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Undercity Blues

Hanamene Thornecroft

The Templar's Daughter
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
39
#1
3 Firstfall, 35 Dragon – Evening - Darktown & Lowtown - w/ @Varric Tethras and Hal (NPC)
All it took to make living in Lowtown feel less dismal, was the occasional excursion to Kirkwall’s undercity of Darktown. Hanamene would be hard-pressed to find more dismal surroundings than that - outside of, maybe, an alienage. Yet at least even Kirkwall’s alienage had a tree and the occasional burst of tolerable air. What was of a growing concern to her, though, was that she was actually becoming accustom to the chokedamp. A sure sign that she had recently been spending more time below the city than she should have been.

When her brother was alive, he’d fled to Darktown in the hopes of avoiding whatever fate their templar father or the Chantry might have had in store for him. After months of worrying, he had sent word to Hana albeit discreetly by means of one of the many street urchins the city slums had to offer. Sadly, there were quite a number of such children. Orphans and bastards were not merely beggars or thieves in Kirkwall, but oftentimes recruited by one street gang or another to serve as runners or spies. Kirkwall’s forgotten children, her father used to call them. Hanamene stood leaning to one side, shouldered up against a graffiti-laden wall, and paid note to these such children, as they scurried by, though she observed without giving them her full attention. Her primary interest at the moment was the bloody brawl occurring before her.

This was neither misunderstanding, personal vendetta, nor random dispute. Instead, Hanamene had come to watch the last vestiges of her brother that Kirkwall had to offer: the bloody bouts of Darktown. Unofficial and unregulated, the questionable anything-goes-tournaments were likely the closet thing to a natural calling that her brother Caethan had probably ever known. And now they were all Hana had left of him, thanks to the Grey Wardens. She watched from a slight distance, away from the cheers and jeers of a crowd of mostly gamblers and drunks. Darktown was brimming with the kind of malcontents and misfits that Hanamene once actively abhorred. In many ways, she still did yet ever since the loss of her brother something else had begun to flourish where her regard for Kirkwall's undercity was concerned. Something... voyeuristic, perhaps. She could be there, without really being there - and it was a way to feel close to her older sibling again, whom she missed terribly. When her father was killed as well, Hanamene found herself coming to Darktown with a little more frequency. Each time she tested the limits of her comfort therein, by either staying a little longer or exploring a little further than usual. On this evening in particular, it would be both.

Hanamene had placed a small bet on one of the bare-knuckle fighters, a broad-built Antivan mercenary. To her surprise, a wiry city elf took him down in the first round. It was too impressive to even be mad about the loss of coin. She even laughed, while pushing herself off and away from the wall by shifting her weight. It was the unsteady, nonchalant movement of someone who was mellowed by the effects of drink herself. Hanamene lacked the constitution for strong alcohols and yet, even knowing that about herself, that evening she thought, what's the harm? She would quickly learn her error.

"Watch where you're going, Fereldan."

Hanamene made a poor attempt to steady her stance after having propelled her own entire self into another person. Rather, persons. A small gang, by her estimation of anywhere from four to seven in number. She would later reflect on that moment, and realize she had probably been seeing double - but in the moment itself, Hanamene had thought whatever their number; numbers be damned. "How about," Hanamene responded almost cheerily, entirely out of character, "You watch where I'm going."

"What's that!?" was the reply she received, as a semi-circle of bodies began to form around her. Regrettably she'd not gone far from the wall, and quickly found herself boxed in.

In response to this, she stood straight... ish. "You didn't let me finish. You watch where I'm going. That way... I'll know... and you'll know... we'll all know... where I'll be," Hanamene told them, in a tone that was in contrast to her words themselves. A tone that suggested nothing but sense.

"Think you're funny Furelden?" their ringleader said, closing in on Hanamene.

"Venhedis!" Hanamene cursed him in Tevene, while daring to laugh in the man's face, "A mabari reference, how original!"

He grabbed her by her cloak and all but spat in her face, "Ven-what?! What d'ya just say to me?!"

An inebriated Hana leaned into the man's face, enough that they were nearly nose to nose and re-emphasized her response, "Venhedis." She noted some amongst the ringleader's crew were discreetly reaching for their weapons, some concealed and some not. A sword here, a dagger there. Hanamene would have done likewise at that point, had the other man not taken it upon himself to knock her back into the wall itself. With clearer faculties, she might have turned the shove to her favour and dodged to the side while unsheathing her sword. Unfortunately for Hana, the strange drink she'd partaken of earlier that evening would not align with any such coordinated effort. Though she remained standing, she had stumbled back and hit her head - hard - against the stone wall. Once more, she would look back on the moment in question - at a later date - and admit that was when went from seeing double to triple.

 

Varric Tethras

Bullshitter Emeritus
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#2
One of the problems with newfound wealth was the number of people who wanted to help you find ways to spend it. Varric didn't have any trouble brushing off the newcomers who swarmed out of the woodwork like ants drawn by spilled honey, but old friends generally at least received some consideration of their ideas.

Sully was a prime example. They'd come up together, but when Varric kept climbing by planning carefully, Sully had plateaued somewhere near the low end of the middle of the heap, kept there by the same kind of get-rich-quick schemes that had wound up killing Andvar Tethras. But Sully was a decent sort, if not overly bright, and Varric was quite aware that the success of the Deep Roads expedition (if you could call getting left for dead by your greedy bastard of a brother a success) was as much luck as anything else.

So, when Sully came to him with yet another can't miss opportunity, this time the chance to support an up-and-coming alienage elf that he swore would dominate the bare knuckle brawls that took place in Darktown, he had agreed to come and watch a bout or two. He wasn't much for bloodsports, but there weren't a lot of ways for the elves in the alienage to bring in the kind of coin that could be made by winning even one of these fights.

The kid looked scrawny, but it was all tight muscle, and from the fire in his eyes, fueled by pure hate. He tore into an Antivan merc nearly three times his size like a tiny tornado, taking him down in under three minutes. Judging by the groans and cursing, Varric was one of the few spectators to have put his money on the long odds offered on the elf.

“What'd I tell ya?” Sully asked proudly as Varric collected his winnings from the sour-faced bookie.

“He's good,” Varric replied.

“Good? He's great!” the human enthused. “He's gonna make us rich! He just needs some more training -”

“Here.” Varric poured all the coin he'd just collected. “Half to him, a quarter to you and a quarter for his training. Put the same bet down for each of his fights, split the winnings the same way.”

“Half to him?” Sully protested, but he subsided at the look that Varric gave him. The dwarf knew damn good and well that Sully would be skimming a bit off of the money earmarked for training; Sully knew that he knew, and he also knew that taking any from the kid's share was not a good idea. If the elf was smart, he'd collect the winnings from his first few bouts and get out. He'd beat a few more opponents with that combination of hate and talent, but sooner or later, they'd bring in someone who was ready for him. There were no old brawlers in Darktown. “Yeah, sure, Varric. I can do that.”

“Good.” Varric looked past him, attention drawn by the blonde human woman squaring off against one of the wolfpacks that hunted just beyond the torchlight of the makeshift arena. Dressed too well to be a resident – too well to be down here period, and evidently new enough not to know that. Or maybe she had a death wish.

No point in calling for the guards; the Viscount had tried patrols, years back, and the ones he'd sent had either turned up dead or not turned up at all. There might be an occasional raid if a high profile criminal was being sought, and occasionally a squad of Templars would come through looking for blood mages, but Varric wasn't going to hope that either of those rare events was in progress now. Whatever words were being exchanged between the woman and the ringleader escalated to action, and the woman staggered back into the wall, her head striking the stone hard enough to be heard.

“Back me,” he said in a low voice, unslinging Bianca and sauntering forward with her propped casually over his shoulder, ignoring the stream of curses from behind him. For all his less than stellar qualities, Sully Dane could be counted on in a fight.

“Problem?” he inquired casually, taking stock. Five humans and a dwarf, all of them sporting more weapons than healthy teeth. Darktown life was hard on dentition; what the diet didn't claim, the fighting did.

“None of yer fuckin' business,” the leader snarled without really looking at him, his glare fixed on the blonde. “Keep movin', or you'll get the same thing she's gonna get.”

“Thanks, but you're not even close to my type.” The woman looked a little befuddled, hadn't even tried for the sword at her hip, and he could smell the booze on her breath from where he stood. She wasn't exactly his type, either: drunk and trying to get killed were nowhere to be found on his list of traits that intrigued him. But he couldn't just leave her to the nonexistent tender mercies of this bunch. “Leave her be and move on.”

Anger flared in the thug's dark eyes. “I said -” he began, but by the time he had completed turning his attention to Varric, Bianca had been snapped down into the ready position, and he found himself staring at the tip of the bolt that was seated in the slot, ready to fire.

“And I said leave her be and move along.” Varric kept his voice calm and even. The thug's eyes lifted briefly from Bianca and Varric, looking behind the dwarf to Sully and – who? No idea, but there was always someone looking for a fight in Darktown. Hopefully, they would be at least somewhat selective in regards to whose asses they decided to kick, but with Sully's luck, Varric wasn't all that hopeful. “Now,” he added: one last attempt to end this without violence. Never let be said that Andvar and Ilsa's baby boy wasn't an optimist.
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

The Templar's Daughter
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
39
#3
"Problem?" Dazed, Hanamene turned her head at hearing another voice. She winced, due in part from the hit she had endured but also at the notion that someone thought her current circumstance warranted intervention. It was one thing to put herself in danger, and another to drag someone else into the self-destructive road she'd been going down lately. She attempted to steady her footing, noticeably swaying in doing so, while simultaneously investigating the back of her head with her left hand.

Yet when her vision refocused on the newcomer, rather newcomers – a dwarf and his apparent back up – Hanamene's posture straightened… somewhat. She supposed that no one had ever told the thug not to bring a blade to a crossbow fight. Hanamene even thought to say as much, but the hit to her head had knocked at least some sense into her.

"Eh, boss-" the thug standing to the ringleader's right chimed in, "We, uh, took a vote. Thing is… don't none of us want to be riddled with holes…" One by one, the ringleader's entourage stepped back, though not without keeping their eyes locked on the dwarf's weapon, leaving the head thug to stand still-seething on his own.

'You fucking cowards…" he cursed his own men and spat in the respective space between the woman and the dwarf. His hateful gaze passed over the woman and the dwarf individually, taking in their respective attire, and he seethed once more before turning his back to rejoin the lot who'd hung him out to dry, "Fucking Hightowners."

Hanamene, though still standing, slumped back to steady herself against the wall and sighed as she drew her hand from the back of her head only to see a glistening of red on her fingertips. "Well. It would seem I now owe you a debt of blood, messere," Hanamene expressed her gratitude, decidedly addressing the dwarf as one higher to her station despite not knowing for certain of his status. It seemed only fitting, given her rather base behaviour, "Well and truly. Not my finest moment."

Despite an expression of obvious chagrin, and her unsteady condition, Hanamene somehow managed pleasantries. "Might I the pleasure of knowing my saviours' names, to better thank them?" she managed, whilst blinking and inwardly trying to discern just how many blurry dwarves were standing before her.
 

Varric Tethras

Bullshitter Emeritus
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#4
Whoever it was that had joined Sully as backup was enough to make the followers reconsider their definition of fair odds, and once they had melted away, the ringleader had little choice but to follow suit after some face-saving swearing and expectoration. Only when he was gone did Varric look back – never show doubt when you're bluffing – to see the elven kid and three of the other brawlers beside Sully.

“Thanks,” he told them, putting Bianca away and getting only expectant looks in return.

“I sorta … tol' 'em you'd pay for the backup,” Sully explained sheepishly.

Of course he had. Sighing, Varric ponied up some silver – they hadn't actually had to fight, after all – to the first three; the elf waved him off when it was his turn.

“Got paid already,” he announced with a cocky little grin that revealed a bloody gap where one of his front teeth had been. “Sully said you bet on me?”

“He said you were good,” Varric replied with a shrug. “He was right.” As he didn't look as though he'd weigh eight stone soaking wet, he probably hadn't had many people willing to bet on him in his life. “What's your name, kid?”

“Kraylen,” he answered, his grin widening as he added, “They call me Krazy.”

“I can see why,” Varric agreed solemnly. “Well, Kraylen, if you ever decide you've had enough fighting, I can probably find you some work.” Ignoring Sully's reproachful look, Varric turned back to the distressed damsel, who leaned back against the stone, exploring the back of her head with fingers that came away crimson.

"Well. It would seem I now owe you a debt of blood, messere," she murmured, regarding said blood with an expression that was more bemused than distressed, though the unfocused look in her eyes suggested that her bells might still be ringing. "Well and truly. Not my finest moment."

“Not theirs, either,”
Varric observed, nodding in the direction that the would-be thugs had taken. Ferelden accent, pricey blade at her hip, but she didn't act like a mercenary. “All things considered, I think they came out worse.” Turning tail down here marked you, and plenty had seen it. They'd be getting their fight before the night was out.

"Might I the pleasure of knowing my saviours' names, to better thank them?" she asked, peering down at him owlishly.

Those kind of manners definitely didn't belong down here, but Varric didn't miss a beat. “Varric Tethras at your service, milady,” he proclaimed expansively, dipping a flourishing bow. “Along with Sully Dane and Kraylen.” Both of whom were looking at Varric like he'd lost his mind, while the other three had vanished as soon as the coin had touched their palms. Class was in short supply in Darktown.

“Shoulda kicked 'im in the nuts,” Kraylen opined, looking her up and down as though sizing up her potential. “Then hit his nose wit' yer head.”
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

The Templar's Daughter
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
39
#5
Much like an owl in fact, Hanamene, in her inebriated state, turned her head back and forth from Varric and those he addressed. It made her a little dizzy, actually, and she resumed cradling her wounded head with her hand.

“Varric Tethras at your service, milady. Along with Sully Dane and Kraylen.” Even just observing the depth of his bow threw Hana off her own balance. She used her free hand to better brace herself against the wall.

“Indeed,” she said, shaking her head as though that might assist in shaking away the haze of her condition, “Glad to know you. Each of you. Truly.”

“Shoulda kicked 'im in the nuts. Then hit his nose wit' yer head.”

“I don’t disagree. If I thought I could land either such target in my state,” Hanamene had to give it to the elf, nodding her agreement, “I may well have done just so. Then again, were it not for my state, none of this would have happened.” She turned her glance back toward Varric, and owned up to her culpability. “The fault was mine,”she admitted with a sigh, “It was generous of you to intervene.”

Hanamene tried to steady herself, daring an attempt to step away from the support of the wall, but failed. “I wonder,” she asked reluctantly, for she was terribly embarrassed, “If that generosity might be extended in helping me find my way back to Lowtown? I live none too far from the Hanged Man…”

Then something registered in her befuddled mind. “Wait, Tethras. I know this name.” Bewilderment washed over her expression when she realized to whom she’d just requested become her escort. In a sober state, Hanamene would have ensured that had such a look escaped her it would have been mild. In her current condition, however, she looked positively flabbergasted. “My brother Caethan, Maker rest his soul, a grand fan of yours!” It seemed a memory resurfaced from somewhere beneath the haze and Hanamene smiled because of it, telling Varric, “He could recite lines from Hard in Hightown. I think your stories even made him fancy becoming a guard one day. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.”

Hanamene cleared her throat, and made yet another effort to stand on her own. The latter was better than the last attempt, but still not altogether steady. “I’m truly not such a buffoon, as you are currently witnessing, messere,” she said, still mortified, “And I meant it when I said I owe you a debt, for this. Though I shall owe you two, were you gracious enough to oblige my request as well. I work for Saeridin & Son. I’m sure my employer would likewise appreciate the return of his foolish guard.”

She added, paling slightly, “Though if we could spare him some of the details of this evening, I would appreciate that in turn. I’d never hear the end of it.” It was true, too. Hal would have likely lorded this over Hana for weeks to come, in his way. She could just picture the subtle jests he’d have at her expense. Leaving bottles by her bed, likely. Or in repeated invitations to the tavern, knowing full well that, after a night such as she had just experienced, she would steer clear of alcohol for a long time to come. Hanamene went on to confess as much, in saying to Varric and his companions, “I think, perhaps, drink is not the vice for me.”
 

Varric Tethras

Bullshitter Emeritus
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#6
Bowing might not have been the best idea, as the damsel attempted to follow his movement with her eyes and nearly keeled over.

“Indeed,” she murmured, bracing herself with one hand on the wall and shaking her head as if trying to clear it. “Glad to know you. Each of you. Truly.”

Kraylen offered his own advice on handling the situation, which, unsurprisingly, involved violence.

“I don’t disagree,” she conceded with a nod, adding ruefully. “If I thought I could land either such target in my state, I may well have done just so. Then again, were it not for my state, none of this would have happened. The fault was mine,” she concluded with a sigh. “It was generous of you to intervene.”

“No trouble at all,” Varric assured her. And it wasn't, really. Unless those thugs decided to come back with friends. “We probably shouldn't stay around, though.”

She took a careful step away from the wall, swayed and came to an unsteady halt, then leaned back into its support. “I wonder,” she spoke again, measuring her words in the universal manner of the moderately plotzed, “If that generosity might be extended in helping me find my way back to Lowtown? I live none too far from the Hanged Man…”

That was a bit surprising; her manner of speaking was straight outta Hightown, but on closer inspection, her clothes, while well made and clean, were a bit worn. “I'm headed in that direction myself,” he replied, offering her his arm as an alternative to the wall.

Instead, she stared at him. “Wait, Tethras. I know this name.” Her mildly chagrined expression shifted to one of near comical amazement. “My brother Caethan, Maker rest his soul, a grand fan of yours!” Well, that was a mixed bag of news, and he wasn't sure whether to express modest gratitude or sympathy first. “He could recite lines from Hard in Hightown,” she went on, a gentle smile of nostalgia curving her lips. “I think your stories even made him fancy becoming a guard one day. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.”

“I'm sorry,” he told her sincerely, but Sully was now the one wearing the amazed expression.

“Caethan? As in Caethan Hardcross?”

“You knew him?” Varric asked cautiously. Sully was not exactly the epitome of an upstanding citizen.

“One of the fighters down here,” he replied enthusiastically. “Damn good until he stopped showin' up. Dead, you say?” He shook his head regretfully. “Damn shame, it is. He was a good fighter.”

Which was probably not the kind of epitaph his sister had in mind. “Sully, I think I've got this. Why don't you take Kraylen and get him something to eat? I'll buy,” he added, seeing his friend about to protest.

“Could use a beer, too,” the elf added hopefully. Sighing, Varric dug out a handful of coins – the scrawny ones always ate like all their limbs were hollow – and saw them on their way before turning back to the drunken damsel in distress.

“Sorry about that. They're a bit rough around the edges.”

“I’m truly not such a buffoon, as you are currently witnessing, messere,”
she told him, taking another resolute step away from the support of the wall and standing with her feet spread, swaying only slightly. “And I meant it when I said I owe you a debt, for this. Though I shall owe you two, were you gracious enough to oblige my request as well. I work for Saeridin & Son. I’m sure my employer would likewise appreciate the return of his foolish bodyguard.”

“You work for Hal?”
The dwarf drank at the Hanged Man only rarely, but Varric had hit him up for descriptions of Hightown residences and information on architecture on occasion when researching for his books. Balustrades, crenelations, buttresses … that kind of shit.

“Though if we could spare him some of the details of this evening, I would appreciate that in turn,” she went on with a pained expression. “I’d never hear the end of it.”

“Not a word,” he assured her solemnly, offering his arm again.

“I think, perhaps, drink is not the vice for me,” she murmured.

“It's more about what and where you drink,” he advised her. “Drinking in Darktown is never a good idea, and drinking anything from Darktown is even worse. Was it glowing?” There was one brew that was supposed to have deep mushrooms in it that made your piss glow in the dark. He hadn't tried that one. “Don't think I caught your name, by the way.”
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

The Templar's Daughter
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
39
#7
“I'm headed in that direction myself.” Grateful, Hanamene blushed rosy red at Varric’s acceptance of her request. At this point, after the week she’d had overall, Hanamene just wanted to go home and retire to her little attic flat above Hal’s business and not reemerge for a while. Forget the world for a few days, and hope it forgets me in turn, she thought with a healthy dose of chagrin.

Her head bobbed back and forth, still rosy-cheeked from her embarrassment as much as from her earlier poor choice of drink, during the exchange between the dwarf, the elf and the human. Without thinking it through, Hanamene confirmed, “One in the same.” Though she hadn’t stopped there, mumbling under her breath, “Dead as a doornail. Thanks to the Wardens.” She perked up at the mention of beer, however. “Beer! I should have tried beer,” she conceded.

“You work for Hal?” he had cut in with a query and while she had offered a nod in the affirmative, Hana still yammered on some.

She eventually circled back to the topic, adding with an overly exaggerated nod at first. “Yes! You know him? A good man, he is,” Hana finally said, but it was as if her speech were on a delay when compared to her other motor functions. “Between you and me,” she whispered albeit not at all quietly, “He’s a bit paranoid. Always thinking the competition’s out to steal his plans... and maybe they are….” She perked up only momentarily once more, to target a completely random individual. Two fingers to her eyes, then pointed to the individual, and back to her eyes once more. “Don’t even think about it,” she said, to the individual who was, in fact, a barrel, “I’m watching you.” She looked at Varric, shaking her head, displeased about the non-person in question having allegedly eavesdropped on her conversation with the dwarf, “Rude.”

“Drinking in Darktown is never a good idea, and drinking anything from Darktown is even worse. Was it glowing?” Not the worst advice.

Hana pursed her lips in an effort to conceal the telling and slightly luminous tint still lingering upon them, and lied after a pause, “…no.” She knew she’d been unconvincing and confessed, “To be fair, it was such an enchanting option. And I’d never seen anything like it.” She finally took Varric’s arm, “I thought, My! How pretty.”

“Might not have been the best choice for me but I tell you, I know a few templars who should try it,” Hana said, “Might loosen them up a little. Oh, my name! Yes. It's...” Hana had to actually think about it, "Hana. Hanamene, actually. Thornecroft."

Allowing Varric to lead the way, Hanamene would go on in her chatty albeit inebriated state, “You’ve red hair." He most certainly did not, but her condition and the dim lighting of Darktown both played into that poor observation equally. "A lot of people in my life lately, have red hair. Sister Maydelline has red hair. Hal has a red… um…” she waved a finger in front of her upper lip, trying to remember the word and finally managing it, Moustache. You’ve red. Even Ser Cullen’s hair is sort of red. Sort of. I must be some sort of ginger beacon.” There was an unintended duality to her last statement, given that her rosiness had spread from cheeks to ears.
 

Varric Tethras

Bullshitter Emeritus
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#8
Her brother had indeed been the Caethan Hardcross of Darktown brawls fame, and was indeed dead, with the Grey Wardens somehow involved. It seemed rude to push for details, but Kraylen's mention of beer turned her thoughts away from such somber matters.

“Beer!” she exclaimed. “I should have tried beer.”

“Not even the beer is safe down here,” Varric advised her as he sent Sully and Kray on their way. He accepted her request to help her find her way home, and home turned out to be a place that he knew.

“You know him? A good man, he is,” she offered brightly when he asked about Hal, then leaned unsteadily down, speaking in a 'whisper' that was likely audible on the surface. “Between you and me,” she said with a conspiratorial air, “He’s a bit paranoid. Always thinking the competition’s out to steal his plans... and maybe they are….” Her gaze snapped ahead and locked in. Following the line of her gimlet stare, Varric found himself looking at a dusty barrel with a broken spigot. He watched the ensuing one-way (he assumed) conversation bemusedly. Oh yeah, she had definitely partaken of Darktown's unique alcoholic offerings.

“…no.” The somewhat unconvincing response to his query was undercut further by the faintest luminescence lingering on her lips, and after a moment, she 'fessed up. “To be fair, it was such an enchanting option. And I’d never seen anything like it.” She slipped her arm through his companionably. “I thought, My! How pretty.

“It's eye-catching,” Varric agreed. “Just don't panic when you look in your chamber pot later. The glow … lingers. On the bright side,” Yes, the phrasing was deliberate; words were his business, after all, “finding it the rest of the night will be easy. No need to light a candle.”

“Might not have been the best choice for me but I tell you, I know a few templars who should try it,” she confided in him, and he felt his gut clench in the slightest bit of apprehension. “Might loosen them up a little. Oh, my name! Yes. It's...” She broke off, searching through the attic until she stumbled over it. "Hana. Hanamene, actually. Thornecroft."

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Hanamene,” Varric replied, trying to decide how to delicately ask if she was an escapee from the Gallows. Not that he'd turn her in, but if he was strolling through Darktown with a drunken apostate, it would be good to know. “You … know many templars? I didn't know that they used Hal's services.”

“You’ve red hair,” she remarked, and he blinked at the non sequitur. He'd always considered his hair to lean more toward blonde, but considering the light … or lack thereof in their current location, maybe it did look more red. “A lot of people in my life lately, have red hair. Sister Maydelline has red hair. Hal has a red… um…” she twirled her finger over his upper lip, found the word just as Varric was about to offer it, “Moustache. You’ve red. Even Ser Cullen’s hair is sort of red. Sort of. I must be some sort of ginger beacon.”

“That could be good or bad, depending on the ginger in question,” Varric remarked. Him, he was a drunk beacon, but since he lived in a bar, that was at least understandable. “Knight-Captain Ser Cullen?” There wasn't any other Ser Cullen that he knew of, though Varric thought his hair leaned more toward blonde, as well. But regardless, if it was that Ser Cullen, they were back to the Gallows again, and while the fact that she hadn't zapped the barrel was reassuring, absence of proof was not proof of absence.
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

The Templar's Daughter
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
39
#9
“Just don't panic when you look in your chamber pot later. The glow … lingers. On the bright side, finding it the rest of the night will be easy. No need to light a candle.” Again, not the worst advice.

“Appreciate the warning,” Hanamene said, with a heavy nod. Then added after short consideration, “Honestly, if that’s the case, I dare not light anything near.”

“You … know many templars?" Varric ventured, "I didn't know that they used Hal's services.”

“I know a number,” she said, perking up briefly.

Still tolerating her rambling, Varric replied, “That could be good or bad, depending on the ginger in question... Knight-Captain Ser Cullen?”

“Ser Cullen?! Where?!” she sounded momentarily mortified. In her stupor, she’d forgotten her most recent comment about hair immediately after muttering about it. Hana shook her head, in an effort to focus.

Her expression dropped, “The templars, yes. Father’s one. He was, rather.” She glanced at Varric with a look of some chagrin, admitting, “Kirkwall’s not been kind to we Thornecrofts.” A dark irony to her choice of we, considering she was all that was left of the family name. She made a deliberate effort to perk herself up once more. More for Varric’s sake than her own. Hana appreciated his patience, however. “Except for the Knight-Commander,” she said, on that lighter not, “She’s been gracious with me, personally. And how have I repaid her?” Hana gestured to herself, her very inebriated mess of a person. “Father taught us to fight, but Knight-Commander Meredith indulged me four years. Four years of training, Varric. Right down the privy, taken by the river, and into the sodding Waking Sea.”

She scoffed at herself, veering from being a sarcastic drunk toward a morose one, “All because I’ve no longer the stomach to carry on the profession of the man who barely raised my late brother and I. Damn him for dying though, for now I’ve no family left to me in this world.” Hana turned her head, ashamed. “Except Hal, of course. Took me in, not long after I left the Gallows.” By such time as the end of that sentence, the pair managed to reappear in Lowtown after having made their ascent.

Hana, her arm still linked with his and her still needing his support to walk in a straight line, stopped dead in her tracks once they reached the surface. She looked upward, marvelling, “Messere Tethras, would you look at those stars.” It might have seemed like an opportunity to enjoy a brief moment, free of her drunken nattering - though it was not to be. Nearly in the same breath, Hanamene’s curiosity burst forth as a fan who’d up until that point tried to seem less than awed before one of their idols,“Didn’t you go to the Deep Roads? What’s it like being an interesting person surrounded by interesting people all the time? How long have you been a writer? Where do you draw your inspiration from? When’s your next novel due?”

Hana checked herself, straightening her attire. “My apologies once more,” she said, seeking to master herself further, “I… don’t know where that came from.” It seemed Varric Tethras had more than one admirer in the Thornecroft family, after all. Hoping to distract from her rosy face, she pointed to a constellation above, “Oh, look, Toth…” It was Tenebrium. She still looked at him sidelong though, all the while hoping - in as low key of a way as she feigned or hoped to muster - that he'd still answer each of these questions.
 

Varric Tethras

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#10
The warning about the luminescent pisspot didn't seem to faze Hanamene, and she sounded entirely too chipper on the subject of templars to be a mage hiding from them, but mention of Cullen got an interesting response.

“Ser Cullen?! Where?!” She stared around frantically, as though expecting him to have popped up from a puddle, sewage dripping from his curls. Varric said nothing, giving her time to figure it out for herself, and after a moment, her expression cleared and she gave her head a little shake.

“The templars, yes. Father’s one. He was, rather.” Her expression grew somber as she glanced to Varric. “Kirkwall’s not been kind to we Thornecrofts. Except for the Knight-Commander,” she went on, in a tone that Varric had never heard used in reference to the Iron Lady. “She’s been gracious with me, personally. And how have I repaid her?” A sweep of her hand encompassing herself and – presumably – her less than sober state, she went on, “Father taught us to fight, but Knight-Commander Meredith indulged me four years. Four years of training, Varric. Right down the privy, taken by the river, and into the sodding Waking Sea.”

“I'm guessing you had a reason,” Varric suggested. People told him things; always had, but part of being a good listener was knowing how to nudge the flow of words along with the right questions.

Not that that seemed to be needed in this case, as she was continuing almost before he'd finished speaking. “All because I’ve no longer the stomach to carry on the profession of the man who barely raised my late brother and I,” she declared , her mood completing the shift from chipper to dolorous. “Damn him for dying though, for now I’ve no family left to me in this world. Except Hal, of course. Took me in, not long after I left the Gallows.”

Varric nodded his understanding. “Family doesn't have to be blood,” he told her. “Sometimes it's what you make for yourself.” Ancestors knew, he'd been given a pile of shit with his birth family. “Nice thing about that is you can weed out the assholes early on.” Bartrand damn sure wasn't the brother he'd have chosen.

A final flight of stairs and a short corridor later and they were stepping out beneath the night sky. Hanamene pulled to a halt. “Messere Tethras, would you look at those stars,” she marveled, craning back so far that she would have tipped over, taking Varric with her, had he not adjusted his position to provide support. Babysitting drunks was another of his many skills.

“They're something,” he agreed mildly. He'd never had the fear of the open sky that natives of Orzammar could never fully shake, but neither had he ever been particularly fascinated by it. Not that it mattered in this case, because apparently the sight of the stars reminded her of … well, he wasn't sure what, but the questions started coming as rapidly as if Bianca had been firing them off.

“Didn’t you go to the Deep Roads? What’s it like being an interesting person surrounded by interesting people all the time? How long have you been a writer? Where do you draw your inspiration from? When’s your next novel due?”

Having figured it out, he didn't bother trying to reply just yet, and sure enough, she went on with her next breath, “My apologies once more,” she told him abashedly, “I… don’t know where that came from.” She jabbed a finger skyward. “Oh, look, Toth…”

He'd take her word for it. He'd written in a couple of tales about using the stars to navigate by, but if he ever had to actually do it, he was screwed. Street signs were a whole lot more practical. He waited a moment longer to be sure that the torrent of words had truly paused, however briefly, before speaking.

“Yes, I've been to the Deep Roads. It sucked.” Enough said on that particular clusterfuck. “I don't consider myself all that interesting, but I do meet a fair number of interesting people … you, for example.” The story she had related to this point was definitely not one he heard every day. “I've been a writer pretty much ever since I learned to write, and before that, I just told stories.” The next question was the hardest one to answer, because everybody seemed to expect some great secret, like stripping himself naked and sacrificing nugs to the god of bullshit beneath a full moon. “My ideas just … come to me,” he said with a shrug. “I never really know what's going to inspire one. The key is being ready to pick up an idea when it presents itself.” He had drawers full of hastily scribbled notes; some would be picked up and polished, others might be stashed away for years until he figured out what to do with them, and still others might never see the light of day again.

“I'm currently working on the sequel to Hard In Hightown,” he concluded, “but no idea yet when it'll be done.” He'd kicked the idea of a romance between Donnen Brennokovic and Captain Hendallen to the curb as entirely too cliche, so he was pushing other possibilities around.
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

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#11
“Family doesn't have to be blood. Sometimes it's what you make for yourself. Nice thing about that is you can weed out the assholes early on.”

In her tipsy state, Hanamene looked at Varric as though he’d uttered the most profound of profundities ever spoken by a living being. “Cheers to that, Varric. Cheers to that! Or well, I would cheers you, if I didn’t think that I ought never to drink again…” she chuckled, “Well, maybe just avoid the pretty, glowy... stuffs.”

“Yes, I've been to the Deep Roads. It sucked.” The dwarf’s response granted him a snort of amusement from Hana. She might not have had a palate for Deep Mushroom Mead, but she certainly had an appreciation for candour. He went on, “I don't consider myself all that interesting, but I do meet a fair number of interesting people … you, for example.”

“That’s kind of you to say but I’m more of an ‘oh, look at that’ interesting, Varric,” Hana told him, “Like a flaming wagon. Rolling at full speed. Off the edge of a cliff.”

Her attention fixed on him a bit more intently once he went more into detail about his creative process. Hanamene liked creative people very much, and may have, perhaps, been a painter had her father not thrust a sword into her hand or had her grandfather not insisted on redirecting her talent for sketch work toward more architectural purposes. Though, were she truly honest with herself, it was the sword that felt most right in her grasp.

“I'm currently working on the sequel to Hard In Hightown, but no idea yet when it'll be done.”

Hana’s eyes widened, excitedly at first, and then deliberately narrowed in an effort to downplay just how thrilled she was to hear about the sequel. “Oh, I will be sure to-” Hanamene said, with an ahem, “Keep an eye out for it, in the bookstores.” She thought it would be in poor taste to beg for a signed copy.

Her eyes fell to Varric’s crossbow, in grave consideration of the weapon's craftsmanship. “That’s…” Hanamene said, the most sober she’d thus far sounded, “Quite the piece you have there. Can’t say I blame those thugs for turning tail.” She certainly couldn’t. Nasty bit of business, crossbows. She narrowed her eyes a second time, though in lighter appraisement, “Is it… custom made?”
 

Varric Tethras

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#12
Varric's ruminations on choosing a family if you didn't like the one you'd been given weren't what he'd call deep thoughts. His ponderings tended to run along the line of wondering who first looked at a cow and said, “I think I'll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze them.” He was a simple man at heart.

Hanamene, however, gave him a look of sheer awe … or possibly just sheer inebriation. “Cheers to that, Varric. Cheers to that!” she told him enthusiastically. “Or well, I would cheers you, if I didn’t think that I ought never to drink again…” She hesitated, then laughed a bit self consiously. “Well, maybe just avoid the pretty, glowy... stuffs.

“Or pretty much anything in Darktown,” he suggested.

He answered her sudden storm of questions as best he could. People tended to confuse him with the characters that he wrote about. He didn't think of himself as a particularly interesting person; he considered his talent to be finding what was interesting in other people … even if he had to make it up. Hanamene, so far, was not looking as though she would require much in the way of embellishment.

“That’s kind of you to say,” she told him bashfully when he expressed as much, “but I’m more of an ‘oh, look at that’ interesting, Varric. Like a flaming wagon. Rolling at full speed. Off the edge of a cliff.”

“Good visual,” he congratulated her. And likely fairly accurate. Maybe he should introduce her to Hawke. Or maybe Kirkwall wasn't ready for that just yet.

Mention of the incipient Hard In Hightown sequel got her attention, though she tried to hide it. “Oh, I will be sure to-” She cleared her throat slightly. “Keep an eye out for it, in the bookstores.”

“If you can't find it, come see me at the Hanged Man,” he told her. “My publisher always sends me a crate.”

Bianca's wood and brass gleamed softly in the moonlight, drawing his companion's gaze. “That’s…” She hesitated, the slur in her voice gone, her gaze markedly more lucid than it had been. “Quite the piece you have there. Can’t say I blame those thugs for turning tail. Is it ... custom made?"

“Pretty sure. I've never seen another like her.” True enough. “I won her in a game of Wicked Grace. Strip version. I was down to my skivvies, the other guy was down to Bianca.” He reached back and patted the crossbow. “Technically, she wasn't clothes, but he really wanted to keep playing. He didn't deserve her.” He made a point of never telling the same story of Bianca's origins twice, and also never coming close to the truth of it.
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

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#13
Hana was pleased for Varric’s invitation to freely find him at the Hanged Man, even if it wasn't exactly for a social call. She certainly did want to read his next book. Varric fielded her final questions, regarding the make of his rather remarkable-looking crossbow. Barely had he finished when Hana heard her name, rather part of her name, shouted toward them.

“Thorne!”

She clenched her teeth and drew in a breath at seeing Hal marching toward them. He’d a lantern in hand, swinging from side to side with his every curmudgeonly step. Her arm still linked with Varric’s, Hana promptly hung her head and cursed in Tevene, “Kaffas.”

“Where in the Void have you—” the dwarf had begun, yet quickly shifted his tone from livid to surprise, “Shit, Varric is that you?” Though, just as soon as he was standing before the pair, he went back to chastising Hana while still addressing the other dwarf, “I hope she hasn’t been giving you trouble—” He caught sight of the glow on Hanamene’s lips, and snatched up her chin in his free hand, “What the feck have you gotten into?” He’d a tendency to say feck, reserving fuck for special occasions apparently.

Hana, still leaning on Varric some, swatted Hal’s grasp away with her hand. “Hal, cut it out. Not in front of messere Tethras,” she pleaded, though annoyed in turn.

Her vexed employer released her, grumbling as he did, “Bah. I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately.” He spoke to Varric as though Hana was not even there, “If you help me get her back to my shop, I’ve a bottle of Mackay’s Epic Single Malt that I’d be willing to share.”

“Ooo!” Hanamene perked up.

“Not with you,” Hal quickly shot her down, his moustache twitching from side to side, which received a sulky expression from Hana. He looked at Varric again, adding, “Actually, while I'd rather it had been under better circumstances, I’m glad I ran in to ya Varric. There’s something I could use your help with.” Hal gave Hana another disapproving look, and added sheepishly thereafter, “Back at Saeridin & Son. If it’s… not too much added trouble.”

Hana, not quite yet sober, enthusiastically clutched Varric's shirt sleeve once Hal's invitation had been made. Excited, and as if she was actually helping matters, she told Varric, "We have lots of cheese."
 

Varric Tethras

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#14
“Thorne!” Hal stumped up the street, concern creasing his broad forehead over fiery red eyebrows. Hanamene promptly hung her head, muttering something that Varric didn't quite understand.

“Where in the Void have you—” The demand trailed off as he got close enough to realize who was with her. “Shit, Varric is that you?”

“None other,” Varric replied.

“I hope she hasn’t been giving you trouble—” Hal broke off again as he stopped in front of them, his eyes narrowing at the faint luminescence on her lips. “What the feck have you gotten into?” he growled, grabbing her chin and scowling.

Unsurprisingly, Hanamene wasn't pleased to be treated like a toddler and pushed the dwarf's hand away before he could do the 'lick and wipe' routine that Varric remembered – none too fondly – from his mother. “Hal, cut it out. Not in front of messere Tethras.”

“No trouble at all,”
Varric assured him diplomatically. “We just happened to be heading the same way, and I offered to see her home.”

“Bah. I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately,” Hal grumbled.

“It's called youth, Hal,” Varric reminded him dryly. “If you'll think back a few years, we were afflicted with it once.” And – in Varric's case, at least – still subject to the occasional relapse.

“If you help me get her back to my shop, I’ve a bottle of Mackay’s Epic Single Malt that I’d be willing to share.”

“That's an offer I won't turn down.”

“Ooo!” Hanamene's bleary eyes brightened with interest, but Hal wasted no time in shutting her down.

“Not with you,” he told her firmly, mustache twitching as he glanced to Varric. “Actually, while I'd rather it had been under better circumstances, I’m glad I ran in to ya Varric. There’s something I could use your help with.” He glowered briefly at Hanamene before adding, “Back at Saeridin & Son. If it’s… not too much added trouble.”

"We have lots of cheese,” Hanamene put in helpfully, still hanging onto his sleeve.

“Cheese is good,” he agreed affably. While not as fond of it as the King of Ferelden was reputed to be, Varric liked it well enough, though the whiskey was the real draw. “Lead on,” he said, tucking her hand back into the crook of his arm once more to keep her from either tipping over or wandering off.
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

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#15
Varric’s response to Hal had been gracious to say the least, “No trouble at all. We just happened to be heading the same way, and I offered to see her home.” Hanamene gave the author a sidelong, appreciative glance.

She observed the back and forth between the two dwarves a little sullenly, bothered that her employer treated her like a child at times. All the more bothered, though, by knowing that in present moment she deserved that regard. Just what exactly did she think she was doing, drinking in Darktown alone? Or drinking at all, for that matter? Hanamene had little experience with navigating the currents of her own inebriation. She'd only been working for Hal for a year, and up until the present moment not a coin earned had been used for drink. It's not like the Order allowed their recruits to their vices, before that, either.

Surprisingly, Varric came to her defence though it seemed more for the sake of mollifying Hal’s temper, “It's called youth, Hal. If you'll think back a few years, we were afflicted with it once.”

“Speak for yourself, Varric,” Hal retorted in return. His moustache twitched, while he moved to support Hanamene from her other side, “I was never young.” Hana had to snort at that. Though only a year had gone by since she began her employ with him, she'd come to learn that Hal Saeridin was once better known as Sonny Saeridin. The very son of Saeridin & Son. It wasn't until after his father died, that the dwarf began to go by Hal. It was understandable, however, given that Hal was technically Haldor Saeridin III. Three generations of Hals, the thought always made Hanamene snicker.

Finding her arms linked by a dwarf at either side, Hana could not help but resign herself to being the drunken ham of the three-person sandwich. Though she was excited at the prospect of hosting the famous author in their place of business, Hanamene was surprised, however, when Hal sought Varric’s assistance on an entirely different matter. Still, it pleased her when Varric agreed to it, “Cheese is good. Lead on.”

Admittedly, Hana was hungry. She probably should not have imbibed strange spirits in Darktown regardless, but especially not on an empty stomach. “Lots of cheese,” she repeated herself, though adding in question to Hal, “Do we still have some of those little puffy things left, from that Orlesian baker in Hightown?”

Hal shook his head at the phrase puffy things, quirking a brow at the description as he responded, “You mean pastries. Yes.”

With exception of nearly losing her balance a few times, almost taking her dwarven escorts down with her, Varric and Hal made sure Hana made it back to Saeridin & Son in one piece. She still managed to bump her shoulder on the door frame on the way into the establishment, however.

The ground floor of Saeridin & Son consisted of Hal’s workshop, his offices rather, though the back rooms of the business were essentially his living space as well. Upon entering the building, one found themselves in a small, open foyer with stairs to the second floor ahead and entry to Hal’s offices to one’s right. “We can settle in here,” Hal told Varric, jutting his chin toward the latter location. The trio shuffled into the main office, which featured a rather large, sturdy-looking table in the middle of the room. It was where Hal so often unfurled his plans to his patrons during daylight hours, but it also served to accommodate the receiving of guests of a more social nature as well. “I’d offer you my favourite chair, Varric,” Hal told the other dwarf, setting his lantern down, “But it’s since been ruined, so the stools will have to do.”

Hanamene groaned, “Enough with the chair, Hal. I told you, I’ll buy you a new one.” How was she supposed to know one shouldn't leave a rain-soaked cloak to dry on the back of the damn chair in question? However, Hana suspected Hal was only partly sore about the chair. She wouldn't have gotten caught in the rain in the first place had she not been out following up on leads concerning her father's murder again. Her employer didn't relish in the idea that his private guard might off somewhere causing the sort of trouble that might reflect back poorly on his business' reputation. He didn't want her getting herself killed either.

Hal’s moustache twitched in response to that, but he didn’t complain about it further. Instead he helped to relieve his and Varric’s human burden, leading Hana to one of the stools in question. After which, Hal rubbed at a sore spot on his own lower back while motioning for Varric to take a seat in turn with his other hand. There were a number of other stools and the author had his pick of them. Hal proceeded to go about lighting a few other light sources in the room with a long taper, a candle here or another lantern there.

Upon the table were a number of building sketches, layouts, and other such illustrative plans. Once the room was suitably lit, Hal did his best to scoop them up with one gesture, though a few sheets slipped from his grasp and found the floor. He hustled back and forth from the large table to a small, corner desk in the same room, to dispense with the plans and free up the table’s surface for them. “Hana get that damn thing off the table,” he grumbled after a moment.

In the middle of the table there had rested a finely made shield — steel, embossed with briers and roses. Hanamene beamed just looking at it, completely ignoring the vexation in her employer’s tone. She hefted it up from her seated position, proudly displaying it for Varric as if he would even find it remotely interesting — though perhaps he might, given the custom make of his crossbow, “Look what Hal had made for me. See? He pretends to be so hard done by, by my presence, and then he goes and does something that only a friend or benefactor would do.”

“An investment in my investment,” Hal cut in, waggling a finger toward her.

“All the same,” she said, regarding her employer and setting the shield aside, “Don’t let his griping fool you, Varric. He’s a kind-hearted old nug.”

Hal returned to the table after having left to root around in one of the back rooms for a moment, clearly not out of earshot during that time as he returned to say, “Don’t either of ya go spreading that around, I’ve a vinegary reputation to uphold.” He rejoined them, a bottle of whisky in his grasp with two glasses held, balanced, in the other. Hal set the glasses down, uncorked the bottle with a resonant thoomp and poured for his guest and for himself. “Hana…” her employer looked her way.

It took Hanamene a moment to register the meaning of that look, but it dawned on her after none too long. “I guess I’m in charge of snacks,” she smirked toward Varric, gingerly rising to stand. “Wish me luck,” she said, intentionally making fun of herself while holding onto a variety of surfaces within Saeridin & Son, to steady herself along her precarious journey to the small kitchen in one of the other back rooms.

Prior to getting down to business, where his earlier request of Varric was concerned, Hal took a moment to enjoy the smell of the whisky before taking his first, appreciative sip. He would have enjoyed the indulgence more if there’d not been the sound of a crash in the kitchen behind them.

“It’s fine!” Hana’s voice called out, “It’s fine! I’m fine! Everything’s fine!”

Hal’s left eye twitched, along with his moustache. He set his glass down upon the table and turned to retrieve a long roll of thin paper from his corner desk. Returning to the table, he said to Varric, “This is what I hoped to get your counsel on, Varric.” The other dwarf set the sheet down, unfurling the paper to reveal a complex layout of some kind. He stood there for a moment, as if that alone ought to make sense then remembered aloud, “Oh I forgot the fecking map.” He hustled back to his desk, procuring the map in question before returning to the table to set the two, the layout and map, side by side.

Another crash came from the kitchen. “Still fine!” Hana called out.

Her employer sucked the air through his teeth. His patience was commendable, but it did not come easily to him either. He went about explaining his request of Varric, “I accepted this commission from a nobleman some months back. He’s one of those-”

“Wankers?” Hanamene said upon her return, carrying a wooden cutting board upon which she had unceremoniously heaped a number of edible items from a lot of cheeses, to pastries, to haphazardly chopped sausages.

“Northeskers,” Hal corrected her, naming his high-born, Free Marcher client by their family name.

“That’s what I said,” Hana smirked, laying the tray down upon the table, and winking toward Varric. It was little secret around the city that the heir to the Northesker fortune, and his entourage, enjoyed pestering Fereldan refugees, notably young women.

“Wankers or not, it’s deep pockets like the Northeskers that keep this roof over our heads and your wages paid,” Hal chided her, though not unkindly.

Hana shrugged, eyeing the plans and the map from where she seated herself. “What are you bothering messere Tethras with?” she asked, teasingly. She wasn’t familiar with the particular commission in question. Despite her fuzzy-headedness in the moment, Hana was already looking to make adjustments to it and picked up a piece of errant charcoal to do so.

Hal snatched the charcoal from her fingers, with the effortlessness of a mother accustomed to taking away potentially dangerous items from their babe. “As I was saying, I could use your expertise with respect to this commission. Rather, I suspect I could,” he told Varric, “We broke ground here-” Hal pointed to a location upon the map, just outside the city of Kirkwall. It was in an area where a number of nobles held larger, countryside estates. “And we’ve been digging for the better part of three months. His lordship wanted a grand vault of sorts added beneath his property.”

“A vault? What for?” Hanamene asked, intrigued but also hungry. She snatched up a piece of the unevenly cut sausage and popped it into her mouth. She spoke with her mouth full, but hid her mouth with one hand while doing so.

“Don’t know, couldn’t tell ya,” Hal admitted with a shrug, “None of my business, besides. I accept the commissions. I don’t need to know what goes on in peoples homes after I’ve left.”

Hana shrugged, though her eyes were still trying to make sense of the map and plans before them.

“Anyway, we’ve been digging here and here to start with,” Hal said, pointing at positions upon the map, “But once we got to here—” Hal’s hand hovered over a particular area. He furrowed his brow and frowned. “I dunno, Varric,” he said shaking his head, “Some of my men have been claiming to have heard strange sounds down there. Strange enough to spook 'em. And spooked enough of them that they’re refusing to go back down to the dig site. Word’s already been spreading amongst the labouring class that something off is down there. The project has completely stalled in the meantime. And now I’ve got this Northesker breathing down my neck to get things finished before the ground freezes over for the winter.”

Hal crossed his arms, looking at Varric briefly. “I know it’s probably not your favourite topic of conversation, but I’ve a concern about what the rustling down there might be. Here, have a look at where the plans actually rest over the map itself,” Hal said, placing the thin sheet of paper over the map, “You can probably guess why I’ve asked for your expertise. Any of this look familiar to you, from your time stomping around in the Deep Roads? I’m afraid we’ve gone and dug too deep in this area in particular.”

Hanamene’s eyes widened at the implication. Was Hal just concerned about not being able to complete his commission on time? Or could he actually be worried about a cave in and, perhaps… darkspawn? Her eyes darted up to Varric, eager to hear the dwarf’s response but there was also an obvious, if misguided excitement to her expression as well. A sober, complicated Hana would have recalled the horror inflicted upon people, including her own family, during the Fifth Blight, but an inebriated, carefree Hana was the primary colours version of herself: candid, precocious, and… combative. She immediately picked up her shield from off the ground.

Hal pointed at her, dismissing the notion forthwith, “Put it down.”
 

Varric Tethras

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#16
Between the two of them, Hal and Varric managed to get Hanamene back to Hal's place, though not without a few close calls, and a fair amount of noise. Inside Saeredin and Son, they moved to Hal's office, cautiously allowing Hanamene the opportunity to stand on her own.

“I’d offer you my favourite chair, Varric,” Hal remarked, ostentatiously not looking in Hanamene's direction, “But it’s since been ruined, so the stools will have to do.”

“Enough with the chair, Hal,” she groused petulantly. “I told you, I’ll buy you a new one.”

There was a story there, and Varric wondered briefly if the facts would be better than what his imagination could conjure, but his thoughts were interrupted by Hal barking at Hana over a shield that had been left on the table.

“Look what Hal had made for me,” she said to Varric, lifting it from the table and displaying it proudly. “See? He pretends to be so hard done by, by my presence, and then he goes and does something that only a friend or benefactor would do.”

“Very nice,” Varric responded, eyeing the shield with mild interest. Definitely custom made, with a detailed embossing of thorns and roses. Hal was thrifty, but when he paid for something, he wanted quality.

“An investment in my investment,” the other dwarf grunted, gesturing at the scar on her neck pointedly.

“All the same,” Hana replied smugly, leaning the shield against the wall, “Don’t let his griping fool you, Varric. He’s a kind-hearted old nug.”

Varric wasn't going to touch that one. “Don’t either of ya go spreading that around,” Hal grumbled, returning with the whiskey and two tumblers, “I’ve a vinegary reputation to uphold.”

“My lips are sealed,” Varric assured him solemnly, accepting the glass that was poured for him and taking a sip, letting the smoky liquid roll over his tongue and down his throat, smooth as silk.

“I guess I’m in charge of snacks,” Hana said resignedly, following a lengthy look from her employer, and proceeded toward the kitchen, leaning into the support of pretty much every solid surface along the way.

“This is what I hoped to get your counsel on, Varric.” Hal stretched a set of plans and a map of Kirkwall and the surrounding area out side by side, wincing periodically as crashes from the direction of the kitchen alternated with assurances from Hana that all was well. Varric leaned in for a look; he was no architect, so that couldn't be what this was about.

“I accepted this commission from a nobleman some months back,” Hal began by way of explanation. “He’s one of those-”

“Wankers?” Hanamene suggested, swaying in with a charcuterie board piled with enough sausages, cheese and pastries to keep them fed well into the next week.

“Northeskers,” Hal amended.

“That's what I said,” Hanamene replied innocently, tipping a wink to Varric as she set the tray down. One of the sausages made an attempt at escape; Varric caught it before it could plop onto the plans and took a bite. The Northeskers were Kirkwall bluebloods: old money and lots of it. From what Varric knew of them, 'wanker' was as good a synonym as any, but when you were in Hal's line of work, such considerations had to be secondary.

“Wankers or not, it’s deep pockets like the Northeskers that keep this roof over our heads and your wages paid,” he reminded her, taking a piece of charcoal from her hand before she could begin marking on the plans. “As I was saying, I could use your expertise with respect to this commission. Rather, I suspect I could. We broke ground here-” He jabbed a thick finger at an area of the map a few miles outside Kirkwall, where Hightown residents kept estates that they retired to when the summer heat turned the closely packed streets of the city into an oven. “And we’ve been digging for the better part of three months. His lordship wanted a grand vault of sorts added beneath his property.”

“A vault? What for?” Hanamene mumbled around a mouthful of sausage, one hand covering her mouth.

“Don’t know, couldn’t tell ya,” Hal replied with disinterested shrug. “None of my business, besides. I accept the commissions. I don’t need to know what goes on in peoples homes after I’ve left.” Varric couldn't have done his job, couldn't have kept from speculating. Wine cellar? Torture chamber? A place to hide a crazy relation away from the world? But discretion and confidentiality were as much a requirement of Hal's work as his ability to design and build. At best, loose lips would lose him business. At worst … well, all those stories about kings killing off the men who built their secret passages and rooms had to have a grain of truth in there somewhere, right?

“Anyway, we’ve been digging here and here to start with,”
Hal went on, indicating the spots. “But once we got to here—” He shifted his finger, a scowl creasing his features as he shook his head. “I dunno, Varric. Some of my men have been claiming to have heard strange sounds down there. Strange enough to spook 'em. And spooked enough of them that they’re refusing to go back down to the dig site. Word’s already been spreading amongst the labouring class that something off is down there. The project has completely stalled in the meantime. And now I’ve got this Northesker breathing down my neck to get things finished before the ground freezes over for the winter.”

Unsurprising that, like so many rich men before him, Northesker thought that his wealth should trump the elements. “And you're telling me this because?” Varric asked, though he had a pretty good suspicion as to the reason.

Hal leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his barrel chest and regarding Varric somberly. “I know it’s probably not your favourite topic of conversation,” he began, and Varric snorted at the understatement, “but I’ve a concern about what the rustling down there might be. Here, have a look at where the plans actually rest over the map itself.” He laid the plans over the map, the paper of the former thin enough that the latter could be seen through it. “You can probably guess why I’ve asked for your expertise. Any of this look familiar to you, from your time stomping around in the Deep Roads? I’m afraid we’ve gone and dug too deep in this area in particular.”

As though a few weeks of desperate scrabbling in darkened tunnels and caves, desperate for food, water, light, fresh air, qualified him as an expert on what was where underground. Hanamene's eyes had widened at Hal's words, and she bent to retrieve her shield, hefting it in a manner that indicated that she'd been trained in its use.

Hal eyed her, unimpressed. “Put it down.”

“Easy, Scrappy,” Varric put in mildly. “I've never heard of anything crawling out of a piece of parchment.” Though the way his luck had run in the last few months, that might be next on the list.

“Not sure exactly where that might translate in terms of what tunnels are below,” he went on, “but as for what might be down there: darkspawn, deep stalkers, spiders the size of horses, rock wraiths, maybe the odd demon or three, or maybe even a dragon, if you're really lucky.” He fixed Hal with a pointed look. “You'll notice that puppies, kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens are nowhere on that list of possibilities. My advice to you is to stop digging now and tell Northesker that he either needs to move the location of his vault or bring in somebody to deal with whatever is down there. Might be worth letting the Grey Wardens know,” he added with a shrug. “They might deal with it for free, if it's darkspawn; that's what they do, right?”
 

Hanamene Thornecroft

The Templar's Daughter
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
39
#17
Hanamene could not help the muted smile that crossed her face, quietly observing Varric's patience with Hal as her employer went about sharing his concerns. It was hard for her to mask the obvious excitement in her expression, however, when the topic turned to darkspawn. Inwardly, Hana had hoped to one day get a second chance to go toe-to-toe with their likes being that she'd become a better fighter in the years following the Fifth Blight itself.

"Put it down."

"Easy, Scrappy."

The dwarves were almost in unison. Hana's shoulders slackened and she lowered her shield in disappointment.

“I've never heard of anything crawling out of a piece of parchment," Varric continued.

"You should talk with some of the Circle mages sometime then, they've some interesting stories to tell," Hana smirked, arching a brow. Spells gone awry were yet another reason it was good to have templars around, she mused.

Hal side-eyed Hanamene, annoyed by her interruption. She shrugged.

Varric went on to address Hal's concerns, "Not sure exactly where that might translate in terms of what tunnels are below but as for what might be down there: darkspawn, deep stalkers, spiders the size of horses, rock wraiths, maybe the odd demon or three, or maybe even a dragon." Hanamene's eyes lit up a second time. "If you're really lucky." Hal began to fret, tugging at his own moustache as Varric finished, "You'll notice that puppies, kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens are nowhere on that list of possibilities. My advice to you is to stop digging now and tell Northesker that he either needs to move the location of his vault or bring in somebody to deal with whatever is down there. Might be worth letting the Grey Wardens know. They might deal with it for free, if it's darkspawn; that's what they do, right?”

The reddening of Hal's face had been accumulative but by the end of Varric's consultation, Hal finally let go of his moustache to emit a flurry of true curses. Something he did rarely, as Hal thought it unprofessional to swear outright. "Fuck sakes, shit, Andraste's burning knickers!" he blurted, pounding his fists on his plans upon the table.

Hanamene spoke over her employer's tantrum. "Pff, Grey Wardens," Hanamene scoffed while inspecting the back of her head again, as she had back in Darktown, to see if the bleeding had stopped. Blessedly, it had. The jeer she expressed hadn’t been a haughty one though, it was her genuine contempt for the order in question that stood out most of all. She added, "More than likely to conscript or recruit some poor local boys with visions of fame and glory in their head, and send them down there to their deaths, rather than waste their precious time dealing with it themselves.”
The circumstances surrounding her brother’s death, so shortly after Hana and her late father had years-ago received word that he’d been conscripted remained veiled and circumspect to date. "Just send me down there, Hal. It's what you pay me for, isn't it?"

"To get eaten by a dragon?!" Hal looked at her incredulously, "I fucking think not! Yes, that's a nice shield I commissioned for you but what good's a shield against a sodding dragon? No. Varric's right. I ought to send word to the Wardens, either way. 'ave them look into it. Northesker won't be happy either way, but I can't risk 'aving the Saeridin & Son name attached to any sort of bloody calamity. It's bad for business. Better safe than sorry."

Hana reluctantly placed her shield back down upon the floor, resting it upright against the leg of her stool. She was still curious about Varric's words though, and tried to sound as if her interest had been tempered, when it hadn't, as she asked him, "Have you... gone up against many dragons, Varric?"
 

Varric Tethras

Bullshitter Emeritus
Canon Character
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
97
#18
Scrappy’s tail drooped between her legs when both Varric and Hal reprimanded her, and the shield that she held dipped from its ready position.

"You should talk with some of the Circle mages sometime then, they've some interesting stories to tell," she offered with an odd little grin in response to Varric’s assurance as to the safety of parchment.

He eyed her curiously; those sidelong comments were hinting at an interesting history, but Hal’s glower redirected the conversation back to its original path … not that it was a good path by any means. As far as strange noises coming from underground went, Varric had only his own experiences and his own imagination to call upon, and neither of them was betting that the sounds were from a Legion of the Dead keg party a hundred feet down.

Hal listened as he laid out his own list of possibilities, yanking at one side of his mustache with increasing vigor while his face flushed a deeper shade of scarlet with each new potential hazard.

"Fuck sakes, shit, Andraste's burning knickers!" he burst out, hammering the table with both fists in frustration. It was a rare display of temper, but Varric couldn’t blame him when the safest thing to do would be to scrap a project halfway through and start over.

"Pff, Grey Wardens," Hanamene offered disdainfully, probing the back of her head with fingers that came back bloodless. "More than likely to conscript or recruit some poor local boys with visions of fame and glory in their head, and send them down there to their deaths, rather than waste their precious time dealing with it themselves. Just send me down there, Hal. It's what you pay me for, isn't it?"

It was an unusual sentiment to have toward the Grey Wardens, particularly for a Fereldan, but before Varric could ask, Hal jumped all over her suggestion.

"To get eaten by a dragon?!" he burst out, looking at her as though she’d lost her mind - which, given that she seemed to be advocating a solo expedition, was not out of the realm of possibility. Or maybe this was her normal. "I fucking think not! Yes, that's a nice shield I commissioned for you but what good's a shield against a sodding dragon? No. Varric's right. I ought to send word to the Wardens, either way. 'ave them look into it. Northesker won't be happy either way, but I can't risk 'aving the Saeridin & Son name attached to any sort of bloody calamity. It's bad for business. Better safe than sorry."

Deflated once more, she set the shield down, regarding him curiously. "Have you... gone up against many dragons, Varric?" she asked, trying for casual and not quite making it.

Oh, no. Nope. Not going there with this one. “I’m a writer, not a dragon-hunter, Scrappy,” he deflected easily. A writer who found himself doing firsthand research on his stories more - much more - than he liked, but still a writer. “It’s probably not a dragon down there anyway; you’d know it by now if it was, but whatever is down there is likely to need more than one person to clear out. And if it’s darkspawn -” he shook his head, holding her eyes, dead serious now. “Mess with them, and you might wind up having to choose between dying of the taint or joining the Grey Wardens … if you get that much of a choice.” If the taint advanced too far, nothing could be done but grant a merciful death.
 
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