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Wardens Gone Walkabout [Closed]

Siali Arnith

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Grey Warden
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55
#1
[[Guardian, Dragon 9:41]] Cauthrien

Siali had never been much of a one for the countryside. Out of necessity she’d long since acclimated herself to travelling through it in search of darkspawn nests, or on expeditions to other cities, but it was never going to be her favourite environment. The fact that now everything was cast in the eerie green glow coming from the south did not help - trees at night looked sinister enough without flickering all the time. Fortunately, Cauthrien made for an ideal travelling companion under the circumstances. While they did speak in turns companionably and seriously, the other Warden wasn’t given to chatter just for the sake of filling up a silence.

Even if either of them had been, though, they probably would have been struck speechless anyway by their first real sight of the Breach. Siali had been out of Highever on two occasions to assist civilians with fleeing the smaller rifts, and those had been unsettling enough, but the great gaping, swirling hole in the sky gave her a sensation she hadn’t experienced since childhood - the cold, crawling feeling that came with knowing she was facing something far bigger and more dangerous than herself.

Not long after they spotted the town up on the hill, Siali noted the scouts watching them from a distance. One was already making their way back to the main gates, and by the time she and Cauthrien had reached them, a welcoming party had already assembled. At the head of it was a woman wearing the armour of a Seeker.

“Wardens. Welcome.” No bow; her manner was terse, although polite enough. “It is my honour to greet you; I am Seeker Cassandra Penteghast.”

Siali waited for Cauthrien to speak first before introducing herself. “Warden-Captain Siali Arnith. An honour to meet you.”

“My men will take your horses to the stables, and your baggage to the rooms we have arranged for you at the tavern. I’ve already sent a man to inform the Herald of your coming; we’ll gather in the war room at the Chantry.”

So the gathering was officially referring to the person in the middle of all this as ‘Herald of Andraste’ as well. Siali had been receiving reports about what was going on in Haven almost from the moment after the Conclave had exploded, but how much was fact and how much was hearsay had been impossible to separate. The circumstances of the woman surviving the blast seemed improbable enough without bringing Andraste into it.

They left the horses outside the gate to the town and walked up the hillside towards the Chantry. The atmosphere was...odd, to say the least. There was tension, but very few people seemed as fear stricken as Siali would have expected. She glanced at Cauthrien, trying to discern how the other woman was reacting to all of this.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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350
#2
The missive had initially come to Nathaniel, requesting that the Warden-Commander travel to Haven to discuss an undisclosed matter of importance. Nate, however, was bedridden at the tail end of a nasty respiratory bug that had been particularly pervasive in Amaranthine this winter, so it had fallen to the Warden-Constable to make the journey. Cauthrien had not minded over much. She was curious - and wary - as to just what this Inquisition and its so-called Herald of Andraste were about. That they were defying the Chantry and seemed to actually be trying to do something about the chaos that had been unleashed were points in their favor, but if they thought to use that to launch some new cult -

It was a concern that had occurred to the King, as well. Cauthrien bore in her pouch a sealed dispatch from Alistair offering greetings and responding to the nascent organization’s diplomatic overtures with carefully worded concerns about the intentions of the quasi-religious military force attempting to raise an army on his back doorstep, his longstanding friendship with their spymaster notwithstanding. He had requested a report of Cauthrien’s observations during her visit, and she had agreed. Grey Wardens were supposed to avoid political entanglements, but the Fereldan order had a history of bucking tradition to get things done, and as in the Blight, different times called for different measures, particularly since no communications from Weisshaupt had been received since before the explosion.

With sorties against demons that threatened towns and farmholds coming almost daily, she hadn’t wanted to deplete the numbers in the Denerim compound, but a stop at Highever on the way (not wanting whatever contagion was circulating, she had bypassed Amaranthine) had netted her Siali as a traveling companion, which suited her. In addition to being no more given to needless chatter than Cauthrien, the elf was next in the line of command after the Warden-Constable; her presence in Haven alongside Cauthrien would help soothe any feathers ruffled by the absence of the Warden-Commander, and her keen eyes might well note details that Cauthrien missed … something that she considered a distinct possibility right now, much to her frustration.

Part of it was the lyrium. After better than two weeks, she still wasn’t fully accustomed to what it did to her and wasn’t sure she ever wanted to be. Lucien had presented her with a philter and helped her calculate the minimum dose that she required to tap into her skills unhindered. She adhered scrupulously to those limits, but she could well understand how generations of templars had become addicted to the substance. Even knowing the risks, the rush that accompanied the daily dose had astounded her. Unlike the hazy, out-of-control feeling that alcohol had always given her, lyrium made her feel energized, hyperfocused, and powerful enough to take on an Archdemon single-handed. In combat against the demons, the power flowed effortlessly through her now, with no headaches, dizziness, or nosebleeds … at least, until the effects wore off, which they did more quickly the more she used her templar skills. Through trial and error, she had learned how to pace herself in battle; she carried three small metal vials that contained supplemental doses, but thus far, she had managed not to utilize them.

That didn’t mean she hadn’t been tempted, mind you. Even out of combat, she could tell when her daily dose was wearing off. Colors seemed just a bit less bright, her steps just a shade heavier, everything took just a bit more effort, and even though she knew why it was a bad idea, she was still aware of a tiny, wheedling voice in the depths of her mind that argued that it couldn’t hurt just this once, that it would make her feel better, make things easier …

She hadn’t given in to that voice, hadn’t even come close, but the fact that it was there at all unsettled her deeply. Under normal circumstances, she would have stopped taking it immediately, but under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have started taking it, to begin with, and the advantages it conferred were too great. In addition to the help in combat, her improved sensitivity to disturbances in the Fade had allowed her to steer herself and Siali clear of the rifts that dotted the landscape between Denerim and Haven. As they drew closer to the Breach, however, that sensitivity revealed a downside, the wild energies emanating from the massive hole in the Veil jangling against her awareness like nails on a chalkboard. It wasn’t overwhelming … more akin to someone whistling tunelessly a few feet away, but it was a stark contrast to her previous obliviousness to anything to do with the Fade, and decidedly distracting. She hadn’t mentioned it to Siali, who glowered up at the looming malignancy periodically, but otherwise seemed as oblivious to its effects as Cauthrien had once been. She wondered if Lucien or any of the other templar-trained Wardens would be similarly discomfited, or if they were used to such things. She wondered what Sofia would make of it.

Sofia. The other reason for the disordered state of her thoughts. She’d actually considered asking the mage to accompany her, but given the situation, leaving her in charge of the compound had been the logical course. It had taken her a full two days’ travel to identify the reason for the malaise that dogged her; not until it persisted after Siali joined her did she realize that it wasn’t simply that she’d grown unaccustomed to traveling alone. She wasn’t used to missing someone and wasn’t sure what to do with the ill-defined restlessness that had her looking to her side for the mage when she knew damn good and well where she was at.

Nor was it the lovemaking that she missed the most (although after so many years of voluntary celibacy, that part was admittedly a surprisingly welcome change, as well); rather, it was the deepening of the closeness between them, even when they were too weary from the day’s demands to do more than exchange a kiss before falling asleep. Waking up in her tent without that warm body curled close affected her more than she would have thought possible less than a month into this new stage of their relationship and left her feeling out of sorts and off-kilter as they broke camp.

And she worried. There were other Wardens with templar training, and they had by now devised effective tactics to enable them to engage the demons, in conjunction with the Denerim guard, far enough from a rift to keep from drawing additional hostiles through too quickly. No Grey Wardens had yet been lost in battle, and in the last week, the only injuries had been minor. But still, she worried, because Sofia took the duties of command every bit as seriously as she did; the mage would not hesitate to put her own life on the line to protect another. And then she felt guilty for worrying more about Sofia than the other Wardens in the compound, who were no less her responsibility, and -

Shit.

She’d been even quieter than usual on this trip as a result, preoccupied with her own thoughts, and though she did not doubt that Siali had noticed, the other Warden had made no comment. But Haven rose before them now, and Cauthrien focused her attention on the group that awaited them at the main gate. Lookouts had been monitoring their progress for the last few hours: some openly, others from concealment, and likely still more completely unseen. Just outside the stockade fence, several dozen armed and armored figures worked through combat drills, and figures were visible at regular intervals at the top of the wall. It had all the earmarks of a military encampment … on Fereldan soil.

Cauthrien quelled the instinctive bristling, schooling her expression to neutrality as one person detached from the group and approached. Tall, strongly built and stern-faced, the woman wore armor with heraldry that Cauthrien had read of, but never seen. Seekers of Truth were seldom encountered in these parts of Thedas.

“Wardens. Welcome.” A Nevarran accent touched the words, and no trace of subservience touched the formal carriage. “It is my honour to greet you; I am Seeker Cassandra Penteghast.”

She knew that name. Right Hand of the Divine, Hero of Orlais, and a legend in her own right. “Seeker Pentaghast,” she greeted the woman with a respectful nod. “I am Warden-Constable Cauthrien MacLean, second-in-command of the Fereldan order. Commander Howe sends his regards.” That he was too ill to travel was not something to be revealed to those who had not yet been classed as adversary or ally.

She watched the Seeker’s face as Siali introduced herself, but if an elven officer was cause for surprise, the scarred face gave no sign.

“My men will take your horses to the stables, and your baggage to the rooms we have arranged for you at the tavern,” she informed them politely. “I’ve already sent a man to inform the Herald of your coming; we’ll gather in the war room at the Chantry.”

War room? Cauthrien’s expression gave no hint of her thoughts as she dismounted. “He bites,” she warned the soldier who approached and reached for the reins. The man eyed the roan warily, and Dragon snorted and shook his head. “Just giving him a sporting chance,” she told the horse in response to what she took as a reproachful look, then reached up to grasp his crooked ear and tug him down until they were eye to eye. “Behave,” she admonished him. He snorted again and butted her in the chest with his head. There was a rough sort of affection in the exchange that was far removed from the mutual antagonism that had marked the first months of their partnership. It had been Dragon, every bit as much as Sofia, that had saved her life in that first encounter with rift demons. He hadn’t balked or bolted, and the scars from the wounds he’d taken still marred his shoulder and rump. That wasn’t to say he’d suddenly become a well-mannered horse, mind you, and she stepped away with a chuckle as he angled his head for a nip at her hand, handing off the reins to the designated groom and leaving him to his fate. She’d warned him, after all.

She turned to the Seeker, who had observed the exchange with a bemused expression, indicating with a nod that she was ready. Before they’d gone more than a few meters, Cauthrien found her steps slowing as her gaze lifted to the Breach, then lowered to the remains of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. She had never visited Haven, but she had been close enough on several occasions to see the temple atop the mountain, and the devastation that the explosion had caused was evident. “Hard to believe that anyone could have survived that,” she remarked quietly.
 

Siali Arnith

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Grey Warden
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55
#3
Siali was used to curious stares. Even though the opportunities for elves had improved beyond measure in her lifetime, the sight of one in mail and openly wearing two swords was enough to make most people do a double take. It didn’t bother her. Nonetheless she still had a habit of assessing the gazes pointed her way, checking for signs of hostility. She’d learned the hard way in the past that her Warden armour didn’t guarantee that she’d be treated with respect, and liked to have an idea of where trouble might come from.

She couldn’t see any sign of it in the faces of the welcoming party. Mind, an elf with an officer’s position wasn’t the strangest thing Haven had seen recently. If some of the rumours were to be believed, Andraste had sent a qunari to help out. From that alone, Siali would guess that Andraste had bugger all to do with it.

Although for Andrastians, this lot were weird. A war room in a Chantry? Siali kept her expression neutral as she gazed up at the encampment spilling out beyond the town barricades, and at the soldiers working through their drills. Fighters were necessary because of the demons, but that didn’t mean she had to like the idea of an army that apparently answered to nobody but a religious faction. As a younger woman she’d have not hesitated about making her discomfort visible. But she’d learned a little diplomacy in the last few years, and one of the first lessons was not letting on if you thought somebody important was off their head.

Cauthrien dismounted Dragon, who proceeded to go through his usual charade of nipping at his rider, and Siali got down from Max, rubbing at his neck and murmuring to him as she handed his reins to the groom. He was getting a bit older now, but he was a good horse and Siali was reluctant to swap him out for another. He had been the one she’d learned to ride on in the first place (and frankly, it was a miracle he’d ever forgiven her for that). She did manage a small smile as Dragon butted Cauthrien with his head. The gesture almost seemed affectionate, in a rough way.

The smile died as they made their way up towards the Chantry. Haven had been through a lot. Siali had read the accounts about the dragon cult, and the ashes of Andraste; that should have been enough for one small town hidden away in the mountains, let alone - this. Cauthrien’s gaze followed her own, up towards the unsettling tear in the sky, and then down, to the blackened ruins atop a nearby peak. Siali knew a little about explosives, but she could have known nothing at all and still would have worked out that the blast that had torn that building apart would have been enormous.

“Hard to believe that anybody could have survived that.”

“Yeah.” Little wonder so many people were leaping on the divine explanation. Siali couldn’t work out how somebody who had been in the heart of all that could have lived. The most obvious answer to her mind was that nobody had; this Herald was simply somebody who had been propped up in a hurry to gather followers to the Inquisition’s side. Except if they’d done that, they’d have chosen a human - or if they were stretched for ‘volunteers’, an elf. Nobody in their right mind would choose a qunari as the figurehead. Siali kept her voice quiet. “Even with the intervention-by-Andraste explanation, it’s stretching it.”

The Chantry itself was well constructed, presumably kept in good shape from years of donations provided by people either on a pilgrimage to the Ashes or gawking at where the Hero of Ferelden had walked. It was emptier inside than Siali would have expected. At a time like this it should have been packed to the rafters. Instead, a few laysisters were floating around, and guards either in templar armour or regular garb were scattered about the hall.

“Surprised there’s not more people at prayer.”

“Services continue, but for now most people are engaged with keeping Haven running, and assisting the Inquisition. We’re also trying to dissuade people from coming in, for security reasons. The Herald has been subject to more than one attempt on her life already.”

No surprises there. The Seeker opened a door at the end of the hallway, leading to a wide room at the back - presumably formerly the study of whoever had been the Mother here. A table dominated the room, strewn about with letters and covered with an enormous and highly detailed map of Thedas. Two people were already in the room, one of whom Siali recognised. She’d encountered Leliana briefly in the past, but didn’t expect the former companion of Aedan Cousland and Left Hand of the Divine to remember her. The other was Antivan, to judge by her dress (less ostentatious than Orlesian nobility but still far more faff to the clothing than Siali thought necessary), and carried a quill and parchment to hand.

“This is Leliana, Left Hand of the Divine. And Josephine Montiliyet, our ambassador.” Cassandra gestured at each in turn, before turning it about to them. “Leliana, Josephine, this is Warden-Constable Cauthrien, and Warden-Captain Siali. Cullen, and the Herald will be joining us shortly.”
 

Cullen

Commander of the Inquisition
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#4
The Commander arrived not long after initial introductions had been made. "Forgive my late arrival," he said upon entering the war room, "I needed to assign some new recruits temporary quarters." Could he have delegated that task? Likely. Cassandra cast her glance his way almost as if to suggest as much, but there was something else behind that steely gaze in turn - concern, perhaps. Rather purposefully, Cullen ignored the look. Clenching his jaw in turn.

"Wardens, this is Commander Cullen Rutherford - leader of the Inquisition's forces," Cassandra introduced, patiently. She added an indicative nod to each of the new arrivals, for the Commander's benefit in turn, "Warden-Constable Cauthrien and Warden-Captain Siali, respectively."

"Your presence is a welcome one, Wardens. No doubt you've seen with your own eyes what's left of the Temple of Sacred Ashes," Cullen said, moving to stand nearer to Leliana and Josephine. An unconscious decision on his part, in putting distance between himself and the Seeker.

Casandra had been concerned about him in recent days, he knew, but he'd rather they all stay focused. He was fine, besides. At least... for the moment. Seeing the Temple reduced to rubble was sobering enough that the ex-templar hadn't thought much on lyrium for the last few days. Only, that in itself was a bad sign. It meant that he was running on adrenaline for the time being and as soon as some semblance of calm was restored, he was bound to suffer a terrible withdrawal. A concern for a later date, he told himself inwardly, bristling outwardly all the same.

He hesitated before adding, "As relieved as I am that the Wardens have answered our missive, we've heard reports of a sickness in Amaranthine. I trust you are both feeling well?" Denerim and Amaranthine were none too far apart and a spread of sickness amongst the Wardens was not at all implausible.

"Cullen-" Cassandra rebuked the Commander, aghast by his bluntness.

"My concern is as much for the Wardens as for those at Haven. The last thing the Inquisition needs right now is an outbreak," Cullen explained. He turned his glance back to the other advisors, adding, "With respect, following Madam Adaar's arrival and catching the Wardens up to speed - I must insist that both the Warden-Commander and Warden-Captain see Adan." He turned his gaze back to the Wardens, explaining further, "Maker willing, Haven's apothecary shall provide you both with a clean bill of health. After such time, we can assign you temporary quarters for the remainder of your stay."
 
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Sati Adaar

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Canon Character
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105
#5
Sati had met a few Wardens during her time as a mercenary. While they were rare, the paths of sellsword and legend could cross, and because Wardens were so scarce they sometimes needed a bit of brute force to pad out their numbers. And there was no brute force quite like an entire company consisting of renegade qunari. Sati had quite liked the one she’d met; Asher had been at ease with the Valo-Kas, and belied the seriousness of his mission with a playful demeanour that was firmly tucked away when he needed to focus. He’d actually asked the group after the job if any of them had an interest in joining, and Sati had briefly considered it, but there was a secrecy to the whole organisation that put her off. The Valo-Kas were her family, and they hid nothing from each other.

She respected the Wardens - apart from anything else, darkspawn were the worst enemy imaginable to deal with that came from this side of the Veil - and made an effort with her appearance for their arrival. Thoroughly cleaned, and wearing light armour, she emerged from her room in the Chantry just in time to see Cullen disappear into the war room. She decided to hold back for a couple of minutes, to allow him to introduce himself, before she joined them.

The two Wardens were both women, and had the posture of seasoned fighters. One, a human woman with a flinty stare, although not as much as Cassandra’s; the other, an elven woman, with a vicious scar pulling up one side of her mouth. Neither looked like an opponent that Sati would underestimate in a fight.

Cullen was finishing off a sentence as she walked in, and Cassandra took it upon herself to offer a formal introduction. “Wardens, this is Sati Adaar - the Herald.”

“Sati is fine.” As long as she lived, she didn’t think she’d ever be comfortable with that title.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#6
The village chantry had, it seemed, been converted from a center of worship to administrative purposes, a change that Cauthrien considered a good sign.

“Services continue, but for now most people are engaged with keeping Haven running, and assisting the Inquisition,” Seeker Pentaghast explained. “We’re also trying to dissuade people from coming in, for security reasons. The Herald has been subject to more than one attempt on her life already.”

Not terribly surprising, and it only took one successful attempt, as though there had not been enough bloodshed in this place already. Recognition, and perhaps a bit of relief, flickered across more than one face at the sight of Warden blue, but suspicion was visible, as well, and the Warden-Constable was careful to keep her hands well clear of her weapons as they followed the Seeker the length of the great hall to a heavy oaken door.

Beyond it, a large chamber with most of the floor space devoted to a massive table: a war table, Cauthrien realized uneasily, taking in the map and the markers that were scattered across it. Rifts, some of them surely, the numbers of those making her gut tighten. And what of the rest? Resources? Combat units?

“This is Leliana, Left Hand of the Divine. And Josephine Montiliyet, our ambassador,” Seeker Pentaghast introduced them. “Leliana, Josephine, this is Warden-Constable Cauthrien, and Warden-Captain Siali. Cullen, and the Herald will be joining us shortly.”

"A pleasure," Ambassador Montilyet offered courteously.

“We have met before,” Leliana replied. The Orlesian looked older, paler than Cauthrien remembered, but she still summoned a smile for Siali. “You have done well in the Wardens, it seems, Captain,” she congratulated her before turning to Cauthrien with a polite nod of acknowledgment that Cauthrien returned. She could still feel the razor sharp blade pressed so precisely to her throat that it had left the faintest score in the flesh without drawing blood, could still hear the deadly whisper in her memory:

Betray this king as you did the last, and you will answer to me.

She had been new to the Wardens then, and hadn’t minded the warning over much; she had earned it, after all. She had encountered the other woman a handful of times in the ensuing years; the threat had never been repeated, and there had never been more than this cool formality between them.

The door opened to admit a broad-shouldered man wearing a heavy fur mantle. "Forgive my late arrival," he apologized, closing the door behind him, "I needed to assign some new recruits temporary quarters."

"Wardens, this is Commander Cullen Rutherford - leader of the Inquisition's forces," the Seeker introduced him, then Cauthrien and Siali once more.

"Your presence is a welcome one, Wardens,” the commander told them, stepping around the table to join Leliana and the ambassador. “No doubt you've seen with your own eyes what's left of the Temple of Sacred Ashes."

Cauthrien nodded, but before she could speak, the man went on. "As relieved as I am that the Wardens have answered our missive, we've heard reports of a sickness in Amaranthine. I trust you are both feeling well?"

"Cullen-" Seeker Pentaghast looked scandalized, but he pressed on.

"My concern is as much for the Wardens as for those at Haven. The last thing the Inquisition needs right now is an outbreak." He looked exhausted; they all did, as well they might. If the reports received in Denerim were accurate, the remains of the Chantry leadership, now sequestered in Val Royeaux to select a new Divine, had disavowed them, branding them heretics and leaving them adrift, with no nation to call home, almost no forces to speak of and little in the way of supplies or ways to get them. An outbreak like the one in Amranthine, even if it wasn’t lethal, could be devastating.

“Neither of us has been in Amaranthine,” Cauthrien told him. “I came from Denerim, and the Captain from Highever. Neither of those cities were experiencing more than the usual winter illnesses; the rifts likely did us a favor there, keeping folk from traveling from town to town. We’ve been traveling for more than a week, and neither of us is ill.” She glanced to Siali for confirmation; the elf had given no indication that she felt anything but well

He was not to be deterred, however. "With respect, following Madam Adaar's arrival and catching the Wardens up to speed - I must insist that both the Warden-Commander and Warden-Captain see Adan." Leliana exchanged a glance with Ambassador Montilyet, who gave the minutest shrug, looking uncomfortable. The Orlesian nodded her assent, her expression making it impossible to discern her thoughts on the matter, and the Commander turned to them in the manner of one who considered the issue settled. "Maker willing, Haven's apothecary shall provide you both with a clean bill of health. After such time, we can assign you temporary quarters for the remainder of your stay."

“That’s acceptable,” Cauthrien replied in a level voice. Left unsaid was what they would propose to do if the Wardens were not given a clean bill of health, but Cauthrien would have no difficulty in riding back out the gate they had entered through. It was the Inquisition that had sent for them, after all.

The door opened again, and the woman who entered had to be -

“Wardens, this is Sati Adaar - the Herald,” Seeker Pentaghast confirmed.

“Sati is fine.” She didn’t look like the savior of the world; she looked like any number of Tal-Vashoth mercenaries that Cauthrien had met in her career. Her gaze was direct, the expression on her scarred face straightforward, her manner free of pretension. Cauthrien was inclined to like her on sight, but kept her first impressions guarded for the moment.

“Warden-Constable Cauthrien MacLean and Warden-Captain Siali Arnith,” she introduced them before the Seeker could jump in. “Commander Howe sends his regrets, but he thought it ill advised to make the journey, given the illness in Amaranthine.” Truth, without admitting that Nate had been afflicted by it, as well.

“King Alistair sends his regards,” she went on, withdrawing the sealed missive and hesitating briefly before presenting it to Leliana, who took it and tucked it away without opening it. He hadn’t specified, but Cauthrien knew that he trusted the Orlesian as he did few others.

“Have you had any communication with the Grey Wardens in Orlais?” The question took Cauthrien by surprise.

“Not in several weeks,” she replied, “but that is not unusual. Why?”

The blue eyes of the Left Hand gave no hint of what lay behind them. “Reports from Val Royeaux indicate that the Orlesian order has vanished.”

“Vanished?” Cauthrien looked from one face to another in bafflement. “What do you mean?”
 

Siali Arnith

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#7
To Siali’s surprise, Leliana recognised her after all. She even smiled. “You have done well in the Wardens, it seems, Captain.”

“Thank you.” Siali returned the smile slightly, pleased by the compliment even as she was made a little awkward by it. “Turns out I’m better at this than I was as a sellsword.” Or an assassin. Only a handful of people in Thedas knew about that chapter of her life, and Siali preferred to keep it that way.

She hadn’t missed the slightly frosty air between Leliana and Cauthrien, and had just tucked that thought away in her head when a man strode in, a ruff of fur around the neck of his armour. Siali eyed the decoration curiously. Did it serve a purpose? Cassandra introduced him as Cullen, in charge of the armies, and Cullen immediately started prodding at them after their health. Time had slightly taken the edge off Siali’s distaste of human men in positions of power, but only marginally, and she kept her expression blank as Cauthrien confirmed that neither of them had been in plague-hit cities along the way. Going to the apothecary was fine, but the man’s brisk manner had put her back up. They hadn’t been summoned here to account for their wellbeing - although Siali still didn’t really know what they were here for.

Before they could get to that, the door opened, and a qunari strode in. She was armoured, an enormous greatsword sheathed on her back that Siali didn’t think she could lift properly with both hands, and she gave both Siali and Cauthrien an appraising stare that Siali returned freely.

“Wardens, this is Sati Adaar - the Herald.”

Sati immediately rebuffed the title, earning herself some respect in the process. She couldn’t have more clearly been a mercenary if she’d been wearing a label around her neck, but carried herself in a military fashion. Curious. Mind, there was barely anybody in this room who wasn’t a curiosity. A Seeker, a spymaster, an Antivan emissary who had ended up here Maker knew how, a man apparently dressed up as a lion, a qunari figurehead and two Wardens. Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that nobody had given her a sideways glance on the way through the village after all.

Cauthrien introduced them, handing over the message from King Alistair. Siali kept silent, waiting. She’d run a few possibilities for why the Inquisition had wanted to talk to the Wardens in her head, but wasn’t going to make assumptions and interrupt.

The query, when it came, was a surprise. “Have you had any communication with the Grey Wardens in Orlais?”

Siali glanced at Cauthrien, brow crinkling a little. “Not in a little while from me. I got my usual update from Philippe Boudain at the Val Fôret posting a little while ago - he’s not due to check in again for another few weeks.”

“Not in several weeks, but that is not unusual. Why?”

“Reports from Val Royeaux indicate that the Orlesian order has vanished.”

How in the name of Andraste’s flaming tits did that news not reach the Fereldan Wardens first? Anger over that warred with concern; Highever had hosted a few Orlesian Wardens over the years, and Siali had friends amongst them. Cold sweat pricked the back of her neck as her gaze swung between the different members of the council, unsure who to fix on for an explanation.

“Vanished? What do you mean?”

“For how long? Is there any indication of where they went?” For darkspawn to appear en masse and wipe out a small group of Wardens was far from unknown, but to take down every Warden in Orlais would indicate - shouldn’t, but would - another Blight in the making.
 

Cullen

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#8
Sati had arrived and introduced herself humbly, despite the Seeker's insisting on the addendum of Herald. Cullen credited his piety in his uncertainty of labelling the mercenary as such, but anyone knowing better of his past might have caught wind of the former Knight-Commander of Kirkwall's bias. Granted, he was still a Knight-Captain when the Qunari assailed the city – but that was neither here nor there. Cullen simply couldn't fathom how even a Tal-Vashoth could be Andraste's chosen. It seemed blasphemous to call her such, not that he'd ever say so aloud. He would, however, shift his weight uncomfortably.

"Your cooperation, during this uncertain time, is most appreciated," Cullen made point of adding.

Leliana took point on the exchange. The Commander was content to defer to the Inquisition's female leaders in the room, and not simply because they outnumbered him at present – each had qualifications and merits that, he would be the first to admit, outshone his own. The Inquisition would not exist without Leliana. He may not have always agreed with her methods, but she was more passionate about their cause than anyone. Cassandra may have declared the Inquisition publicly, but Leliana was just as responsible for its formation.

Seeker Cassandra and he had become friends, of sorts. Their own version of it, he supposed. Cullen trusted her with as much his life as with intimate knowledge: his on-going struggle in resisting the siren's call of lyrium. The Hero of Orlais had a knack for rallying faith in others, even when, at times, they held little faith in themselves.

Meanwhile, he and Josephine had precious little in common. Still, she'd proved invaluable in dealing with the nobility. Something Cullen had hardly any patience for. He was grateful to have the Ambassador on board.

And Sati, well… Sati had survived the explosion at the Conclave – even without that thing on her hand, that in itself was a marvel. Perhaps the Maker had sent her, after all. Who was some tanner's son from Honnleath to question His plan?

"Vanished? What do you mean?"

"For how long? Is there any indication of where they went?"

The Wardens seemed genuinely incredulous. Cullen credited their reactions as sincere, and chimed in, "It's possible you may know more on this affair than you realize. There's much to discuss." Hopefully in sharing information, both factions would have a clearer picture before them. He quirked a brow toward Sati, seemingly expecting – or perhaps making the humble request – that she take lead after Leliana.
 

Cauthrien

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#9
Interestingly, though Commander Rutherford had an undeniably military bearing, he did not attempt to take charge of the proceedings. Nor did the so-called Herald of Andraste. The Left and Right Hands of the late Divine seemed to be running this show; had it been Justinia’s plan from the beginning, the Conclave only an excuse to draw the principal players together? Or was it intended as a final gambit if negotiations failed? Cauthrien supposed that it didn’t really matter at this point, but the line of questioning that Leliana put forth drove all such musings from her mind.

The Orlesian Wardens … gone?

“For how long?” Siali wanted to know, her brow creased in puzzlement and worry. “Is there any indication of where they went?”

“None.” Leliana was watching both of them closely, gauging their reactions, and Cauthrien felt unease beginning to curdle in her gut. “The headquarters at Val Royeaux, compounds at Montsimmard, Jader, Val Fioret, Val Chevin … all empty. It appears to have been an orderly process; servants and guardsmen were dismissed and sent away, and there is no sign of a hurried departure or attack, but neither is there anything that explains it. As to when,” she shook her head and shrugged, “the best estimates place it perhaps a week before the explosion at the Conclave.”

Cauthrien frowned, exchanged a glance with Siali. With all that had happened, Nathaniel’s experience in Orlais had receded from her thoughts. The odds that it had anything to do with the current situation seemed astronomical, but just as the Grey Wardens in Ferelden had proved a needed asset in fighting the demons since so many of the templar order seemed to have abandoned their duties, the Orlesians would likely also have benefited from the Order's assistance. If they had embarked upon their mad errand, perhaps they could be found and convinced to return. Or perhaps not. But either way, the Inquisition should be told.

“About two weeks before the explosion,” she began slowly, weighing her words in a mix of protecting Warden secrets and searching her mind for memories that had been shunted aside by more pressing concerns, “Warden-Commander Howe received an urgently worded summons from Warden-Commander Clarel de Chanson in Val Royeaux. In between Blights, the orders in each nation are traditionally more or less autonomous … particularly the Fereldans. But Clarel ordered him to bring the entire Fereldan order to Orlais for a joint operation.”

She snorted, shook her head. “He didn’t. She gave no details at all, but he traveled to Val Royeaux himself to obtain more information." She drew a slow breath; they were edging into delicate territory. She suspected that Leliana knew more Warden secrets than she let on, but regardless of its current status, the Inquisition had sprung from the Chantry, and anything that suggested blood magic had to be approached delicately. “When Grey Wardens near the end of their lifespan, their awareness of the darkspawn changes to something known as the Calling. Most take decades to reach that point, though it happens to some earlier. Traditionally, such Wardens journey to the Deep Roads to end their lives killing as many darkspawn as they can before they are taken down.” She paused, glancing around, meeting the eyes of each of the others in turn. “Every member of the Orlesian order had begun to hear the Calling together. Such an occurrence is unprecedented.

“Commander Howe did not hear it until he arrived in Orlais, nor had any Grey Warden in Ferelden. Commander de Chanson was convinced that it marked the imminent demise of the Wardens. He tried to tell her that it had not occurred in Ferelden, to convince her to send to Weisshaupt for guidance, but he said that she seemed … unbalanced, and fear was rampant in all the Orlesian Wardens. They believed that they would all die, leaving Thedas helpless in the face of future Blights. She told him that she had a plan for the Grey Wardens to enter the Deep Roads, seek out the remaining Old Gods before they awoke, and kill them.” She shook her head slowly. “If it were an easy thing, or even a difficult but possible one, it would have been undertaken well before now. No one knows where they slumber or how to find them.” She hesitated, debating how much to divulge. “Commander de Chanson intimated that the task would involve blood magic, but she refused to divulge more of her plan, insisting that he bring the Ferelden order to Orlais to participate.”

“Blood magic?” Seeker Pentaghast regarded her with narrowed eyes; Ambassador Montilyet looked shocked; Leliana’s expression was as inscrutable as ever.

“Grey Wardens are accustomed to using any method at their disposal in the fight against the darkspawn,” Cauthrien replied simply, “but not recklessly so. This … did not feel right. Commander Howe convinced her to allow him to return to Ferelden to assemble the order. Once he was at sea, the Calling vanished; that is … not how it works, and raised even greater concerns in his mind. Upon his return, he informed all those in leadership roles of the situation, instructing us to monitor those under our command for signs that any were experiencing the Calling. To date, none have. A missive was dispatched by courier to Weisshaupt, but the journey, first by sea, then overland, is lengthy, and there had been no time to have received a response when the explosion at the Conclave took occurred. Since then …” She trailed off, shrugged expressively. “We’ve been assisting in fighting the demons that stray from the rifts. We have had no word from either Weisshaupt or Orlais.”

She stopped there, looking around. “All of them are gone?” she asked again, still not quite able to believe it. Stroud, Ruth … the others she had met over the years. Were they all dead by now, or did some still survive in the Deep Roads on what was surely a doomed mission?

“There have been rumors of a lone Orlesian Warden: Gordon Blackwall, recruiting in southern Nevarra,” Leliana said. “I have scouts attempting to narrow down his location while they map the position of rifts in the area.”

“He’s a Warden-Constable, but he’s been out on his own recruiting for years, hasn’t been seen by any of the others,” Cauthrien told her. “It’s a long shot that they’d have been able to contact him. They said he’s gone eccentric, maybe even hearing his own Calling. But there's at least a chance he might know something."
 

Sati Adaar

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#10
Sati had been given a short briefing on the situation. It had been short because nobody really knew anything. Even Leliana had only been able to scrounge up bare threads. “The headquarters at Val Royeaux, compounds at Montsimmard, Jader, Val Fioret, Val Chevin … all empty. It appears to have been an orderly process; servants and guardsmen were dismissed and sent away, and there is no sign of a hurried departure or attack, but neither is there anything that explains it. As to when - the best estimates place it perhaps a week before the explosion at the Conclave.”

The two Wardens communicated silently for a moment, before they exchanged a quick nod, clearly coming to a consensus. Sati felt the smallest twinge of irritation. The Wardens were notoriously secretive but with everything going on at the moment, it wasn’t the time to be cultivating an air of mystique. Fortunately, Cauthrien had decided to be forthcoming, although her speech prompted more questions than answers. How was the Warden connection with the darkspawn forged? What prompted this Calling? And why had numerous Wardens in the north heard it simultaneously, but not those in Ferelden? How had it died away when Commander Howe retreated from Orlais?

Almost an entire order of battle hardened warriors, disappeared on some mystery mission before the greatest cataclysm of the last few centuries occurred. That was too much of a coincidence for Sati to swallow. The only reason she wasn’t considering that the Wardens might have had a hand in it right now was because of the untouched Fereldan branches.

That, and the genuine concern in Cauthrien and Sati’s eyes. “All of them are gone?”

Not quite all. One Orlesian Warden was roaming about. “I have scouts attempting to narrow down his location while they map the position of rifts in the area.”

“He’s a Warden-Constable, but he’s been out on his own recruiting for years, hasn’t been seen by any of the others. It’s a long shot that they’d have been able to contact him. They said he’s gone eccentric, maybe even hearing his own Calling. But there's at least a chance he might know something."

Sati crossed her arms and closed her eyes, turning over the words she’d just listened to. When she was ready she opened her eyes again. “Given the total silence, I would hazard a guess that whatever was planned has backfired. Even if they did decide against bringing Fereldan Wardens along and all headed into the Deep Roads, common sense dictates they would have had one scribe or messenger, or other line of communication, back to the rest of the world so you could be informed if the mission failed. I imagine that had they succeeded, we would all have long since heard about it. Of course, they could still all be in the Deep Roads, but it doesn’t seem the smartest thing to take every single Warden on their mission. What if darkspawn break out over the surface while they’re underground hunting the Old Gods? What contingencies exist?”

“Let us assume a return message from Weisshaupt is not forthcoming,” Cassandra jumped in. “What would be your next course of action?”
 

Cullen

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#11
The Commander continued to silently defer to Cassandra or Leliana, in particular, throughout most of the exchange. The latter, unsurprisingly, provided more intel than he or Josephine ever could. He ceased being surprised by Leliana not long after their meeting, but that was not to say Cullen was no less impressed by her. Her spy network was immensely useful to them and it spoke well of Leliana's character that the late Divine and so many others before had put their trust in her. He was glad she was on the Inquisition's side and did not want to imagine a world where that might have been otherwise. The dialogue pertaining to the Grey Wardens continued uninterrupted for the most part, save for a few instances.

“Commander de Chanson intimated that the task would involve blood magic, but she refused to divulge more of her plan, insisting that he bring the Ferelden order to Orlais to participate.”

Cassandra beat the former templar to the punch, in voicing her disdain, “Blood magic?”

A look of palpable disgust washed over the Commander's expression. Both his shoulders and his jaw squared.

Cauthrien explained, "Grey Wardens are accustomed to using any method at their disposal in the fight against the darkspawn, but not recklessly so."

That warranted a skeptical, if indignant look from Cullen.

"This … did not feel right."

"Perish the thought if it had!" Cullen blurted, hardly believing his ears.

"Commander—" the Seeker put in.

This time, Cullen refused dismissal. "The Grey Wardens are supposed to be defenders of Thedas," he grumbled, "Not conspirators of dark arts." Unhappily, he let Warden-Constable continue.

Cauthrien went on, "Commander Howe convinced her to allow him to return to Ferelden to assemble the order. Once he was at sea, the Calling vanished; that is … not how it works, and raised even greater concerns in his mind. Upon his return, he informed all those in leadership roles of the situation, instructing us to monitor those under our command for signs that any were experiencing the Calling. To date, none have. A missive was dispatched by courier to Weisshaupt, but the journey, first by sea, then overland, is lengthy, and there had been no time to have received a response when the explosion at the Conclave took occurred. Since then … we’ve been assisting in fighting the demons that stray from the rifts. We have had no word from either Weisshaupt or Orlais.”

"Sweet blood of Andraste," Cullen nearly spat, only he relented forthwith, "Well I'm glad some of your order had sense enough not to heed de Chanson's mad plot."

“All of them are gone?” Cauthrien's surprise seemed genuine, far as Cullen could tell. That was reassuring.

Leliana explained further, "There have been rumors of a lone Orlesian Warden: Gordon Blackwall, recruiting in southern Nevarra. I have scouts attempting to narrow down his location while they map the position of rifts in the area."

"He’s a Warden-Constable, but he’s been out on his own recruiting for years, hasn’t been seen by any of the others. It’s a long shot that they’d have been able to contact him. They said he’s gone eccentric, maybe even hearing his own Calling. But there's at least a chance he might know something," Cauthrien shed more light on the man in question.

There seemed a break in the exchange of information that took place. Everyone considering, for a moment, the weight of all matters at hand. Sati was the first to speak thereafter, "Given the total silence, I would hazard a guess that whatever was planned has backfired. Even if they did decide against bringing Fereldan Wardens along and all headed into the Deep Roads, common sense dictates they would have had one scribe or messenger, or other line of communication, back to the rest of the world so you could be informed if the mission failed. I imagine that had they succeeded, we would all have long since heard about it. Of course, they could still all be in the Deep Roads, but it doesn’t seem the smartest thing to take every single Warden on their mission. What if darkspawn break out over the surface while they’re underground hunting the Old Gods? What contingencies exist?"

Cassandra added, "Let us assume a return message from Weisshaupt is not forthcoming. What would be your next course of action?”

Cullen weighed in, citing Cauthrien's words, "You mentioned Commander Howe said de Chanson seemed unbalanced and and that fear was rampant in all the Orlesian Wardens." He addressed the room overall, "Replace blood magic with red lyrium and this suddenly starts to sound far too similar to what happened with Knight-Commander Meredith in Kirkwall. We've all had to endure what happens when mages and templars declare open season on one another. We don't just need to know what's happening to the Orlesian wardens, we need to ensure no martial actions are being taken because of it. With the state of things, such as they are... I fear Thedas would not survive a war within the ranks of the Grey Wardens themselves, as well. Whatever is happening, we need to contain it. Quickly."
 

Cauthrien

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#12
Mention of blood magic had pretty much the effect that Cauthrien had thought it would, and she wondered if it had been a mistake to mention it. It was a calculated risk, and one that would blacken the reputation of the Orlesian order if they returned, but Cauthrien’s gut told her that they would not be, and if there were to be any chance of unraveling the mystery, this secret was one that could ill afford to be kept. What Nate had encountered in Val Royeaux had been anything but normal, and while the Grey Wardens did not have the same reflexive revulsion toward blood magic that the Chantry held, what had been intimated by Clarel had been of a scale that had been an unacceptable risk.

"Perish the thought if it had!" Commander Rutherford exclaimed indignantly when she said as much, looking no less disgusted than if she’d told him they had agreed to participate. She knew enough of his history from Aedan’s written account of the events in Kinloch Hold during the Fifth Blight to know that he had good reason for his sentiments, but when Seeker Pentaghast admonish him, he refused to be quelled.

"The Grey Wardens are supposed to be defenders of Thedas," he exclaimed, "Not conspirators of dark arts."

That was too much. “And the templars are supposed to be protectors of mages, not abusers,” she shot back, her voice gone hard, “but we all know that is not always the case.” She paused to take a deep breath before continuing in a less harsh tone, “All that can be done is to stand against what we know to be wrong when we encounter it.” He had experience in that as well, from Kirkwall. She went on to tell what had transpired after Nate had returned to Ferelden.

"Sweet blood of Andraste," Cullen growled when she was done. "Well I'm glad some of your order had sense enough not to heed de Chanson's mad plot."

“If it were really so easy as that to end all Blights, rest assured that it would have been done long ago,” Cauthrien replied bleakly, still trying to wrap her mind around the reality of scores of Grey Wardens, some of them friends, just … gone. Blackwall was a long shot, at best. She’d met him a couple of times, years ago, but since he had chosen to remain alone in the field, even Clarel hadn’t laid eyes on him.

Sati had seemed the least perturbed by mention of blood magic, listening without comment until all had been said before speaking herself. "Given the total silence, I would hazard a guess that whatever was planned has backfired. Even if they did decide against bringing Fereldan Wardens along and all headed into the Deep Roads, common sense dictates they would have had one scribe or messenger, or other line of communication, back to the rest of the world so you could be informed if the mission failed. I imagine that had they succeeded, we would all have long since heard about it. Of course, they could still all be in the Deep Roads, but it doesn’t seem the smartest thing to take every single Warden on their mission. What if darkspawn break out over the surface while they’re underground hunting the Old Gods? What contingencies exist?"

“There are none,” Cauthrien replied simply. “A mobilization of this scale in the absence of a Blight is unprecedented, and I’m afraid that madness is the best description for it. They left no one because everyone would be needed … and because they did not expect to return.” It was what Grey Wardens did when they experienced their Calling, after all, but the sheer scale of it, and the high probability that the Calling had not been real, sickened her.

"Let us assume a return message from Weisshaupt is not forthcoming,” Seeker Pentaghast ventured. “What would be your next course of action?”

The Commander spoke up before Cauthrien could respond. "You mentioned Commander Howe said de Chanson seemed unbalanced and that fear was rampant in all the Orlesian Wardens. Replace blood magic with red lyrium and this suddenly starts to sound far too similar to what happened with Knight-Commander Meredith in Kirkwall. We've all had to endure what happens when mages and templars declare open season on one another. We don't just need to know what's happening to the Orlesian wardens, we need to ensure no martial actions are being taken because of it. With the state of things, such as they are... I fear Thedas would not survive a war within the ranks of the Grey Wardens themselves, as well. Whatever is happening, we need to contain it. Quickly."

“There is no war within the Grey Wardens,” Cauthrien said tersely, wondering where in the Fade that notion had arisen, “and if they were running amok on the surface, their location would be no secret. They are in the Deep Roads, and they are most likely all dead by now.” She swallowed the sudden rise of bile in her throat that accompanied the admission before speaking further to answer the Seeker’s query. “We will send messengers to the orders in Antiva and the Free Marches to apprise them of the situation, and another message to Weisshaupt.” From the rumors gleaned here and there, any war among the Wardens would start in the Anderfels, but that was very much a secondary concern at the moment. “We can send Wardens to investigate the abandoned compounds; perhaps we can pick up clues that other eyes have missed, and attempt to identify where they entered the Deep Roads. Somebody has to have seen them.” She dropped her gaze to the map, picking out each of the compounds and the thoroughfares that connected them; better than fivescore in Warden blue on the road would be hard to miss. “But it’s too late for a rescue mission, and I’ll not compound their folly by throwing away more lives that are needed on the surface right now.”

She lifted her eyes. “The Fereldan order stands ready to aid the Inquisition,” she declared. That was something that had been decided upon before the ride west. “We have already been assisting in the areas where our compounds are located, dealing with demons that stray from the rifts toward settlements. We have scouts that can report the locations of rifts and experienced mages and fighters, some with training in templar skills that have proven useful against the demons.”

Something that Commander Rutherford had said nudged her, and she looked to him curiously. “You mentioned red lyrium? Do you have reason to believe it has spread beyond the Gallows? Or been taken from there?” From what little she knew, red lyrium might be an explanation for the behavior of the Orlesian Wardens, but how would they have been exposed?
 
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Siali Arnith

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#13
Siali was perhaps more at ease about mages than most. In the alienage terrifying stories had been told about them, of course, but her only experience with them in her early years was when the templars came barging in to snatch terrified children from their mothers’ arms - or simply to cause a bit of chaos while ostensibly carrying out a search. Then as an assassin, and a mercenary, she’d periodically worked alongside them. Becoming a Warden only hardened her belief that it wasn’t what mages were capable of that was the problem, it was treating them all like crap and then wailing about it when one combusted under the strain. There’d always be a few who were downright evil, but in no higher a proportion than anybody else Siali had seen.

So the Commander’s tart comments about the Wardens utilising blood mage stuck in her craw. Fortunately, Cauthrien was quicker off the mark with her response, and far more civil with it than Siali would have been. Siali held her tongue, although she didn’t prevent herself from shooting Cullen a sharp stare.

At least Sati Adaar didn’t seem hung up on it, choosing to focus on logistics instead. Unfortunately, neither Cauthrien nor Siali could provide answers. The truth was that if all the Wardens outside of the Fereldan order had vanished, Thedas was in trouble even if there wasn’t another Blight coming. Darkspawn were formidable enough without the goading of an archdemon, and they frequently needed to be herded back into the Deep Roads.

They were going to have to dispatch some of their own Wardens to verify this, spreading their ranks even thinner. Or perhaps Siali could call on some of her old mercenary contacts. They didn’t need to know the why, after all, just report any signs of Grey Wardens beyond the Fereldan borders. They could try and recruit more people to bolster their numbers, but such drives always came with a risk; people tended to ask questions about those who didn’t survive the Joining. What she was trying to avoid thinking about was the fact that as they’d not heard anything from those Wardens in a while, the likelihood was that the mission had failed and they were all now dead.

Conversations to be had later, with Cauthrien. For now they had to head off Cullen’s theory that the Grey Wardens were at war amongst themselves and somehow the use of blood magic was similar to the red lyrium that had overwhelmed Kirkwall’s Knight-Commander. Cauthrien was swift to do that, and to confirm that messengers would need to be sent to confirm that everyone had gone with them. “But it’s too late for a rescue mission, and I’ll not compound their folly by throwing away more lives that are needed on the surface right now.”

Siali nodded her agreement. “I have some contacts in Highever within a couple of old mercenary companies I used to run with. We could send them rather than our Wardens to give us a report; it may be better to keep our people in the south for now.”

Although if the Inquisition needed the help, it wouldn’t be shirked. This was a crisis, and the Grey Wardens had the training and the weapons to help. “The Fereldan order stands ready to aid the Inquisition. We have already been assisting in the areas where our compounds are located, dealing with demons that stray from the rifts toward settlements. We have scouts that can report the locations of rifts and experienced mages and fighters, some with training in templar skills that have proven useful against the demons.”

Now Cauthrien turned to Cullen. “You mentioned red lyrium? Do you have reason to believe it has spread beyond the Gallows? Or been taken from there?”
 
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