Digging For an Archdemon Part I [Complete]

"No, you should not have." Pointed, but without the scalding heat of her temper. It was more than Henri-Julien deserved, and he accepted the concession with a short nod of his head. Setting the pot on top of a crate, Velanna reached into her pack and pulled free her waterskin. "Rinse and drink," she spoke with the expectation of obedience.

Since it aligned with his own wishes, Henri-Julien did as he was told. The act of rinsing out his mouth brought fresh aches, his bruised muscles and tendons protesting the movements, but the benefit was being rid of the nauseating tang of metal. After a few more sips, even the clogging sensation in his throat had eased a fraction, granting some respite.

Flicking his eyes upward, he noted how Velanna hovered beyond reach. Given their time spent together, he did not suppose that she was wary of his attacking her, having never behaved in that manner before this most recent altercation with Tore, but perhaps the possibility lingered in her mind nonetheless. He could not blame her for that.

"Will you assist me?" That he so very rarely conceded to requiring assistance would hopefully demonstrate his regret for the damage he had done to the trust between them.

Wordlessly, Velanna crouched by his side, dabbing the cooling balm across his skin. Despite her careful touch, he winced and flinched against the fresh stabs of pain, having to repeatedly remind himself that this current suffering was still preferable to risking infection. Each jerk seemed to elicit a further pull of her brows from Velanna, evidently judging that he should endure his injuries with more decorum. 

Finally, she held out the pot to him, and Henri-Julien thought that she was finished with him entirely. Yet once he took the pot, she turned back to her pack and brought out some elfroot. "Chew." He did, swallowing against the rise of his gorge from the slight peppery taste. At least it was not spindleweed soup.

Something agitated Velanna, however. For no reason that Henri-Julien could discern, she lowered her head, shaking it. "I have little else of use to you, ma v—" She bit back whichever Dalish term had sprang to her tongue. It did not sound like the one which she had used in Crestwood. His memory of the altercation was shrouded in the red mist he had found himself in; he could not recall if she had spoken the words earlier.

"You are here." For one who was accustomed to existing alone, to have someone by his side was something in itself. Velanna should know this; she also lived apart from others.

His response succeeded in freeing her tongue. "That's him, isn't it? The one who caused you to be turned into a Warden?" Reaching out, her finger hooked beneath his chin, turning his face towards her assessing eye. "We need to get you proper healing." For a moment, she looked overwrought, affected by the blood and bruising in a way that Henri-Julien had never envisioned. It could not be because she did not have the stomach to look upon such injuries. Realisation struck him as hard as the clenched fists of Tore: it was not the injuries themselves but upon whom they were inflicted which affected her. A discomforting sense of guilt crept over him. What right did he have to impose that worry on her?

"Help me understand why you put us at such a risk." She did not beg, but there was an earnestness which lent the words something of a plea. A desire to want to know his perspective before she made her own judgement. As though to emphasise the absence of militancy, Velanna summoned a little of her magic, seeking permission before drawing the soothing pulse nearer the most vibrant bruising on his face.

Henri-Julien slumped against the crate at his back, letting loose a pain exhale. "I did not consider it was a risk," he admitted. The idea that he might have cost them access to the fortress had not troubled even the furthest reaches of his mind. "He unleashed the fireball without provocation." Had the apostate waited but only a handful of moments longer, he might have been able to claim self-defence against Henri-Julien's attack. But that was not how the altercation had happened. "Plus, he got to his feet before me. I couldn't stand it."

With his armour already removed, it was simple to pull up the under-trousers which Henri-Julien wore for warmth. That they were looser from weeks on the road was also helpful. His fingers trembled slightly at he eased the bundled material over the bulge of his left knee, drawing the trouser further up his thigh. Inch by inch, he revealed the extensive burn scarring. Even after all these years, it retained its vivid angry colour, further enhanced by contrast with his naturally pale skin. Nothing was heroic about it; it was an ugly and contorted disfigurement over his thigh and knee. He had been fortunate in the extreme that the injury had not disabled him.

"Tore did not Join me," Henri-Julien spoke flatly, his eyes fixed on his disfigurement. "But he did do this. That led to my being in the Chantry where the Warden mage heard about what happened and handed down his own judgement." The muscles in his jaw tensed. "Most would claim it was folly of pride. Tore had crossed into Orlais and I continued to pursue him instead of notifying my superiors." He yanked down his trouser leg, sickened by the sight of the wound and what it represented. 

"I will not provoke him," he promised, albeit through gritted teeth. "But I will defend myself against him," his pale blue eyes flashed, daring her to argue, "and I will not hesitate to use my own abilities next time."

With his anger threatening to spill over yet again, Henri-Julien forced himself back onto his feet. "If you say that I need healing, I will be required to beg for it." His choice of word was deliberate: no one skilled in healing would grant him their skill without petition. Were positions reversed, Henri-Julien could not honestly claim that he would not expect the same from a lone apostate. "They will want to test what I am prepared to  d--"

"I will heal you." The strange Dalish man appeared from around the corner of the crates, eyeing Henri-Julien with open hostility. His gaze slid towards Velanna, his demeanour dissolving into distrust. "Since you are apparently not only Vhenallin but can also boast the vhenan of one of us."

Every instinct in Henri-Julien rejected that offer. It was not only his ingrained prejudice against the Dalish which, with the exception of where Velanna was concerned, still fought against his better sense. Neither was it only his ingrained prejudice against those with magic, with the exception of where Velanna was concerned, still fought against all his senses. Something which formed the core of his being, the sense for survival, warned him that this man intended him some lasting harm. 

He sagged back against the crates, looking to Velanna for guidance.
Slumping back against the crates behind him, Henri-Julien let Velanna administer a small bit of her magic to try and help the bruising. It was painful to look at, to know he must be suffering. Never had Velanna experienced such a feeling for the pain of another, save only her sister.

"I did not consider it was a risk," Henri-Julien admitted. "He unleashed the fireball without provocation." That much was clear, but she had to wonder how close it was to being unprovoked. "Plus, he got to his feet before me. I couldn't stand it."

She rolled her eyes at that, though not cruelly. His stubborn pride earned him a snort of wry amusement. Who other than a man would be so spiteful over such a thing?

The small amusement was short-lived however. With his armor stripped away, Henri-Julien began to lift the material of his thermal garments, drawing the leg up and over the knob of his knee and higher. Through considerable effort, Velanna did not gasp at what he revealed. Mottled, scarred, and angry skin from knee and higher, injury she recognized well, and had even caused in some cases. That he was not left with loss of limb was a miracle only the Creators would be able to explain to her.

"Tore did not Join me," he said in a flat tone. His eyes never left the disfigurement of his leg. "But he did do this. That led to my being in the Chantry where the Warden mage heard about what happened and handed down his own judgement." His jaw tensed, the tendons tight. "Most would claim it was folly of pride. Tore had crossed into Orlais and I continued to pursue him instead of notifying my superiors."

He shoved the fabric back over the scarring, the disgust clear on his face. "I will not provoke him," came a grit-teethed promise. "But I will defend myself against him," a warning flashed in his eyes, one she read loud and clear, "and I will not hesitate to use my own abilities next time."

Temper at the breaking point, he changed the subject. "If you say that I need healing, I will be required to beg for it." She knew that to be true, and had he not been as grievously injured she would have left him to his pride in the matter. She took a deep breath, prepared to tell him that he would have to put it aside. To throw an infection now would have grave consequences, and Velanna could not bear the thought. "They will want to test what I am prepared to d--"

"I will heal you." Emyr stepped into their alcove, his eyes alight with something akin to hatred that she’d never seen in the man before. His eyes turned to Velanna then, his hostility no less for it. "Since you are apparently not only Vhenallin but can also boast the vhenan of one of us."

Emyr,” she warned. There was a time for pride, and a time to swallow it. He meant to rile her, to make sure she knew he did not approve. Not that it was any of his business who she gave her heart to. Swallow she did, and she let out a defeated sigh. “Lethallin.

“Do not call me that when you beg on behalf of your shemlen, exile.” He was disgusted, that much was clear. Emyr, for the sparse time she’d known him, had never been so hostile to her. In fact she remembered him very differently when he’d been his Keeper’s Second. He’d shown a fondness for her that she’d scorned. “I lost most of my clan to his ilk. They burned our aravels. Our da’len went hungry. I sought out the Collective for help.”

Velanna turned her face as if she’d been slapped. She wanted to argue on Henri-Julien’s behalf, to insist he was different. To her, he was different, but she did not expect Emyr to understand that. He was jaded, angry. Why?

Emyr nodded to her and she nodded to Henri-Julien. He did not trust the Dalish, other than her, and he had no reason to trust any mage after what he’d experienced. Other than her, she hoped. “He won’t harm you.” He did not like him, but he would not hurt him. “If you do,” she warned, “na abelas.

His gaze looked to Henri-Julien and back. Emyr bared his teeth. “I will do it, for you.”

Ultimately it was up to Henri-Julien if he was willing to let a mage touch him. That she could not heal him was a burn to her pride and she loathed the helpless feeling. All she could offer was her hand, her comfort, and it would have to be enough. She let Emyr do as Henri-Julien wished, grateful for his aid.

“Come back with me,” Emyr offered as he finished whatever Henri-Julien allowed. “Help me put my clan back together. Be our Keeper. Be where you belong, not with some shemlen templar who doesn’t understand.”

Velanna drew in a sharp breath over her teeth. A chance to be with the Dalish again? A chance to use her training for its purpose? It was a cruel thing to offer, now, when she’d found something—someone—to make her life tolerable. Even pleasant.

Her head shook before she even said the word, “No.” Her eyes sought Henri-Julien’s, her expression sure even if her words shook. “Ir abelas. I am where I belong.” It had been one thing to say it when she had no other options, but when faced with what she thought she wanted most, she found it was not difficult to reaffirm. “Ma serannas.

Are you well?” she asked Henri-Julien. No, his pride would not be mended so easily, and magic could not heal all things, but she hoped he was ready to move ahead with his plan.
Surprisingly, given her natural inclination to the fractious, Velanna played the role of peacekeeper. "Emyr," she spoke what Henri-Julien had to presume was the stranger's name. Only now, when he was not preoccupied with ghosts of his past, did Henri-Julien realise that Velanna and the man were familiar with one another beyond simply being Dalish. "Lethallin," she spoke again, the word cresting on the wave of a weary sigh. 

"Do not call me that when you beg on behalf of your shemlen, exile." Emyr would not be swayed from his view on either of them. Yet if that was how he viewed Velanna, why was he so fixated upon her presence? He should shun her entirely if Henri-Julien had understood Velanna's own explanations correctly. Something was amiss here. "I lost most of my clan to his ilk. They burned our aravels. Our da’len went hungry. I sought out the Collective for help."

Flinching, Velanna turned away from Emyr, visibly appalled. Henri-Julien, however, narrowed his eyes as he studied the man more closely. Something did not ring true. He could not deny how the Templars reviled the Dalish, in particular their Keepers, but a part of that was deep-seated fear. A fear borne from the near impossibility of apprehending an entire clan. A Tracker like himself would not attack a Dalish clan; they would report the sighting to the nearest garrison. Almost always, the clan would have moved on before a full patrol could arrive. Even so, if there had been fighting and the aravels had been burned, any survivors would have been escorted under guard elsewhere. Unless an entire Templar patrol had been defeated... in which case, many more would be sent after them.

Some silent exchange occurred between Emyr and Velanna, and she indicated to Henri-Julien that the man would not harm him further. "He won’t harm you." Her eyes flicked back to Emyr, flashing in warning. "If you do, na abelas."

That was not reassuring. But the other man looked as discomforted as Henri-Julien. "I will do it, for you," he spoke through gritted teeth.

Consequently, Henri-Julien was left in the unenviable position of weighing up whether to beg apostates or submit to a Dalish. Neither option appealed. However, as he did trust Velanna, he decided on the option which meant she could directly oversee the magic. Who better to recognise a dangerous spell other than an apostate (aside from a Templar, of course)?

Stiffly, Henri-Julien offered a nod, returning to his original position sitting against the crates. With Velanna kneeling on one side, Emyr crouched down on the other, performing perfunctory healing which would prevent infection and any long-term impact but little else. Henri-Julien did not protest; he was relieved that his unwanted debt to this man was minimal in the extreme. He would see to the rest himself.

"Come back with me," the man suddenly spoke as the last of his healing magic dissipated. He evidently regarded Henri-Julien in the same light as the crates which loomed over them. "Help me put my clan back together. Be our Keeper. Be where you belong, not with some shemlen templar who doesn’t understand."

Eyes widening, Henri-Julien focused on Velanna. Had she not expressed that very desire during their time in the Fallow Mire? Something similar to it, certainly.

Judging from the sudden intake of breath, Velanna was as startled as Henri-Julien. Yet in the next instant, she shook her head, "no." She locked her gaze on Henri-Julien even as a tremor passed through her words. "Ir abelas. I am where I belong. Ma serannas."

"What?

She seemed to think his outburst was indicative of something else. "Are you well?" She fussed a little around him.

He bristled but could not very well explain himself further while Emyr glowered from nearby. Indeed, the Dalish man seemed on the verge of snatching back all the healing he has imbued into Henri-Julien, thwarted in what should have been a clear exchange. Heal a shem; gain a Keeper. Wordlessly, Emyr turned on heel, storming away. Yet Henri-Julien felt no relief. He very much doubted that the matter was closed as simply as a single 'no' from Velanna.

Especially not when he himself intended to make his opinion known.

"What are you doing?" Henri-Julien hissed, angry but not at her. There was a subtle difference. "I have said repeatedly that it is not only my archdemon we seek. Why are you dismissing this so quickly?" That they were both Grey Wardens had entirely slipped his mind. It was not as though that title was anything which Henri-Julien held dear. 

Grimacing, he pushed himself onto his feet, testing the extent of his healing. He still ached all-over but he could at least move without risk of collapsing. "He calls you 'exile' when you do not act as he wishes, yet implores you to come and lead his clan. Who is he? You have a history, clearly." It was not spoken with any jealousy. He merely wanted the facts of their associations so he could better understand the situation.

In truth, he did not know precisely what he was advocating. No matter what Velanna claimed, Henri-Julien did not doubt that Emyr would take the first opportunity to do him significant harm. He also had no illusions that he would be accepted amongst Dalish, particularly those who had so recently - for whatever reason - encountered the full force of a patrol of Templars. Yet Velanna had been prepared to travel to Denerim, where even her Warden robes would only provide so much protection. How could Henri-Julien do any less?

"Maybe you can't be their Keeper." It was true what Emyr said: he did not understand the complexity of Dalish culture. Yet he wasn't overly concerned with Dalish culture, only Velanna. "But you can visit. You can see the situation. You can advise." He sucked in a breath, considering further. "I don't trust his version of what happened, but I recognise someone who is teetering on the brink of madness. If you don't go, what might he lead the others into? He will lead whatever remains of the clan into bloodshed until all are dead."
Emyr was not pleased that Velanna dismissed the idea so roundly. He glared at Henri-Julien, as if he could take back every bit of magic that had been put into him, though his efforts had been minimal. Without word—Velanna doubted that was the last word—he strode away, leaving them alone.

Unexpected was Henri-Julien’s reaction. An agitation so pronounced rose in him and Velanna mistook it for being directed at her. "What are you doing?" he hissed. "I have said repeatedly that it is not only my archdemon we seek. Why are you dismissing this so quickly?"

Startled, she raised both of her brows. “Beyond the fact that we are currently rogue wardens?” She thought she’d made her reasons for staying with him clear.

Pushing away from the crates, Henri-Julien found his feet again, wincing at the lingering pain, which only succeeded in stirring in Velanna a new agitation for Emyr. "He calls you 'exile' when you do not act as he wishes, yet implores you to come and lead his clan. Who is he? You have a history, clearly."

She didn’t understand why this mattered so much to him, why it so clearly riled his anger. Just the night before she’d told him that she preferred his company to that of any other. Was he so quick to discard her? She frowned.

"Maybe you can't be their Keeper." No, it was no longer her place to do so anymore. "But you can visit. You can see the situation. You can advise." A tight breath was pulled over his teeth, and he added another layer by way of explanation. "I don't trust his version of what happened, but I recognise someone who is teetering on the brink of madness. If you don't go, what might he lead the others into? He will lead whatever remains of the clan into bloodshed until all are dead."

She didn’t want to hear his reasoning for wanting to be rid of her, but what he said made sense. This was not the Emyr she’d known, however briefly and infrequently. He was in need of guidance. Velanna was not sure she was the right person to give it.

He was the Second of another clan, and his only care of me for how pretty I am, and how powerful my magic. He was jealous of my nature magic.” Once Velanna began to speak, once the way that she had no patience for frivolity became obvious, like most of her sister’s playmates, Emyr lost interest in even niceties. She paced, unable to stay still in her irritation with the whole matter. “Fen’lin,” she muttered. “I could help. Perhaps the Creators have put us on crossing paths for this purpose. My Keeper’s magic is strong and he has no gift for it.” It was not arrogance, but a matter of fact. Just as she had no talent for healing.

She rounded on and looked Henri-Julien head on. She was not alone in the world anymore. She’d found someone who understood her, at least a little. Someone who did not care that she she was not always pleasant. Someone who knew she was not docile. Or so she’d thought. “But I told you: I am bound to you as you say you are to me. I will not part ways now, but I cannot ask you to try to live among the Dalish, even if they would tolerate you.

Sighing, she spun about. “I will not leave you but I cannot turn my back on Emyr’s plea for help. Mythal must guide me in this. If there is somewhat amiss in his story, then I must find what it is, and why.

Uncertainty gnawed at her insides, painting distress upon her face. “Would you be rid of me so easily?” Her hand fluttered up to her ear, as if talking about the Dalish had reminded her of the points of them. It would always be a barrier between them, but she’d thought it did not have to be. “My archdemon lies in a place where I belong. I’ve already found that.” She did not mean the Wardens. She rested a hand upon his chest, over his vhenan, a gentle touch mindful of his injuries, and hoped he would not rebuff her. The connection felt no less electric to her than it had the night before. Her anger was swept away by worry that she’d been foolish to open up to him. It felt like sand was being torn from beneath her feet by waves.
Whereas once Velanna would have relished the opportunity to deny Henri-Julien understanding of a dispute, now she was more ready to share her knowledge with him. "He was the Second of another clan, and his only care of me for how pretty I am, and how powerful my magic. He was jealous of my nature magic."

Curious; Henri-Julien had never paused to consider how other Dalish might view Velanna's abilities. His initial distrust and suspicion towards her was borne entirely from his Templar knowledge that she possessed powerful magic. The notion that someone might envy her, as opposed to fear her, was foreign to him. Yet another confusing revelation about the Dalish.

Agitation wound itself through her feet, forcing Velanna to pace with unrelenting step. Henri-Julien watched, his eyes following back and forth as she moved.

"Fen’lin," she spoke beneath her breath. "I could help. Perhaps the Creators have put us on crossing paths for this purpose. My Keeper’s magic is strong and he has no gift for it."

Once again, Henri-Julien felt the almost irresistible tug of his curiosity tempt to question further. Did that mean that Keepers were born? Within the Circles, it was commonly accepted that each mage had an affinity for a particular school of magic, leading them to specialise their studies in that regard. Yet he had always assumed that the Dalish Keepers were simply powerful apostates, learning the necessary magics required to lead their clan. Now here was Velanna suggesting that each Keeper required an talent for a very particular type of magic. No wonder the Dalish could not thrive.

Perhaps she sensed the traitorous thought. All at once, Velanna rounded on him, pinning him with her green gaze. "But I told you: I am bound to you as you say you are to me. I will not part ways now, but I cannot ask you to try to live among the Dalish, even if they would tolerate you."

"You have not asked." He was not being facetious; he would not have suggested that she visit if he did not wish her to do it.

That only frustrated her more. A sigh accompanied the restless spin on her feet as she resumed her pacing. "I will not leave you but I cannot turn my back on Emyr’s plea for help. Mythal must guide me in this. If there is somewhat amiss in his story, then I must find what it is, and why."

"I have not--

She whirled around again, her expression tight with distress. "Would you be rid of me so easily?" Her fingers fleetingly cupped the point of her ears, revealing her ever=present awkwardness. "My archdemon lies in a place where I belong. I’ve already found that." Suddenly, her hand was against his chest, just over his heart, the warmth of her skin against his doing far more than any of the heat of Emyr's healing.

Hesitantly, Henri-Julien rested his hand over the back of hers, entwining their fingers. "I have not asked you to leave me," he pointed out, providing a somewhat belated end to his earlier interrupted words. "So it also follows that I would not choose to be rid of you, easily or otherwise." He squeezed her hand before letting his fall, unaccustomed to physical exchanges of affection. Indeed, his cheeks contained a healthy glow that was at odds with the rest of his pallid demeanour.

"I admit that there is a great deal of danger to the idea." He returned to the spot where he had sat against the crates, lowering himself once more to the ground. A little grunt of relief at being off his feet escaped from him. "I also admit that there isn't much we can do to mitigate a lot of it, but," and now Henri-Julien looked up at Velanna, his gaze clear and focused, "that does not mean we should never embark on anything dangerous." There was no part of their lives which was not dangerous, and even more now they had chosen to share something of themselves with the other. "Make my safety a condition of your assistance." His pride stung at the self-made suggestion but no more than was tolerable. Were this a Templar matter, he would have negotiated in a similar manner - though not with the Dalish, it was true.

Glancing at their current surroundings, Henri-Julien pursed his lips. "Perhaps accompanying you will also further serve my purposes," he admitted. "A Templar who accompanies two Dalish and returns to tell the tale... it may go some way to enticing more of the Collective to speak with me." His lip curled, the truth a bitter pill upon his tongue. "I do not think the events surrounding my arrival has endeared me to them." Yet he would do it again... and more if necessary.

Still, concern flickered in his eyes. "Emyr will harm me if he has opportunity." That was to be expected. A few months ago, Henri-Julien would have attested to exactly the same. "But I worry that he will also harm you if it serves his purpose. Whatever you decide, you decide for us both."
So worked up was Velanna that she’d not realized Henri-Julien was trying to interject. Her doubts grasping ahold of her, she did not hear what he had to say until she’d finished her tirade.

"I have not asked you to leave me," he said. "So it also follows that I would not choose to be rid of you, easily or otherwise."

She stopped in her spiral and tried to track through the last few minutes for some sort of proof otherwise, but all she found were her fear-fueled assumptions. She pinned him with a look, the abashedness of her error evident in the color of her cheeks.

Hers was not the only red face, as Henri-Julien squeezed her hand before letting it drop away. Funny to her how it felt both natural and not to engage in such outward intimacy, and part of her was relieved to see he seemed to share a similar reaction.

"I admit that there is a great deal of danger to the idea." He sank to the ground by the crates once more with a soft grunt of relief. "I also admit that there isn't much we can do to mitigate a lot of it, but," his pale eyes focused on her, underscoring the importance of his words, "that does not mean we should never embark on anything dangerous." Their lives were dangerous by profession, though neither of them seemed quick to claim the wardens as their profession these days. "Make my safety a condition of your assistance."

She arched a blonde eyebrow, surprised at the suggestion. He was a man of some pride, and that could not have been easy for him to offer. All she could do was to offer a nod of agreement. It was the very least she could do, and the best chance she had of negotiating with Emyr.

There was more than the longevity of Emyr’s clan that motivated Henri-Julien. "Perhaps accompanying you will also further serve my purposes," he said. "A Templar who accompanies two Dalish and returns to tell the tale... it may go some way to enticing more of the Collective to speak with me." His lip twisted into a curl. "I do not think the events surrounding my arrival has endeared me to them."

Velanna tried to offer a soft smile as she crouched to match his seated height. Knowing that he also found purpose in the idea of her aiding a Dalish clan was a reassurance, hopefully for both of them.

"Emyr will harm me if he has opportunity." Velanna expected the same, and could only incline her head to acknowledge this. "But I worry that he will also harm you if it serves his purpose. Whatever you decide, you decide for us both." That surprised her.

Her eyes blinked several times as more seconds than necessary passed. She’d not thought of that. “Why do you think so?” she wondered aloud. “His desperation leads me to believe otherwise.” Though, perhaps that was intentional, and Emyr had been leaning upon the dire situation to sway her sympathies. She shook her head to dismiss her previous question. “I see your point.

The responsibility of the decision was a heavy one. Seating herself beside him, legs tucked underneath, she considered this quietly for a time, appreciating that Henri-Julien almost always seemed willing to give her the silence her thoughts required at times. The indecipherable chatter of the other mages nearby them was a fuzzy backdrop as she considered the realities and possibilities. “It is a careful line to walk. I could not say if he would strike publicly.” If he turned the clan against them, or even just her alone, there would be little they could do to escape it.

We only go so long as it makes sense,” she said. “There is accepting that danger is a given, and there is foolishly staying in a dangerous situation.” Not something she needed to explain, but she said it more to remind herself than to clarify to him. She pushed to her feet, having made up her mind. She walked a few steps away from the crates, then turned to face him, marching straight back. “Now it will be you who must be docile,” she cautioned. “They will look for any reason to mistrust you and treat you as an enemy.” The very thought made her chest seize like her ribs had been mortared together. It had been a long time since she’d felt like she had something to lose, and she fixed him with her gaze for several moments before she turned on heel.

She strode right up to Emyr, allowing Henri-Julien to decide for himself if he followed. The other Dalish was clearly agitated, simmering in his own impotence. “What do you want, exile?” he spat when she was close enough to hear him.

Give me your oath that no harm will come to him,” she gestured to indicate Henri-Julien. “I will lend what aid I am able, but where he goes, I go.

Emyr snorted, rolling his eyes, his disgust apparent. “You would put this shemlen above your people?”

I don’t expect you to understand, or even to like it.” She folded her arms over her chest and lifted her chin with all the imperiousness she could muster. “If you wish my aid, these are my terms, or the Dread Wolf take you. It matters not to me.
Silence stretched between them while Velanna mulled over his words. Given the slight rise of her brows, it seemed that she was caught off-guard by the assertion, though she did not immediately argue. Though Velanna held no great love for her own people, that she stopped to fully consider Henri-Julien's warning warmed him in a way he did not understand, but welcomed nonetheless.

"Why do you think so?" She finally spoke. Not disagreeing; merely seeking clarification. "His desperation leads me to believe otherwise." Suddenly, she found her answer without his help, swiftly shaking her head to quell any response on his part. "I see your point."

Settling herself beside him, her legs habitually crossed, Velanna kept her own counsel while she weighed up her - their - decision. Henri-Julien leaned back against the crate, resting and taking stock of his own thoughts. The activity of the Collective stronghold filled the air, voices audible but words indecipherable. The disruption which had accompanied his arrival seemed to have fully dissipated at last. At least until he stepped out into plain view anyway.

"It is a careful line to walk," Velanna articulated her thoughts at last. "I could not say if he would strike publicly.

"Better to assume he will not." Always suspect the snake in the grass rather than be surprised by it.

A point of view which Velanna appeared to share. "We only go so long as it makes sense," she declared. "There is accepting that danger is a given, and there is foolishly staying in a dangerous situation." She unfolded her legs and rose to her feet, making to depart. Then, without warning, spun around and strode back towards Henri-Julien. "Now it will be you who must be docile," she instructed, though not without an underlying concern to the words. "They will look for any reason to mistrust you and treat you as an enemy."

With a toss of his head, Henri-Julien turned his face away from Velanna, nostrils flaring as fought against his temper. Docile! It was one thing to expect Velanna, as an apostate, to heed that warning. But to ask him, Henri-Julien, a proud and upstanding Templar to be docile? The audacity! Yet that was the point, wasn't it? If they were to assist Emyr, it meant their travelling from Henri-Julien's world of Andraste into that of the Dalish and their Creators. So, finally, he settled for a thoroughly disgruntled snort, the likes of which a Ferelden Forder would have been proud.

"I shall endeavour to do so." His mouth twisted with the sourness of the words.

Satisfied, or at least recognising that she would gain nothing further from him, Velanna stalked away. In his current condition, Henri-Julien could not hope to match her pace, but he did follow after her in a stiff shamble of a walk. Fortunately Emyr only stood on the other side of the courtyard, and Henri-Julien was able to catch the last part of Velanna's conditions.

"--expect you to understand, or even to like it." She adopted the bearing of a queen - which, Henri-Julien mused distractedly, might be a comparable rank when comparing the status of a Keeper to an equivalent in human culture. If not a queen, certainly an arlessa. "If you wish my aid, these are my terms, or the Dread Wolf take you. It matters not to me."

Emyr hated the terms. It was evident in the flash of his eyes and the grinding of his teeth. Yet while he shot Henri-Julien a glance of pure loathing, he held back whatever insult teetered on the tip of his tongue, just longing for a single puff of breath to let it take flight. With a single sharp nod, he signalled his reluctant agreement, indicating that they should gather their few belongings and met him at the gates to the stronghold.

Once they stood outside the gates, Emyr reappeared with what Henri-Julien would have described as a caravan but not the kind which the Dalish used. It was drawn by a stout chestnut-coloured pony rather than the white stags most often associated with the Dalish. Both details seemed to bode ill.

"He may ride inside," Emyr grunted through clenched jaw, jerking his head backwards to indicate the caravan itself. "We cannot afford to travel at his pace."

While Henri-Julien bristled at the observation, he could not argue against the truth of it. So, while he loathed to be separated, much less in the manner of some bulky piece of chattel, he accepted the reality of the situation. He had promised to be docile, after all.

***

It was the fording of a river which confirmed to Henri-Julien their direction of travel: east, towards the heart of the Brecilian Forest. While there were an infinite number of small streams and brooks throughout the Brecilian, there was only one river worthy of being included on maps. Moreover, it lay only an hour or so from Therinfal Redoubt.

Yet Emyr did not stop until well into evening. Finally, the door of the caravan was thrown open, and Henri-Julien emerged into the cool twilight of evening. His cramped limbs tingled with the sudden demand of movement but his focus was only on searching for Velanna. 

"The clan is camped nearby," Emyr stated flatly. "But he," he sneered at Henri-Julien even while addressing Velanna, "must stay here tonight. You cannot expect me to bring a Templar to the clan without first informing them." 

His fingers clenched into fists by his sides. Docile he was meant to be, but here was this Maker-damned apostate reneging on an agreement made only this morning! "I am to go where she does," he forced out, straining against the urge to snarl. "Am I really to believe you would allow a Templar to stay here unattended with your clan within walking distance?"

"What are you insinuating, shemlen?" The elven man spat.

Henri-Julien bit down hard on his tongue, but the two bright spots of colour in his pale cheeks said plenty. He searched for Velanna's gaze, locking onto her green eyes in a way that felt both invasive and intimate. He could not recall when he had looked so intently upon her. Why should he? They had not been hampered by the company of others for the majority of their travels. Yet now he experienced a strange regret that they had not found some other way to communicate that did not rely on words alone.
Unsurprisingly, Emyr was displeased with Velanna’s terms. She did not expect him to agree to them as readily as he did, but he seemed to weigh the options, and ultimately consented. She remained cautious, however, and silently questioned the caravan hauled by horses over the traditional halla.

Outrage flooded her when they insisted Henri-Julien ride in the aravel instead of walking with them, but she could not argue the logic behind it. She was ready to take everything as an intentional slight against him. She bit her tongue, since Henri-Julien himself agreed to the condition.

The journey itself was going to exhaust her before they even got to the clan. The only reassurance she felt was knowing that Henri-Julien would likely be aware of the route they took, given his skills in tracking. She was doubly sure when they forded the river.

It was late into the evening, the sun almost snatched away entirely by the inky horizon, when they stopped. It was then that Emyr finally spoke to her apart from what was necessary for travel.

"The clan is camped nearby," Emyr told them. "But he," his sour expression was focused on Henri-Julien, even as his words were directed to her, "must stay here tonight. You cannot expect me to bring a Templar to the clan without first informing them."

Once again, outrage wound its way through her veins and shot through her nerves, flushing her cheeks. Before she could point out the breach in their agreement, Henri-Julien spoke first. "I am to go where she does," he said, his restraint and attempts to stay docile admirable given the moment. "Am I really to believe you would allow a Templar to stay here unattended with your clan within walking distance?"

Emyr resented the implication. "What are you insinuating, shemlen?"

Color washed over Henri-Julien. His clear gaze locked with hers, almost causing a flush for how private it felt as he asked for something from her she could only guess at. They were not accustomed to others traveling with them, and were unused to having to stymie their communication to accommodate it. They would have to settle for the tightening of her jaw as reassurance of whatever it was he sought.

She made her best guess, tearing her eyes away from his and rounding on Emyr. “That was not our agreement. Where he goes, I go.” The reverse was also true, but she felt it important to hold to this particular point. It felt almost wrong, standing against her own people for the sake of a shemlen, but that difference between them had ceased to matter some time ago. He accepted her in a way her own people never understood, even if he did not share her history and culture. “If he must stay the night, then I must as well.

Fury flushed Emyr’s cheeks, almost indiscernible in the twilight. She’d backed him into a corner and they both knew it. Should he wish ill upon Henri-Julien, then he would need to reveal it to her as well. If he wished to proceed with her, he had her terms. They had not changed since that morning, and Velanna was stubborn enough to stand firm in them.

“How long will you continue to put him above us?” Emyr snarled.

You do not want to press me for that answer,” she said, coolly now, her temper diving into a cold indifference as she stood her ground. “All I ask is for you to honor our agreement. You wish me to act as a Keeper, then you will show me the respect of one.

For a fleeting moment she thought he would fight her still. His entire body went rigid as he spat, “Have it your way.” He turned, ordering one of the aravel to be unhitched and left behind for them, something the rest of the caravan was quick to comply with. She and Henri-Julien carried their own supplies, and she did not ask for anything more.

I do not trust him,” she admitted, once they were alone and well out of earshot of the others. Hopefully, that much had been obvious with her standoff. “I know that he will seek to press the boundaries of our agreement whenever he can.” He’d proven as much now. As she spoke she fell into the routine of setting up their camp as if it were the most natural thing for her to do, and honestly she found comfort in the near-ritual.

Stopping what she was doing, unsure if she should set up the tent, she faced Henri-Julien, her frown deepening otherwise subtle lines on her face. “It has been some time since I had anything which I am afraid to lose.” She swallowed, uncomfortable in such a confession. “But it shows a vulnerability as well.” It would not be long before Emyr realized he could use their relationship against her as easily as she wielded it in their defense.
Whatever Velanna took from his hard look, it held sufficient commonality with what Henri-Julien had hoped. "That was not our agreement," she challenged Emyr, ronding on the elven man. "Where he goes, I go." To hear that sentiment so ardently declared was still new and unfamiliar, prompting a tingling sensation to rush across Henri-Julien's skin. But this was not the time for introspection. "If he must stay the night, then I must as well."

To say that Emyr was angered to yet again to lose against Henri-Julien once again was an understatement. His lips curled back as he bared his teeth at her. "How long will you continue to put him above us?"

Yet the hotter Emyr's fury burned, the cooler came Velanna's responses. "You do not want to press me for that answer." The slight shift of her stance, settling her feet more firmly against the ground, reassured Henri-Julien that she would not be swayed. When she stood like that, she was as immovable as Dragon's Peak. Metaphorically, and perhaps literally if she chose to use her magic. Regardless, he knew the battle was over long before Emyr did. "All I ask is for you to honor our agreement. You wish me to act as a Keeper, then you will show me the respect of one."

Seething, Emyr was forced to concede. "Have it your way," he spat. He was quick to unhitch the pony from the caravan and departed without a further word, leading the creature away with him.

Only once the rhythmic thud of the pony's hooves had faded into the night sounds of the forest did Velanna speak again. "I do not trust him," she remarked. Henri-Julien briefly lifted his eyes skyward, resisting the urge to point out that he had already said as much. "I know that he will seek to press the boundaries of our agreement whenever he can."

That was also a point which was so self-evident that it did not need to be made at all. In fact, Henri-Julien frowned to hear Velanna speak it. Why had she thought fit to voice something so obvious? Neither of them wasted words in such a manner. Perhaps they viewed Emyr in very different ways...

Lost to his thoughts, Henri-Julien reverted to habit, assisting Velanna with the set-up of their camp. Magical healing coupled with Grey Warden constitution made for speedy recoveries. He could already move with greater ease and, with another night's rest, would be almost fully recovered. 

With just the tent to pitch, Velanna abruptly turned around, the lines of her vallaslin contorting as her brows pulled inward. "It has been some time since I had anything which I am afraid to lose." Her throat worked as she wrestled with the enormity of the words. "But it shows a vulnerability as well."

"You must behave as a Templar." Having been pulled so abruptly from his musing, Henri-Julien answered with unintended bluntness, his distraction adding to the weighty blow of his words. "You each possess power, but yours is the superior force."

Sense asserted itself before Velanna opted to eliminate the cause of her 'vulnerability' herself. "I mean," he drew in a deep breath, grimacing a little in recognition that he had misspoken. "You seem surprised that he seeks to push boundaries. Why? You possess what he desires. There is an imbalance between you. It is not dissimilar to that of the Templars and mages." Finally, he wound his way back to the gist of his original statement, though hopefully with better clarity into his thinking. "You must always expect him to try to break the agreement between you. But in doing so, you will always be ready to counter it."

Henri-Julien gestured to the still-unpacked tent. "We should sleep in the caravan," he remarked. His brow lifted, wondering if she would apply his logic to the decision. "Should Emyr attack during the night, we will still have shelter once we escape." If they slept in the tent, both it and the caravan could be destroyed, leaving them vulnerable. "Always be ready to counter the inevitable betrayal."

He knelt by a small pile of kindling, using his flint to start the fire. "As for our..." Awkwardness made him shy away from more heartfelt terms. "... association, yes, he will eventually realise that there's an advantage to using it." Henri-Julien himself had done the same when apprehending pairs of apostates. Equally, he had been sufficiently fooled by at least one pair of apostates... The humiliation of which had initially burned through him and yet might now prove to be more than just a harsh lesson. "If we were bound in some way, a leeching of power, that would be sufficient deterrent. If harm to me drains you so you cannot do what he demands, it would be a futile endeavour." He glanced up. "But I only know how a Templar might do such things. It is... not commonly done." In other words, it was something which even Templars accepted should only be wielded in the direst of circumstances. 
Henri-Julien was quick to answer her, his words blunt. "You must behave as a Templar." Velanna narrowed her eyes, granting him a chance to explain himself before she reacted with the knee-jerk she felt. "You each possess power, but yours is the superior force."

He didn’t waste time with the explanation. "I mean," he breathed deeply, his face showing that he knew he’d been hasty in his words. "You seem surprised that he seeks to push boundaries. Why? You possess what he desires. There is an imbalance between you. It is not dissimilar to that of the Templars and mages." It made a sort of sense, something she did not like to admit. "You must always expect him to try to break the agreement between you. But in doing so, you will always be ready to counter it."

She crossed her arms, taking in his words. While they made her bristle—did he see her that way?—they also spoke a truth she could not refute. As powerful as she was, she knew a templar with decent training, Henri-Julien included among them, could take her down because they understood just how powerful she was. She was not interested in debating gifts versus curses, as it did not change the truth of the circumstance. By the same turn, Emyr held a power, that he alone knew his own true intentions. By being ready for it, they held the upper hand.

"We should sleep in the caravan," he stated. "Should Emyr attack during the night, we will still have shelter once we escape." A logical plan, and she nodded her agreement. "Always be ready to counter the inevitable betrayal." In that case, Velanna took a few moments to set glyphs around the caravan, though Emyr would certainly expect them if he was intending to betray them in the night. Still, every advantage helped.

"As for our..." He stumbled, grasping for words, leaving Velanna to stare wide-eyed. She had no better idea what to call their fledgling feelings than he did. "... association, yes, he will eventually realise that there's an advantage to using it." He spoke from experience again, she could tell, but she did not dare ask after it. "If we were bound in some way, a leeching of power, that would be sufficient deterrent. If harm to me drains you so you cannot do what he demands, it would be a futile endeavour." He looked up, a wariness in his pale blue eyes that meant she wasn’t going to nece. "But I only know how a Templar might do such things. It is... not commonly done."

As different as they were, there was no end of theoretical subjects which they could discuss which fascinated her. Velanna fixed him with a long look before she sank to sitting near the fire. It was a bold idea, as well as a risky one. Neither of those things meant it was a bad idea. More than the idea, though, was curiosity. Templars did not possess magic, not really. Not that they would call it such if they did.

I’ve heard of such things done with magic,” she said, her fascination with the suggestion unmasked. “A spell designed so that what happened to one happened to the other joined by it.” She hesitated a moment before continuing on. “It is not blood magic, but it does involve blood.” She tilted her head, her eyes watching his face for any trace of mistrust. “Not unlike your phylacteries. A pin’s prick of fingers then pressed together, bound with a sigil. Very risky,” she was quick to add, “as all parties risk death or injury or even illness. Even the smallest sniffle would be shared. The spell can only be broken safely by the one who casts it.” One arm slid into the cradle of the other as she crossed them. “I have never even seen it done. It is only used in the most dire of circumstances.

She did not know if that was close enough to blood magic to worry him, or even anger him with the suggestion. Such a binding was not powered by life force. There was no risk of demon or spirit involvement. The risks lay completely in the consequences of the spell doing exactly what it was designed to do. “It could be exploited,” but so could any precaution they took. “I could feel your lyrium withdrawals, you the depletion of my mana. Each of us would only be as strong as the other.” She had utter faith that he could handle it, and she was just arrogant enough to believe she could endure it as well. Whether he saw that as a strength or a weakness, only he could answer.

How would a templar attempt such a thing?” she asked. Perhaps more intrigued by the concept than she was the theoretics of her own suggestion. “What binding element is there to enable such a thing? If you do not wield magic, how does it work?
His remarks earned Henri-Julien a hard stare from Velanna. Eventually, she settled herself near to the fire, the slight inward pull of her brows revealing that she was still considering the possibility.

"I’ve heard of such things done with magic," she began, that curiosity which they shared - albeit Henri-Julien had only recently loosened the reins on his - fuelling her words. "A spell designed so that what happened to one happened to the other joined by it." A slight hitch in her breath signalled the whirl of her thoughts. "It is not blood magic, but it does involve blood." Her gaze raked over his face, searching for his reaction.

Henri-Julien, not without some difficulty, kept his expression neutral. Was this in exchange for his Templar comment? As if he would advocate anything which even resembled blood magic!

"Not unlike your phylacteries," Velanna went on, emboldened by his lack of outburst. "A pin’s prick of fingers then pressed together, bound with a sigil. Very risky," she clarified hastily, "as all parties risk death or injury or even illness. Even the smallest sniffle would be shared. The spell can only be broken safely by the one who casts it." She tucked her arms against her body, guarding against the coolness of the night. "I have never even seen it done. It is only used in the most dire of circumstances."

He gave an inarticulate grunt, reaching for his pack so he could portion out their food supplies. Curious, he may be, but the shackles of the Chantry had not fallen so loose that he could easily discuss such controversial uses of magic, even if it did not quite stray into the forbidden realms of blood.

"It could be exploited," she added, ever objective in her remarks. "I could feel your lyrium withdrawals, you the depletion of my mana. Each of us would only be as strong as the other."

"That is the risk," Henri-Julien acknowledged. Even with how he would go about conducting the binding, it meant sharing both weaknesses and strengths. The issues was that what one dismissed as inconsequential, the other might feel as crippling. It all depended on an individual's tolerance - and that was not something which could be measured beforehand.

"How would a templar attempt such a thing?" Velanna leaned forward, her interest fully piqued. "What binding element is there to enable such a thing? If you do not wield magic, how does it work?"

Having retrieved the carefully wrapped rations of food, Henri-Julien divided the contents into two bowls. He handed Velanna one and kept the other for himself. "Lyrium," he muttered. "I have no knowledge of the intricacies behind the process, only how to perform it." If he chose to dwell upon it further, he could likely extract the key details and, with Velanna's insights, identify the workings of the... He hesitated, unsure how to refer to the process even in his mind. It was not a spell yet it had the same impact as one. For the first time, Henri-Julien wondered just how far apart the abilities of mages and Templars really were. Perhaps they were merely opposite sides of the same coin.

Abruptly, he shook his head, flinging the discomforting notion far from his mind. That was a step too far in his beliefs... at least for the moment. "What you describe is very similar to what I know. It would seem that either approach will provide a similar outcome." He chewed on a mouthful of food, watching the flickering of the fire. "I have sufficient lyrium to initiate the binding; I can do it now. Unlike your spell, it can be broken by anyone, but they must have sufficient lyrium. That, I do not have. Once we are bound, it will be until we meet with either a travelling merchant or return to a settlement." He lifted his gaze to meet hers. "But it is a guarantee against Emyr somehow coercing you into breaking the spell." Although it did run the risk of removing so much of Emyr's power that he threw all caution to the wind and behaved however he pleased towards them.

Regardless how it was done, though Henri-Julien had his preference, it was clear that they were of the same opinion. "Choose." The corner of his mouth curved upwards just a fraction. Not enough to disturb his habitual haughty expression but sufficient to suggest the smallest hint of a wry sense of humour. "I am to be docile as per your own instruction, after all."
He didn’t condemn the method she knew outright, which was the most favorable outcome she could have imagined, considering the intricacies of the spell in question. Even Velanna herself was not entirely sure of the grey area that was using blood in a spell as opposed to fueling it with such. It would have taken a little trial and error—as well as some sore fingertips—but she could have worked out the mechanics, possibly with his assistance. Before she pressed the issue, however, she wanted to hear more about the method used by templars.

"Lyrium," he uttered. "I have no knowledge of the intricacies behind the process, only how to perform it." It made sense. What little she knew of blood magic told her that most of it could be performed using lyrium as a substitute, though a great deal of it.

It did make her wonder about templar abilities more. If they weren’t dealing in magic, what was it? What else could you call a process fueled with lyrium as the conduit? She wouldn’t go so far as to suggest they were the same thing, not without readying for a quarrel, perhaps, but the similarities were quite clear to her.

As to the ritual itself, it seemed quite similar in effect, as well as initiation. "What you describe is very similar to what I know. It would seem that either approach will provide a similar outcome." She chewed in the quiet provided by his thoughts, gazing into the fire. "I have sufficient lyrium to initiate the binding; I can do it now. Unlike your spell, it can be broken by anyone, but they must have sufficient lyrium. That, I do not have. Once we are bound, it will be until we meet with either a travelling merchant or return to a settlement."

A puff of air passed through her nose. There was no telling how long they would be here among Emyr’s clan. As little as the passage of this single night, or even months. They would not know until the end of their time came. That they might be bound the entirety of it weighed in her mind. How far did such a bond go? What of her feelings would he know? Scholastically, she was intrigued. Personally, though she trusted Henri-Julien implicitly, she had hesitations.

He had no such compunction. "Choose." The faintest hint that he knew how to smile touched the corner of his mouth, though it did little to change the haughty expression he wore. Still, she recognized it for the indication of humor it was. "I am to be docile as per your own instruction, after all."

She rolled her eyes, but felt a smile twist her own lips. “The choice is easy enough,” she said plainly. “You know how to perform your method, and it does not involve blood. It is the safer and more ideal of the two.” Pragmatically, it was the only option, even if some part of her did wonder as to the other method. Besides, now was not the time to push his trust in her to such limits by pressing the issue of using their blood. And what other time would she have the opportunity to witness the workings of a templar ritual?

Henri-Julien seemed to accept this, though it did not disrupt their meal. Velanna finished hers in relative silence, and took it upon herself to do the cleanup while Henri-Julien prepared for the ritual.

Interesting that she could find no other word for it. It was not a spell, not really, though it wasn’t not a spell, either. Templars gained their abilities through lyrium, she knew, and mages were able to enhance theirs with the same, though in different forms. So many questions sprang to her mind. A mage could die from the sudden jolt of power caused by contact with raw lyrium, but the refined type ingested by templars was more pure than that which mages imbibed. Lyrium did not addle or addict mages the way it did templars.

She knelt in front of him as he set out the items needed to bind them, their knees all but touching. Holding out her hand, she watched with rapt attention as he conducted the binding, the touch of lyrium to her skin sending a rush that shuddered through her. The effect was heady, and she needed a moment to gain her senses before standing was even a thought. The urge to cast itched at her hands, and she dug her fingers into the dirt beneath them, blooms popping up around them.

Once the urge passed, some other feeling lingered in the distance of her thoughts, more an awareness, and more similar to her Warden’s senses than actual sensation. An almost imaginary thrum of heart, drawing of breath, echoed in her mind, and when she watched Henri-Julien, she could nearly time it to the rise and fall of his chest, to the thrum in his throat. It was almost a full minute before she realized that her own heart and breath had adopted the same rhythm. Truly, they were bound, and she’d not thought about the more mundane things they would now share. She wondered how far it went. Hunger? That strange flutter she felt when his clear eyes turned upon her?

It seems we will have few secrets,” she said in a soft murmur. She stood, slowly, falling into their nightly routine, with the exception of setting their bedrolls in the caravan as opposed to near the fire. While she moved she could feel the bond, like a cord pulled taut between them. As Wardens, she could always sense the taint in his blood to know approximately where he was, but now, even if he were out of sight, she knew she’d be able to find him if she focused on that invisible line. It brought on that aforementioned flutter, and she felt her heart speed up a tick. “Not that I have secrets which I should or would keep from you.” She reached for his hand once again, marveling at the heightened way she could feel his skin against her own, and idly wondering when touch had become such an impulsive thing to her. Warmth filled her cheeks, and she turned her eyes downward, looking at their joined hands. “I cannot tell what is the bond and what is simply me.
His remark was greeted with a roll of the eyes and Velanna's own hint of a smile. "The choice is easy enough," she declared. "You know how to perform your method, and it does not involve blood. It is the safer and more ideal of the two."

A sharp nod of his head indicated his acceptance of her decision. Together, they finished their meal in habitual comfortable quiet, then Velanna set about cleaning up while Henri-Julien readied what he required for the binding. 

Given the intricacies involved, it took little time at all to conduct. Kneeling opposite one another, Henri-Julien took the lead, accepting Velanna's outstretched hand and tracing the complicated runes across her palm with lyrium. He then repeated the act of drawing patterns on his own palm, though a keen eye would note that the runes were different. So slight a measure of lyrium, at least by a Templar's standard dose, did not affect him, but he observed the sudden abundance of blooms sprouting around the caravan, decorating their position as though in readiness for a feast day. He did not comment on it.

Instead, when the two sets of runes painted across their skin were pressed together, he murmured the incantation to activate the runic properties - so very different from spell-making, as any dolt could plainly see - and braced against the ethereal wrench which would follow. A sense of his spirit stretching, filling up something far larger than it was ever intended to fill, yet somehow leaving no void. Instead, the loss was immediately countered with a sense of fullness, not entirely pleasant, as the other spirit rushed into his being, spreading out through him. He was no longer only himself.

"Take a moment," he instructed, releasing his grip on her hand. He busied himself with tidying away his small supply of lyrium into his case, returning it to Velanna's side so she might hide it away in her pack as was their custom now. The burst of action distracted him from the disorientation of observing how his breath measured hers or the beat of his heart echoed hers. 

"It seems we will have few secrets," Velanna spoke at last, soft in the quiet of the early night. Rising, she went about fulfilling their nightly routine, sometimes stuttering in step as she experienced the tether of their combined spirits, restricting the extent to which they might part. It was not so short a distance as to be impractical, but there was a definite limit to how far they could be separated. Naturally, since this was intended as a means of hindering especially wily apostates from further escape.

"Not that I have secrets which I should or would keep from you." She addressed him without indication that there was any pause between the previous statement and this. Rather, she reached for his hand, captivated by the sight of their entwined fingers. A strange double-sense of being touch and touching filled Henri-Julien's mind, adding a discomfort he had not thought to anticipate. He had, after all, not sought to touch the apostates with which he had previously completed this ritual. "I cannot tell what is the bond and what is simply me."

Hastily, though not unkindly, Henri-Julien tugged free his hand. "It is new to me as well," he muttered. "But we cannot afford our focus to be distracted by it." He looked about the forest, mindful of not just Emyr but the nature of the Brecilian itself. "Not here."

Even though she did not admit to it, Henri-Julien experienced the prickling of the rebuff as though it had been Velanna who had rejected him. It was a clarity which he was not accustomed to experiencing with regards other people. His first instinct was to turn away and ignore it, refusing to be subjected to the whims of another, and yet that instinct was swiftly countered by the tangible knowledge that his words had affected her. Not just guesswork or assumption, but genuine understanding.

"Perhaps," he spoke again, turning back to her but not taking her hand, "it will help us to better understand more of the other." That they had achieved what they had with words and actions alone was impressive. This was merely a different way in which to strengthen that accomplishment. "I speak as I find. Now I will know when my words are ill-judged." He hesitated, both resentful and shy of admitting to his wrong-doing. "Like now. I did not think about how a shared touch would be impacted by the bond. It is... diverting." His gaze lingered a moment longer than necessary on her face, a fleeting thought of how it might feel to lightly trace the lines of her vallaslin with the tips of his dancing through his mind. He let loose a cough and turned his head, again seeking refuge in watching the shadows beneath the trees.

"It would be wise to test what we will experience in combat." He turned to one of the glyphs which Velanna has cast earlier. "I will cleanse the glyph then you can recast it. We will know to be aware of those sensations when we fight." Summoning a little of his lyrium, Henri-Julien focused on the faint glimmering edge of the glyph, narrowing his concentration to the glyph itself. He negated the presence of magic, denying its existence within that singular spot, and the glyph blinked out into nothingness.

A short distance to the south of their caravan, away from the elven camp, a presence roused into wakefulness. Roots began to form into legs and branches into arms. It sensed new prey.
With no ado, Henri-Julien pulled his hand away from hers. "It is new to me as well," he said, uttering it like it was obvious. "But we cannot afford our focus to be distracted by it." She followed his eyes as they swept their surroundings. "Not here."

Even though he was right, Velanna still felt the sting of a rejection, then subsequently the irritation that she would be put off by so little a thing. Yes, things were new, both in the moment and between them, but that did not make her ignorant of the forest which she knew well, though not perfectly. She breathed out hard and cleansed herself of it, just as she felt a prickle of something through the bond.

He turned back to her, the sensation stronger as if she were feeling it herself. "Perhaps it will help us to better understand more of the other." They’d not needed a spell or ritual to get where they were now, but she could not deny that it had been remarkable they’d succeeded where they did. "I speak as I find. Now I will know when my words are ill-judged." She sensed the abashedness, and an underlying current of resentment, that came to him as he spoke. "Like now. I did not think about how a shared touch would be impacted by the bond. It is... diverting."

Velanna felt a tingle as Henri-Julien turned his head away quickly, unable to say why, but able to discern through the bond the flood of sensation. She resisted the impulse to brush her fingers along his jaw. “I am quick to expect the worst,” she admitted. “Perhaps I will know to be slower to judge.” This had quickly turned into something she’d not anticipated, but was striving to see the benefit of it, and the ways they would need to work through it.

He was one step ahead of her there. "It would be wise to test what we will experience in combat." He faced one of the glyphs she’d cast around the campsite. "I will cleanse the glyph then you can recast it. We will know to be aware of those sensations when we fight."

He did so, Velanna feeling a slight tug she could only guess was the core of his lyrium abilities. Nothing jarring, but enough that she could feel the way the magic receded at his request, followed by the absence that she recognized as the dissolution of her magic. When he was finished, Velanna calculated the glyph once more, and like a breath would leave her body, she worked it back into existence.

When she reacted, it was not at her success. Magic in the Brecilian was everywhere, as the very woods themselves were entangled with it. The Veil was thin and tattered in these woods, and tampering with it did not resonate as it might have elsewhere. Still, Velanna sensed the shift of power awakening, heard the groan of the forest, that way that only wood creaked when bent beyond its nature. Bent in a way she herself had commanded on many occasion.

That’s not me,” she explained, though the bond and his own experiences likely told him as much. “Something is disrupting the forest.” She looked beyond the invisible walls of her protective glyphs for any sign of what it might be. Cold terror filtered through her stomach as she weighed the options of what it could be. Perhaps Emyr, stronger in Keeper’s magic than she’d remembered, was attacking them as they’d expected, but she did not think so. Why start so far off in the distance and give himself away?

Over her shoulder she asked, “Have you encountered sylvans before?” If this was the culprit—she couldn’t be sure without seeing it—if there was one, there was likely to be others. “Spirits possessing trees.” She’d only met one which had not been hungry for violence. She’d even exploited their wrath in the Wending Wood the day she’d met Aedan Cousland. It had taken four of them to take them and her down.

If it is as I suspect,” she hurried, finding her staff as she spoke, “it could be looking for us, or moving on the clan.” One way or another they would have to face it, and it was better to do so away from their camp.

She trusted him to follow as the ground began to tremble under the stomps of something great and massive. With a direction clear before them now, Velanna moved swiftly south, her magic feeling along the forest as she ran, reaching out for trees of her own. They might not walk as a sylvan might, but they would obey.
Velanna took the demonstration of his lyrium abilities in her stride. Henri-Julien, however, could not say the same when she recast the glyph. Aside from the engrained distrust of magic with which he was only now beginning to wrestle, the physical sensation, albeit minimal, of Velanna casting her magic was akin to a blade being twisted in his gut. How much was real and how much was his own imagination was impossible to tell. Regardless, he did not appreciate the sensation, and began to wonder just how sensible this whole idea had been.

Not that he was permitted to dwell upon it. His own abilities sensed the surge of power as something awoke within the forest. Something ancient and malignant. 

"That’s not me," Velanna preempted any accusation. "Something is disrupting the forest."

"I know," Henri-Julien spoke lowly, reaching for his daggers. Still, he could not offer any suggestion as to what. This in itself was reason why few Templars ventured into the Brecilian, preferring to draw an apostate away from the bewitched greenery than apprehend them amongst the trees. A fact which raised yet more questions over Emyr's claim that Templars had burned the aravels of his clan. 

Facing the direction of the disturbance, Velanna addressed him with a careless tilt of her head. "Have you encountered sylvans before?" When he grunted a 'no', she elaborated: "Spirits possessing trees."

He knew of such abominations of nature, but only through book-learning. His travels had, Maker be thanked, not led him into the Brecilian very often. If there were also such creatures in the Black Marsh, he had the Maker-blessed fortune to have not drawn their attention. Similarly when travelling through Orlais after his Joining.

"If it is as I suspect," Velanna flitted around, picking up supplies and her staff, "it could be looking for us, or moving on the clan."

While he agreed with the notion that he did not want to fight such a thing by their small camp, he did not share the conviction fly directly into its path. But Velanna did not consult further with him and if she felt any of his misgivings through their bond, she did well to dismiss them from her mind. She practically flew through the forest, drawing Henri-Julien behind her as a running child might a kite, her steps sure-footed even as the very earth trembled beneath them.

Henri-Julien had witnessed many horrific sights in his time, both as a Templar and a Grey Warden. The sight of a possessed tree should not have numbered among the top of that list. And yet the once-beautiful but now deformed branches, distorted into a grotesque resemblance of man, was yet another reminder of the dangers which lurked beyond the thin fabric of the Veil. 

But it was not focused on them. Instead, its long strides carried it towards another figure just beyond: Emyr. He, like Velanna, was running... but away from it. Both his hands were encased with flames, bright flashes of flickering orange in the dark of evening. The demon let loose a terrible bellow, filled with a creaking anger that belonged to something far more primeval than anything Henri-Julien had encountered, and suddenly roots shot up around the fleeing man, encasing him in a cage.

He skidded to a halt, assessing the situation. How and why the creature had come to be were questions for after. Right now, the priority was to destroy the demon. Unfortunately, the only way that Henri-Julien knew how to do that... would also incapacitate his two allies. Instead, he reached for his flint, and shot Velanna a dark look, already relying on their bond to communicate when he would not be swayed from his plan.

"You must combine your magic with Emyr's," he directed. "It fears fire so," his struck with his flint, causing a shower of sparks to fall upon a hasty snatched branch, fortunately dry, "I will draw it away while you work out your plan." He began to back away, waving the spluttering torch aloft. "I will keep it on my left. You must attack it from the right or you will be caught in the cleansings I make."

Sensing the dangerous flames, the sylvan turned, fixating on Henri-Julien. Emyr, whether from sense or insensibility, had extinguished the flames from his hands. Not that it had changed the fact that he was still trapped amongst the roots.

Insofar as it was intended, his plan worked. The sylvan advanced on him, albeit far more swiftly than he had anticipated. It did not need to race around vegetation and stones and streams. It simply carved its route through the forest. Mindful of his instructions, Henri-Julien did his best to keep the creature on his left, but the density of the trees plus the restrictions of the bond meant he had to double-back, no longer able to summon any of his abilities for fear of catching either Velanna or Emyr.

Roots sprang upwards just behind him, spraying earth high into the air. The cage missed its target but it so ruptured the ground that Henri-Julien pitched forward, his nearly burnt-out torch falling against the ground, extinguished by the dampness of the freshly exposed dirt. Scrabbling, Henri-Julien launched himself forward, finding his feet even as he ran. A small outcrop of rocks lay to his left and in the middle was a slender crevice, far too narrow for the sylvan or its branches. So long as the entirety of the space was rock, hopefully the sylvan would have no power to summon its roots. It was a slim hope but it was all Henri-Julien had.

He just managed to throw himself through the gap before the sylvan crashed into the rocks behind him. However, despite the shaking of the outcrop as part of the earth itself, nothing further followed. The sylvan raged at the entrance but Henri-Julien's hope had been rewarded: he was safe from the specific abilities of the sylvan.

Panting, he leaned forward, hands on his knees, trying to regain both breath and composure. And that was when he felt a sharp point flit between the pieces of his leathers, pressing against his ribs but not yet between them.

"Shemlen!" the voice hissed.

Raising his hands in the universal sign of surrender, Henri-Julien risked a glance over his shoulder. In the dim light from the crevice, he caught sight of at least six dirt-streaked faces, all huddled against the furthest wall of the space. The seventh held the spear against him, their face screwed up into a fierce scowl. It did not hide the fact that they were merely a child. About the same age as Henri-Julien when he had been given to the Amaranthine Chantry.

"Vhenallin." It had persuaded Emyr to grant him healing at the hideout of the Collective. Perhaps the word would spare him again.