Out of Sight, Out of Mind [Complete]

"It depends for which cause it was done." Henri-Julien’s answer came with an agitation so great it spurred him to stand and pace. He snatched up one of the rocks from their lessons and clutched it tightly in his fist. "Back in the rooftop garden, you asked why I was here. I said you wouldn't like the answer.” She did recall that, and braced herself. “It's the same answer to this question: I was Joined by an Orlesian Warden apostate. They hoped I would die." A mirthless grin twisted his face, turning features that weren’t entirely objectionable to something angry and cold. "That is not my bias; they said those exact words."

Having nothing useful to say, Velanna kept her tongue. Henri-Julien was not one prone to needless hyperbole. In fact, as she often was, he was honest to a brutal fault. If he said that was the way of it, she’d seen nothing in him that indicated it was otherwise.

"I can't begrudge them for it." She had to admit that point puzzled her, but she did not interrupt as he continued with his story. "Our paths only crossed because I had been severely injured by an escaped Fereldan apostate. It was obvious I could not have come to such harm any other way, particularly given the remoteness of the area."

Ah. This, then, was the point he likely believed she would not like, though Velanna found herself surprisingly unperturbed. Oh, she did not relish the thought of being pursued, and reasoned, based on her own experience with the man in question, that it was a matter of survival in the face of his not inconsiderable skill of hunting. There was only one way something like that was going to end, with injury or death on at least one side.

A wry smile took over his face, this one equally cold and without humor as the last. "I didn't encounter a darkspawn until a few months after my Joining. That was how determined they were that I should die: not even permitted to waste time by hunting my own darkspawn." That was a point Velanna had not considered before, that she, neither, had hunted her own. The entire affair of her Joining had been rather rushed, like an inconvenience that could not be avoided. She wondered, after the fiasco in the silverite mines, if her survival had also been a disappointment.

It did not matter. She did. As did Henri-Julien. Here they were now in the present.

"So, to answer your statement, I imagine that particular Warden regards my loss to the cause of the Templars to be a boon, not a waste. And I," his agitation was not undone by the deep breath he took in and released, "exist in this insufferable state of inaction, neither required to uphold my Templars oaths nor my Warden ones."

Well, now, that did not make sense. Were they not here on the Warden business after all? She held her thoughts on that. For now.

"It's enough to make you want to go digging for an Archdemon yourself."

She was not so removed from people that she did not recognize the sardonic tone of that last statement, but it was this that flipped something in her. Velanna could hardly claim to be entirely aligned with the cause of the Grey Wardens. Was she not only here because she had nowhere else to go? Not that she intended to flee. Again. At least, not if it was not necessary. Her reason for Joining had been her own, and that ended with a corpse in the Deep Roads, an admonishment from her former clan, and a realization that the closest thing to a purpose in her seemingly cursed life was here. She would have revenge for the death of her sister, but it also gave her a place to lay her head.

Finding she could not continue sitting, she slapped her hands on her thighs and stood, facing in his direction. “Then let us dig for an Archdemon.” Oh, she didn’t mean to head off on some ecstatic search. Nor did she really desire to single-handedly ignite another Blight. She cared not about Ferelden in the sense of who was or was not ruling it or if its cities stood, but Blights were not merely shemlen dilemmas. “Let’s find a purpose. Decide whether or not you are beholden to the Grey Wardens and go from there.” She lifted her arms, turning on her feet enough to indicate how very vast and wide their world was, and said, “We are alone here. We can do the task we are set to do, because we believe it should be done, or we don’t, and go where we wish from here.

Velanna wasn’t even certain she meant it. Leave the Wardens again? “There is no one here but me. You can overpower me, easy enough. Or,” she dropped her hands to her sides. “Take me with you. You say it’s your job to keep me safe and in your custody until I am deposited in some Circle. I will submit to no Circle.” By that logic, he would need to kill her, which was against his precious oaths. She took a chance. “My point is that you don’t have to be miserable. If it’s purpose you seek, find one. I will help you.
Spurred into movement, Velanna broke the quiet with a firm slap of her hands against her thighs, finding her feet with enviable grace. "Then let us dig for an Archdemon."

Utterly taken aback, Henri-Julien spluttered his disbelief, wondering if his companion had succumbed to a demon. What else would explain this complete lapse of judgement? He had been joking, for the love of Andraste. Yet he had not sensed any summoning which might explain possession. But even Velanna, swaddled in her disdain of everything that was not Dalish, could not seriously suggest that a Blight was the answer to his enforced ennui?

"Let’s find a purpose," she went on. He let out a smothered breath, relieved to discover her previous sentiment had been an analogy only. "Decide whether or not you are beholden to the Grey Wardens and go from there." Raising her arms, she circled where she stood once to emphasise the enormity of their world. "We are alone here. We can do the task we are set to do, because we believe it should be done, or we don’t, and go where we wish from here."

Henri-Julien blew out his cheeks, staring at her as though she had just declared she was the Empress of Orlais. This was pure folly! Disregard the task assigned them by Commander Berlra? A task which was designed solely to ensure their prolonged absence from Amaranthine and nothing more... No, he shook his head free of those whispered thoughts, trying to rid their traitorous temptations.

"There is no one here but me. You can overpower me, easy enough. Or," her arms dropped to her sides, emphasising her lithe frame. Although they were similarly shaped, her a mage and he a rogue, he likely just edged her out with regards sheer strength. Plus his lyrium abilities granted him an indisputable advantage. "Take me with you. You say it’s your job to keep me safe and in your custody until I am deposited in some Circle. I will submit to no Circle." Which, in theory, meant that he should kill her where she stood. Fortunately for them both, she was - as he had found himself reminding many different people over the last few months - a Grey Warden. He opted to gloss over the troublesome detail in favour of concentrating more fully on her meaning. "My point is that you don’t have to be miserable. If it’s purpose you seek, find one. I will help you."

Silence reigned. Henri-Julien could not recall a time when he was more perfectly speechless. Was this the dwarven ale speaking? No, they had spent enough time in the fresh air to have sufficiently sobered by now.

"What?" He spun away from her, taking a few steps before whirling around again. "What?!" His extensive education was really shining through his eloquent rhetoric. "I... what?!" He wished he had not dropped the rock for the sheer comfort of having something substantial by which to remind him of his corporeal existence and not this... strange Fade-like alternative dimension.

"You... I... we..." He blew out his cheeks, his brain misfiring. Unable to summon any coherent speech, Henri-Julien held up a hand, indicating that he needed a moment. In truth, he needed more than a moment, but neither of them were renowned for patience.

Instead, he moved to the fire, sinking down in front of it and crossing his legs. Not dissimilar to his vigil, he stared into the flickering flames, albeit many instead of singular, and searched for that same inner serenity, his breathing evening out as he finally found at least a scrap of it. At least now he felt capable of articulating more than one word at a time.

"I came to the Fereldan Grey Wardens because of rumours about Soldier's Peak." Given what she was suggesting, it seemed important to emphasise that not all of his oaths were a yoke around his neck. "Ancient magic, probably even blood magic. But," his gaze returned to the flames, "Berlra will not listen to me. He states that Aedan Cousland resolved the matter during the Blight." Although he had not explicitly banned Henri-Julien from investigating further. Then again, there was little need to do so when the Fereldan Grey Wardens lurched from crisis to crisis, occupying much of their energy and time. "There's supposedly a merchant who trades from Soldier's Peak but I have never encountered him visiting Vigil's Keep. I wouldn't be surprised if large parts of the fortress are just sealed off without any attempt to check it's still safe or could be reclaimed." His sigh was heartfelt. "If I can't use my abilities for a meaningful purpose for the Order within Ferelden, why even stay here?"

His brows pinched while he absent-mindedly chewed on his thumb nail. "I don't know anything else but defending against magic," he muttered. "I don't want to learn anything else." His frown deepened, risking another glance towards Velanna. The thought did hit him that perhaps this was a test of his loyalty but that did not seem in-keeping with the Warden-Commander's way of working. He tended to take his Wardens at disappointing face-value. "I won't overpower you unless you attack me or endanger others." As per his Templar oaths. "So, if I were to go di--" No, best not risk her thinking digging up an archdemon was a viable option. "--cover a purpose that lies beyond the Order, why would you come with me? What would you hope to find?"
"What?" Henri-Julien managed after a searing silence. Part of Velanna thought he’d slit her throat then and there, though it was a very small part. Whatever this was between them it had moved on from outright malice into something almost civil. "What?!" It seemed he was unable to offer much else. "I... what?!"

After a few more silent moments passed, he gained a few more words. "You... I... we..." He stymied her with an unnecessary hand, begging or perhaps warning her not to speak.

She did not joke, didn’t always appreciate them, and was not, now, being hyperbolic. Obviously Velanna had no qualms leaving things behind if motivated by what she considered the right reasons. So she did not so much as shrug in response and gave him room to work through what she’d said. Though she did cross her arms, shifting her weight to her back foot and tapping the other quietly.

Henri-Julien was a very odd creature. After he pinged around the expanse of their camp he came to the fire, sitting in front of it and seeking some kind of peace with the leaping flames. Velanna watched the sparks spiral upward as if this somehow afforded him privacy.

"I came to the Fereldan Grey Wardens because of rumours about Soldier's Peak," Interesting, but she hardly saw why it was pertinent to the conversation. "Ancient magic, probably even blood magic. But," he returned the line of his sight to the fire, whether into it or through it she could not say, "Berlra will not listen to me. He states that Aedan Cousland resolved the matter during the Blight." Aedan only resolved things that mattered to him directly. Velanna had seen that with her own eyes. "There's supposedly a merchant who trades from Soldier's Peak but I have never encountered him visiting Vigil's Keep. I wouldn't be surprised if large parts of the fortress are just sealed off without any attempt to check it's still safe or could be reclaimed." He sighed, the sound making a soft ache in Velanna’s own chest. She did not share his convictions, but she shared the knowledge of being denied your purpose. "If I can't use my abilities for a meaningful purpose for the Order within Ferelden, why even stay here?"

Why, indeed?” was all she said.

Still focused on the fire, and whether he realized he was doing it or not, Henri-Julien chewed at the tip of his thumbnail. "I don't know anything else but defending against magic," he grumbled. "I don't want to learn anything else." He frowned, the lines and creases combined with the flickering shadows aging him considerably. "I won't overpower you unless you attack me or endanger others." A fair arrangement. She could promise no less. "So, if I were to go di--" He stopped himself from whatever he was about to say. "--cover a purpose that lies beyond the Order, why would you come with me? What would you hope to find?"

What could I hope to find if I stay?” she countered. “A place to rest my head and keep my few possessions?” She’d not had trouble living on her own, on the go, always moving and resting where she could. She knew how to survive. Vigil’s Keep was easier. There was something which plucked at her deep in her belly, though, and she hesitated, making a half-moon track on her side of the fire, it now being her turn to look to it for answers. “I would challenge you to find a single soul in Vigil’s Keep who cares if I live or die.” Even the tall dumb one with the blond hair had no opinion but that she should be left alone lest she kill him with a glare. She liked to think it did not bother her. Rather, she liked to say that it did not bother her.

I closed myself off from children my age to study with the Keeper. I left my clan to seek justice against the shemlen who had tried to kill us by setting fire to our camp.” She crossed her arms beneath her breasts and hugged herself around the waist. “I joined the Wardens to find my sister. My only companion and ally.” She waited a moment before adding, “She became a ghoul by choice and is now dead.

She rounded the fire as if a cord were tugging her by the belly and she crouched so she could look to Henri-Julien in the face on an even level. “I have nothing to show for my life but a few plants and a partially blank book, and years of knowledge I am unable to use. I’m not living; I’m existing.

Most of the words came from a place inside her she’d hidden away, where they could not become dark clouds in her thoughts. She needed to believe that she was fine. But as she crouched here, sharing Henri-Julien’s moment of existential crisis, she found she could not hold it back any longer. Once she let the thoughts out of their box they would not be silent.

Velanna gave up her crouch and lowered gracefully to the ground beside him, careful to leave a rigid inch of space between them. She crossed her legs and laid a hand on each knee. Something inconsolable gripped her from inside, and she stared, frowning, into the fire. “I will not attack or hurt you unless you try to do so to me.” She swallowed. “You might be the closest thing I have to a friend.” A difficult admission, and not one she was sure he would agree with. “Pl—” She stopped, then pressed on, almost contrite in her words. “Please, if you go, do not leave me here to whither in this listless existence where I do not matter.
Velanna's response was immediate. "What could I hope to find if I stay?" Even Henri-Julien could not find much to argue in that particular point. "A place to rest my head and keep my few possessions?" True that Vigil's Keep was not the only location which could offer those things.

Suddenly unsettled, Velanna paced her side of the fire, gazing upon it with the same intensity as Henri-Julien. "I would challenge you to find a single soul in Vigil’s Keep who cares if I live or die."

He could offer no reassurance to the contrary but neither did Henri-Julien choose to twist the blade in her gut. How could he? The very same could be said for his own existence, save that the Commander had opposed the Templars on his behalf. But that had been more a drawing of lines between the two Orders and not specific to him as an individual.

"I closed myself off from children my age to study with the Keeper. I left my clan to seek justice against the shemlen who had tried to kill us by setting fire to our camp." She wrapped her arms around her waist, seeking her own comfort. "I joined the Wardens to find my sister. My only companion and ally." A pause before, "She became a ghoul by choice and is now dead."

Letting out a slow breath, Henri-Julien did not offer the empty words of condolence, knowing how it would rile him to receive the same from her. Nevertheless, he did not overlook either the importance or pain of what she had just shared. Perhaps there was more reason than he anticipated for Velanna being the way she was.

Moving swiftly, she circled around the fire and sank into a crouch beside him, holding his gaze with disconcerting closeness. "I have nothing to show for my life but a few plants and a partially blank book, and years of knowledge I am unable to use. I’m not living; I’m existing."

But that was only the beginning. She eased into her own sitting position beside him, hands resting on her knees, and with a deliberate strip of space maintained between them. Her brow furrowed, she focused her gaze into the fire. "I will not attack or hurt you unless you try to do so to me." Her throat worked against some wave of emotion. "You might be the closest thing I have to a friend." He startled, but did not interject. "Pl—" She hesitated then rushed out the remainder of it: "Please, if you go, do not leave me here to whither in this listless existence where I do not matter."

Embarrassed by the raw emotion, or perhaps nervous of the sincerity revealed in it, Henri-Julien was standoffish in his response. "I am your Templar escort," he grunted, turning his head so that she might only glimpse his expression in profile. "Where one goes, the other must also go." Clearing his throat, he shook his head and hopped back up onto his feet, making a show of fetching his waterskin even as he repositioned himself further from Velanna. It was not that her proximity repulsed him, as he might have claimed only a few weeks ago, but that he was spooked by her open honesty. He was not someone in whom many, if any, people had confided. Why should they? He had made a deliberate effort to establish himself as someone who relied only upon himself, a necessity for being a Templar tracker which had swiftly morphed into a deliberate precaution when a Grey Warden.

But could he really be considering surrendering his oath to the Grey Wardens? It did not have to be a permanent decision. In fact, there was a real possibility that Commander Berlra might not even notice that either he or Velanna had not returned within the expected timeframe, dismissing their absence as having encountered something which required their attention. And, even in his most honest self-reflection, the idea of forcing Theirin to step-up to being a Senior Warden through sheer virtue of being the only one available was appealing. Even so, could Henri-Julien really be so glib about his responsibilities?

Except he had never absorbed the responsibilities of the Grey Wardens in the same manner as his Templar duties. He had essentially been conscripted in a time when a Blight did not demand immediate action. Why should he hold himself to those vows?

"Fine, we'll both go." The words were flat and matter-of-fact. "At first light, we'll pack up and leave." He took a sip of the waterskin more out of habit than need. "I will buy some additional vials of lyrium from the merchants across the way." It was strictly approved by the Chantry but the reality was that he would not risk withdrawal again. Surely dwarven merchants had at least a handful of vials available.

He let loose a long breath, the heavy weight across his shoulders easing slightly. "Let's return to the Imperial Highway and head south, following the shores of Lake Calenhad." His shoulders lifted and fell. "We can decide if we want to cross the Frostbacks by Sulcher's Pass once we reach it."
Velanna had opened a dangerous dam in her efforts to plead her case for traveling with Henri-Julien. Frankly, she was embarrassed, barely managing to keep her face neutral as her companion answered.

"I am your Templar escort," was his guttural response. "Where one goes, the other must also go." He sprang to his feet, relieving them both of the oddity of their proximity.

Velanna pursed her lips, considering. She wasn’t foolish enough to believe his answer meant he saw such an arrangement as an equal partnership, but she counted it good enough. For now. Not so many weeks ago this very idea would have been absurd. Or at knifepoint. She nodded her assent to his terms.

For a short time, Henri-Julien withdrew into himself, or rather further than normal. It served no purpose to rush or press him on his thoughts. She knew well enough by now that he could not, would not be pushed without an entire ordeal. Of course there were trees back in the Wending Wood which were likely still smoking as testament to her own patience.

Eventually he spoke, his decision devoid of any emotion. Good. That was how she preferred it. "Fine, we'll both go. At first light, we'll pack up and leave." He sipped from his waterskin, not yet tapped dry by their earlier exchange of lessons. "I will buy some additional vials of lyrium from the merchants across the way." That was prudent, as she had seen first hand what happened when he was in withdrawal. Still she wondered if it were possible for him to live without it eventually, but she would not dare to once again voice such a thought now, if ever.

"Let's return to the Imperial Highway and head south,” he continued, “following the shores of Lake Calenhad." She lifted a blonde brow at that, knowing perfectly well what existed off the shores of that lake. It would require a good deal of trust on her part to accept he did not mean to turn her in. Only time would tell if he was that foolish. "We can decide if we want to cross the Frostbacks by Sulcher's Pass once we reach it."

A straightforward plan,” she acknowledged. “As good as any.” It didn’t bother her overmuch that he took it upon himself to decide where they would go. She had, afterall, started this cockamamie idea for his benefit, to help him find a purpose of which he was bereft. There were enough settlements along the lake that they could barter for supplies they needed as they traveled further south.

There seemed no reason to belabor the point further. He had a plan. She was mollified for the time being that it was suitable to both of them, and he seemed content enough that she agreed to the terms.

Uncrossing her legs, Velanna rocked her weight forward and rose to her feet. “It seems there is little else to discuss.” They both knew how to survive, and in many ways traveling in a pair would make that simpler. “I suggest we not waste night hours on prattle, and rest.” While they were both sobered well enough, they had still spent the day in travel. If they were to do this, it was best to start with a good night’s sleep. That they had to share the tent was of no consequence. Velanna quickly readied herself, washing her face and letting her hair down to braid for sleep. When she was as settled as circumstances allowed, she found her mind moving too quickly to immediately drift off.