Digging For an Archdemon Part I [Complete]

For what felt an age, Velanna held his gaze, the flickering movement of her eyes indicating that she was searching for something. Henri-Julien remained still, waiting out this strange test, until she finally accepted the little wooden box, holding it close against her chest. Her fingers moved slightly as she traced the grain of the wood, though Henri-Julien could not say whether the gesture was conscious or not.

"Thank you." Had his focus not already been trained on her face, he might have missed the words, so softly spoken were they. Instead, he inferred, rather than heard, the sentiment, translating the slight movement of her lips which tickled against the air.

Perhaps feeling obliged by his continued attentions, Velanna searched for her voice again. "I," but stopped as soon as she began. Instead, she took a moment, before speaking once more, more assuredly this time. "I shall endeavor to be worthy of it." She seemed to teeter on her feet for a moment, her normally perfect balance impeded in some way. But she regained her poise as swiftly as she had almost lost it, adding, "Should we encounter others, I will follow your lead."

He drew in a deep breath, almost giddy with relief. He had not realised how heavily the burden of his escort duties had weighed on him until confronted with the reality that he might not be able to honour his word. Although Henri-Julien ignored the whispers threading through his thoughts querying why keeping his word to a Dalish apostate mattered so much. 

Wrapping up the box, Velanna carefully placed it in her pack before looking to him, her wide eyes lending her an air of innocent trust. "Your honesty is worth more than any niceties, even if I do not always understand it."

The very corner of his mouth tugged upward, albeit fleetingly. So he was forgiven for his display of temper? Henri-Julien offered a single nod by way of acknowledgement, having no wish to either castigate himself or invite further examination of his character. 

"We should keep moving." She stated the fact without any movement whatsoever. "Docile has never been a strength of mine." A flicker of a smile, just briefly, touched her lips before it was dashed away. She turned her head, physically breaking the linked gaze between them, before continuing on along the route Henri-Julien had previously picked out.

Exhaling a rush of air, though he was unsure why his breath had caught in his chest, Henri-Julien followed after her for a few steps until he remembered himself. Hastily, he lengthened his stride until he was half-a-step ahead of her pace, maintaining the appearance of a Templar escort. Hopefully, with their enhanced endurance, they would be able to out-pace any Templar patrols roaming the furthest reaches of Edgehall's lands, and reach Haven without further incident.

As it so happened, the Maker was in agreement with this particular wish of Henri-Julien's. The remainder of their journey southward was uneventful. Upon reaching the winding route into Haven, they merged into the steady flow of pilgrims, drawing sidelong glances from some. Henri-Julien could feel the edges of his temper begin to scorch, threatening to ignite into another spectacular flash of anger. Perhaps he should have anticipated that regardless what she wore, Velanna was very much a Dalish (there was no mistaking her as from an Alienage), and that visiting one of the most holy places to the Andrastian faith would always have attracted attention.

Thankfully, given the recent intervention of Divine Justinia with regards restoring the practically abandoned village, Haven itself was bustling. Still, Henri-Julien did not feel like tarrying, and he pressed onwards up the steep slope towards the temple itself. Some restoration had already taken place, namely to secure the site from further dereliction, but the remainder of it was very much it had been for centuries. Access was severely restricted, however. That did not matter to Henri-Julien; he was not so arrogant as to believe himself worthy of looking upon the very urn itself. Or, perhaps more accurately, he was apprehensive of what he might discover about himself if he were to do so.

Instead, their progress was halted at the mountain top where, according to much inflated legend, Aedan Cousland had single-handedly slaughtered a high dragon. If it were true, all useful parts of the dragon had been stolen away, leaving nothing but a whistling wind and desolate landscape behind.

Coming to a halt out of the way of other pilgrims, Henri-Julien stared at the outside of the temple, seemingly carved into the mountain itself. While he could not deny a very real sense of awe, he also could not claim to have a sudden renewal of his faith. But then, should something so fundamental to his existence even require such an intervention? He blew out his cheeks, eyes still fixed on the temple.

"What do you see?" He asked abruptly. Turning his head, he studied Velanna, more open and vulnerable than he might have wished. "Andraste means nothing to you. As an outsider, what do you take from this place?" He gestured to their surroundings, including not just the temple in front of them but the entire area.
Velanna hoped that if they walked fast enough she could escape the warmth of her cheeks, an uncomfortable sensation not helped by the hasty steps of her companion. She had no explanation for it, and did her best to act as if it were merely the flush of exertion. Very little needed to be said as they continued, keeping their pace brisk to stay ahead of any other templars in the area. They passed Edgehall with no incident, something that seemed to ease both of them, at least by any measure either of them were ever at ease.

With Mythal’s blessing they were able to make it to the village of Haven with no trouble to be found. The grief that she’d carried in her chest and stomach was no more, instead replaced with something that felt oddly like gratitude. Haven was hardly as Aedan had described it, though what was? It thrummed with vendors and traders in addition to the smattering of what looked to be villagers as well as passing travelers. Pilgrims, she corrected herself, traveling to a sacred place to those who believed in the shemlen Maker.

Velanna obviously stood out in the crowd, far too proud to be of an alienage if the valleslin on her face did not give her away. Most of the travelers were caught up in their own affairs to pay her much notice, but notice they did, their eyes darting to, she was sure, her ears. As they climbed the steep trail leading up toward the chantry, Velanna fussed with her hair, knotting the top in a way that let the full length of the sides cover her ears and the rest spill down her back and shoulders.

The trail had been restored and maintained for the sake of travelers, as well as the temple, which had been restored in parts that were obviously meant to strengthen the facade. That they were stopped in their progression perplexed Velanna greatly, her brow creasing and frown deepening. They were here to see this Andraste’s ashes, were they not? They why would a templar not be allowed to do so? It was the sort of human gatekeeping nonsense that made the word shemlen like venom when she spoke it. She could not imagine stopping another Dalish in their pursuit of honoring the gods anymore than she could imagine herself paying homage to the Chantry’s Maker. The gods were for all, not some few selected by unknowable standards.

Henri-Julien did not seem as put out by this, but when they stopped to the side, out of the path of those attempting to move further on, he turned to her. "What do you see?" He asked, breaking the easy silence between them for the first time in awhile. Velanna met his eyes, not expecting the openness she found there. Something which softened his features and made him look closer to what she guessed his age to be. She straightened her shoulders, fighting that tingle of heat over her cheeks once more. "Andraste means nothing to you. As an outsider, what do you take from this place?"

What does it matter what I think?” she asked, but without any of her usual sternness. No, it would not do to ruffle him now when there was something so… raw that she could not name in his expression. She couldn’t name it, but it suited him, something she quickly shook from her mind.

She looked around them, at the empty rock path behind them, at the location of the supposed high dragon that Aedan himself had felled, if story were to be believed. She looked upon the snow in wonder, as she found it, well, pretty. She shivered, rubbing her hands over her arms.

It was once a shelter from the Alamarri,” she said, falling back on her Keeper’s education to buy her a few moments to think. “I rather like how it was carved into nature instead of against it,” she noted, as the temple had been bored into the mountain itself, allowing the wind-scrubbed trees to remain growing. “It is respectful.” She let out a quiet sigh, unsure what he was looking for. She hesitated before adding, “It’s lovely. In a way.

She crossed arms over her chest and watched his face more openly than perhaps she should have. “It’s not your faith that has been shaken,” she said quietly. “There is no arguing how it lives in you and guides your every action. You’ve come here to find something, but it may not be what you thought it would be. The important question is what do you see? Perhaps that is what is missing from your sense of purpose.” She blinked as if startled, and shook her gaze away from his, then blew out a breath and watched the plume of steam float away.
Henri-Julien should not have been surprised by Velanna's swift and blunt reply. "What does it matter what I think?" Yet he was. So much so that he flinched at the words, despite the fact they were not delivered in her usual biting tone. He had hoped, perhaps foolishly, that she would not so roundly rebuff him. Surely she must know that he would not ask such a thing were it not important in some way? Neither of them used words only to fill silence.

Maybe that was precisely what Velanna did realise, albeit belatedly. Turning her head this way and that, she took stock of the surroundings, rubbing her hands over her arms to help ward against the biting chill of the wind. Henri-Julien barely noticed, save for the slight glare of the sunlight against the snow.

"It was once a shelter from the Alamarri," she remarked, of her own accord this time. "I rather like how it was carved into nature instead of against it," which was unsurprising given her heritage, "It is respectful." A small sigh broke through her lips, frustrated and uncertain in equal measure it seemed. "It’s lovely. In a way."

None of which was helpful to Henri-Julien. Or, perhaps more accurately, it was exactly what he himself saw. And if a Dalish apostate saw precisely what a Templar saw, well... It did not bode well for one of them.

Folding her arms, Velanna bored her gaze into his face, a little more intensely than Henri-Julien was either accustomed or expected. "It’s not your faith that has been shaken," she stated, careful and considerate in how she spoke. He could not rile any part of his temper as a result. "There is no arguing how it lives in you and guides your every action. You’ve come here to find something, but it may not be what you thought it would be. The important question is what do you see? Perhaps that is what is missing from your sense of purpose." Almost as though catching herself, Velanna blinked repeatedly before refocusing on their immediate surroundings, blowing out her cheeks so that a cloud of condensation furled from her lips.

"I see the past." Startled, he almost whirled around, certain the words had been spoken by some eavesdropper. But no, the voice was his. "I..." He started again, as much an audience to his thoughts as Velanna herself. ".... see our shrine to Andraste. Ours - humans, the Chantry; not hers." His throat worked against the words, sensing the devastating truth of what he himself was yet to understand. "I see nothing of Andraste here."

A small catch in his breath hinted at the abrupt tightness of his chest. He faltered, just enough to take a step sideways, before regaining his sure-footed stance. Bowing his head, he sought to control the chaos waging war within him, some strange panic that rampaged independently of his own will. He felt split into two halves: one, the diligent dutiful Templar; the other, the questioning precocious child. 

Henri-Julien forced his head up, looking to Velanna as a drowning man might the distant shore. "I don't understand. Had I come here before I was Joined..." he trailed off yet again, tearing his gaze away to glance at his surroundings. "It would have renewed me." He knew that as certainly as he knew anything. "But now, here I am, and it only raises more questions about what I... am. Do." His identity was so bound up in his duties that it was impossible to separate the two. "Why are all the things I was taught, all the things I know and believe, no longer good enough for me?"

The sound of a bell rang out through the clear air. The Chantry in the village below, calling the faithful to prayer. Henri-Julien winced against the noise, the pinching sensation in his temples akin to withdrawal. But he had taken his daily dose of lyrium already. "Let's find a room for the night," he muttered, rubbing at his forehead. "You're cold and I... need rest. We have the coin."
"I see the past." Henri-Julien seemed to be shocked at his own words. "I..." He trailed off, needing a moment to catch up with his thoughts before he continued. ".... see our shrine to Andraste. Ours - humans, the Chantry; not hers." The words troubled him, and Velanna felt like she was witness to something very personal to him, something maybe she was not meant to see. "I see nothing of Andraste here."

His breath seemed to draw tight, and as she stood in the pool of his distress, she found herself helpless to offer anything useful. While she didn’t understand the difference between the shemlen Chantry or what Henri-Julien was seeing now, she suspected she understood what he was feeling. A shattering of the foundation upon which he stood.

The pool swelled into a tide and Henri-Julien looked to her as if she could possibly help. "I don't understand. Had I come here before I was Joined..." He trailed off again, this time looking around them as if he might find the solution in the snow or the people passing. "It would have renewed me. But now, here I am, and it only raises more questions about what I... am. Do. Why are all the things I was taught, all the things I know and believe, no longer good enough for me?"

Sparing her the need to answer impossible questions, a bell from what she assumed to be the nearby chantry building rang out. Henri-Julien winced at the sound instead of being drawn by it like so many others were. "Let's find a room for the night," he grumbled, as if it were a burden. "You're cold and I... need rest. We have the coin."

They did have the coin, but it still surprised her to hear her comfort taken into consideration. Not that she would complain. Being accustomed to making the outdoors her home did not preclude her from enjoying the creature comforts that life in the Wardens had introduced. A soft bed and a good night’s sleep would do them both some good.

That was not to be gained as simply as that. Haven drew many, as the crowds clearly spelled out. Just as many who sought the relic here stayed overnight, and rooms were scarce. They procured the last available.

You are more than what you do,” she said softly from just behind him as they climbed the stairs. "More to offer the world." She’d already admitted out loud that he’d become the closest she had to a friend, and with his symbol of trust tucked into her pack, she decided she didn’t need to bother with false coolness. His distress caused something in her chest to tighten, and while she did not feel the need to fill the silence needlessly, she felt compelled to think of something comforting to offer. “If this is the past then you have ruled out one choice of which direction to find your future. We dig elsewhere for your archdemon.

She paused and waited while he unlocked the room.

The room was a cramped affair with one modest sized bed and barely enough room for a side table and chair beside it. A pitcher and bowl, and other necessities dotted the space, making the most of every inch of space that was not taken up by the furniture. It wasn’t so small that the whole place would go up with one spark from the fire, but cozy was being generous.

Velanna honed in on the fire, drinking in the warmth and immediately finding relief in it. Small spaces didn’t bother her overmuch, having grown up in aravels, and it was only a matter of minutes before she was comfortable without her boots and warming herself while kneeling near the small hearth. “A meal will help as well,” she noted. Nothing extravagant, of course, but they did have the coin to obtain something hot that they did not have to catch for themselves.
Only once they had located the last available room did Velanna speak again. "You are more than what you do," she declared, though her voice was soft. "More to offer the world." Did he? Oh, to have her confidence. Perhaps it would have been more comforting if Henri-Julien did not already know how she longed for the certainties tied up in her role as a First. But he did not wish to begin an argument, not when he recognised that Velanna was making an effort to soothe his turmoil. "If this is the past then you have ruled out one choice of which direction to find your future. We dig elsewhere for your archdemon."

That... held more comfort. He frowned with the effort of considering her words, considering where 'elsewhere' might be, while he unlocked their rented room. Inside, the room was barely larger than a Chantry anteroom, with space enough for a bed, side table and chair. The expected accoutrements were all accounted for, though not necessarily next to one another. The dimensions of the room demanded that items be placed according to where there was space rather than where may be convenient for the occupant. Or, in this case, occupants.

Gravitating towards the fire, Velanna sank down in front of the hearth, removing her boots to better ease her comfort. "A meal will help as well," she remarked. 

Not wishing to dirty the fresh linen of the bed with his mud-flecked leathers, Henri-Julien opted for the chair, the wood creaking slightly as he settled his weight upon it. He held still mid-movement, holding his breath, wondering if the worn piece of furniture was about to collapse, but no further calamity struck. He (gingerly) relaxed the entirety of his weight upon it... The chair held. Just as well. He only had energy to deal with one crisis at a time, and his current existential one was sufficient for the moment.

"It took four hundred years for the darkspawn to release Urthemiel." He spoke without preamble, trusting to their established pattern of continuing conversations which had been put aside minutes, hours, even a day before. The threads of their conversations were woven securely, not becoming brittle or frayed through merely the passage of time. "I don't think a Blight has been any less than two hundred years apart. It doesn't bode well for my search." Truth and flippancy mingled in his words.

Stretching out where he sat, his clasped hands resting lightly on his stomach, Henri-Julien allowed his head to fall back, refocusing on the white-washed ceiling above. He was wearied, inside and out. Yet, perhaps more pressing, was that he was frustrated by this experience of allowing his feelings and whims to drive his decisions, none of which led to any answers. Indeed, ever since abandoning their purpose at Orzammar, his decisions had only led to experiences which had only served to torment and confuse his flagging spirits even further.

"There's only one bed." The realisation was akin to a shield bash against his jaw. Sitting bolt upright, Henri-Julien turned an accusing glare upon said object, as though the bed itself had colluded in this dilemma. "There's two of us... and only one bed." He looked to Velanna, somewhat startled by her (not surprising) presence. "You!" He scrambled up onto his feet, still tired but unable to remain still. "You're the reason I'm feeling this way!"

Hastily, he dropped to his knees in front of her, earnest in his rush to explain. "No, don't." Whether or not he was right to anticipate her protests, it did not stop him from issuing the interjection. "Listen. I didn't notice the single bed. Why should I? I travel alone. I've slept in many rooms with one bed. But," his eyes gleamed with triumph about his sudden revelation, "I'm not travelling alone. I'm travelling with you. I've travelled with you for months now, on and off. Do you understand?" Likely not, as he had given no real explanation. But for the first time in weeks, he sensed that this, this confusing muddle of words, was true. Like a tiny flint of iron which suddenly drew the needle of a compass, this was the first real indication of where his archdemon lay. 

"No, wait." Just as abruptly as he had begun talking, Henri-Julien fell silent. His gaze fell to the space between their knees, only mere inches apart, while his mind filtered through the rushing grains of thought, each one small but unique. Slight twitches of his head and partial mouthing of words were the only indicators that the young man had not fallen into some malady of the mind, robbed of all sense. It had been many years since Henri-Julien had lost himself so deeply to a train of thought, enchanted by some discovery or revelation which promised to mould his very understanding of the world. He had almost forgotten what it felt like.

Suddenly, he blinked, his introspection drifting away bit by bit. A smile, triumphant but dazed, brightened his face for a brief moment. "Do you know how many positive experiences I've had with mages?" He held up his hand, his thumb tucked into his palm. "Everything I have experienced has only proven that those with magic are to be distrusted." The smile had dissipated, leaving behind his habitual guarded expression. Yet he was not angry nor accusatory. "Yet I have been vulnerable many times and you have not harmed me. More than that, not only are you an apostate but you're Dalish. You should be the worst opponent I could ever face, save for a demon itself. You are not." That may be viewed as an insult, depending on her interpretation. "How can I maintain my original sense of purpose when something entirely contrary to it exists right in front of me? I can't."
Though it was well into spring in Ferelden, the mountain air had chilled Velanna, and she basked in the warmth from the fire as Henri-Julien settled upon the solitary chair in their shared room. Though neither of them spoke for a time, he followed their usual pattern of picking right up where they left off as if nothing had stopped.

"It took four hundred years for the darkspawn to release Urthemiel." He referred back to their ongoing jest. "I don't think a Blight has been any less than two hundred years apart. It doesn't bode well for my search."

She smiled crookedly at that, welcoming any lightness during this time when he was lost to his introspection. She didn’t respond, letting him settle in the quiet that he needed, hoping it would give him time to listen to the many things around him that could be leading him in a direction or another. Ilshae had always stressed the importance of listening to the world. To the spirits. The wind. The trees. They all had a message if the person was willing to listen. Even inside oneself. She did not have much to offer in the way of helping him through his crisis, but this much she could manage.

He sat, his head dropped back as he watched the ceiling, possibly seeking answers there. In respite, with the fire providing the only light to the room, it glinted off of his armour, his hair, the shadows sharpening angles of his jaw, the lines of his neck. There were rare moments when he looked truly at rest, and this was one of them. She turned her face away and looked to the fire, preferring the heat of the flames to whatever simmered now under her skin, and dismissing it.

The quiet stretched on for so long that when he spoke next, she startled. "There's only one bed." What? She followed the line of his glare to the furniture in question. It was true. How had she not realized as much before now? Likely because she was unused to staying at inns when traveling. Hardly anyone rented to Dalish traveling alone. That did raise a predicament. "There's two of us... and only one bed." Why did he seem surprised when he looked her way? She had not so much as moved in her spot. "You!" He leapt to his feet, almost as if his fatigue was forgotten. "You're the reason I'm feeling this way!"

What?

Before she could say more, he dropped to his knees as fast as he’d stood and cut her off. "No, don't. Listen. I didn't notice the single bed. Why should I? I travel alone. I've slept in many rooms with one bed. But," his clear blue eyes were a bubbling spring, practically dancing with whatever epiphany can him caught in thrall. "I'm not travelling alone. I'm travelling with you. I've travelled with you for months now, on and off. Do you understand?"

"No, wait." He demanded she hold her answer again. How could she possibly understand the point of his ravings, other than his seeming to blame her for his woes? Her jaw clenched but she did not interrupt while he fell silent once more. His eyes fell to the space between their knees, making her suddenly aware of his proximity, and no more clear as to why that mattered. His full mouth moved in murmur, nothing coherent or even audible at times. He shook his head in tiny twitches, and patient with quiet though she was, Velanna felt she might go mad if he kept her in the dark of his thoughts much longer.

Finally, he posed a question by way of explanation. He broke into a brilliant smile. "Do you know how many positive experiences I've had with mages?" He held up his hand, indicating only four, she could guess, not quite seeing what he was getting at. "Everything I have experienced has only proven that those with magic are to be distrusted." His smile drifted away, leaving behind his usual guarded visage, and Velanna waited for the accusation to come. For some absurd idea that she was somehow controlling him. "Yet I have been vulnerable many times and you have not harmed me. More than that, not only are you an apostate but you're Dalish. You should be the worst opponent I could ever face, save for a demon itself. You are not." Her head twitched back in surprise of his statement. "How can I maintain my original sense of purpose when something entirely contrary to it exists right in front of me? I can't."

She stared for some time, unsure what to make of all of it. “Are you… blaming me?” she asked, quiet as the fire and without any heat behind it. “For confusing you?” No, that couldn’t be it, because he was not the type of shemlen man to hold back his thoughts.

But that was when her own thoughts spun. Henri-Julien, at the base of everything that he was seemed to be right. They should have been bitter enemies. “You’re a shemlen man,” she managed. “I should hate everything about you.” She swallowed, not quite certain what to do with the realization she was having. “I do not. Yet you represent, you are everything I’ve been warned to avoid, and I do not.

What was she trying to say? His words whirled around her mind. They were complete opposites in almost every way, except for the thin threads that held them together in this delicate balance they maintained. She thought of his lyrium box tucked in her pack, and the words he’d spoken when he knew he’d frightened her. And she should be frightened of him. He was the one thing in all the world that could destroy her completely. She watched the space between them again, the inches between their knees, his hands upon his and hers upon hers.

I do not.” She looked up, her own confusion plain in her wide eyes. “I do not wish to avoid you. I do not wish to harm you. To fight you. I—” She what? Her face creased, her lips turning downward, eyes narrowing. “I never meant to bring such confusion to you.” Very carefully, like he were a halla not to be spooked, she reached and barely ghosted his fingers with her own. She pulled her hand back and curled her fingers into her palm. “I don’t wish to despise you at all. I don’t object to you at all. Since leaving Orzammar, I’ve been more at peace than I have in some time.” For all she held listening in importance, she’d not listened to the voice, still and small inside her, that actually enjoyed his company. “You’re the least objectionable shemlen I know." She laid her hands on her knees again and focused on them. “My wish truly is to help you find what you’re looking for, not to confuse you more.
His revelation was greeted by a deafening silence. Velanna stared at him, her large green eyes searching his face for an answer to a question which Henri-Julien had surely already provided. Had she not been listening as he instructed?

"Are you… blaming me?" Her voice was soft, verging on fragile without accusation to strengthen it. "For confusing you?"

Henri-Julien recoiled. How had she come to that conclusion? "Weren't you listening?" His explanation had been crystal clear!

Yet it was Velanna's turn to become lost in her thoughts. She paid no heed to his question, instead focusing on her own unfolding realisations. "You’re a shemlen man," she remarked, much in the same drawn out manner as he. "I should hate everything about you." Henri-Julien watched her throat work as she recognised to what extent that was true. "I do not. Yet you represent, you are everything I’ve been warned to avoid, and I do not." Now she understood!

Her gaze fell to the floor, and only then did Henri-Julien realise how close they were kneeling beside one another. He stiffened for a fraction of a moment, wondering how he had allowed himself to intrude upon their mutually respected space, but he could not risk moving for fear of shattering this delicate shared understanding between them. Velanna, however, did not appear to share his discomfort. She was too wrapped up in her own thoughts about his observation, an openness softening her expression, the flickering light of the fire further gilding the gold of her hair. It was then he noticed the tips of her ears were artfully hidden beneath the tousled waves. Why was that? 

"I do not." So abruptly did Velanna raise her eyes that Henri-Julien felt caught in some heinous act. Cheeks flushing, he would have jerked his head to the side were it not for the uncertainty in her gaze, a stark contrast to the aggressive confidence with which she usually asserted herself. Instead, he felt compelled to meet her gaze, offering an unspoken tether in the midst of her storming thoughts. "I do not wish to avoid you. I do not wish to harm you. To fight you. I—" Brow furrowing, her lips pressed into a thin line and her whole expression pinched. "I never meant to bring such confusion to you." With a gentle fluid movement, Velanna raised her hand but Henri-Julien did not anticipate that she would touch him until the moment that her fingers grazed against his, soft and startling all at one. As though she had surprised herself, she swiftly pulled her hand away, her hand becoming a fist. "I don’t wish to despise you at all. I don’t object to you at all. Since leaving Orzammar, I’ve been more at peace than I have in some time." A sense of resigned calm settled over her, in sharp contrast to the swirling confusion in Henri-Julien. "You’re the least objectionable shemlen I know." Relaxing her hands, she spread her fingers over her knees, gaze fixed on them. "My wish truly is to help you find what you’re looking for, not to confuse you more."

An audible oof pushed itself through Henri-Julien's lips. He slid from kneeling to sitting, cross-legged with his elbows resting on his knees. Strange that a lack of hatred would unsettle him so thoroughly. More so when he had to acknowledge that for all Velanna infuriated him, he would willingly choose her company over any other Grey Warden he had ever met. Probably more than just Grey Wardens but he was not quite yet to admit that, even to himself.

"It was necessary," he muttered, brusquely. He searched around the floor for some suitably distracting detail in the but could find no replacement for the sight of her eyes. Torn between reluctance and need, Henri-Julien risked a fleeting glance upwards, wondering if he would discover reciprocation. "Whatever answer I uncover, I would not have though to search without this initial confusion." His brow lifted, strangely tentative. "It seems you also have answers to seek."

Discomfort goaded Henri-Julien into standing. He shifted his weight between his feet, tiredness and agitation warring inside of him. But, he noted, the inner fatigue, the one which no amount of food or rest would assuage, had loosened its hold on his faculties. Whatever he was seeking, he at least had some direction now.

"Why have you hidden your ears?" He blurted out. Why, he could not have answered. Perhaps the embarrassment of revealing so much of his inner thoughts meant that he wished to refocus attention on Velanna. As though she herself had not disclosed a great many personal utterances. But Henri-Julien was not yet so comfortable with his own feelings that he could allow any attention to dwell on himself. "I am your escort. It's my role to defend you against any harm, including prejudice." That Henri-Julien himself had displayed casual prejudice towards Velanna throughout their association, predictably, did not occur to him in that moment.

"If you..." Finally, he hesitated, unable to ignore in its entirety what his companion had admitted. "If you truly don't despise me," this was very unfamiliar territory and he could feel his irritation begin to simmer at being put in this position, "I would like to ensure that feeling... does not change." His fingers twitched with an outlandish urge to reach out and brush the offending strands of her hair back over the delicate tip of her ear, the impulse perhaps awakened by the tickle of sensation which still lingered from her own light touch only a short while ago.
Henri-Julien shifted from kneeling to sitting with a hard oof. Velanna felt herself overly aware of how he moved, the way he looked at everything in the room but her now, as if her words had unsettled him somehow. That she’d said them at all was still a mystery to her, one she didn’t have the presence of mind to untangle at this moment. No, she’d stay caught in this spider’s web of unfamiliar feelings as she waited for him to say something—anything—in response.

"It was necessary," he said, gruff in a way she was used to with him, yet not in a way that angered her, or even broke whatever had taken hold of this moment. She risked a glance at him to see he was searching the floor. Just as she looked away, she swore she could feel his eyes on her once more. Another chance taken, she looked up, her eyes meeting his. This time she had no will to pull them away, transfixed with whatever mystery lay there behind his eyes, in his thoughts. "Whatever answer I uncover, I would not have though to search without this initial confusion." A hesitation lingered even as his brow raised, so at odds with the arrogant man she’d come to know. No, not know, that didn’t seem sufficient a description anymore. As if he could read her thoughts, he suggested, "It seems you also have answers to seek."

Of course her natural instinct was to snap, to tell him that he was presumptuous to assume he knew anything of her thoughts, but it would have been a lie, and even were she the type of person to resort to falsehoods, she did not wish to. She gave a single nod, hardly perceptible if perhaps not for the light of the fire. “Though I do not yet know the question.

Bolstered by something unseen, he rose to his feet, his motions suggesting he felt some turmoil that overrode the fatigue that was winding its fingers around them both. He shifted foot to foot, his thoughts keeping him from being still.

"Why have you hidden your ears?" The subject changed so fast her mind struggled to keep up. Realizing what he’d asked, she touched her hands to her hair to make sure they were still covered. She’s always been overly-conscious of them, but this evening she was so keenly aware of the points of them they may as well have been burning. "I am your escort. It's my role to defend you against any harm, including prejudice." That he’d been the source of that prejudice on more than one occasion hardly seemed appropriate to mention, and she found that while it bothered her, there was not the usual anger behind it. A sort of understanding that, like she with his life and values, he simply spoke out of ignorance of hers. She felt her throat move as she tried to find words, and swallowed again instead.

His thoughts spinning faster than she could keep up with, he came around to what she, perhaps foolishly, confessed. She waited for it to be flung in her face, to be used to justify some sort of resistance to talking further with her. For once she did not crave quiet, and welcomed his words breaking above the crackle of the fire. "If you..." He faced her, her eyes turning up to meet his again. She felt foolish in no small part, feeling raw and open like this. All of her teachings, all of her instincts said she needed to run right now, or turn her magic against him as if he were truly a threat to her life. None of that found its way to her thoughts, only the words she’d let slip. "If you truly don't despise me," a slight agitation underpinned his words, "I would like to ensure that feeling... does not change."

I would like that as well.” It was as if once the words started there was no stopping them from betraying her private thoughts. Had she not known better she’d have assumed some sort of blood magic at play. “Despising you is an unbearable feeling,” she murmured. As she’d found out back by the stream, back when that wretched mage had fallen into their lives as a rock in water. Untenable was the loss she’d felt, something she’d not thought of until now.

His fingers twitched out of the corner of her eyes, though she could not pull hers own eyes away from his to give it full attention. Whatever was on his face seemed more important than what his hand seemed hesitant to act upon. Though maybe it was the hand she should have watched. When his fingers touched her hair, grazing the tip of her ear as they tucked it behind, she startled, but didn’t move from it. She didn’t balk at the touch itself, and a shiver ran unbidden through her. Her eyes fluttered closed and she felt her face heat in familiar shame.

They’re large, even for Dalish ears,” she confessed in quiet prayer. “Clownish,” she repeated the word once lobbed at her in jest. That she’d been teased for many things as a child went unsaid. Losing the approval of her peers had been a trade for being her Keeper’s First, after all. She might have expected it to fade with time, until she’d become a Warden, surrounded by humans, some of which could not help but comment. “Shemlen feel compelled to stare at Dalish, and more so at my ears.” Whether or not that was true did not matter, for it was the perception that fed into many of her feelings of disdain for shemlen. Well, most shemlen, she supposed.

She put her hand over his with a care not to push it away. Why? Why did that matter so much? Why did this unbidden touch not upset her? Why could she still feel on her skin where his had treaded lightly over hers. Why did she wish for more, to wind her fingers in his? It was an entirely absurd thought, and she dropped her hand.

I would like to ensure that feeling does not change.

Her tongue felt too large for her mouth as she tried to find some worthwhile words to add to the sentiment. Something hung between them, something delicate but not in the way their careful companionship had been back in their shared garden, or during their travels. This was bigger, warmer. It lingered there, willing one of them to acknowledge it, but an unfamiliar sensation also squeezed her chest. One that feared the loss of this moment, of the feeling of his fingers on her ear or in her hair, that it would be marred with a single slip.

The blue of your eyes is so clear,” she finally commented. And then, “I do not wish to see them look upon me in spite again.
Henri-Julien was not someone who either sought or offered tactile reassurance. Yet in that moment, with Velanna still kneeling on the floor in front of him, her face up-turned and her wide eyes locked on his, it felt the most natural reaction in the world to reach out and oh-so-gently brush her hair behind the delicate point of her ear. Perhaps that was why Velanna did not recoil from his shemlen touch.

"They’re large, even for Dalish ears," she remarked, eyes closed and her cheeks warmed by more than just the fire. "Clownish. Shemlen feel compelled to stare at Dalish, and more so at my ears."

"We stare at your tattoos." The words were intended to be a comfort. Yet delivered in the curt and clipped manner, much like he had 'joked' about escorting her to Kinloch Hold, it was doubtful whether that intention was clear. He tried again with: "I have never noticed your ears are anything other than pointed." But was that really any improvement?

Fortunately, while Velanna was quick to anger, she possessed a similar blunt manner of speaking as Henri-Julien. Even if she did not approve of what he had said, she must have recognised the sentiment of why he had said it. Her hand rose to cup his, cradling it close against her head, warmth from her now much discussed ear radiating against his palm. He took it as an implicit acceptance of his clumsy attempt to reassure her.

When he hand fell away from his, Henri-Julien pulled back his own, strangely aware of his arm as it hung by his side. He clenched his fingers until his nails bit into his palm, trying to deflect from the way his own limb felt awkward and unfamiliar. Indeed, everything about his form felt peculiar, as though it were a piece of clothing which had shrunk around him. Rolling his shoulders, he tried to loosen his posture, but it was to no avail. He wondered if he could claim that Velanna had cast some spell on him, but that was too easy an accusation to make. It was also a lie, as he well knew. 

"The blue of your eyes is so clear," Velanna spoke at last. It was a startling distraction but a successful one. As though he was not already familiar with his appearance, Henri-Julien glanced towards the small looking glass which hung on the wall, finding that - as they had been for the entirety of his life - his eyes were, indeed, a startlingly light blue. "I do not wish to see them look upon me in spite again."

"Then do not do something to draw that look from me." Surely that was obvious? But almost immediately, Henri-Julien waved away the comment, recognising that for all its truth, it was not the correct response. "They are my mother's eyes." He faltered. "Not literally, of course." This was ridiculous. While he did not particularly crave conversation, he prided himself at being adept at it, as with the majority of skills in his life. What had happened to so base an ability as speech?

"I think it's time we ate." He could do little else but change their focus. Yet even as he strove to do that, his fickle arm reached out to offer Velanna friendly assistance back onto her feet. Not because he thought she was incapable but because it felt like a... nice thing to do? "We'll eat here then rest. I see no reason to remain in Haven any longer." His Archdemon was not Andraste herself, but the tenets preached in her name. Perhaps Denerim should be their next destination where he could petition for an audience with the Revered Mother or Knight-Commander.

Descending into the front room of the inn, there was but one small table available, tucked into a corner. However, given their shared preference to be left alone, it was a suitable option. Henri-Julien waited for Velanna to decide if she preferred her back to the wall or the room before taking the remaining chair. One of the serving girls arrived, setting down the one and only option for a hot meal, though it did smell delicious.

Keen to avoid the stilted conversation from their room, even if it had been the most meaningful they had ever shared, Henri-Julien took it upon himself to explain his idea for their next destination. "I wish to go to Denerim," he stated. "To the Cathedral. If I am to understand this conflict between faith and experience, I need someone who will help me make sense of it." It did not cross his mind that those to whom he appealed might not view 'sense' in the same way as he did.
Velanna was so far outside anything she knew to traverse that she felt foolish, hanging on for words to come in response. Neither of them were people who required conversation to pass time, and neither of them were short of words when needed. Her ear hot with the memory of his touch, she needed something else to think about while no words existed. The most obvious had been his eyes, since they were the thing she couldn’t manage to look away from.

"Then do not do something to draw that look from me." That went without saying, but that was not what she had meant. Surely he knew that. Perhaps she was not generous with compliments, but he was no idiot. Seeming to sense his folly, he tried again. "They are my mother's eyes." It was that moment she realized that he was struggling just as she did as he stumbled over what to say. "Not literally, of course."

Of course not,” she answered flatly. "That would be odd."

"I think it's time we ate." The subject change happened so fast she misunderstood for the moment between him suggesting it and him offering his hand. Did he think she could not stand on her own? She frowned until realizing he was… trying to be nice? She took the offered hand, this third touch seeming far less foreign. As she stood he laid out what stood as their plan in his mind. "We'll eat here then rest. I see no reason to remain in Haven any longer."

She nodded, though her eyes glanced to the single bed, that particular predicament not resolved. As much as she liked to be direct and practical, she was unable to bring it up. Instead she decided it would be more prudent to partake of a meal and talk out their next steps. Henri-Julien would not be finding his Archdemon in Haven. Where would they go from here?

Empty tables were as scarce as rooms, and they tucked themselves into one in the back. Velanna would have preferred to put her back to the wall but she could not bear the idea of her tattoo or ears being a topic of conversation. Tempted to cover them once more, she stopped, not wanting to remove this reminder of whatever had just passed between them. She decided to take the respite from the eyes of those in the room. Well, those that were not the clear blue of Henri-Julien’s mother.

A meal was placed in front of them, and even had she not found it satisfactory, her Warden’s hunger would have convinced her to eat.

"I wish to go to Denerim," Henri-Julien stated. While she could not recall ever having so meaningful a conversation with anyone, there was an odd relief in the return to the practical. "To the Cathedral. If I am to understand this conflict between faith and experience, I need someone who will help me make sense of it."

Velanna accepted this, a single dip of her chin providing her agreement while she chewed and swallowed. Though she had to wonder if it was the best way forward for him in this. She chanced the discord to ask. “Do you think that will be the best place to resolve your dissonance?” She tilted her head. “Will your cathedral,” for she did not understand the significance, “have more people who feel as you do?” She considered this for a moment, hesitant to say anything that might upset him. “I’ve not known many templars, but those I have met did not speak as you do now.

A frown creased her vallaslin. A sensation unlike hunger rumbled in her belly, a sense of foreboding she couldn’t quite place. As if a matter of importance hung in a balance on a fulcrum she could not see.

“Shall we agree, then, on what I will do when we reach Denerim?” She’d never been to the shemlen capital, but that was not the matter at hand. “Will my being a Grey Warden suffice?” she enquired, “or shall this be an occasion to which I owe docility?” While docile was not a desirable state, the idea of being parted from him, however temporarily, was unpleasant. "I do not wish to be separated." The uncomfortable realization did not sit well, like she was a besotted young elf eager to bond. She put a hand to her chest, frown deepening. That could not possibly be what was at play, why her ribs squeezed and her ear still tingled.

Fen’lin.

We need to sort the matter of the bed if we are to rest,” she said flatly, trying to put the absurd thought out of her mind. They would fit, but it would be… snug.
His declaration that they should make for Denerim was met with straight-forward agreement from Velanna. Offering only a single nod in acknowledgement, she savoured the mouthful of her meal, seemingly considering the matter resolved. There was a welcome relief in the return of their pragmatic manner regards dealing with necessary decisions.

But then... "Do you think that will be the best place to resolve your dissonance?" She leaned her head to the side, as though the question was overly heavy in her mind. "Will your cathedral,” the way she repeated the word, using his own inflections, revealed she was unfamiliar with its meaning, "have more people who feel as you do?" A small pause before she added, tentative, "I’ve not known many templars, but those I have met did not speak as you do now."

"Theirin does not count," Henri-Julien corrected curtly. He needed little, if any, opportunity to point out the distinct lack of training which the other man possessed. Who else could she mean? He doubted that she had conversed with the ones who had pursued her through the Deep, and he could not recall her speaking with the ones who had denied him compassion in the Blackmarsh. And clearly, that detail, the one of how many Templars she had known, was far more pertinent than the troubling suggestion that his newly acquired perspective might not be welcomed.

Although a frown wrinkled her forehead, she did not snap back. "Shall we agree, then, on what I will do when we reach Denerim?" The shift in conversation was welcomed by Henri-Julien, acknowledging her remark with a slight nod of his own. "Will my being a Grey Warden suffice? Or shall this be an occasion to which I owe docility?" His spoon stooped halfway to his mouth as he considered. Perhaps anticipating his first suggestion, Velanna went on, "I do not wish to be separated."

A sliver of satisfaction warmed Henri-Julien in a way that his meal could not. He attributed it to the fact that he was her Templar escort and that discharging such responsibility, even temporarily, was a poor showing of his dedication to the role. It certainly was not because he struggled to imagine completing this fool's quest of his without her presence.

"You will need to be both." Unease threaded through the comforting warmth of only moments ago. While she - they - did not wish to separated, could their association withstand the pressures of existing in Denerim? There would be far more dangerous things than one lone witless apostate. "Your uniform will halt any immediate arrest, but you must be what they," and when had he started using 'they' instead of 'we', pray tell?, "wish to see."

From the way in which Velanna pressed a hand against her chest, Henri-Julien took that as an effort to quell whatever flash of temper was simmering in the pit of her stomach, displeased by his reply. That her next remark was blunt and to the point only served to underscore his assumption.

"We need to sort the matter of the bed if we are to rest."

He blinked, momentarily thrown by the abrupt raising of the very delicate issue of their accommodation. However, since he was her Templar escort, the answer was clear. "As your escort, I must sleep by the door," he replied, so determinedly off-hand that it revealed entirely the artifice of his dismissive attitude. "I will secure the windows to prevent escape." Yes, in much the same way that when they camped, he ensured the wide open space for miles around was secured. For one painfully illuminating moment, Henri-Julien grasped just how unbearably imperious his company must be.

Embarrassment, much like a rash, flared over his cheeks. He scowled, mood souring. "Really, it is no matter at all," he snapped. "I have no idea why you would bring it up in the first place."

With the civility of their meal shattered, there was little left to do but finish their plates and return to their room. Just as he had declared, Henri-Julien 'secured' the room, before moving the chair to the door. He did, however, bend just enough to take up a blanket which had been draped over the end of the bed, wrapping himself in it as he sat. Between the small fire and the blanket, he would be sufficiently warm throughout the night, if not sufficiently rested by morning.

In the chill of morning, they departed from the small inn, having eaten a small breakfast. Henri-Julien had maintained his aloofness into the morning, only visibly relaxing his posture once the inn and its offending single bed had disappeared behind a mountain ridge. He let out a long strained exhale, looking over the stunning view of the Hinterlands laid out before them from this vantage point. He could just about make out the snaking of the West Road leading towards the Bannorn and, eventually, Denerim.

"I thought about what you said." He did not add, however obvious it might be, that he had done so during the night. There had been little else he could do when the crick in his neck from his uncomfortable position on the chair prevented him from sleeping. "About going to the cathedral and others thinking like me. You said your Keep protects and guides the Clan. That's what the Chantry does for us. It was," he trailed off, uneasy and unsure why, "misguided to believe I could rediscover my purpose by myself." Something about that did not ring as true as it might have done a few months ago. "Those in the cathedral will help me understand my thoughts."
In answering her question, Henri-Julien said, "As your escort, I must sleep by the door." He said it with almost too much conviction. "I will secure the windows to prevent escape." Velanna frowned, wondering where this came from. They’d traveled together for weeks now, maybe months, and he’d never seen fit to ‘secure’ the campsite from her escape. That he would bring up the possibility now, after everything, stung, and she stabbed at the meat on her dish.

Red washed over his face. "Really, it is no matter at all," he told her, again with such force that she had to assume he was appalled at the very idea that they might have had to share. Not that she would suggest such a thing. Really, the idea was ridiculous. "I have no idea why you would bring it up in the first place."

Because I was prepared to offer to take the chair.

Whatever had happened before, it was gone now. Perhaps it had only been her imagination. She was prone to overreacting to things that shemlen thought perfectly normal. They finished their meal in silence, the food souring in her stomach at the foolish nonsense that had passed through her mind. If not for the box of his paraphernalia in her pack she would have suspected he’d withdrawn his trust in her entirely. No, it was clear what repulsed him.

True to his word Henri-Julien went through the motions of securing the room before putting the single chair against the door. He took a single blanket for himself, leaving her to the bed, which she took without preamble. She burrowed down in the blankets and gathered the pillows together as if it were a nest of comfort when really she felt some sort of cold rejection. Not because they would not share the single bed, which she did not wish to do either, but with the force by which he objected to it. With the way he made a show of securing the room to make excuses against it. His aspersions knotted up in her throat. Suffice to say, she did not sleep well, aware of every sound Henri-Julien made while he tried to sleep in the chair.

They took breakfast in silence and left quickly the next morning, putting the inn with it’s offending bed behind them. Velanna maintained her silence, not wishing to discuss what had happened or why. Already the memory she had of sitting by the fire with him was marred, and she preferred to keep that to herself.

As they walked his posture eased, only further confusing Velanna as to what had happened and why. When they paused to appreciate a view of the Hinterlands from the mountains, he spoke again. "I thought about what you said." At least she was not the only one of them who had not slept. "About going to the cathedral and others thinking like me. You said your Keep protects and guides the Clan. That's what the Chantry does for us. It was," he paused to choose his words carefully, "misguided to believe I could rediscover my purpose by myself." She frowned, remembering what he’d said back in the room. Apparently he meant to take it all back. She was not the reason for his epiphany, but rather only his confusion as she’d initially assumed. "Those in the cathedral will help me understand my thoughts."

Of course. I will endeavor to stay out of your way so they may have your full attention.” She did not wish to be separated, but there was a great deal between not being separated and being underfoot. She did not wish to be that, either. She didn’t think it would matter that a job of Keeper was to listen, and that she would welcome his thoughts as he untangled them. Not a job that she was ever good at, given her exile, but one she thought she would be willing to offer. Though that was not their relationship; they did not fill silence unnecessarily.

Listening to Henri-Julien sort his thoughts was not to be, but listen she did all the same. To his breathing labored from their exertion. To her own for the same. To the trees growing more dense around them as they walked, to the sound of birds or insects as they descending the mountains. Or, rather, the lack of such. It was then she noticed a notch in a tree trunk, and a distinct pile of rocks near the base of another.

Stop,” she said abruptly. “Stop walking. Stay still.” She was no tracker, no scout, but he was, and when she had his attention she pointed to the marked trees, and hoped he would hear the absence of forest sounds himself. “We are not alone.” When she looked at the trail she noticed wheel ruts. “I think there are other Dalish nearby.” Her mouth drew into a purse as she tried to determine where the aravel had traveled, seeing where something had broken the brush by the sides of the path. “They’ve passed through here recently.” She was sure the halla prints were obvious to someone as skilled as he was at hunting. “We’ll need to change course to avoid them.” She hoped it didn’t need said why she wished to do so.
The chill between them did not only come from the mountain air. Yet, even though she was clearly displeased with him, Velanna did not ignore him outright. "Of course. I will endeavor to stay out of your way so they may have your full attention."

Henri-Julien bit back - just - the sniping retort which leapt so easily to his lips. He did not wish to argue outright after so many weeks of relative peace, the incident with the Edgehall apostate notwithstanding. Instead, he issued a grunt, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. After that, they fell into their habitual silence, albeit strained to say the least. 

Descending from the mountain, they were soon moving through more than just windswept bushes clinging to the hillside. Slowly but surely, they reached the tree line once more, entering into the purposeful quiet of the forest which was broken only by... Nothing. Why is it so quiet?

No sooner had Henri-Julien asked himself the question than Velanna spoke up. "Stop," she commanded. "Stop walking. Stay still." She gestured towards a tree which, once Henri-Julien focused his attention, had been scored with a deliberate notch. His eyes swept over the vicinity, catching sight of the pile of rocks just as Velanna also indicated it. "We are not alone." He followed her gaze to the trail a little further on, the softness of the earth revealing wheel tracks as well as faint impressions of animal tracks between the ruts. "I think there are other Dalish nearby. They’ve passed through here recently."

His posture stiffened. They had been fortunate to evade the roaming patrol of Templars near Edgehall. He could only guess how the Dalish might react to discovering their presence.

But Henri-Julien was not the only one eager to avoid an encounter. "We’ll need to change course to avoid them," Velanna insisted, perhaps fearful that he had forgotten what she had shared with him.

"Yes," was all he said. Sucking in a breath through his teeth, Henri-Julien walked across to the broken twigs of the undergrowth, his fingers brushing against them in a form of pitying caress. He did not know if plants felt pain but to force a... 'caravan' wasn't the right word but he couldn't recall the pronunciation of what Velanna had called them... through a wooded thicket seemed wilfully destructive. However, it did mean that avoiding the progress of the Dalish clan would be easier, at least in terms of maintaining their distance. That their own journey would have multiple miles added onto it would be the inevitable consequence.

It took a short while before Henri-Julien got his full bearings. Unfortunately, when he did, his heart sank. "They're heading northwards," he muttered. "The same route as us." For good reason: any other route involved crossing through some of the Fallow Mire and that was ill-advised on foot, let alone with wagons or the like. "We can head southward but it will mean passing close to Fisher's End." Unease swept through his posture, stiffening his shoulders. But, still mindful of the tension between them, Henri-Julien abruptly rolled his shoulders, coughing to clear the dryness of his throat. "We are likely to get wet feet."

With no further remark, he altered course, guiding them away from the trail taken by the anonymous Dalish clan. They pressed ahead, the ground underfoot growing steadily more sodden as the trees thinned once more. The Mire itself was not inhospitable - in fact, it held a good enough reputation for hunting - but it was not a pleasant place, sodden and muggy without reprieve. Finally, with the rain falling in sheets around them, Henri-Julien signalled that they needed to set up camp for the night, leading the way along a narrow route that led to a small hillock. 

Once the tent was up and they had crawled inside, Henri-Julien eased off one boot and grimly poured out all the water which had seeped in. "Proof I am not a liar," he muttered.

Glumly, he looked out at the torrent, knowing there was no hope of finding dry firewood anywhere. Besides, even if they did, where would they build the fire? Even fire infused with magic held little chance against a downpour like this. It reminded him of something from his time as a Templar tracker. "Sometimes, if the Templars knew they would be headed this way, they requested clothing with a manipulated type of fire rune. Helped to keep them warm and dry in environments such as this. I can see the appeal." Still, the flickering flames of a fire would have soothed the primal wariness which currently stalked at his better sense, but he could hardly reveal that to Velanna.

Even so, he could not help but ask, "can you summon any form of light?" The idea of being so entirely bereft of illumination once the mist settled heavily over them was almost intolerable.
Velanna sighed with relief at Henri-Julien’s simple "Yes.” While it was unlikely to be her former clan, she did not relish the thought of encountering any Dalish clan who might know of her exile status. That, and surely no other reason, was why she wished to avoid them.

In only a short while Henri-Julien was able to surmise what she’d been hoping she’d been wrong about. "They're heading northwards," he grumbled, dashing her hopes. "The same route as us." Given what she knew of the region, that made the most sense. Henri-Julien explained, "We can head southward but it will mean passing close to Fisher's End." His posture went rigid a moment, echoing in her, and he quickly rolled it out. "We are likely to get wet feet."

There are worse things than wet feet.” Like the tension that had grown between them since Haven, though she would not be so dramatic to say something like that aloud.

Wet feet would have been kind. Before long in their path went from soggy to sodden, the ground sucking at their feet with every step. The air was oppressively damp, making breathing labored and uncomfortable. Velanna’s hair stuck to her in clumps until she was forced to pull it up and away from her face and ears. No sooner had she found relief from that annoyance than it started to pour rain, and it sogged them from above as well. Clothes stuck and skin chafed, but all the while Velanna was grateful Henri-Julien had been amenable to changing course.

When the rain became intolerable he proclaimed they should make camp for the night. There was no argument from her and they fell into the habits of setting up their site as quickly as possible.

Once inside the tent, the torrents of rain pelting the roof and walls, Henri-Julien poured water out of his boot while Velanna set about wringing as much of her hair and clothes dry as possible. "Proof I am not a liar," he grumbled. Born and dying on her tongue was to argue with him that no one had called him a liar, but it seemed more detrimental than not to bring it up now.

They watched the rain pour in dampened silence for a time before Henri-Julien spoke again. "Sometimes, if the Templars knew they would be headed this way, they requested clothing with a manipulated type of fire rune. Helped to keep them warm and dry in environments such as this. I can see the appeal."

Velanna lifted a golden eyebrow, though she doubted he was able to see as much in the dark between them. It would be a small matter to do something similar, and she wondered how he would respond to her suggestion.

"Can you summon any form of light?" he asked as they sat in the cold, dark.

Of course.” She flicked her wrist, summoning a small wisp, this one a blue-white. It teetered about between them, disoriented and struggling to find its balance in their surroundings. Velanna held out her hand for it to circle while it got its bearings. She tutted at it in a soothing manner, coaxing it into a calmer state that it might be more at ease.

With the matter of the light handled, she watched Henri-Julien for any hint of displeasure in her response to his request. She held her cupped hands together. Between them she called but a palmful of flame and held it like an offering. “I can’t maintain it indefinitely,” she stated flatly because it was obvious, "but we might dry somewhat by it.

She crushed the flame between her hands, but kept the heat. Demonstrating with a lock of her soaked hair, she drew it between her palms, the steam sizzling softly, and pulled her hands away to reveal that it had dried somewhat. “Not even magic can keep us completely dry,” she said, but perhaps we could be more comfortable?” She used her hands to rub her arms, warming them with brisk motions.

WIth hands held out she offered to help him dry as well, only realizing how it could be slightly awkward once she’d committed to the act. They were both adults, and she saw no reason why it should be anything but one adult helping another, and that’s what she told herself to stop the heat rising in her cheeks that was nothing to do with the magic at her hands.

Fire was my first spell,” she shared, clearly proud of her skill with the element. “Fire was given to The People by Sylaise, the Hearthkeeper.” Her eyes watched her hands, the light from the wisp making shadows bounce. “Fire is known for its destruction, but it’s also healing. We pray to Sylaise before we light a fire, for she protects all who gather near it.” She looked up to meet his eyes, still trying to judge his mood. She didn’t have many ways to help in their current predicament, and knowing he’d changed course at her request, it seemed important to offer at least this. “Perhaps your Andraste would consider this a good use of my magic, as would my Sylaise?
No sooner had Henri-Julien made his request than Velanna acquiesced to it.

"Of course," she replied, mercifully plain in her speech. Yet he found himself missing the acerbic bite he had half-expected, particularly given the simplicity of conjuring light. He may have no magic but he understood that a wisp was literally child's play. He had, after all, chastised a young apprentice for playing with wisps once during an extended stay in Kinloch Hold.

Those wisps had been different shades but this one was a startling blue-white. Its presence threw flickering shadows against the inside of the tent, strange and disconcerting. He cast uneasy glances around the cramped space, but could not very well demand that Velanna extinguish the light after he had specifically asked for it. Besides, she sat there cooing to it much like a mother with her child. Certainly, he could not recall witnessing any sentient creature receiving so tender a greeting from her.

So, when she glanced towards him, Henri-Julien summoned his habitual expression: blank but for a hint of a haughty sneer. It felt more a mask than he could ever remember, but it seemed to convince Velanna that nothing was untoward. She said nothing further about the wisp but instead brought her hands together. He felt the manipulation of the Fade but could not have - though probably should have - anticipated the burst of flame suddenly dancing in her palm. Henri-Julien flinched, too sharply for it not to be obvious, but halted the instinctive response to cleanse the area of magic. Heart racing, he found he had to snatch his breath for a moment or two. All he could see in his mind's eye was the growing lick of flame in the apostate's hands all those years ago.

"I can’t maintain it indefinitely," Velanna remarked, her monosyllabic tone clearly a comment on his reaction - what else could it be? "But we might dry somewhat by it."

As though to emphasise her point, and its harmlessness, Velanna proceeded to quench the flame but maintain the heat, drawing her palms over a length of her hair. That was worse. Now, though he could hear and smell it, he could not see the flame. "Not even magic can keep us completely dry, but perhaps we could be more comfortable?" She turned her hands onto herself, rubbing her arms. Henri-Julien could see the change in colour as the fabric dried, which helped somewhat, but not enough to be persuaded to allow her near him.

Alas, Velanna had little hope of interpreting any of that. She held out her hands but Henri-Julien shook his head with such force that droplets sprayed from the ends of his hair, pressing against the tent. He could feel his temper roil with his fear.

"Not... me," he managed through gritted teeth. But, he did peel off his outer layers, until he was sat in his thin undershirt and long johns. "My clothes though..." He trailed off, refusing to look at her. "If you would."

By whatever miracle, Velanna did not argue. Instead, she even took on the burden of filling the tense silence while she set to work. "Fire was my first spell." The pride in her voice prompted Henri-Julien to sneak a glance towards her. "Fire was given to The People by Sylaise, the Hearthkeeper." Her focus was entirely on her task. Believing himself safe for her notice, he studied her profile in the unnatural bouncing light of the wisp, noting how the harshness of her expression softened whenever she shared the teachings of the Dalish. "Fire is known for its destruction, but it’s also healing. We pray to Sylaise before we light a fire, for she protects all who gather near it."

Looking up so quickly, Velanna caught his eye before he could glance away, but she did not seem irritated by his attention. Rather, somewhat wary. He could hardly blame her for that given his current mercurial mood. "Perhaps your Andraste would consider this a good use of my magic, as would my Sylaise?"

"Magic exists to serve man," he quoted, more to obscure his embarrassment at having been found staring. Pulling back the pieces of clothing which were sufficiently dried, Hneri-Julien redressed as far as he was able, though dried clothes on damp skin were a discomforting sensation. "Transfigurations: The Commandments, second verse," he added, as though Velanna might question his faith if he could not provide the precise reference.

Though the detail did spark another thought in his head. "For she who trusts in the Maker, fire is her water," he murmured, more to himself than Velanna. Certainly, the 'she' was not a reference to her, but the correct recital of the line. "Transfigurations--" He caught himself and waved away the rest. Clearing his throat, he added, somewhat stiffly, "fire is important throughout the Chant. But yes, I think your," he waved his hand towards her palms, "example would be considered acceptable."

Turning, he rummaged through his pack, drawing out some of the dried food they carried. He halved the portion between two bowls and held out one to her. "You like teaching," he remarked, striving for casual and failing. "Whenever you tell me something of the Dalish, you take pleasure in it." He bit into a piece of dried meat, chewing on the salty mouthful.

His thoughts rushed through his head like the torrents of rain outside. "Aeonar," he murmured finally. "That is what the equivalent of your exile would be for me." Blinking, he glanced up at her, his demeanour much the same as it had been when he knelt in front of the fire of their room at Haven's inn. "Are you familiar with its name? It is a prison for maleficarum and those exposed to forbidden magic." He frowned, the realisation which sprang to his mind a discomforting one. "I have known a handful of trackers who were sent there. It is unsurprising given what we do. But," his frown deepened, the heaviness of his brow exaggerated by the harsh light of the wisp, "it denies us all the experience of that tracker. Gone in an instant."

Shaking his head, Henri-Julien looked to Velanna. "There are always more Templars to be recruited. That's not the same for the Dalish. What excuse do they use to justify banishing one of their own who is so knowledgeable?"