Addicted to Being Right [Complete]

[15th Drakonis, 9.35 - Blackmarsh, Arling of Amaranthine; with ]

It had been hardly noticeable at first. After all, to a Grey Warden, what were a few hunger pangs? Henri-Julien was already accustomed to the near-constant gnawing hunger of the taint. No, the hunger pangs of lyrium withdrawal had barely registered in his mind. And headaches? They could hardly compare to the shrieking intensity he had endured while in proximity to that sickening mass of Broodmothers. No, the withdrawal headaches had little impact on his day-to-day.

The cold, though. It was the cold which had begun to wear down his stoic reserves. Each morning for the last week, the numb ache of his fingers had wrenched him from the Fade hours before he was due to rise. He would lie in his bed, almost trapped, as he struggled to warm his hands sufficiently. Then came the fiery pain of sensation returning to his fingers, sometimes forcing him to bite into his pillow in an effort to alleviate the discomfort. In recent days, he had also noticed a blue tinge to the very tips of his fingers, alarming both his vanity and his practicality. How could he wield his daggers if his fingers were somehow permanently damaged?

He had thought about visiting the healer, except for one detail. He forgot. It was almost comical how, every morning after his fingers were once more supple, he would vow to speak with the non-mage healers in Vigil's Keep, and yet by the end of the day, he would suddenly recall as he readied for bed that he had not completed that one simple task. Over, and over, and over again.

He knew what was happening. He was not so addled by his lyrium intake nor so deprived by its absence as to have lost his mental faculties. After the Left Hand of the Divine had uncovered a smuggling operation involving untold quantities of lyrium dust, the Chantry in Amaranthine had tightened their hold even further on the supplies of lyrium. Given the reported involvement of a crooked Grey Warden, they had restricted trade with the Grey Wardens, insisting that proof be provided that either the individual had been apprehended or that the initial information was false. Yet while said proof had been provided, the Chantry were taking their time about reviewing the restrictions, insisting that their investigations be thorough. No one, it seemed, had recalled that as the only Templar serving in the Grey Wardens, such delays might cause Henri-Julien genuine pain and distress.

But he would not question the authority of the Chantry. So, knowing that he had to make do, Henri-Julien had reduced his lyrium dose to the bare minimum from the supplies he had remaining. But there was a reason why a lyrium dose was the measurement that it was. Hence he had begun to experience withdrawal symptoms, barely noticeable at first compared to the ravages of the taint, but becoming increasingly difficult to ignore as the symptoms became more varied. It did not do his temper any good, either. Although he had never been widely liked within the Keep, this last week had seen Henri-Julien alienate himself entirely, becoming isolated from anyone who might have noticed the urgency with which his lyrium deprivation needed to be resolved. Still, he assured himself that the Chantry knew best and forged ahead with his duties to the best of his current abilities.

That included apprehending abominations. While going about his duties in the Keep, he happened to hear gossip between two of the local merchants, revealing a recent altercation between two young farmers over the ownership of a strip of land. In the midst of the dispute, one of the young men had unleashed his magic, fuelled by his growing anger.

"He was reported to the Templars?" Henri-Julien interrupted, his oft-strained social graces now non-existent. 

One of the merchants shrugged. "Doubt it. If he's gone to the 'marsh, he'll die of his own accord, won't he? Creepy place, that."

Henri-Julien did not possess the patience to explain how flawed that thinking was. Despite what Aedan Cousland had done a few years ago to rid the Blackmarsh of its curse, the area had still not fully recovered from all those years of the thinning Veil. It was still incredibly dangerous, and even more so for an apostate who had already demonstrated a propensity for anger. 

Spinning away from the pair, who looked after him with odd glances, Henri-Julien grabbed the first junior Warden he saw and barked his orders that they immediately travel to Amaranthine to alert the Templars in the Chantry of the apostate's location. Then, having paused only to equip himself in his leathers and collect his weapons, Henri-Julien saddled one of the horses which were kept in the Keep for the benefit of any Grey Warden and kicked the creature into a canter as soon as he had cleared the gates, heading directly for the Blackmarsh. 
Aedan Cousland ran a very different sort of Grey Warden outpost from that of the current commander. Velanna was pleased for this change. It was easy enough to imagine Aedan putting her under strict surveillance, but Commander Berlra seemed the prudent sort who had better things to do than babysit mages. This suited her fine. Velanna enjoyed being under the thumb of no one.

Other than reporting to the Senior Wardens when requested, the days went by in an indecipherable blur. Wake, train, eat, report, train, eat. At least she was saved the trouble of filling that time arguing with Barrows by the presence of another Senior Warden, who became her preferred supervisor by not being Barrows, even if he was almost as insufferable as Anders. Almost. A curiosity he was. A templar but not, meaning he was spared the bitter taste and slow degradation of lyrium to the body. He also seemed to have no compunctions with her aversion to Henri-Julien, and it very nearly became something of a joke between the two, if Velanna ever had a patience for or understanding of jokes.

The downtime she seemed to have in spades was easily passed with a collection of books she had only begun to work her way through during her early stint as a Grey Warden. Some of them were self-congratulatory tomes of the Howe family who had used this as a home before the Blight while others seemed to contain useful knowledge such as survival foraging. She liked to compare it to her own knowledge to see if the shemlen ways measured up. She was happy to find it did not, and her Keeper’s studies had done her well.

Her journal, the only kindness Aedan have ever shown her that came without strings attached, was her most obliging companion, not filling silence with pointless noise. Exiled and denied the position she had worked for her entire life, it gave her a place to put her thoughts and notes on her travels. She was a Dalish elf caught in a human world, but these forays into her writing and reading helped her feel less alone. It seemed important to record as much of her life here as she could and to commit that which she would never pass on to another to a page.

This was how she was passing the time when she heard Barrows storming about the Keep. A few quiet inquiries and she discovered his intended destination. Surely he was not so addled as to think he would do this alone. Velanna took it upon herself to accompany him, packing up supplies she noted would be needed for the trip. The only flaw in her plan was that they would be riding horseback. Velanna’s distrust of the animal seemed to rival only the way the beast seemed wary of her. Barrows kicked his horse to get it moving before she was even saddled. He should be thanking her for joining him despite their ever growing hostility toward each other. After all, who in the Keep had more experience in the Blackmarsh that she did? His arrogance was how people were killed.

She caught up with little incident, trying to keep control of the animal until it seemed content to fall in next to Barrows’ own mount, leaving her to need to do very little. Whether he wanted her along or not, or even noticed she was there, she didn’t care, and she was more than happy not to speak as they traveled.

While it was not the dark and dreary place they’d freed from the Baroness years ago, the recovery in the Blackmarsh was minimal. The Fade still reached for her much like it had then, as the Veil had not been able to heal itself fully. The boneyard of the lightning dragon they’d fought still lay scattered, but half buried. That was not all that lay scattered about as a curious trail of blood smear and splatters seemed to lead into the wetter parts of the marsh. Her horse grew more nervous the farther they roamed, and eventually she dismounted before one or both of them could cause her to fall. She looked to Henri-Julien with an expectant expression, one eyebrow raised in question, demanding he tell her what it was they were looking for.
So caught up in his urgency to reach the Blackmarsh, Henri-Julien did not notice that he was accompanied until... well, until he was preparing to dismount. Only when he pulled the reins to draw the skittering horse to a halt and twisted to ensure the ground was free of debris to the side of the horse did he realise that there was a second horse. He blinked, surprised into silence, and even more-so when he recognised who rode the creature.

Did I... did I insist that Velanna come with me? His mind scrabbled to recall his hasty preparations, wondering if, perhaps, there had been some prudent need which demanded her presence. He would not have willingly invited her, he knew that much. Even the in the midst of insanity, he would never not remember how the Dalish apostate aggravated him. But her magic had proven to be useful - only when monitored by himself, of course. 

"We'll go ahead on foot," he stated, brash and blunt. Yet there was a hollowness to his words which, to a keen ear, might have hinted at something amiss. His dismount was smooth, despite the reeling confusion he still felt, and he tied the reins of the horse to a nearby tree. The creature was too nervous to be left only hobbled.

Nearby was a trail of blood. Pinching his eyes shut for a brief moment, Henri-Julien let loose a weary - almost human - exhale. Why must this always be a fight? He could count on one hand how often his retrieval of apostates had not involved blood. Sometimes, it had been by his blade; most of the time, it had been by their own. He did not have the wits, either then or now, to dwell on why each apostate might be so desperate to evade recapture.

Shaking the fuzziness from his head, Henri-Julien glanced round once more and, for a second time, startled to see Velanna nearby. He had forgotten she was there. Again. He resisted the urge to massage his temples and instead answered her silently judging raise of a brow with a characteristic scowl.

"You're the one who agreed to assist with apprehending the apostate," he snapped. What else did she expect from him? Yes, he was a talented tracker, but even he had to examine his surroundings for more than half a moment before making deductions. Clearly, if he had insisted on her accompanying him, he must have explained why he, of all people, would require her assistance. Although standing here, his headache worsening and his skin crawling from the slow bleed of the Fade through the Veil, Henri-Julien could not recall exactly which of Velanna's skills he had anticipated needing. It would come back to him, he hoped.

Ignoring whatever tiresome comeback she might have for him, Henri-Julien followed after the tell-tale trail of splotches and smears, his steps light and sure despite everything. The trail led deeper into the marsh itself, the ground underfoot becoming sodden and treacherous. It was difficult to maintain a quiet approach and eventually, Henri-Julien gave up his efforts to step carefully, favouring simply reaching his destination without drowning. The blood trail had disappeared but it was no longer needed: an abomination lay ahead. He could sense it in every which way.

Yet, given the context provided by the gossiping merchants, Henri-Julien was confident that the apostate had been overtaken by a rage demon. Dangerous, yes, but at least not so intelligent as other demons. However, depending on how powerful the apostate had been, it could be the difference between dodging fireballs and escaping a fire storm. Plus trying to get close enough to subdue a rage demon without a ranged attack was... Oh, was that why he had brought Velanna with him? 

Drawing to a halt behind a thicket of ferns, Henri-Julien caught a glimpse of the abomination, pacing up and down on one of the few solid stretches of land in the midst of the marsh. It had not yet noticed them otherwise they would have had attack after attack launched at them. Rage demons preferred to battle by might of numbers, not through careful strategy.

"We're too late," he remarked, regret lacing the hushed whisper to his companion. "He's already brought through a demon." He eyed Velanna, almost thinking anew that her ranged attack would be useful before catching himself. He had already recalled why she was here, hadn't he? "If you cast a..." Belatedly, his distrust of magic crashed through and he let out a hiss, directing a suspicious glare towards her. "Can you cast here? The Veil is so thin.
Something was not quite right, as far as Velanna could see. That Henri-Julien appeared to not realize she’d accompanied him was only the start. He started a second time. She did not dignify his remarks about her presence, but noticed that slightly off way he said them.

There was no argument who would take the lead as they searched, for the trail of blood sent them in the correct direction. The Veil as thin as it was sent shudders over her skin, as if the ribbons of it were tickling her.

Velanna was not without sense, and knew the temptation that might have drawn in weaker mages. The Fade seeped into the air around her, pressing against her, caressing the fingers which itched to cast. She knew better than to listen to anything on the other side, the mage they sought out was not as wise.

Henri-Julien pulled up short behind a thicket of ferns growing happily in the sodden ground that squelched with every step they took. Here she finally saw what had brought him to the Blackmarsh: an abomination pacing a track into the ground, aflame and very clearly agitated. What a fool! Reaching out to a spirit. Even the most benevolent could be warped, funneled down to their base instinct. Velanna had seen Justice slowly over their travels together step further and further away from his virtue when he’d been forced into Kristoff’s body. The ones who did not want to cross were almost worse than those who begged invitation. The abrupt immutable way of this side of the Veil was often too much for them.

They were lucky that this abomination was alone.

"We're too late," Henri-Julien said, remorse evident in his words, and not something she was used to from him. Where was his arrogant shouting about the paragon of Warden he was. "He's already brought through a demon." He looked at her, the thoughts tumbling around his mind seeming to take longer than usual to produce. "If you cast a..." He started, but then the venom was back, his eyes glaring at her for apparently being everything he despised in this world. "Can you cast here? The Veil is so thin."

She scoffed, and would have been insulted if she gave two swishes of a halla’s tail about his opinion. “Of course I can cast here.” Her lips pursed. With the Veil this worn she could feel a near-constant surge of the Fade through her, replenishing her mana forcefully and making the urge to cast almost intolerable. She made a simple fireball in her hand to prove her statement, and just as quickly crushed it out to avoid drawing attention to them. “A better question might be: can you fight?” She couldn’t tell what exactly was wrong, but it was there. “Mages are not the only ones vulnerable to spirits.”

She also knew that if they did not destroy this abomination immediately it would draw more of its companions into the world. Rage demons were idiots, but idiots in large numbers were still dangerous. As any Dalish knew.

“I know a hex,” she informed him, “but it won’t last forever.” And there was no telling how vulnerable it would make an abomination who could feed from the Fade as certainly as she could feel herself doing. “It should dampen its use of fire, and might give you a chance to get closer.” She lifted her staff, pointing it at the abomination. She released her mana, and a pale purple sigil appeared on the ground beneath it. It would know they were there within moments.
To what was a perfectly reasonable and pertinent enquiry, Velanna issued a sharp scornful exhale of breath. "Of course I can cast here." Her lips thinned and she held out her hand, palm upward. Yet Henri-Julien was not prepared for the fireball which appeared. He reeled away and it was only the sheer shock that prevented him from reaching for his own lyrium abilities to counter her casting. Except... why hadn't he sensed that she had released her mana? Maybe his senses were overwhelmed by the thinness of the Veil which surely even someone without any mana or lyrium could recognise. That must be it. Still, his breathing came in harsh pants.

Something which Velanna did not fail to notice. "A better question might be: can you fight?" she demanded, having extinguished the fireball with a simple clench of her fingers into a fist. "Mages are not the only ones vulnerable to spirits."

"I see only an apostate and an abomination," Henri-Julien snarled, his defensiveness manifesting in harsh words. Irritation bleeding through every movement, he twisted back around so that he could peer through the ferns once more. "Do not doubt I will perform my duty. If you can cast, what can you cast which will draw its attention?"

"I know a hex," she stated, "but it won't last forever." Henri-Julien made to reply, having intended his question only as a means of prompting further, if hasty, discussion. However, Velanna left no opportunity for such things as she added, "It should dampen its use of fire, and might give you a chance to get closer," before lifting her staff and targeting the abomination. The only clue that Henri-Julien had of the success of her casting was the glow of the hex beneath the feet of the abomination.

Staggering up, Henri-Julien advanced on the abomination directly, his befuddled thoughts recalling none of his combat tactics. Fortunate that his daggers were drawn, his muscle memory effective if nothing else. The abomination spun around, its unnatural flaming form looming over Henri-Julien, but its movements were sluggish. It swiped out at him but he was able to dodge underneath, spinning around to deal a direct blow with his blade against its side. It let loose a howl before unleashing a fireball, searing heat flying past his head. Unbidden, memories of a previous encounter with another fire-wielding opponent filled Henri-Julien's thoughts and he struggled to separate past from present, slowing to a halt as he blinked dazedly at his left leg, searching for sign of the long-since healed injury.

The abomination swiped again with its flaming limbs. This time, it caught Henri-Julien across the chest, the stench of burnt leather filling his nostrils. It served as a sharp jolt back into the present. Shaking his head to clear his muddled mind, albeit to no avail, Henri-Julien darted away, though his movements were sluggish compared to his usual speed. However, he was swift enough to evade the lumbering motion of the abomination and he succeeded in striking again, this time at its back. He fumbled his retreat and was forced to leave one of his daggers in the back of the creature, the metal growing too hot for him to retain his hold. It screeched, clawing uselessly at its back. He thought that its form shrunk a fraction.

Cursing beneath his snatched breath, Henri-Julien darted away, trying desperately to find his inner focus. He grasped again and again in his mind, but each time found nothing there. Beneath the abomination's feet, the glow of the hex was flickering as the duration of the spell drew to an end. He should be able to call forth a... a... cleanse of magic. Yes, he should be able to dissipate all magic within the area. It would not bring down the demon but it would impinge on its abilities. His head pounded with the effort, worse than he had ever experienced it.

He gritted his teeth. Tightening his grip on his dagger, Henri-Julien shot a glance towards Velanna, signalling that she should create another distraction. They had not fought alongside one another for very long but any dolt should be able to work out his meaning. Then, with his remaining dagger, Henri-Julien circled the abomination, waiting for a chance to dart in and plunge his dagger into what had once been the heart of the apostate. Kill the host, kill the demon: it had worked for him before.
As soon as she cast the hex, Henri-Julien charged ahean, taking the abomination head on. No subterfuge. No showing of any of the tactics he used the last time they fought together. All he had was his daggers and his perpetually swollen head. He attacked directly, the motions of his blades dragging the rest of his body along into the combat. Something was wrong, though she could not put a name to it if asked. She didn’t know Barrows that well, and what she did know she found caustic and arrogant.

For a few moments it seemed he was holding on well enough until something distracted him. No sooner did he look down than the abomination seized the moment to strike him across the chest with an armful of flames. Even his dodges appeared slow, like he was doing it by rote in his sleep with none of the sense of purpose behind it.

And that was before the hex wore off.

Velanna couldn’t understand why he hadn’t just used his templar abilities to quench the fire of the abomination. When she saw him lose one dagger in the monster, she decided she couldn’t wait for a signal. She moved on quiet feet to a clear view of the monster, unobstructed and letting her cast without interruption. And there was… was that the signal? She huffed, knowing that once again she would have to save his shemlen ass.

The tatters of the Veil allowed for an almost direct flow of mana, and she found it was much easier to let it overwhelm her and use it than it was to fight it. Holding her staff with both hands, her focus on the power channeling through it, she blasted it with a bolt of pure arcane energy. She didn’t stay in place. She ran, circling a wide berth of the abomination, firing another bolt of energy every few feet. She needed to draw its attention, and she succeeded. The diminished capacity of the rage demons to reason worked in her favor, as their attention span seemed to be dictated by whatever was causing them the most grief.

It turned to face her, lunging in clumsy, choppy motions, Henri-Julien forgotten. She let it get a few paces closer to her when she reached for the trees themselves. A sound not unlike a groan let her know they were obeying her. Roots of the trees shot up around the fiery abomination, essentially caging it. Nothing she did would last long, not even marsh sodden tree roots which snapped and popped with the heat. It was all temporary. Velanna wished then and there she’d studied more of the magic cancelling spells, and if they got out of this alive, she vowed then and there that she would learn how to clash her mana against that of another to deadly effect.

But for now, she kept launching bolt after bolt, seeing the thing shrink with each hit. It focused on her, fighting against her flimsy cage. It wouldn’t hold long. She was just a few fireballs away from making this place her final resting place.

The Fade was so close, in some places she could almost touch it. Mana teemed through her with a heady thrill and she spun her staff to lob the bolts in rapid succession.

“If you’re going to do something, do it now!” she yelled as a blast of flames shot out and burned over her head. She ducked, just in time, but it was too close. She felt blisters form on her skin.
When Henri-Julien had shot Velanna the clear signal that she should provide a distraction, he had only the vaguest of expectations about what she would do. He was certainly not prepared for the blinding bolt of arcane energy which crashed against the fiery abomination. His arm flew upwards, shielding his eyes as he staggered backwards, as surprised as the demon itself. Then another bold came, and another, and yet another. Each time, the angle was slightly different but it took Henri-Julien a desperately long moment to work out that Velanna was circling around the area, forcing the abomination to whirl and wheel about, its focus now entirely on her.

The abomination lumbered towards where Velanna had come to a halt, the damp ground sizzling and steaming beneath its unsteady step. All that Henri-Julien heard was an earthly groan, as though the earth itself protested being disturbed, before roots burst through the ground, entangling around the abomination to imprison it in a make-shift cage. The clearing filled with the sound of crackling and the scent of burning, smoke drifting through the already heavy air. He coughed and he could feel his eyes stinging against the acrid air.

The area was illuminated in bursts of light as Velanna resorted to her arcane bolts once more. The root-cage shifted and broke as the abomination roared its rage, flames jumping upwards as it struggled to free itself. Henri-Julien watched, almost spellbound. his remaining dagger loose in his hand.

"If you’re going to do something, do it now!" A sudden streak of flame launched itself towards where Velanna stood. He could not see if she escaped the full blast, the warm air shimmering and distorting his view. 

Shaking his head yet again, Henri-Julien forced himself forward. He transferred his dagger from his off-hand to his main as he pounded ahead, base survival telling him that speed was his best defence. A fraction of a moment before he reached the abomination, the cage fell apart in wisps of smouldering cinders, releasing the abomination from its confines. It let out a roar, flames rising up, ready to launch an all-out attack.

What happened next was purely instinctual. Something deep inside of him suddenly wrenched free and Henri-Julien threw out the uncontrolled blast of cleansing directly at the abomination. Ducking under the flailing limbs of the creature, he lifted his hand and buried the dagger deep in it chest, snatching his arm back before his skin could be scorched. Then, as the abomination screamed and writhed, Henri-Julien fell to his knees, his whole body wracked by a coughing fit. The world spun around him and he swallowed against the nausea which threatened to overwhelm him. Yet where the abomination had stood, a fine pile of ash and two daggers now lay, the metal of one still glowing a mesmerising red.

Something was terribly wrong. Inside, somewhere in the depths of his mind, Henri-Julien could only describe the sensation as a rending of the fabric of his being. Or, when he was capable of articulating such things, that was how he would describe it. Right now, he could only understand it as a great tear through which what made him him was seeping unchecked out into some void.  He clutched at his head, the pounding in his temples now the worse he had ever experienced as either Templar or Grey Warden, and rocked back and forth slightly, seeking to soothe himself from utter panic.

"That's the apostate!" 

A low groan forced itself from his lips at sound of the unfamiliar voice. This was eerily similar to what had happened the very first time that he and Velanna had met. One key difference was that his ill-temper was directed squarely at the newly-arrived Templars. "She's a Grey Warden," he responded, the last two words rising in pitch to an all out yell. "It's... here." He waved a shaky hand in the vague direction of the remains of the abomination.

There was the crunch of armoured steps nearby then a bemused, "these daggers have the Templar insignia on them."

"They're mine," he hissed through gritted teeth, still unable to find his feet. 

"He looks in lyrium withdrawal," another voice remarked flatly. The words were spoken in a tone of someone making a casual observation rather than implicitly suggesting anything should be done. "Serves him right. Did you hear about all that lyrium dust the Grey Wardens were smuggling?"
Velanna had known the root cage would not hold against a rage spirit for long. From the moment she cast for the root systems around the abomination the air was instantly filled with smoke from the dampness. As the captive abomination beat against it, there was only a matter of time.

She lost sight of Henri-Julien at that point. The flames of the enraged demon rose high into the air, like a beacon. Peeling herself off the ground she blasted the monster with arcane bolts again, trying to keep it’s attention away from the man behind it. Mythal protect her, she was forced to move closer to the thing to keep her attempts useful. So when she suddenly lost connection to the Fade, it was fortunate that the beast was weakened. It happened so fast and so strong that she was nearly sick from the abruptness of it. If Henri-Julien was going to use his templar abilities, she had to wonder why he didn’t do so sooner. She didn’t have time to think on that as she moved in for close melee, but Henri-Julien had plunged a single dagger into the weakened being. It crumbled and disintegrated before her eyes, coming to rest in a pile of fine soot and ash. And one glowing dagger.

Stiffly, and against her better senses, Velanna approached Henri-Julien to see how he fared, or she would have, had shout from another Veil-damned templar.

"That's the apostate!" one yelled.

Velanna rolled her eyes. “Not this again. Fen’Harel take you,” she muttered. If it wasn’t one thing, it seemed it was another. Without her magic she was also vulnerable if they decided to try and take her.

"She's a Grey Warden," he yelled out, his voice rising to match her irritation. How convenient that these templars would show themselves after they had defeated this abomination, and then proceed to act as if she were the problem. That wasn’t the oddest part of what happened. What held that position in her mind was that Henri-Julien had defended her, even while in obvious agony. Then he gestured to the pile of remains of the abomination and simply said, "It's... here." That utter wrongness was back. She watched him rock back and forth as if it would dislodge the pain he wore openly.

As she crossed the distance between them, one of the templars did the same, eyeing the remains with skepticism. "These daggers have the Templar insignia on them."

"They're mine.” The sound slid out between his clenched teeth. She crouched, trying to assist him to his feet.

The other templar looked at Henri-Julien as he shook and writhed with obvious pain. "He looks in lyrium withdrawal." Of course they were blase about the situation. Lyrium withdrawal explained everything, from what little she knew of such things. "Serves him right. Did you hear about all that lyrium dust the Grey Wardens were smuggling?"

Velanna disliked lyrium. It tasted like molten rocks and too much sugar, and made her feel too full of mana. Plus, she cared not for being under the thumb of the shemlen Chantry. She’d not heard much about the massive quantities of smuggled lyrium, except that it had been pinned on the Grey Wardens. Something she cared for less was useless cruelty, and that overrode the disdain for each other that she shared with Henri-Julien.

“Serves him right? Serves him right?” Her own voice rose to a shrill peak. “If he’s as you say,” and certainly she was not privy to Henri-Julien’s personal well-being, “then he has just ended an abomination while in excruciating pain.” She could have left it there, but righteous indignation was a heady thing. “Which is more than I can say for any of you.”

“You should mind your tongue, apostate.” The more insouciant of the templars pointed to her. “I’d hate for there to be a mixup.”

“A terrible thing, that would be.” Sniping at them was useless, especially when it was suddenly clear to her why Barrows had seen fit to go off alone to this mission. He was not in his right mind. Disdainful of him as she was, she could not, and would not watch him suffer like this.

“Escort us back to Vigil’s Keep,” she demanded, her head held up as if she were royalty. “If you refuse to help him, knowing how he suffers, then at least do that much.” It also had the bonus of their being able to confirm her status as a Grey Warden, as obviously the uniform did nothing to convince them.

The other of the templars laughed, derision in his voice. “You’re in no position to make demands, mage.”

Her nostrils flared. “Then give him lyrium and we will be on our way.” She dragged him back to the keep once. She could do it again. The thinness of the Veil replenished her mana quickly, and she did not wish to resort to magic, but she would. “But you will hear from the Warden Commander.” She would make certain of it.

“We are not authorized to dispense lyrium.” Again with the ambivalence. “We will escort you back. Hand over your weapon.”
The sneering quality in the Templar's voice cut Henri-Julien almost as effectively as any blade. He understood why the Templar had responded as he had, his own response to the sight of addicts in various towns across Orlais playing out in his memory, but it fell as a brutal blow considering what else he was suffering right now.

Yet before he could lower himself to begging, Velanna intervened, crouching nearby as she tried to help him onto his feet as though... as though they were comrades, united. "Serves him right? Serves him right?” Her voice created a piercing ringing throughout the clearing, still hazy with steam and smoke from their battle. "If he’s as you say, then he has just ended an abomination while in excruciating pain." Having been on more than one of her imperious rants, Henri-Julien knew, even in his pitiful state, that Velanna would not leave it there. He was, as with all things, correct. "Which is more than I can say for any of you," she spat.

Unsurprisingly, the Templar was swift to curb her attitude. "You should mind your tongue, apostate." The threat was anything but hidden. "I’d hate for there to be a mixup."

"A terrible thing, that would be," she retorted, heedless to the very real danger. It would be a very simple thing indeed for these Templars to slay her - and him, as a troublesome witness - with little to no repercussion from the Chantry or elsewhere. A vague wisp of a thought drifted through his addled mind how that was wrong but it dissipated before he could fully comprehend it.

Instead, he struggled to standing, swaying in place as his vision swam before him. "Remember... your vows," he panted, his pallor sickly and covered in a thin film of sweat. For all his zealotry, Henri-Julien still used the teachings of the Chantry to guide his actions. He had never taken a life of an apostate without due cause. Most of his brethren held the same view even if they might bluster otherwise. Any 'mixup' would directly counter those vows.

Despite the scornful scoffs from the Templars, there was no further suggestion that Velanna be apprehended instead of the already slain abomination. That was something, at least.

"Escort us back to Vigil’s Keep." It was not phrased as a request. Despite himself, Henri-Julien could not help but experience a flicker of begrudging admiration. He was yet to encounter a situation wherein Velanna truly lost her haughty self-righteousness. "If you refuse to help him, knowing how he suffers, then at least do that much."

Jeering laughter greeted her words. "You’re in no position to make demands, mage."

"Then give him lyrium and we will be on our way." He tried to swallow his groan, not wishing to undermine her thrust. However, the thought of being returned to the Keep under her care a second time was almost as painful as the withdrawal itself. "But you will hear from the Warden Commander."

"We are not authorized to dispense lyrium." It was delivered with a lazy drawl, almost bored. "We will escort you back. Hand over your weapon."

If they were so inclined, they could have shared the small quantity of lyrium which every Templar carried on their person. But that required more coherency than Henri-Julien could summon in that moment. Besides, it was possible that the Chantry had issued a temporary order in light of the smuggling operation. Still, the sheer heartlessness of the refusal caught him off-guard for a second time, a brief moment of searing clarity into his own behaviour. They must have ascertained by now that he was a Templar, given the lingering blast of cleansing magic, and the fact that both his weapons and armour were still marked as belonging to a Templar, not a Grey Warden. Apparently it was not enough.

"I need the staff," he blurted out, unsure what he was saying until he said it. He shot an unfocused glare in the vague direction of the Templars. "To walk. Let me have it." It was a clumsy and half-realised attempt to protect what belonged to Velanna. The Templars would not suffer her refusal but perhaps he could smooth the transition, and perhaps the demon she knew was better than the demons she did not. He spoke truthfully, anyway; he could not use the staff as anything other than a support. "Our horses are nearby."

The return to the Keep was a slow and painful one. He did not have to walk but the effort of remaining atop the horse was taxing, particularly given that his concentration faded in and out. He still felt that strange draining sensation deep inside, increasingly feeling less connected to his surroundings. When they did finally arrive at the gates of Vigil's Keep, Henri-Julien slumped off his horse, his head now so heavy with pain that he felt he could not counter-balance it.

What he missed was something quite spectacular. Naturally, so unusual an arrival did not take long to reach the ears of the Warden-Commander. Sensing that something was amiss, Commander Berlra stomped into the courtyard, his habitual gruffness further soured by having to deal with an issue, no doubt caused by blasted Barrows, outside in the bright sunshine. However, catching sight of the state of said human, the Warden-Commander addressed Velanna, ordering a full explanation. 

Once the situation was outlined - by his Warden only, as he gave short shrift to any of the Templars who tried to interrupt - the Warden-Commander gave one small signal with his hand. At once, those Wardens who had been guarding the gate drew their weapons, joined by a handful of others who had been attracted by the unusual commotion.

"Surrender your supplies," he stated flatly. "Or you will be relieved of them." No one knew better than the dwarves how these Templars riddled their minds with lyrium. He would not be fooled with any protestations that the group did not possess at least one small vial each. Another subtle signal had the armed Wardens draw in a little closer, making clear that the only resolution to this matter was to do as they were ordered.

And that was how Henri-Julien suddenly came into possession of five vials of lyrium. He stared dumbfounded at the small vials filled with a softly glowing blue liquid lying in front of him, scarcely able to recall how to make use of it. Yet both he and Velanna were forgotten as Commander Berlra forcibly escorted the Templars from the grounds of Vigil's Keep, apparently set on driving them directly back to the Chantry itself in Amaranthine. It seemed that Henri-Julien's days of withdrawal were soon to be rectified. 
Contrary to popular belief, Velanna did not have something to say about everything. When Barrows vouched for her being a Warden, that had been unexpected. When he stopped the templars from taking possession of her staff, however self-serving it was for him, she had no words. She was hardly thrilled with being parted from it, but the demon she knew was better than the demon she did not, and it was pointless to waste time arguing. Of course, had the templars heeded her words in the first place, they would already be on the road back. Sometimes being right was a terrible burden.

Barrows was in no shape to ride, and yet he did. She would never say out loud that it impressed her that he did, not leaving the saddle until they arrived. He had hardly any strength by the time they arrived at Vigil’s Keep, and she thought he might land facedown in the dirt.

Within minutes of their arrival a small crowd had gathered and Commander Berlra marched straight through the middle of it to get to the cause of the all the commotion. Velanna appreciated his intolerance for nonsense, and was happy to relay the story of their trip to the Blackmarsh. Every time a templar tried to interrupt with their own input, the Warden-Commander put an end to it.

What happened next was beyond anything she would have expected. Commander Berlra made a subtle gesture and all the Wardens around them drew their weapons. "Surrender your supplies," he ordered in that way that people had of expecting to be obeyed. "Or you will be relieved of them." Any protest was cut short by the semi-circle of Wardens advancing to back up Warden-Commander Berlra’s words.

The very same templars who refused to help back in the swamp produced not one, but five vials of the vile substance that was sorely needed. The Warden-Commander wasted no more time addressing Velanna and Henri-Julien, instead taking it upon himself (and the several armed Wardens) to see them out of Vigil’s Keep.

“You,” she commanded the attention of one of the junior Wardens. “Get him to the infirmary.” She wasted no time with niceties. Shemlen had too many niceties that just wasted time when there were more pressing needs. “You two, return these horses to the stable and see them cared for.” The two Wardens hopped to the task, whether out of duty or fear, she did not care.

Once Henri-Julien was assisted to the healer’s hands, Velanna followed after. This was, in her opinion, too many times for Barrows and her to be in for injuries acquired on yet one more mission they’d been thrust together. She was far from considering him a friend—for who really was a friend to her?—but she had the practical sense to know that he would need help taking his dosage of lyrium. Could they not survive without it? She wondered at that, if it was possible to wean them from the substance completely. Perhaps she had no room for friendship, but learning had always held her attention like nothing else.

“Warden Velanna,” the mundane healer said in a meek voice as if afraid she might answer him, “shall we attend to your injuries?”

“My what now?” She had been ignoring the searing pain of the blisters in order to see that she and Barrows returned. By way of answering she began the careful process of shedding her robes above the waist and other clothing to reveal the full of it. Likely it would not scar, a good thing as Velanna was as vain as she was officious in manner. The blistering started at a bit of singed hair at the hairline, and covered a good portion of her shoulder and upper chest. With the situation with the templars and Barrows’ state, she was very aware of the extent.

Once again on one of the cots that may as well have had their names on them she looked to Barrows. As close to kindness as she was able to summon in her, Velanna said, “It was foolish to go after that mage alone in your state.” She hissed as the healer inspected the extent of her injury. “It’s good that I followed you."

And then, "Thank you for what you did for me back there. Not many would have bothered."
What happened next was a disconcerting blur for Henri-Julien. A pair of hands hefted beneath his arms, forcing him to stagger up onto his feet and follow in whichever direction they deemed appropriate. It was only the lingering scent of elfroot and the creak of the wooden framed bed which alerted him that he was now in the infirmary. He could see one of the small vials of lyrium lying nearby, its comforting blue glow almost a beacon, but the other four had been prudently placed far from his immediate reach, preventing the very real possibility of his overdosing. 

Hands shaking, he reached out and fumbled with the stopper but the sound of tinkling abruptly filled the room as his grip slipped, dropping the vial onto the floor. Maker be thanked for the thickly blown glass in which lyrium was always stored. In the midst of his despair, he felt another comforting hand on his shoulder and a murmured instruction to lie back. As soon as he did so, he felt the cool lip of the now opened vial at his lips, the contents slowly and carefully dripped into his mouth. 

This was not how he usually took his lyrium, but he would not protest the unorthodox means. Immediately, the unbearable heaviness of his head receded just enough to be barely tolerable. More reassuringly, that sense of losing a part of himself was stoppered as securely as the vial itself had been, and the world slowly swirled back into focus. He relaxed back against the bed, still weak and drained, but finally more a part of this world than the Fade.

"You may have another shortly," the healer advised just as Velanna entered into the infirmary. Despire refocusing on his most recently arrived patient, the man was notably more cowed as he enquired where the Dalish woman required his healing abilities.

"My what now?" It was almost as though Velanna had not realised the extent of her own injuries. Discoloured blisters highlighted against reddened skin traced their way over the side of her face, along her shoulder and downward. Henri-Julien averted his gaze towards the ceiling, affording her the privacy of her treatment, even if she likely did not give a care for his presence. Besides, he welcomed the excuse to briefly rest his eyes, still feeling a strange disconnect from his surroundings while the lyrium slowly worked its way through his body.

Velanna, however, had no such compunction. "It was foolish to go after that mage alone in your state." A low hiss escaped from her as the healer made their initial examination, evidently not as gentle as she would have liked. "It’s good that I followed you."

Henri-Julien remained silent, eyes remaining closed. There was truth to her words, the fact that he could barely stir from where he lay was proof of it, but that did not mean it was easy for him to acknowledge as much. Still, for all he did not respond, there was none of the simmering resentment which usually characterised his silences when in Velanna's company.

Not yet finished, she added, "Thank you for what you did for me back there. Not many would have bothered."

"It was fair," he responded, voice scratchy. He reopened his eyes but continued to stare upwards. "You asked for lyrium for me." The encounter with the Amaranthine Templars was fragmented, drifting through his consciousness, but he recalled that much. 

Purposeful quiet settled over the infirmary once more. The healer busied themselves with tending to Velanna's injuries while Henri-Julien lay stretched out on the bed, almost dozing as his body fully absorbed the dose of lyrium. He stirred when he heard a second vial placed on the bedside table and forced himself to wake fully, gingerly turning onto his side so that he could sip the liquid lyrium unaided. 

"Spindleweed." The single word was blurted without context, almost a visceral reaction rather than a considered remark. Refusing to look anywhere but at the vial in his hand, Henri-Julien cleared his throat. "You should eat spindleweed soup once a day over the next week. It will help heal the burns.

The healer audibly scoffed, shaking their head in disagreement. Henri-Julien jerked his head up, fixing a glare upon the man, his jaw clenching at the unceremonious dismissal. He shifted his gaze to Velanna's, meeting her eyes for what seemed the first time. Certainly, he had never met her gaze in a manner resembling an equal before, nor could he remember being quite as struck by their striking forest green.

"Spindleweed soup," he repeated, some of his perpetual disdain re-entering his tone, though for once not directed at his Dalish companion.

Disliking how lying on his back made him feel vulnerable, at least now that he was becoming better aware of his surroundings, Henri-Julien groggily pushed himself into an upright position, his legs crooking slightly at the knee to help centre his position. Glancing downward, he caught sight of his own seared chest piece and winced, turning his head with a clench of his eyes as he fumbled to unbuckle the leathers. He unceremoniously dumped the piece by his bed, leaving his thin grey undershirt on.

"Did you really follow me?" He could not recall the circumstances of how and why Velanna had accompanied him, only that she had seemingly appeared by his side when he had reached the Blackmarsh. "Why?"
"It was fair," Henri-Julien answered, his voice a rasp like broken reeds. She might have thought he was mumbling in his sleep had he not opened his eyes. "You asked for lyrium for me."

“Given your state it was a prudent request,” she answered with equal quiet. Unfortunately the other shemlen did not see it that way, but they were dealt with justly by the Warden-Commander for their cruelty.

While Henri-Julien was taking his next dose of lyrium, the healer was tending to her wounds. “I’m not made of burlap!” she scolded, her words edged even still spoken quietly. She flinched out of the healer’s reach by reflex, grinding her teeth as she sat back up and let him continue with an irritatingly shaking hand.

"Spindleweed." Whether it was an utterance of a fever dream or deliberate she couldn’t say until he clarified. "You should eat spindleweed soup once a day over the next week. It will help heal the burns."

The healer scoffed, clearly having some opinion on Barrows’ advice, and continued on with his ministrations. With a glimpse of what she knew of Barrows, the overt dismissal brought him to lift his head and fix the healer with a glare. He turned his attention to Velanna, with some life back in his eyes finally, no longer looking haunted and hollowed out by the withdrawals. How had she never noticed that his eyes were as pale as sea glass? Likely because they’d yet to have a civil conversation, finding one another’s company objectionable.

"Spindleweed soup," Barrows said again, with a little more force and some of that familiar insufferable tone. It was almost amusing to see it turned on someone other than herself. Given the situation, however, she did not laugh. It was a creative use of the herb as she knew it, but Velanna was less a healer as an inflictor of pain.

Still, she uttered a ‘thank you’ before turning to look at the healer, who was draping her in elfroot soaked gauze, as if to remind him that yes, she could feel everything he was doing. “You’re going to disrupt the blisters you fool.”

While she bickered with the healer, who surrendered the gauze to her and went grudgingly to prepare a soup, Barrows managed to help himself into a seated position on the cot and debloused his armor.

She finished draping the the blistered area, taking extra care of the side of her face. It did little for the pain, but it was something at least.

"Did you really follow me?" Henri-Julien asked. That should have been obvious given that she was there in the fight with the abomination. She’d assumed his behavior had been born of the arrogance that he seemed to exude constantly. It wasn’t until after the fight, when he’d collapsed, that she was able to understand what was happening. "Why?"

“Of course I followed you. The Blackmarsh is no place to go alone.” Thinking back on her decision to follow, and the behavior he exhibited when he did, she could now see the influence of the withdrawal on him, though his attitude with her had not suffered the same. “Why would you go alone?” she asked, deciding the look straight ahead instead of facing him, certain that he would be back to open hostility at any moment, and preferred not to see it in those startlingly pale eyes.

“The Veil is thin there, more than in other places where it exists in shreds. I was with a group of Wardens when we were pulled through it into the Fade.” A true waking nightmare. “When we were pushed out, a spirit was dragged out with us.” Velanna’s disdain for Justice had long passed, being reassigned to Aedan who jeopardized all of them with a possessed corpse which became increasingly curious and angry. “It could have happened to you, and no one would have been the wiser for it.” And, being a mage, she was skilled to navigate it, at least moreso than a shemlen with no innate connection to it.

Satisfied that she’d dressed her wounds well and was once again modest, she sat on her own cot and faced him. “Where does a shemlen templar learn of spindleweed soup?” The question was posed with obvious curiosity—academic of course—with no snideness to it. “It’s not an herb often ingested.” Given that it had properties that made it useful as a balm, she was surprised by this new knowledge. It was rubbed on the chests of young elves who caught illnesses to help them breathe.
With the healer having departed to arrange the desired spindleweed soup, the pair were left alone in the infirmary in the meantime. It helped to free Henri-Julien's tongue which led to his sincerely asked question.

"Of course I followed you. The Blackmarsh is no place to go alone." Neither of which were an answer. Something which Velanna must have realised as she parried with, "Why would you go alone?" Yet there was none of her accusatory gaze to spark his temper. No, she kept her attention elsewhere, helping to soften the scorn which Henri-Julien himself would have regarded his actions. The Blackmarsh was, indeed, no place to go alone.

His thoughts were still scattered and it required particular concentration to corral them. His brows furrowed with the effort, his gaze idly drawn to a small table covered with a selection of dried herbs which were in the middle of being prepared for potions and salves. "Someone needed to go immediately," he murmured, strangely detached. "He was angry and had fled into the Blackmarsh. It was obvious what needed to be done." But he had to ask himself if, by some miraculous chance, the man had not been possessed, would Henri-Julien have paid any heed? An apostate, he would have been, but not an abomination. Then again, what apostate would willingly surrender themselves to the Chantry? None that Henri-Julien could currently recall. It seemed inevitable that the man would die, one way or another.

But to none of this was Velanna privy. Instead, she could only response to his remarks about the Blackmarsh, though it appeared she was in agreement. "The Veil is thin there, more than in other places where it exists in shreds." She spoke with consideration, as though to an equal who understood the complexities of the Fade. "I was with a group of Wardens when we were pulled through it into the Fade." Henri-Julien involuntarily squeezed his eyes shut, horrified by the very suggestion. "When we were pushed out, a spirit was dragged out with us." He blinked, surprised and appalled. That meant... But Velanna did not pause long enough for his swirling thoughts to coalesce. "It could have happened to you, and no one would have been the wiser for it."

Instinctively, he pressed his lips together, jaw clenching slightly. She was correct... for a second time within an intolerably short space of time. Rubbing at his eyes with the bottom of his palms, his only response was a half-hearted shrug, not wishing to dwell further on either her being right or what could have awaited him beyond the Veil.

With her injuries now fully bandaged and clothes readjusted, Velanna sat on her bed, turned towards him. "Where does a shemlen templar learn of spindleweed soup?" There was a sincere curiosity to the question. "It’s not an herb often ingested."

"It's not something I know from my own studies," he replied, a little short but not hostile. His understanding of herbalism was good but did not extend beyond what the majority knew. "I..." He trailed off, a sudden twist in his gut reminding him that he did not share his past, particularly with apostates. "I was visiting a remote Chantry where another Templar was being treated for severe burns. One of the Chantry Sisters insisted on it as part of their healing regimen." Even as he lifted his shoulders in a light shrug, his palm briefly brushing against his left thigh, lingering for a few moments as though to remind himself that the skin, once agonisingly blistered and raw, was healed. "Once the soup was made, everyone ate it. But... the Templar did appear to benefit. His healing had no complications." There was little which could have been done to prevent the scarring, save for limiting infection. There had not been a mage with healing abilities nearby.

It was only with the memory of being surrounded by the Chantry, and the subsequent altercation with the Grey Warden mage, that Henri-Julien realised the extent of what Commander Berlra had done. Even so, he grasped onto the change in topic with uncharacteristic relief, particularly given the subject of said change of topic. "How many mages are in Vigil's Keep?" he demanded. Despite his - and his addiction's - gratefulness for what the Commander had done, he could already anticipate the repercussions. "The Chantry won't take kindly to how Commander Berlra treated the Templars. None of the Warden mages should leave the Keep unescorted." A decree which Henri-Julien had often preached. Yet he was in the uncomfortable position of being on the opposite side of the argument this time. Usually, it was to keep the world safe from the Warden apostates, but now it would be to minimalise any opportunity for retaliation against the Grey Wardens from the Templars via their mages.

He dropped his head into his hands, still a little dizzy. "This is a mess," he grunted. "I should have appealed directly to the Knight-Captain before my..." He hesitated, beginning to reconstruct the walls around himself as the more drastic impact of the withdraw eased. He would not willingly admit to having a lyrium addiction, even though it was now apparent to everyone. "... symptoms deteriorated."
A glimpse of Barrows’ usual self reared up at Velanna’s inquiry about his herbal knowledge. "It's not something I know from my own studies," came his terse response. "I..." His thought trailed away. Velanna didn’t press, though she was curious how he came to know such a niche use for spindleweed. Impressed, actually, though she was loath to admit it just now. "I was visiting a remote Chantry where another Templar was being treated for severe burns. One of the Chantry Sisters insisted on it as part of their healing regimen." He shrugged, almost unnoticeable, and his hand came to rest briefly on his leg. "Once the soup was made, everyone ate it. But... the Templar did appear to benefit. His healing had no complications."

Velanna sat stiff and upright as if she had a tree supporting her back. She touched the place where the blistering had crept up her neck and behind her jaw, her vanity probably more injured than her skin. She was sure there was a balm to help with it, and hopefully a healer mage in the Keep. Surely someone as practical as Commander Berlra kept on on hand.

The matter switched away from Barrows’ herbal knowledge. "How many mages are in Vigil's Keep?"

“Three, myself included, though I didn’t think to take a proper head count.” There was no heat behind it, her words stated like objective fact rather than scathing opinion.

Barrows’ point was soon revealed. "The Chantry won't take kindly to how Commander Berlra treated the Templars. None of the Warden mages should leave the Keep unescorted."

That rankled, though the sour pucker of her lips was not directed at him. Wonderful. Once she had been a Keeper’s First, charged with the care and stewardship of the entire clan. Now she was to be cosseted away or yoked to a babysitter. There was little dealing with that now. Only waiting to see if things played out the way Barrows’ suspected they would.

When Barrows dropped his face into his palms Velanna almost yelled for the healer to come back, uncertain what was taking him so long in the first place. But it didn’t seem to be his illness that prompted yet another shift in his demeanor. "This is a mess," he said into his hands. "I should have appealed directly to the Knight-Captain before my..." Velanna tilted her head and her full attention to his apparent agony. "... symptoms deteriorated."

She wondered at how quickly things went from bad to worse after she’d made the decision to follow him. “You can keep bellyaching at the what-ifs or you can find your way forward.” Another statement of fact and not an admonishment.

She knew a few things about the should haves and what-ifs. What if she’d listened when Ilshae had forbidden her to go after the humans? Perhaps she should have kept a closer watch on Seranni. Just thinking of the way she failed her sister, the only person who ever really understood her, brought a haunted expression to her face for only a brief flicker. What if she’d not demanded Aedan make her a Grey Warden? Perhaps she shouldn’t have fled after the invasion of the Keep. These things kept her awake some times, and otherwise worked up when she would be at peace among the trees.

“Is it possible to live without it?” she asked. She frowned, curiosity and concern making awkward bedfellows of her face. “The lyrium. If you were able to push through the worst of the symptoms, with the proper resources, could you live without it?” She honestly knew so little about the Templar Order except for what they did most often in her presence. “If your chantry digs in their heels, this could happen again, and there might be no recourse. A chain they will be willing to yank when it pleases them.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and added, “Not that it’s any of my business.”
Were he seeking sympathy, Henri-Julien was to receive none. Thank the Maker, then, that he had only wished to articulate the extent of the current circumstances.

"You can keep bellyaching at the what-ifs or you can find your way forward," came Velanna's retort. Strange that he did not hear the words as a lambast, merely a terse appraisal of his options. He felt a flicker of begrudging respect which, oddly, stung him far more roundly than the accusation of 'belly-aching'.

Fortunately, he was spared from further reflection on his own feelings by the strange, though fleeting, glimpse of sheer anguish upon Velanna's face. There was no suggestion what had promoted the emotion, but he found himself entranced by the complete change in her features. Gone was the harsh arrogance which otherwise hardened her expression. In its place, a softness of which Henri-Julien had never, upon his oath to the Maker, thought the woman capable. Heat filled his cheeks and he hastily turned his head, thankful that Velanna was too lost in her thoughts to have noticed his stare. Fortunate... for both of them.

"Forward." Henri-Julien cleared his throat. Whatever had drawn her into her innermost thoughts clearly needed to be banished. And who better to dismiss troublesome spirits than a Templar? "I will," the word was stressed, "see that this is resolved satisfactorily." That it meant he would be required to face not only the Warden-Commander but also the Knight-Captain and Revered Mother did not pass him by. This was what his unshakeable confidence was for.

His tactic proved successful: Velanna was shaken from her brief lapse in attention. "Is it possible to live without it?" There was no preamble and Henri-Julien could not keep the confusion from his face, particularly given the intense battle between curiosity and... some other emotion... fighting for dominance in her expression.

"The lyrium," she clarified. "If you were able to push through the worst of the symptoms, with the proper resources, could you live without it?" His eyes narrowed, suspicion rearing its head in his thoughts. There was no reason why she should ask save-- "If your chantry digs in their heels, this could happen again, and there might be no recourse. A chain they will be willing to yank when it pleases them." The sparks of his righteous indignation were extinguished with a cold splash of truth. Not that he appreciated her phrasing, but the sentiment was at least astute.

Perhaps she noticed the change in his demeanour because she crossed her arms over her chest, adding almost offhand, "Not that it’s any of my business."

"It is not," he agreed, stiff and guarded. The truth was that her observation had unsettled him; it was safer to retreat into the established antagonistic sparring between them. "The Chantry would not abandon a loyal servant, be it Templar or priest or mage." It was a pointed barb, intended to deflect rather than hurt. She may have saved his life but what was one life compared to the Chantry? He knew where his loyalties lay and would always lie.

Lying back down on his bed, Henri-Julien purposefully turned his back upon the Dalish abomination. Not that he wished to lower his guard around the woman, but he also could not bring himself to face her. That would mean confronting the swirling clash of thoughts and emotions now churning through him. That he might have to endure another withdrawal...

He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to still his breathing. But to stop ingesting lyrium entirely? There were always whispered rumours but he had not met anyone who had done so. Why would they? Service to the Chantry ensured their regular doses. Except, and this was a painful admission, Henri-Julien had to confront the reality that the Chantry did not consider him in its service. The reaction of the Templars had proven as much.

Unwilling to continue with such unpleasant thoughts, Henri-Julien began to recite the Chant of Light in his head, willing himself to sleep. His exhausted body was more than eager to comply, and he soon dreamt of nothing at all.