nagia: (dao; sens; s-shock! she's not a bear)
YOUR CHILDREN DESERVE LEXCORP JETPACKS ([personal profile] nagia) wrote in [community profile] terzarima2010-12-20 09:35 pm

Dragon Age: Origins; Rated M; "Bereskarn Skein" [2/???]

Title: Bereskarn Skein
Fandom/Pairings: Dragon Age: Origins; eventual Zevran/f!Surana
Rating: ESRB Rating of M for Mature
Summary: Zevran was pretty sure he saw where this headlong rush to end the Blight was going: very far downhill, very quickly. And that was before the Grey Warden who spared his life turned into a bear. Now the only thing he's sure of is that it's not going to end like all the other fairy stories.
Notes: General archive page for the Bereskarn 'verse is here, again. Also, yet again, any input on character voices/interactions/etc will be greatly appreciated, as I'm still way new to this fandom and these characters.

Bereskarn Skein
two: is this the beginning or ending of a dream?

Trouble. That's what he's landed himself in. And a lot of it, too. A day on the road with the lovelier Warden isn't a terrible chore, despite the fact that she spends most of her time loping forward as a bear. Scares off any trash that might get blood on his armor, but it's rather difficult to converse with a dog – even a dog as uncannily smart as Dog is – and it's even more difficult to converse with a bear.

For one, he looks and feels crazy.

For another, it's completely impossible to judge her responses. And he's not even sure she understands him. Maybe she does and her expressiveness is limited, what with the "thirty-stone brown bear" thing. Or maybe she genuinely doesn't – although, if she doesn't understand his words, how does she remember her purpose? For that matter, how does she remember not to carve into him with those enormous paws?

Dog seems to have no trouble with the fact that his master outweighs him by an order of magnitude. He trots around them, sometimes forging off into the underbrush, sometimes racing ahead barking madly about something only dogs can sense.

They settle into a comfortable enough pace. And Zevran falls into a mildly amusing running patter. It's all meaningless, of course; words meant to fill the air and make the journey seem less silent. But Sens never changes shape to tell him to stop.

The Warden drifts closer to him as he speaks. He fights the temptation to reach out and scratch the bear behind its ears. She clearly does understand him.

Shadows lengthen as the day wears on. Sens's long, heavy strides shorten, gradually, as she tires. Finally, she stumbles to a stop. She rests on her haunches like a very large, very absurd dog, and lets out a strange whine.

Dog races toward her. He butts his head against her shoulder, then tenses, bristling, as she changes back. Soon enough, she stands on two feet and wears studded leather rather than pounds and pounds of muscle and fur.

"I need to rest for an hour," she says. "And don't tell me you're not tired."

"Don't worry on my account; I can go all night." It's cringe-worthy at most, but it's the best jab he can offer when he's busy wanting to watch Bann Teagan and the arlessa suffer all seven stages of lanthrax poisoning.

First they have to save that fool village from itself, then they spend a night fighting flaming undead, and then they waste daylight hours with some ridiculous ceremony? He hasn't begun to feel the fatigue just yet, but he knows that when he does, it will come with bone tiredness.

Teagan should have been unlocking that passage with his signet ring at dawn. Either that, or he should have let them try to rest, rather than keeping the Wardens up and searching for straggling monsters or distressed survivors until dawn.

The Warden doesn't seem to notice the innuendo, or perhaps she doesn't care. She merely turns on her heel and strides away from the road. He follows after, and almost wishes Alistair was about to trade stares with. At least then he'd have somebody around who understood the strangeness of this journey.

The journey only gets stranger: the ferry to the Circle Tower is closed. No-one has said as much, but an armed and irritated-looking templar stands with his arms crossed at the end of the dock.

Sens stops short, swivels to scan the area for something. She must see it, because she immediately moves toward the man who is not standing on the dock.

"Well, look at this! I remember taking you across when you left with that fellow, Duncan."

Sens curves her mouth into a pleasant, polite smile. But she doesn't show teeth, and it doesn't last long. "Good day, Kester."

"Hey... you know what's going on at the Tower? They took my boat and Greagoir won't tell me nothing."

That makes Sens narrow her eyes for a moment, but then her mouth curves up again. "I hadn't heard that anything was happening at the tower. Perhaps I should go and see."

"Greagoir told me to stay over here till it blows over, but some storms don't blow over easy."

Sens's eyes narrow again, but the look she exchanges with Zevran as she drifts away from Kester is placid.

"I take it we are to be the bearers of bad news, should we return to Redcliffe," he says. He keeps his voice quiet and steps a little deeper into the tall grass that grows by the lake.

Sens follows. Her face has shuttered closed again. "We can't leave yet. I should resolve whatever's going on."

"We don't even know what the problem is, or how long that would take. Is this child worth the risk?"

"I have treaties compelling the Circle of Magi to aid me against the Blight. I'll have to either solve whatever this is then, or handle the ill-will that not helping when I had the chance will garner."

"Two birds, one stone, is it? I think I like this side of you."

Her lips twitch again. But rather than both corners of her mouth curling up in her fake, polite smile, she gives him what might almost be a half-smile.

She looks from Kester to the templar again, and then looks down at Dog. "Let's move."

With that, she heads for the templar.

The templar gives her a startled look, then looks between the two of them and the dog. He doesn't seem to know what to make of a mage in studded leather, a heavily armed elf, and a war hound.

"If you're looking to get across, you can't. The Knight-Commander gave strict orders not to let anyone pass."

Sens shifts her stance, folds her arms across her chest. "I'm a Grey Warden, and I have business at the Tower. Who are you to keep me out?"

"I am the person appointed to stop all unauthorized access to the Circle Tower. Meaning you. Because you're unauthorized."

"Are you sure? I thought your name was Carroll."

"That doesn't matter! I've one job, and one job only, and by the Maker's shiny gold cutlery, I will do it!"

"Carroll, take me to the Tower."

Carroll heaves an exaggerated sigh. "No entrance to the Tower. We just went through this. Pay attention."

Sens turns to give him a significant look. It's a flat, unimpressed expression, and he catches a hint of narrowed eyes before she turns back to Carroll. She rests one hand on her hip, lets the other fall.

Zevran doesn't need more than that to know what to do. He shifts his stance into a relaxed but alert position and lets one hand linger on the hilt of his sword. It's a simple matter to tense visibly.

"My patience is wearing thin," she says. The tone is bland, but that, Zevran suspects, is what makes it so effective. Regardless of his theory, her tone manages to carry a hint of Do you want to find out how well you can swim in that armor?

Or maybe he he's the one who carries the threat, but either way, Carroll looks between the two of them. He even swallows. Visibly. "Oh, is that bad? I'm just trying to do my job, here."

"It's bad enough," Zevran says, before Sens can spur the templar into more asinine oaths, "and it will only be worse if you don't take us to the Tower, my friend. Now."

"All right, all right, I'll take you," Carroll says. "But if Greagoir says you can't go in, you can just swim back over, for all I care!"

Zevran waves a hand. "Less talking, my cutlery-obsessed friend, and more untying the boat from the dock before we lose patience."

"I'm not obsessed," Carroll replies, bending down to work at the knotted rope that holds the skiff to the dock.

Zevran opens his mouth to answer back, but Sens holds out a hand for silence. "Let's just get to the Tower and deal with whatever we find there."

Carroll lets out a snort of laughter, then shakes his head. "Confident, aren't we? You'll see what's wrong soon enough."

Perhaps Zevran is just too suspicious for his own good, but that does not sound like a good omen to him.

Apparently, Zevran's paranoia was justified. The first thing they see on arrival is a half-dozen Templars running scared as Rialto rats. The second thing they see is a man who surely must be the Knight-Commander looking haggard and worn, giving orders to a pair of Templars without ever lifting his brow from his hands. The third thing they see is two great doors closed and barred, with a pair of Templars standing watch.

Sens picks up her pace. The leather straps of her armor click and swish as she moves. Zevran tilts his head to get a better view, but alas! A frightened templar crosses behind her, and by the time Zevran has dragged his attention away from the twitchy men in plate mail and swords, Sens has come to a stop in front of the man in charge. Zevran angles himself so that he can see her face while she speaks to the Knight-Commander.

"Knight-Commander Greagoir?"

The man finally lifts his head. And when he does, his expression changes much the way Jowan's had. "You again. I did not expect to see you here." He turns to Carroll. "I gave explicit orders that no one was to cross."

"I have come to help, Knight-Commander. Why are the great doors barred?"

Greagoir looks toward the doors, then back to Sens, and sighs. "I shall speak plainly: the Tower is no longer under our control."

Sens's eyes widen just barely enough for him to see. "What happened?"

"Abominations and demons stalk the tower's halls. I do not know where they originated, but I know we were nearly overrun."

"And so you bar the doors, locking any survivors in?"

"Not one abomination may be allowed to cross that threshold. You know this. And it is too painful to hope for survivors and find nothing."

"Says the man who barred the doors."

Greagoir's eyes flash. "If we go in now, we will be massacred. I will not order my men to their deaths in search of survivors they will not find. While those doors hold, until the Right of Annulment arrives, we wait."

Sens shakes her head. "I wasn't asking you to go in. But we magi aren't helpless. There must be some survivors."

"If there are, the Maker himself must have shielded them."

"You won't send your men into a massacre, very well. But let me in. I'll look for survivors."

Oh. How exciting. He has just been volunteered to cleanse the Tower of abominations. As if dealing with the one back in Redcliffe wasn't enough. Hurrah.

He looks down at Dog, who is sniffing the air with great interest. "Is your mistress always this... driven, or is it something about mages?"

Dog only whines.

"Yes, I agree. Go team." Zevran sighs.

And yet again, he wonders just what he's gotten himself into.

The great doors close behind them. Zevran turns his head to look back, half-mourning the loss of air that doesn't stink of blood and corpses. Even more, he finds himself faintly unsettled by the possibility that he'll never see those doors open again.

He's unused to the sensation of wanting to live.

Dog whuffs once, then presses his nose to the bloody ground and follows a trail only dogs can detect. He leads them into a room full of beds and footlockers. Two teens lie dead on the floor, but Dog ignores the bodies, leading them straight to a footlocker.

Sens kneels to inspect it. She lifts the lid, dark eyes scanning its contents for something of note, and then finally stands with a scrap of parchment clenched in her fist. She smooths it out and reads it, then passes it to him.

He reads and winces. "I don't like the sound of that."

"Watchguard of the Reaching," Sens murmurs, as if that's supposed to mean something to him. She looks back to the note in his hand.

He gives it back, glad enough to be rid of the macabre little still-life.

Dog doesn't point out anything else of note once they leave the dorm. In fact, it's Sens who stops at a tangle of bodies, just past the door in the second dorm. She hauls one of the bodies away from the others and lets out a soft cry.

There are children amongst the dead. He should have expected it, but it's all but impossible to imagine mage children.

It seems to hit Sens hard. She stares for a few seconds before turning away. He thinks he sees tears in her eyes, but she's gone and past him too quickly to be sure.

Dog lets out a whine and hurries to follow her. Zevran nicks a coin purse from the body of a fallen Templar before he follows them, to give Sens time to put her mask back on.

Past the second dorm, they find survivors. A few sobbing children, a shell-shocked pair of adults, a teenager with a hundred-yard stare.

And an aging mage. The white-haired woman is in the process of destroying some sort of faintly horrifying thing made of lava. Sens shrugs her staff free and surges forward, but the other mage makes the air turn bitter cold before Sens can reach her.

Ice crystals form on the edge of Zevran's drawn dagger, and the stone floor slicks over. The slickness sends Dog careening, nearly into a wall, and the war hound whimpers. Zevran thinks better of following Sens, who has stopped moving and is now clutching an outcropping of wall for support.

The thing made of lava hisses as the cold reaches it. Steam boils out from its skin, and sparks jump away. But the cold only grows, and Zevran watches, fascinated, as the fire dies and the thing collapses.

The old woman turns on her heel to regard them.

He can tell the instant she recognizes Sens. Just like Jowan and Gregoir, this woman's expression changes. Unlike Jowan and Gregoir, she actually looks pleased to see Sens.

"You? What are you doing here? Why did the Templars let you through?"

"I'm here to help," Sens says. "We have little time. The Right of Annulment hasn't arrived, but it could be here any day now."

"So Gregoir intends to annul the Circle. He probably thinks we are all dead." The mage's expression changes again, into a hard determination that wouldn't look out of place on Sens's face. "But even trapped as we are, we have managed to survive."

"Has the first enchanter survived as well?"

The mage gives Sens a keen look. "Ah, yes, Irving was your mentor, wasn't he? If anyone could survive, he could."

"Good," Sens says. "Those doors won't open until Irving tells Gregoir that the Circle has been cleansed."

"Then we must move, and quickly. You will help me save the Circle, will you not?"

"Of course, Wynne," Sens says, and it's the first time he's heard her tone soften quite like this.

The other mage – Wynne – moves toward the door. "I have erected a barrier to block more abominations from getting in. I will remove it, if you're ready."

"I'm ready. Bring it down."

"Be careful. I have no idea what manner of beasts lurk beyond this barrier."

Zevran chuckles. "Do not fear, my good lady. Our Grey Warden is very good at fending off attackers. Speaking from experience here."

As they run past the barrier and through blood-strewn halls, Zevran can't help but note that the Tower doesn't use all of its space. They've blocked off portions of the hallway with strange, latticed, cage-like walls. It doesn't make much sense to him, but neither does locking dozens of people in one building and practically never letting them out, even for air or sunlight.

Then he sees the havoc wrought in their library. He's seen a few libraries before, seen rows and rows and shelves and shelves of books. They seemed almost like Chantries dedicated to knowledge, or perhaps pretention.

This library just looks like an abattoir. The fighting has toppled bookshelves, has overturned tables, has spilled books and scrolls and papers all over the floor. He sees bloody footprints and handprints everywhere, and tries to breathe through his mouth to avoid smelling whoever had his bowels cut into.

Dog's nails click against the stone floor, and the poor hound skids in a smear of something slippery. It sends him into a pile of books, which immediately tumble to the ground.

Something screams, not from fear, but from pure fury.

Four figures emerge from behind one of stacks and rush toward them. Zevran draws his blades and moves not quite to intercept. Instead, he flings himself behind them and strikes at the first target he can. He hears Sens mumble incantations, hears gusts of flame and the crackle of lightning, while Wynne sends spells that soothe, that energize, shivering along his spine.

Time slows. He lashes out with each blade in turn, darting away from each target just after he strikes. It's tiring; it's more than tiring: it's exhausting. But it seems effective.

At long last, the creatures collapse.

That's when he notices the sticky mess that stains one's fingers and mouth.

He forces his gaze away and wipes down his blades on the cleanest rug he can find.

Snes moves ahead of him as they continue through the library. Every now and then, she stops to pull a scrap of paper from a book, or to untangle and read a few lines of a fallen scroll. When he's not patting down corpses, she lets him read over her shoulder, and he has to say he's not fond of the picture this particular apprentice's notes paint.

He follows her through the end of the library, and up the stairs.

The second floor doesn't look nearly so bad. Sens takes the last step up and stops, looking around. She tilts her head to one side, then moves straight for a room opposite the stairs. It's separated from the main hall by those strange cage walls.

Zevran moves in front of her, gestures with one arm for her to stay behind him. This hall is clean, and that sets him on edge.

Someone in drab robes hurries out of the room Sens was headed for. "Please, refrain from going into the stockroom. It is a mess and I have not been able to get it into a state fit to be seen."

That brings Zevran up short, and makes both Sens and Wynne stop, as well.

Sens is the first to recover. "Owain? What are you doing here?"

Ah, so a person known to her. Well, that at least makes him somewhat less likely to turn on them. Or so Zevran hopes.

The shabbily-dressed man nods. "Yes. It is I, Owain. You remember. I was trying to tidy up, but there was little I could do."

The eerie tidiness that bothered him begins to make sense now. It's still enough to raise the hair on the back of his neck. Every word the man says seems to intensify the sensation of something not being right.

"Don't you want out of here?"

Owain blinks. His brown robes and slightly too-wide eyes make him look owlish in the dim light. "I tried to leave, when things got quiet. That was when I encountered the barrier. Finding no other way out, I returned to work."

And yet again Zevran senses something gravely wrong. What sort of person could return to work tidying things with crazed mages and demons and abominations on the loose? At the very least, this man should have been hiding quietly somewhere, and possibly praying that anything in the Tower would pass him by.

If Wynne or Sens detect any oddities about the use of ice-cold logic in a situation like this – when most people would be anything but logical – they give no sign. In fact, Wynne lets out a soft gasp and says, with mild reproach, "Owain, you should have said something! I would have opened the door for you."

Owain spreads his hands. "The stockroom is familiar. I prefer to be here."

Curioser and curioser. Actually, more and more unsettling.

Sens sweeps a hand through the air, as if to cut away all the unimportant personal details. "Have you seen any abominations?"

"No. I suppose I should count myself lucky," Owain says, but he doesn't sound at all like he thinks he's lucky. "I would prefer not to die. I would prefer it if the Tower returned to the way it was. Perhaps Niall will succeed and save us all."

Wonderful. There's at least one other person attempting to resolve this situation. It shouldn't be surprising, but then he thinks back to the slaughtered teens and children, the abattoir in the library, and wonders if this Niall is even alive.

"Succeed at what?"

"I do not know, but he came here with several others, and took the Litany of Adralla."

Wynne gasps again. "But that protects from mind domination. Is blood magic at work here?"

"I do not know."

"Niall was in the meeting. He would know. Blood magic... I was afraid of this."

"We'll handle it," Sens says, her tone just as hard as it was when she told Alistair that he would handle the abomination if necessary.

"We should find Niall. The Litany will give us a fighting chance against any blood mages we encounter."

"I wish you luck. Perhaps this will be over soon and things will return to the way they were." Owain seems to dismiss them, for he nods once and returns to his stockroom.

Sens and Wynne move away from the stockroom and into a long, round hallway. He and Dog follow. Dog presses his nose to the ground, interested in the many trails of blood and viscera, but he never acts as though he's found something important.

Zevran stretches his arms behind his head, rubs his scalp idly just underneath his braid. "So this Owain fellow... did he seem unnaturally calm to you? Very calm and logical for a man surrounded by insane horrors and dead bodies."

"He's a Tranquil," Sens replies, as if that explains everything. Perhaps it even does. "They're all like that."

"Tranquil mages," Wynne adds, perhaps sensing his confusion at Sens's answer, "are cut off from the Fade. They do not dream, they cannot be possessed, they cannot perform magic... and they no longer feel."

Sens stops to slide open a door. There's only one abomination in this room, which she freezes. Dog rushes forward and slams his shoulders into the frozen abomination, causing it to topple to the ground and shatter.

Sens moves toward a bookshelf, pulling a book off and thumbing through it idly. A slight frown creases the bridge of her nose. "He compared it to falling into ice-water."

Perhaps an apt comparison, he thinks. He turns away from the mage leafing through books and the mage staring solemnly at a corpse.

Are abominations easier or harder to kill than darkspawn? Zevran can't quite decide. Many of the abominations have twisted, misshapen forms that expose their weakest points just by existing. But they have strength he's seen only from the man-sized 'hurlocks' and more tenacity than the dwarf-like 'genlocks.' No, tenacity is the wrong word.

These abominations are simply unwilling to die. They cling to life out of nothing but spite and hatred of whoever's trying to kill them.

Zevran twists his wrist and pulls up, snarling curses in three languages under his breath. The deformities are nice, easy places to sink a blade into, but the strange geometries of the flesh impede him getting his blades out again.

At last he takes a step back. His gloves are slick with blood and something else; his grip on the hilt keeps sliding. If he keeps this up much longer, his hand is going to slip right past the hilt-guard and onto the edge.

"Dog," he growls. "Fetch Zevran's sword."

Dog whuffs and lunges for the dead abomination. Two huge forepaws land on the corpse's thick, wrinkled hump.

In the same instant, he sees a thin blue line, jagged and sparking like lightning, flicker over all the exposed flesh. The line flares, winks, and then vanishes.

Whatever it is, whatever it means, it can't be good. But just as he opens his mouth to order Dog away, the flicker returns, flares once, then brighter, turns white –

It's a sound so loud he doesn't hear it. Heat bears down on him, crushes him; it's like being six again and Claudia boxing his ears, both at once with something pulled out of the oven. The air itself sears his skin in a rush of no, no, too hot and his back slams into something hard.

It's one single moment too white to see, too hot to feel, too loud to hear; it's a racking and the poker and being pressed all at once.

He comes to with the older mage – what was her name? Lynne? No, Wynne – kneeling over him. Her hands glow a color that looks blue-white but tastes green. For a second, he hears nothing at all, then the hiss and crack of burning flesh, then rushing air, and then voices.

"–an, can you hear me?"

"Now I can," he says. His parched throat cracks his voice.

"That's a good sign, then. The wall hurt your back, certainly, but the true danger was the force and the heat." She stands, smooths a hand along her girdle. She moves too far for him to see out of the corners of his eyes, but he aches too much to turn his head.

She returns with a bowl of water. He accepts it, drinks as quickly as he dares. They need to move. Don't want to imagine when yet more abominations will find them, or what they'll do if even one of them is incapacitated.

He drags himself upright, leaning heavily against the wall for a moment.

Sens strides into view, carrying his sword. A bloodied roll of parchment twines around her other arm, hanging in shreds.

And then Dog comes trotting after her. He dodges around her legs and makes a straight line for Zevran.

He braces himself for the impact of far too many pounds of muscle against his knees, but Dog stops just in front of him. The hound pants for a moment, smiling his strange dog smile, and then whuffs happily. He nudges his nose against Zevran's knee.

"Ah, yes, you're glad to see your secret supply of bacon drippings hasn't been fried himself," he says. "I must say I am glad to see this too, even if I know where I stand in comparison to the dog."

"It was simple triage, actually," Wynne says. Her tone is mild, but brooks no argument. "The mabari nearly died. You were in no such danger."

And, indeed, Dog is entirely missing several patches of fur. The tops of his forepaws are completely bare, and covered in the silvery still-healing scar tissue left by healing magic. The scars extend up his front legs, onto one shoulder, and up onto his neck and face.

"No more fetching Zevran's sword from dead abominations. Agreed, cucciolo?"

Dog gives him a happy bark.

He bends down, creakily, to scratch Dog behind the ears. "Shall we, then?"

Sens looks at him a moment, then reaches into the satchel slung across her back. She pulls out a small vial and offers it to him.

He accepts the vial, pops the cork. His mouth twists at the taste of elfroot, but within moments, the aches have gone.

Dog stays close to him as they continue through the Tower.

He thought Sens and Alistair were uncanny, and they are. Even more uncanny? Possessed Templars. He's no expert on the Circle or the Chantry, but isn't the very point of being a Templar not to be possessed?

"How did you manage this?" Sens sounds mystified -- and a little eager, as if she's greedy for the secret, or envious that the demon managed it first.

"I saw his desire for a home, a family. Even he didn't know he wanted it. And I gave it to him."

Zevran tilts his head to shift his view. The templar does look happy. Drugged, perhaps – certainly not all there, but happy. "Hmm, companionship that is only in the mind. All the fun, none of the clean up."

Dog growls, and Sens makes a noise low in her throat. It's not quite a growl, but the sound sends chills down his spine. Not a remark she agreed with, then? Or is she angry at the demon?

The demon spreads her hands, as if she's helpless. "He hated his life before; resented the Circle, resented his vows. Is he not much happier, now?"

"But it's based on a lie."

The demon chuckles. "Truth or lie, what does it matter? He is happy nonetheless."

Wrong answer. Both Dog and Sens growl again, and Zevran pulls his sword free of the sheath.

"I will tell you once: release him."

"I cannot," the demon says. "His life is as much bound in mine as mine is in his. To release him would kill us both."

"I see," Sens says, and raises her staff.

The tip of her staff taps the ground once, and both demon and Templar frost over. The staff falls to the floor, clattering along the stone until it finally rests.

Zevran moves forward, intent on reaching the demon and her thrall before they can interrupt the change. And perhaps before the swipe of a bear's paw can shatter them.

He ducks around behind the Templar and his pet demon – or the demon and her pet Templar? - and strikes at an area not covered in ice: a sweet spot between the Templar's third and fourth ribs. The dagger slides in, easily, and he spins away to land an angled cut along the demon's lower back.

A bear roars.

He catches sight of something huge, brown, and angry and slips backward. The bear lashes out, its enormous paw – so much bigger than Sens's actual hands, he realizes – slapping the Templar in the chest. The Templar topples, but thaws enough to catch himself.

The demon thaws, too.

After that, it all goes to hell. The bear turns on the demon and opens bloody gashes in its stomach. The demon screams, then, a blood-curdling sound made even worse by the way the Templar echoes it.

Zevran stalks the Templar through the room, drawing his attention away from Wynne time and again. Dog joins him, snapping at the man's knees and ankles, ramming into him to distract him or unbalance him.

Dog's efforts let Zevran slip behind the Templar. He strikes down with his sword, smacking the flat of the blade against the inside of the Templar's wrist. It distracts the Templar enough that Zevran wraps both arms around him, pulls his head back, and –

The demon falls to the ground in the same moment that the Templar does.

Zevran bends down, wipes his blades on the Templar's mantle. When he stands, Wynne is frowning. Her lips purse, and she opens her mouth to speak, but then she shakes her head and turns to Sens. She repeats the process: frown, lips purse, mouth opened to speak.

"We did the right thing, I'm sure," Wynne says.

Sens, being a giant bear, says nothing at all. She simply shakes the blood off her paws, picks her staff up in her mouth, and strides from the room.

Zevran moves to follow her. He leans down to stroke Dog's scar tissue, just because he can.

After that, Zevran moves to the front of the group, and takes Dog with him. He and Dog become the vanguard, despite the fact that he's best suited for back stabbing and Dog isn't even five feet tall.

He's the one to push open the final door on the third floor. And he and Dog are the first in the room to confront –

Actually, what is that? Humanoid, and twisted like an abomination, but different somehow.

That's when the thing notices them. It turns around. There's a moment of staring, and then it says, slowly, "Oh, look. Visitors. I'd entertain you but... too much effort involved."

"Good," Sens says. "What have you done with that mage?"

"He's just resting. Poor lad, he was so very, very weary. You want to join us, don't you?"

"No," she replies, her tone hardening.

"Niall," Wynne murmurs.

Sens shifts her grip on her staff. "Release him or I kill you, demon."

"But why? Aren't you tired of all the violence in this world? I know I am."

He can feel his eyelids growing heavy.

"Why do you fight? You deserve more... You deserve a rest. The world will go on without you."

"What is this?" He has to snort at the stupidity. "Some ridiculous ploy to get me to let down my guard?"

But even as he says that, it's getting harder and harder to keep his eyes open. He reaches out a hand, tries to steady himself, but his entire body feels leaden.

He barely hears Wynne talking about resistance as he slides to his knees.

The floor is slick – and in some places sticky – with blood, but the blood is still warm, and it's not as if that matters, anyway. It's not his blood, after all.

The knives are a sharp, burning agony. He closes his eyes and inhales, forces himself to relax into them.

Jerking away will only make the cuts deeper, more dangerous. Best to just yield his body to the blades now and breathe past the pain.

So he breathes, and holds his breath, and counts seconds, and waits for them to finish with the knives. They'll move to something else soon enough.