well and there was no distraction like a gigantic rock to the head. As the demon shaped its sphere of energy, Sofia ripped a chunk from the earth and aimed it directly at its eyes. The lightning dissipated, and the demon let out an angry roar, shaking dirt from its face as it whipped its head around to stare at her.

How much did you close your eyes to, in your quest for recognition? How many of your students suffered at the hands of the templars because you didn’t want to rock the boat? I could have made you so powerful, so much more quickly, if you’d just swallowed your pride -

These were old questions. They stung, but they didn’t penetrate her guard. It didn’t change the fact that she was absolutely terrified, but she’d drawn its attention for now. “If you want me now, come and get me!”

It didn’t quite count as an invitation. Her will was solid, and she was counting on Cauthrien covering the ground before it came at her.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Canon Character
Grey Warden
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Posts
297
#9
A stone flew from somewhere behind Cauthrien, smashing into the misshapen head and staggering the demon back a step. It turned in response to the attack, and Sofia’s shouted challenge, then roared in pain and rage as the Summer Sword connected, the impact jarring down Cauthrien’s arms as if she’d struck a brick wall. No blood or ichor flowed, but she’d definitely succeeded in turning its attention back to herself.

“I told you to go!” she roared without looking around, dodging a strike from one massive arm, then lashing out again. This was her fight, damn it!

Hiding behind a mage’s skirts? The words oozed into her mind on a derisive chuckle. What would he think of that?

I don’t. Fucking. Hide. Ever. she snarled back silently, lunging in with a lightning quick flurry of strikes. She had once, turning a blind eye to treason until it was nearly too late, but she had taken responsibility for that and for her own crimes, atoning for them with her service as a Warden. She was the sodding Warden-Constable of Ferelden! She drove forward, attacking savagely, templar abilities forgotten in favor of the skills that she had spent a lifetime honing, but the voice was relentless.

Don’t you? You hide behind your rank, behind the Wardens, pretending that saving lives is the same as bringing back the dead. The Wardens even brought you back to life, while others still mourn those that you murdered. What made you worthy of a second chance that they were never given?

The taunt hammered into her like a physical blow, followed up quickly by an actual blow that sent her tumbling through the snow, with a fresh jab of pain announcing that a couple of ribs were likely broken.

“Sofia, get out of here!” she shouted as she pushed herself back to her feet, tasting blood in her mouth. "Please!" Not ordering now. Begging. The demon looked as formidable as it had when it first appeared, sending a volley of crackling power in what had to be the mage’s direction, while Cauthrien was already feeling the twin weights of fatigue and pain beginning to make themselves known. She was nearly forty and past her prime, no matter what she told herself. She was going to die in this fight, and perhaps it was well past time, but there was no need for Sofia to perish, as well -

“Wardens!”

An arrow hissed through the air to strike the demon, and movement in Cauthrien’s peripheral vision resolved into two figures: a compactly built man wielding two daggers and a tall woman bearing a heater style shield and a wicked looking axe, both of them wearing colors that Cauthrien recognized: Blackstone Irregulars.

Something between alarm and anger rose in her, but before she could warn them off - to protect them or to keep the fight to herself she honestly couldn’t say - the man tossed down a smoke bomb and vanished behind the plume, and the woman charged, bashing with her shield and striking with the axe, then dodging nimbly away from the counterattack as the rogue reappeared behind the demon and drove in with both blades and more arrows peppered the monster.

Dammit. No choice now but to try to keep them from getting killed. Gritting her teeth, Cauthrien sent out a wave of cleansing power that washed back to hit her like a dash of icy snowmelt to the face, clearing her thoughts. Dammit again … she’d let the bastard get into her head. She reassessed the situation with a tactician’s eye and came up with a spark of hope: still a difficult fight, but no longer unwinnable … not if she pulled her head out of her ass and used the advantages available to her.

Lucien had been vague about the consequences of Cauthrien overextending, for the simple reason that he wasn’t sure what would happen, though he’d cautioned her against it. Templars in the service of the Chantry almost never had to use their powers without the aid of lyrium, and even though the strength of his powers had lessened since he had stopped using lyrium, he could still call upon it with almost no ill effects to himself. That had never been true for her; at best, she was going to have the mother of all headaches when this was done. At worst …

The adrenaline flooding her system was holding the worst of it at bay, but Cauthrien knew that she would be paying a price when it wore off. No help for it, though summoning the power felt like trying to pull Dragon along with all four hooves planted. The demon flinched away as the smite struck in a blaze of white light, the aura of power that pulsated around it lessened visibly, and the mercenaries’ attacks and Sofia’s hurled stones actually seemed to hurt it now. Heart hammering in her chest and pulse thundering in her ears, Cauthrien gathered her will and unleashed another.

More blood on her lips, flowing from her nose now, but Cauthrien ignored it, reaching for the power again.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#10
The demon took the bait, an ugly grin spreading over its features as it turned its attention on her - only to let out an agonised roar as the Summer Sword connected, ripping down its arm. It lashed out and missed, then Cauthrien struck again. The other Warden’s face was set in a rictus of determination, and no little rage. The strikes she had made had hurt the demon, but it would take a lot more to weaken it enough for them to finish it off, and remaining in close proximity to such a powerful entity was a bad idea. Even as the thought went through Sofia’s head, Cauthrien charged again, dodging heavy swings from the clawed hands as she swung at it.

Pride demons were resistant to spirit-based attacks, so trying to trap it in a glyph wasn’t going to work; Sofia would have to resort to cruder methods, and as Cauthrien fought it she brought up the rear with rocks and ice, aiming for its eyes. The distance protected her as it didn’t protect Cauthrien, who was suddenly swiped aside like a rag doll, crumpling into the ground. Almost as quickly she was back on her feet, but not before Sofia’s heart could jump into her mouth.

And she was begging Sofia to run now, and every survival instinct in Sofia’s body told her to obey, but she wasn’t going to turn away; instead she brought her staff down hard against the ground again, this time releasing a wave of healing energy that should bring fresh energy to Cauthrien’s limbs and hopefully mitigate some of the pain she had to be feeling. Anything more refined would have to wait until after the fight. Sofia finished the spell just in time to dive out of the way as the demon hurled a ball of lightning at her, avoiding the worst of it, but a few stray sparks caught her and caused her to shriek in pain.

The demon laughed, but was cut off sharply as an arrow whisked through the air, catching one of its eyes dead on. Sofia whipped around to find two people wearing the colours of the Irregulars, and was immediately torn between relief and the urge to warn them away. No sign of the archer, who was probably hidden amongst the trees if they had any sense.

The mercenaries showed no hesitation, ploughing into the fight and falling into a rhythm with Cauthrien’s blows easily. Sofia felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up as the other woman gathered her energy again, and she quickly retreated to a distance where she wouldn’t be affected. The demon roared in pain as Cauthrien brought the smite down on its head, and as it staggered, Sofia released another barrage of rocks in its direction, trying to wear it down as much as possible. It worked; distracted, the demon didn’t manage to prevent the rogue from coming close enough to hamstring it. It fell to one knee, and Sofia had rarely seen a demon get back up from that sort of injury before. They were almost in the clear -

Now clearly furious, the demon swiped out, its clawed hand fastening tight around the rogue. He screamed with pain, the sounds of his bones breaking in the hard grip cementing themselves in Sofia’s mind, and then the demon flung him away. He hit a tree before plummeting to the ground as his companion howled. “Louis!”

Whoever was shooting from the trees redoubled their efforts with the arrows, and Sofia dashed in the direction of the fallen mercenary, but pulled up short before she got there. Even if his body hadn’t been twisted in ways even magic would struggle to fix, his lifeless eyes proclaimed that there was nothing she could do for him now.

Now her.

Sofia whipped around at the taunt, and saw the demon extending one hand in Cauthrien’s direction, ready to grasp the bloodied woman as it had done the rogue.

Absolutely not.

Cauthrien had struck again and was now gearing up for a third smite, and this time Sofia ran as close as she could get, calling on every last drop of strength she had to lift every stone and boulder in as wide a radius as she could reach, this time not throwing them but moving them over the demon’s head. So many smites in such a short space of time - especially with no lyrium - could kill her even if the demon didn’t reach her in time. Sofia didn’t shout often, but now she bellowed.

“Get back!”


The mercenary with the shield, who had been attacking furiously with tears streaming down her face, looked back and obeyed, getting out of the way just before Sofia brought down a solid ton of stone on the demon’s head - and before Cauthrien could release another strike.

The demon crumpled, not dead, but pinned beneath the weight, now all but helpless. Either Cauthrien or the mercenary could finish it off now - Sofia was drained down to her bones, and she needed to recuperate before she could start healing.
 

Cauthrien

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#11
Healing magic swirled through Cauthrien like a warm breeze, taking the edge off of the pain from the broken ribs, and pushing back the throbbing agony of the headache, but healing in the midst of battle was a tricky proposition at best, and the focus that it required cost Sofia. Cauthrien felt her already thundering heart stutter in her chest at the mage’s scream, but when she twisted around, Sofia was still upright and didn’t appear to be seriously injured - yet.

The arrival of the mercenaries tipped the odds on the fight from suicidal to merely foolhardy; their combined attacks finally began to weaken the demon, and a deft sweep of paired blades from behind cut the support of one leg out from under it. But injured was far from harmless. Quick as thought, the enraged demon twisted, snatching up the one who had crippled it. The man’s high pitched scream was not loud enough to block the sound of bones snapping like twigs as the massive fist clenched, blood bursting from his mouth, nose and ears in the instant before he was hurled away like a child’s toy discarded in a tantrum. He struck the trunk of a massive oak with a force that would have finished him off if the grotesque contortions of his body hadn’t ensured that he was already dead when he hit.

His companion screamed in grief and fury, then charged, tactics lost beneath the blind drive to avenge the fallen, and Cauthrien reached again for the power. Fuck, it hurt, but if she didn’t draw the beast’s focus, weaken it more, the Blackstones would lose another this day. From the corner of her eye, she caught the flash of Sofia’s robes, far closer than she should be, and well within reach, if the demon took notice, but the blistering reprimand died on her lips at the sight of rocks falling up.

Holy shit.

She’d seen Sofia use her magic plenty of times over the years, knew the mage could be badass, but this was an entirely new level, and for a moment, all she could was gape in amazement as stones as small as a fist and as large as a horse levitated into the air, borne aloft by the Antivan’s will and guided by the swirling motion of her hand until they came together in a wobbling, clattering mass directly over the demon, who was currently distracted by the attacks of the mercenary and by the arrows that were so thick in the air that Cauthrien would not have been surprised if two or three archers were doing the firing.

“Get back!”

Cauthrien knew better than to do anything but follow that order. She thought that she might have to drag the Blackstone fighter away, but after a single astonished glance back, then up, backpedaled furiously. Not a moment too soon; Cauthrien didn’t know just how much it had cost Sofia to lift that much rock and hold it aloft, but the mage staggered as she released her hold on the avalanche, leaning on her staff for support. The demon went down with a roar beneath the crushing mass, trapped but alive, and Cauthrien ran forward, reversing her grip on the Summer Sword, raising it high and driving the point down through the misshapen head until she felt it strike the earth, sending a fresh wave of power through the blade for good measure. This bastard was going down, damn it.

The massive bulk gave a final convulsive shudder, flared once, then faded; the stones that covered it shifted and fell to fill the vacated space, and Cauthrien stumbled backward to avoid a few that rolled from the pile, feeling the pain begin to assert primacy as the rush of battle began to fade, too damn wiped to feel any sense of triumph.

Then, too, the hole in the fabric of reality was still present.

“What the fuck is that?” the woman demanded, tears still streaming down her face as she stared up at it.

Cauthrien shook her head. “No idea, but that’s where the demon came from,” she replied grimly, realizing two things: it was beginning to flicker fitfully, eldritch green light pulsating. And she could see something moving on the other side, the shapes hazy, poorly defined, as though seen through heavy fog, but definitely there.

“Go! Go! If this damn thing was going to keep spitting out fresh demons, this was a fight they couldn’t win. Their only chance was to get far enough away to escape the notice of the next wave, then go spread the warning, see if there were some Templars out there who hadn’t lost interest in killing anything but mages. The woman obeyed, running to where her fallen companion lay and dragging his broken body backward. The archer, a tall and lanky man with a shock of red hair, emerged from the cover of the forest to help her. Cauthrien started to back away, then hesitated, studying the tear through squinted eyes, head pounding in time with a heart that felt as though it was trying to beat its way out of her chest. She had no idea how to close it, but could she perhaps slow the emergence of the reinforcements that seemed imminent, give the others more time to get clear?

Not at least making the attempt never occurred to her.

She reached in, gathering the power as Sofia had gathered her stones, each precious bit feeling as though it weighed a ton, the blood from where her teeth bit into her lip mingling with the blood that was flowing freely from her nose. Lifting her left hand, she tried to direct the rush of cleansing energy directly at the gateway, suppress whatever magic was fueling it.

FUCK.

Agony seared through the last dregs of adrenaline like an inferno, slamming into her skull and radiating into every fiber of her body, so strong that she thought she’d mistakenly called down a smite on herself. She took two staggering steps backward before dropping like a poleaxed steer, her right hand clutching the hilt of the Summer Sword in a deathgrip, the left clawing into the packed snow, eyes open but sightless with pain.

Bad idea, apparently.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#12
Sofia and Cauthrien had fought side by side many times over the years. The warrior had adapted well to working with a mage, possessing an unusual knack for knowing when to distract an enemy and when to get out of the way for one of Sofia’s spells. Normally Sofia didn’t even need to really look at what the other woman was doing, knowing she would make the sensible decisions required to keep her companions alive and take down the enemy at a good pace.

That teamwork had just about hung on through this fight, and as Sofia sagged against her staff, utterly spent from the effort of lifting every boulder in a hundred-yard radius and dropping it all on the pride demon, Cauthrien stepped up to finish it off. Had she had the energy for it, Sofia might have snorted a little as she felt the shimmer of the last smite. It hadn’t killed Cauthrien, and of course the other woman had been stubborn enough to use it.

Now they needed to get out of here.

There was no way that rift could be sealed, not without study or at least somebody who already knew the magic well, and while Sofia was loathe to leave it unattended, staying here would likely result in their deaths. It wouldn’t benefit anyone; they had to let the nearest town know about it, have them deploy whatever templars might be left, and allow the local lord to spread the word that the area was off limits until the problem was solved.

She staggered back to her feet as the shield-bearing mercenary gaped at the hole in the sky. “We need to get away from it. More might come-”

More apparently wear, judging by Cauthrien’s shout of warning. The mercenaries were quick to claim the body of their fallen friend, and Sofia looked around for Dragon, who astonishingly hadn’t bolted yet, although he was rearing and snorting at the edge of the clearing. They both had time to get on his back and flee -

The hairs on the back of her neck warned her as the surge of energy fired up again, and she whipped around as Cauthrien aimed another smite at the rift. Sofia didn’t know what was going to happen, but she knew it wouldn’t be good. And it was too late to stop her - her shriek was utterly lost beneath the blast as the rift rejected the smite. Those attacks were meant to cut off access to the Fade, but Cauthrien had fired on the Fade itself, and it simply bounced all that power back upon the Warden. Cauthrien staggered, face almost as white as the snow she now sank to, landing face down on the ground.

And on the other side of the Veil, the demons were moving.

Sofia was by her side in a moment, fingers groping for a pulse and finding it still galloping. Swallowing her relief, she yanked on the back of Cauthrien’s collar, pulling her back up to her knees. “Not yet, amica. Hold tight to your sword.”

Another bitter lyrium potion went down her throat, the last of her supply, and even that wasn’t enough to fuel her enough for a fight. Dragon wouldn’t come closer and she didn’t have the physical strength to pull Cauthrien across the ground, not before something else came through. She drew in a breath and held it, gathering her energy. She’d never tried this holding somebody else before.

The energy exploded out in a series of quick movements, the Fade speeding her steps from one side of the clearing to the other, the momentum allowing her to drag Cauthrien alongside her - just as the next demon wriggled its way free of the rift. Dragon almost fled again as she came to a stop by him, but she grabbed his reins. He was whinneying wildly, but fortunately didn’t test her strength any further, as she had none to spare. “Cauthrien? I need you to put your foot in the stirrup for me. I can’t lift you onto him alone.” She screwed up her courage, trying to focus on Cauthrien rather than the vaguely humanoid pillar of flame that had turned in their direction . “That’s an order!”

She was already scrambling up herself, one hand still firmly in Cauthrien’s collar, the other sliding beneath her arm to try and aid her onto Dragon’s back. And behind them, the fire-wreathed demon was closing in.
 
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Cauthrien

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#13
Lying on the snow might have actually felt … pretty good, Cauthrien thought distractedly. When she wasn’t moving, the broken glass and knife blades that had taken up residence inside her skull only tried to carve their way out with every hammering throb of her heart, but she was pretty damn sure that she was dying, which put a definite damper on any comfort that she could take from her arrested momentum. The headache was worse than it had ever been, and the stabbing pain there had spread to her chest, where her heart was pounding so hard and so fast that each beat reverberated throughout her body. She couldn’t draw a full breath, her guts were roiling, and blood was flowing freely from her nose, cold and sticky against her skin where it pooled beneath her cheek. And if whatever damage she’d done to herself didn’t kill her, the demons that were about to come through that portal surely would. That wouldn’t be so bd; she’d always known she wasn’t likely to die of old age, but she wanted to die fighting, damn it!

Her right hand was still holding tight to the Summer Sword; she tried to pull her hands and legs under her, push herself up off the ground, but the first hint of movement caused the pain to go from white hot to something pure and brilliant that seared away everything but the need to have it stop, and she slumped back. Dying would at least bring an end to the pain, and hopefully, she had bought time for Sofia and the others to get clear -

A hand grasped the back of her collar, hauling her roughly off the ground, heedless of her ragged cry of protest. “Not yet, amica. Hold tight to your sword.”

Sofia. Cauthrien tried to crack her eyes open, squeezed them tight again as the light jabbed hot needles of piercing agony into the sea of pain. “… told … fucking … run!” she wheezed. There should have been more words, she was sure of it, but the ones that had made it out felt as though they had dug their way with rusted spoons. She reached up to bat way the hand gripping her collar as she felt Sofia tensing, because there was no way that the mage could pull her clear, not in full armor, not quickly enough to -

.
.
.
OH
.
.
.
HOLY
.
.
.
FUCK
.
.
.

She didn’t know what had caused that sudden, unbearable feeling of sliding, but when the series of jolting movements finally ended, she was pretty damn sure that she’d left most of her internal organs a step or two back -

No, there they were. She opened her mouth and heaved what felt like everything she had eaten in the last week all over Dragon’s side.

Dragon?

“Cauthrien? I need you to put your foot in the stirrup for me. I can’t lift you onto him alone.”

Even through the pain, she could hear the fear in Sofia’s voice. The mage was terrified, but she had stayed, come back for her, and Loghain had been so damn wrong when he had called mages cowards who attacked from afar, they were as brave as any warrior that Cauthrien had ever encountered, facing down daily foes that would make the strongest hearts quail, and maybe now she’d finally get the chance to tell him he’d been wrong about that and so much more when she saw him again -

“That’s an order!”

The words cut through the haze of her rambling thoughts, her body responding with almost no input from her brain. She drove the point of the Summer Sword into the frozen ground, used it to lever herself upright. Sofia was already astride Dragon, and Cauthrien managed to get a foot into the stirrup and drag herself up behind the mage. “Go!” she choked out, feeling a sudden flare of heat rising on their flank. Dragon screamed and launched himself forward, and it was all that Cauthrien could do not to pitch herself off of his back to escape the pain that each galloping step sent jolting up her spine into her skull. Only the high probability that Sofia would just come back and bully her into climbing back up kept her in the saddle, and as soon as she felt the mage pulling Dragon to a stop - after how much time, she had no idea - she slumped sideways and toppled to the ground, grunting when she hit, then sagging gratefully back into the relative bliss of motionlessness.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#14
Cauthrien took advantage of their brief moment of respite to empty her stomach all over Dragon’s side. It was testament to how terrified the horse was that he didn’t immediately crush Cauthrien’s foot with his hoof for the slight, and testament to his training that he hadn’t long since fled. He was a strong-willed animal, and he was making up for every bite and kick he’d ever delivered right now.

Or he would, if Cauthrien would just get on the damn horse.

Sofia shrieked at her, voice cracking with fright as the flaming demon turned its attention in their direction. Somehow Cauthrien managed to scramble up behind her and Sofia reached back, grabbing the other woman’s free arm and drawing it around her waist. Barely had Cauthrien given the order to go then Dragon took off, and Sofia clung to the reins. She had no control; this wasn’t even a gallop, Dragon just bolted, and for all his size he could move quickly. The heat at their backs disappeared, and trees reared up suddenly ahead of them only for Dragon to avoid them at the last second. Branches whipped Sofia’s face as they sped by, and she felt lacerations on her face opening up, but the pain was lost beneath the flood of adrenaline still powering her thundering heart.

When they stopped, it was Dragon’s decision. The horse slowed, huffing, sides lathered in sweat, and Cauthrien’s hold around her waist lessened as the other woman started to slump sideways. Sofia tried to grab for her but had little strength left - Cauthrien slid out of the saddle and hit the ground. Sofia felt Dragon’s flanks heaving beneath her and he was doing the slow dance-trot that indicated he was about to rear; he’d clearly had enough of the both of them. Sofia scrambled down quickly, but even if Dragon had been perfectly composed she would have done it anyway, hurrying to Cauthrien’s side.

She was out of lyrium, and so exhausted she could barely think. It would take a little while for her magic to recharge to the point where she could perform any major healing, but Cauthrien needed her attention now. She knelt by Cauthrien, starting to search her over with careful hands. “I’m sorry, Cauthrien. I know this will hurt, but it will hurt more later if I don’t.”

The other woman’s face was caked in blood, and a cursory examination revealed two potentially broken ribs and a number of torn muscles. Most concerning, however, was what Cauthrien might have done to herself when the Fade reflected her smite back on her.

She’d worked so hard to protect her, and the mercenaries, and the father and daughter. She’d seemed almost bent on dying alone there, for no reason beyond slowing the demons down as much as she could, despite knowing full well that it would eventually be futile. It was amazing Cauthrien hadn’t died, and as Sofia dug out a couple of vials of healing potions and some salves, she picked up a handful of snow and pressed it across Cauthrien’s forehead, hoping to alleviate some of the pain, her touch gentle. “Testarda.” She didn’t feel like smiling, but the chide was more affectionate than annoyed. Cauthrien had been so, so brave. “As though I would have left you behind.”

Sofa propped Cauthrien’s head up, holding the vial to her lips. “A couple of these will help with the pain. I’m going to need to bandage your ribs - I don’t have enough magic to knit your bones just yet.”
 

Cauthrien

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#15
Awash in a sea of pain, her pulse thundering in her ears like the surf pounding rocks, Cauthrien was barely aware of Dragon prancing in agitation nearby or Sofia sliding from his back. Laying here motionless, she could almost curl away from the pain, into herself, the feeling of distance providing a blessed layer of insulation against the pain. She made a wordless growl of protest when hands began pushing and prodding at her, each touch sending a jagged bolt of agony lancing through her, erasing the distance and dragging her back into the throbbing, searing, crushing midst of it.

“I’m sorry, Cauthrien.” Sofia’s voice, all but lost beneath the clamor of her own heartbeat. “I know this will hurt, but it will hurt more later if I don’t.”

She tried to bat the probing hands away, but they were having none of it, completing their examination and then compressing a layer of snow on her forehead. Which was a bit like pissing on a bonfire at this point, but when she opened her mouth to say as much, all that emerged was another thick-tongued growl.

Testarda.” She had learned a bit of Antivan over the years, mostly by looking it up to find out what Sofia had muttered at her in irritation. The spirited mage had never been shy about making her opinions known; it was one of the reasons that Cauthrien had chosen her as her second in Denerim, why she trusted her. But while she would voice her disagreement, she had always obeyed orders, until now. “As though I would have left you behind.”

“I gave you an order,” Cauthrien mumbled, the effort to push each word out stabbing into her like stilettos, but the need to make herself understood overriding the pain. “Denerim.” At least one of them had to get back, give warning. The Antivan’s insubordination had put that at risk.

The hand that cupped the back of her head was gentle, but the flare of pain that the movement caused was so intense that it might have been an attempt to wrench her skull from her spine. Damn it! She just wanted to be left in peace! Or was it pieces? She was supposed to be dead right now, and if she were, she wouldn’t be hurting this damn much, and this was all Sofia’s fault.

A small cylinder was touched to her lips, and she opened her mouth instinctively. The feel of the healing potion washed over her tongue in a familiar wave: cool and slightly bitter, with a faintly metallic undertone that she’d always disliked, but she swallowed convulsively, and the cool flowed down her throat, changing to warmth as it hit her belly and sent its tendrils out. Immediately, the hammering of her heart began to ease up and slow, and the sea of pain receded just a bit.

“A couple of these will help with the pain,” Sofia told her soothingly. “I’m going to need to bandage your ribs - I don’t have enough magic to knit your bones just yet.”

Her ribs barely qualified as an annoyance beside the agony in her head, but before she could say as much, Sofia was feeding her another potion, and the pain ebbed a little more … enough for Cauthrien to crack her eyes open to briefly peer at the face above her. She squeezed them shut again quickly, but not before she’d seen - “Y’re hurt.” The blood on Sofia’s cheeks and forehead didn’t look as though they had come from the Warden-Constable, and Cauthrien brought up her hand to try to push the vial toward the healer. “You need, too.” The stubborn woman was still ignoring her, and she felt as weak as a newborn kitten; unwilling to concede the battle of wills, she lifted her other hand to add to her puny efforts.

Her right hand.

She froze, then slapped her hand back to the ground at her side. “Sword.” She groped around blindly, came up empty. She’d been holding it when she mounted Dragon, but then - had she dropped it? She couldn’t remember. “Sword.” She forced her eyes open, doggedly ignoring the pain, tried to sit up. She was not going to lose the blade a second time.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#16
The first sound out of Cauthrien’s mouth that wasn’t an incoherent growl was a reprimand. “I gave you an order. Denerim.”

It wasn’t the first time they’d had opposing views on what to do, but while Sofia had never been afraid of expressing her thoughts on the best plan – and Cauthrien had, on occasion, accepted her ideas in lieu of her own – she had always ended up obeying the final orders given. Life was not like the books; an individual haring off to do what they thought best could put the rest of the team in jeopardy. This was the first time she’d outright disobeyed, and Cauthrien would be well within her rights to discipline her.

Once she could actually stand up.

Sofia ignored the rebuke for the moment, concentrating on trying to ease the agony the other woman was in. Cauthrien’s eyes were squeezed shut, but as one potion and then another found its way down her throat, the deep grooves around her eyes lessened a little, enough that she could open them slightly. Before immediately shutting them again, and pawing at the not-quite-depleted vial. “Y’re hurt.”

“It’s just a few cuts. I’ll tend to them shortly-”

“You need, too.”

Sofia sighed. She wasn’t going to be cavalier about her own health – she would need to tend to her cuts to prevent any chance of mortification, but between that and the broken woman on the ground in front of her, she knew what she chose to focus her attention on. She took the vial back, as though she was drinking, and then pressed it under Cauthrien’s nose again, as the other woman’s hand began scrabbling at the dirt.

“Sword. Sword.” She tried to sit up. Honestly, it was impressive proof of Cauthrien’s willpower that she was able to even try, but she wasn’t going to be impressed if Cauthrien went blind doing so. Knowing she was probably about to get the chewing out of a lifetime, Sofia pushed her back to lying, and then reached for the sword, lying a few inches from Cauthrien’s flailing grasp.

“It’s here. Hold on a moment.” Sofia grabbed the hilt and dragged it over, her eyes almost popping out of her head at the weight. Maker’s mercy, how did Cauthrien manage to even carry the thing around?Merda, that’s heavy!” Nonetheless, she managed to get it within reach of Cauthrien, and guided her hand to grasp it. “There.”

She dug into her satchel, searching for the other supplies she needed; poultice, bandages, some raw elfroot she could chew to try and regain her energy a little more quickly. Dragon still had a waterskin attached to his saddle and she brought that over, holding it to Cauthrien’s lips. With the other woman temporarily silenced, she spoke. “You wouldn’t have left me behind, were our situations reversed. I know that. So there was no chance of me leaving you.”

She had other, more practical reasons, but that was the main one for which she’d stayed; they’d never abandoned one another before now and she didn’t want to be the first.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
297
#17
Arguing with a healer was an exercise in futility. Cauthrien had learned that a good many years ago, but damned if she was going to allow Sofia to neglect her own injuries. Trouble was, she was sorely lacking in the strength to back up her will, and when the vial of healing potion was pressed back to her lips, she drank it, even as she realized that her right hand was no longer gripping the hilt of the Summer Sword and she could not remember just when she had released it. She tried to sit up, but Sofia pushed her back down … not that it took a great deal of effort at the moment.

“It’s here. Hold on a moment.” The mage stretched across her to grab the hilt of the blade that had fallen just beyond the reach of the warrior’s questing fingers, then grunted in surprise as she tried to tug it across the ground. Merda, that’s heavy!” she exclaimed, pulling it close enough for Cauthrien to reach. “There.”

Cauthrien exhaled quietly in relief, wrapping her fingers around the grip briefly. She’d thought the blade lost forever once, and after what trouble Nathaniel had taken to recover it, she would quite possibly have braved the demons again, had she dropped it back there. Except that if she did, this stubborn mage would insist on accompanying her.

She cracked her eyes open cautiously, winced, but kept them open. Her head still hurt like a sonofabitch, but the pounding of her heart had lessened considerably, and the feeling of wrongness that had stretched to the tips of her limbs had receded, as well. She didn’t feel like she was dying any more, and while it was still by far the worst headache she had suffered - she was likely looking at three days in bed in her darkened room once they got back to the compound, based on past experience - she could push past it with effort. A lot of effort.

“This from the woman who just picked up a mountain and dropped it on a demon’s head?” she inquired, lips twitching in a pained smile. “That was damned impressive.” She’d seen the mage cast some powerful spells over the years, but this had been an astonishing display, and had likely cost Sofia very nearly as much as Cauthrien’s own efforts had demanded of her. Her face was pale beneath the bloody scratches, and when she twisted to reach her supplies, then rose to retrieve the waterskin from Dragon’s saddle, her movements lacked their usual crisp efficiency.

Cauthrien pressed the palms of her hands to the frozen ground and carefully pushed herself up into a sitting position. With some of her body’s other complaints stilled, the broken ribs were making their presence known; they would need to be stabilized before they rode back to Denerim if she didn’t want to risk puncturing a lung, and for that, she was going to have to strip down to allow the wrapping to be applied. Moving cautiously, she fingered the surcoat bearing the Grey Warden heraldry briefly before simply pulling her dagger and cutting it away rather than try to pull it off over her head. She unbuckled the baldric for the Summer Sword, her gorget and shoulder pauldrons and removed them all, tasks that she could - and did - complete with her eyes closed, the motions as familiar to her as breathing.

The waterskin was pressed to her lips. She obediently took a mouthful, swished it about and spat it to the side to get rid of the lingering taste of blood on her tongue, then drank deeply.

“You wouldn’t have left me behind, were our situations reversed.” Sofia spoke with quiet surety. “I know that. So there was no chance of me leaving you.”

Cauthrien didn’t bother trying to argue, because she knew that the Antivan was right. The mage was her fellow Warden and, along with Nathaniel, the closest friend she had. Her shouted order had been intended to protect Sofia from what seemed certain death as much as it had been to ensure that one of them escaped to report the situation back in Denerim.

“I wouldn’t have been able to kill it without you,” she admitted. Ten years ago, in her prime, perhaps, but it still would have been a near thing. “You and those Blackstones. I hope they made it away.” Unless they had horses, they likely wouldn’t have been able to follow Dragon’s wild flight, but hopefully they had been far enough away when the other demon had emerged to escape its notice. She’d need to send a missive to Thaelor Hawkwind commending their courage. At least one of them had given his life in that fight; if she had been able to call more fully on her templar powers, might it have made a difference, kept them all alive?

She pushed the thought away for the moment. She’d have several days to brood once they got back to Denerim. Unbuckling the belt at her waist, she let it fall away. “Can you help me with this, please?” she asked Sofia, gesturing to the heavy chain hauberk. She’d long preferred chainmail to plate for the better mobility that it provided, but where a solid breastplate could have been unbuckled and removed, the hauberk was going to have to come up over her head. And it was going to need repairs later; she could feel the broken rings as she started to tug the mesh upward, drawing slow breaths through her nose, trying to convince her head that it wasn’t going to explode.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
67
#18
Sofia had known exhaustion before now. Objectively, this wouldn’t be the worst case of it she’d suffered; this was battle fatigue, and it would pass with sustenance and a rest. It wasn’t anything like a five day trek through boiling heat, on dusty paths, with the dirt swirling up and clogging her already dry throat. Or like toiling through the Deep Roads, the sunlight seeming like a distance memory, and battling darkspawn every few minutes. However, as much as she told herself that, her bones felt twice as heavy as usual, and she staggered a little fetching the waterskin. She might have given a grateful sigh as she knelt by Cauthrien again, except the bruising already blooming vividly across her skin made it hard to feel relief.

Of course, Cauthrien’s primary concerns were not her broken ribs, but Sofia’s wellbeing, and then her sword. Typical warrior. Sofia grunted with the effort of dragging the weapon over, and her efforts finally brought a tiny smile to Cauthrien’s face. “This from the woman who just picked up a mountain and dropped it on a demon’s head? That was damned impressive.”

Sofia cracked a smile of her own. “It was - an effort, and one I will no doubt be pleased with, once I have cleaned us both up enough to have thoughts to spare towards being smug.” In truth, if they had been facing more than one opponent it would have left her far too open, but seeing Cauthrien square off against something more than three times her size had left Sofia a little desperate.

They worked in tamden for a moment; Sofia assisting with the waterskin while Cauthrien slowly and painfully removed as much of her armour as she could. Sofia helped a little, but even bruised and bloodied, Cauthrien was efficient and had stripped away a fair portion of it before she could be much help. As she fiddled with a buckle, she decided it was a good moment to inform Cauthrien that there had never been a chance of her leaving.

Cauthrien didn’t quite accede the point, but she did except that without Sofia and the mercenaries present her death would likely have been swift. Just as the nameless rogue’s had been. Cauthrien expressed the sentiment that she hoped the rest of them had got away. Sofia nodded. “I imagine they did. And with hope they’ve had the sense to raise the alarm the moment they got back behind city walls.”

They had reached the main obstacle between Cauthrien and her treatment. The chainmail hauberk was impassable except by pulling it over her head. “Can you help me with this, please?”

Sofia nodded, smile gone now, attentive and gentle but serious. She slipped the mail up past Cauthrien’s hips first, then supported her upper back, noting as she did so that, as with the sword, she was amazed Cauthrien could move around carrying the weight. Little wonder that she was a streak of muscle, worthy of occasional - subtle - admiration in the training yard.

No admiration now, only the careful inching of the mail up to her sides, then the tricky part - assisting her arms through the sleeves so the remainder could follow. Sofia guided as best she could, but without magic or more potions to hand she couldn’t save Cauthrien from the pain that would follow.

It felt as though it took a lifetime, but finally the mail came free, and Sofia immediately dropped it off to one side before returning her hands to Cauthrien’s abdomen, probing for the damage as she hadn’t been able to do with the armour on. Improbably, a faint trickle of magic was beginning to reassert itself in Sofia, and she chose to divide that coin now. One hand went to Cauthrien’s forehead, to ease the pain of the smite; the other to the stomach, to help with the discomfort of having her ribs wrapped and encourage the bone to knit. The result left her more drained than ever, but she kept herself upright.

“Now.” Sofia blinked away the brief surge of dizziness that had claimed her. “I’m going to bandage you. A lot of healers do it far too tight and risk pushing the broken bones inwards, so this might be looser than you’re expecting, but it’ll keep you together on horseback until we get to the city. Then I’ll heal you up properly once my magic all comes back.”

She lifted the roll of banadage. “Ready? Grab my arm and squeeze it if you need to. It can help with the pain.” She smiled a little. "As does cursing."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
297
#19
Cauthrien’s compliment got a weary smile out of Sofia. “It was - an effort,” she admitted, “and one I will no doubt be pleased with, once I have cleaned us both up enough to have thoughts to spare towards being smug.”

She’d earned the right to be smug. She’d earned a rest, but that wouldn’t be happening because, as much as it pained Cauthrien to accept it, she was in no condition to take care of herself. The weight of the armor was something she had long been used to bearing, and it was generally distributed evenly. Taking off the hauberk under normal circumstances meant bending over and pulling it forward, letting gravity do most of the work, but that was not an option right now. It would have to be lifted up and over her head, and even with the alarming pounding of her heart eased, the exhaustion that was pulling at her was more profound than she was used to. The fight had been difficult, but not so very long, and she had pushed for years to increase her stamina to more evenly match the men that she could not best in strength alone. She thought briefly of Beorlic as he had been at the end: blind and frail and waiting for death, and shuddered inwardly; she was nowhere near that state yet, but it was inevitable that she would begin to decline, and this might be the first harbinger.

Or it might be simply that she had failed to heed Lucien’s warnings about overextending herself in forcing her templar abilities past her limits, in which case she just needed to train harder, though hopefully whatever had spilled those demons into the world wouldn’t be a regular occurrence.

She shifted and squirmed, adding her own frustratingly diminished strength to Sofia’s to gather the chainmail and lift it up and over her head, gritting her teeth and willing herself to stay conscious as every movement exacerbated the pain in her skull. Scarcely had the armor been allowed to fall to the ground than the mage was prodding at her ribs and belly, her touch careful and blue eyes intent and focused inward, seeking what couldn’t be seen. Cauthrien’s ribs and the bruising radiating out from them registered a dim protest, but she knew better than to argue with a healer on a mission … until one of the probing hands moved to her forehead, and she felt an undeniable swirl of power that the mage could ill afford to expend.

“Stop that,” she chided the other woman gruffly, grasping the wrist of the hand touching her abdomen and trying to tug it away, feeling the pain ebb a fraction, feeling guilty about the relief that even that little bit afforded. “I’m not going to die from a few cracked ribs and a headache.” Unconsciousness would definitely be welcome, but they had to get back to Denerim before she could let that happen. Her grip shifted to Sofia’s elbow to support her as she felt the mage waver. Foolish, stubborn woman. “Just wrap them. Please.”

After a moment, the mage steadied. “Now. I’m going to bandage you. A lot of healers do it far too tight and risk pushing the broken bones inwards, so this might be looser than you’re expecting, but it’ll keep you together on horseback until we get to the city. Then I’ll heal you up properly once my magic all comes back. Ready?” She offered a tired smile as she lifted the bandage. “Grab my arm and squeeze it if you need to. It can help with the pain. As does cursing."

Cauthrien nodded, though she had no intention of doing either. Damned if she would hurt the one helping her, and she had learned more effective ways of dealing with pain than swearing. Letting her eyes drift half shut, she lifted her arms so that Sofia could apply the wrapping and focused on her breathing, drawing slow breaths in through the nose, holding for a five count, then releasing just as slowly through her mouth. In her mind, she pictured the pain as a ball, growing smaller with each controlled breath; it was an effective technique for short durations or while laying still, but the ride back was going to be hell.

The mage worked with a practiced efficiency; it hurt, but not unbearably so, particularly when compared to the headache, and once she was done, the relief was immediate, the wrap snug enough to hold the broken bones steady while not so tight as to impede breathing. She shifted a bit, testing it gingerly, then nodded in satisfaction. “Thanks,” she told Sofia, then stopped her before she could stand. She still had blood all over her cheeks and forehead; it didn’t look serious, but Cauthrien still didn’t like it. “Hold still.” Wetting one of the spare bandages with a bit of water, she gently wiped the half-dried blood from the scratches, then applied a bit of the astringent sap from the elfroot stems to each one, satisfying herself that they were indeed shallow and could wait a bit for further attention. As an afterthought, she swiped at the half dried blood on her own mouth and chin, then dabbed a bit of the elfroot sap on the spot where she’d bitten her lip.

“Ready to go,” she asked Sofia, “or do you need to rest a bit?”
 
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