Chapter IV

Water sloshed loudly beneath my heavy footfalls as I paced carefully along the uneven terrain of the open field. Dark gloomy clouds had merged overhead. The sudden storm had made quick work of me and the land, turning both into a wet miserable mess. Luck have it, I was only a few yards from the road and would be able to find shelter soon. This downpour was too sudden to prepare for and I could tell I was not the only one caught in it. Several others scurried from another field across the rough road, hurrying along towards the village, desperately covering their heads with their woven baskets to fend off the wetness.

I however, was drenched to the bone in a matter of minutes and sought no means for meager protection from the likes as it was far too late by now. The rain had brought a nasty chill along with it and the wind was more than happy to slap it against my cold wet body. Cold had found its way in as my rain soaked clothes clung to my skin. Finding a warm fire soon would be nice.

When my feet finally hit the edge of the dirt road, I let my legs carry me quickly towards the village to the one place that I could think of, the tavern…Dane's Refuge. Quite the fitting name considering my reasoning for seeking it out since I didn't find the Chantry an option.

There was no guard standing on the wide path leading from the main road to the village. More than likely he had also made an escape from the torrential downpour that was soaking everything living and not at the moment, so I had to weave my way through on my own. The town, although depicted to be a breath of one, was much larger in scale than what memory served. Expected-the game player wouldn't want to spend hours trying to traverse through a maze of dilapidated huts and broken down carts that lined the pathway with street vendors. Though most looked abandoned, the wooden structures stood as a reminder that this little wisp of a town would soon be nothing more than a memory.

Empty, muddy streets with only the sounds of the rain pattering the roofs of the cramped buildings situated all around me were all I could see. No one dared to walk in this mess, well no one but myself but my destination sat just over the stone bridge that just came into view.

"Finally." Breathing a sigh of relief, my pace quickened but with caution. The roads had become a bit more treacherous since the rain soaked them through and with only the leather wrappings to cover my feet I had found at least once that they did nothing for grip on the slick road. My entire left side was now not only wet but sporting a very generous amount of muck and mud from my fall. Thankfully no one was around to witness.

The tavern came into view just as I topped the short stone bridge and I couldn't help the smile that broke out across my face. It was hard to keep myself from running towards the wooden door and bursting in. Smells of food and smoke intensified the closer I drew and I could practically feel the heat from the fire I knew was burning inside warming my skin. Food sounded nice too. I wasn't very hungry but who's to know when I may have another chance for a hot meal.

Though lacking the ability to pay was a problem. I had no currency for this land available to me. Pausing in thought I wrapped an idea around my brain. Information could be a very valuable thing here and if I played my cards right it could be enough for something. Even if it's some watered down version of soup I would take it for now.

Beggars can't be choosers as they say.

I had just placed my hand against the uneven surface of the wooden door when it was jerked open and a tall dark-haired man in full armor barreled out right into me. Both of us toppled to the water logged ground in a heap of booming curses and pained groans. He was a large man and to add to his already massive stature covered from nearly head to foot in plate armor. The collision was least to say painful and even more; he only bothered to shoot me a snap of a glance before hauling his ass from the ground and running off.

Shaking my head, I pressed my palm against the ground to push myself up to my side, grimacing when it sank deeply into the dirt turned sludge and groaning loudly all the while. "That's gonna leave a bruise." Gritting my teeth as pain radiated through my hip and shoulder. Damned idiot didn't even bother muttering an apology for plowing me over in his haste. Just left me here to fend for myself. Pushing myself up further, I paused and mumbled under my breath, "What an ass." Hissing when my shoulder let me know it didn't like the weight I was putting on it.

There was a bit of shuffling behind me before I heard someone approaching quickly, mud and water splashing loudly beneath their feet. "Here, let me help you."

Hands slipped under my arms and I was pulled to my feet. Groaning and grumbling as pain shot through my shoulder again, I muffled several moans of displeasure behind my tightly pressed lips and squeezed my eyes shut let out a huff. "Thanks."

I opened my eyes and looked down to see the satchel that had been slung over my shoulder now lay in a nice puddle of dirty water. Bending down to pick it up, I hissed and groaned when my hip popped and jarred me to a stop. "Well, this is unpleasant." Drawing in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, I reached for the satchel and righted myself once more. Another look at my clothing and I could feel my luck waning more and more. "At least the right side now matches the left."

It was all I could do to not throw a temper tantrum right there. Calling on my maturity and fighting the torrent of maddening images that I could inflict upon that rude, inconsiderate jerk was becoming a chore.

"Please come inside, you looked soaked to the bone." A male's voice ushered me along as a pair of hands situated themselves on my shoulders turning me towards the door.

Meeting the eyes of several others stilled my feet. Even as the cold nipped and bit along my skin I couldn't stop the flush of embarrassment that tinted my cheeks. The patrons within looked to me curiously, some holding pity as they scanned me from head to toe. The attention was a bit nerve wrecking.

Digging my heels into the mud I stopped the person from pressing me closer, whispering over my shoulder and not taking my eyes from the stares coming from within the tavern. "Do I really have to go in there?"

"Would you rather catch your death in this rain?" His deeply accented voice flowed over my ear once more.

I looked up to the sky, the rain still falling and contemplated my options. I had none. "If I'm going to die I'd like the reason to be a good one."

His rumbling laugh came next, light and comforting as he pushed me closer to the door. My legs had begun moving on their own and soon I was standing inside the tavern, the door closing with a soft thud behind.

"Please sit, I will see about fetching something to dry you off." The man stepped away and I chanced a glance at the only one to show any sort of concern. He was an older gentleman; his graying hair pulled in a low ponytail and ragged clothing sporting patchwork all over. Not unkept, just worn.

Finding an open seat nearest the fireplace I plopped down with a huff. The warmth lapped over my chilled body quickly sending waves of gooseflesh along my cold limbs. Smile growing more as the heat from the flames licking across the burning logs drove off the chill and brought the feeling back to my toes and fingertips. Footsteps hurried near and I found a thin towel being draped over my shoulders. "Here. It is not much but it will do."

Grabbing the thin material I pulled it tighter over my shoulders, wincing when my shoulder protested again but smiled over to the man. Dipping his head briefly, he turned to walk back towards a table in the far corner of the crowded room.

With eyes no longer fixed on me, my time of gaining their attention having passed, I let myself sink into what little comfort the wooden chair could provide to my aching muscles. About the same time the smells inside the tavern assaulted my nose. Smoke, ale and bodily fluids I did not care to mention lingered thickly in the air surrounding me. How I managed to walk this far without vomiting was a surprise to me.

Pulling the thin towel over my nose did little to filter out the strong odors and I was far too afraid to breathe through my mouth. The last thing I wanted was for the smell to stick to my tongue. I'd really lose my stomach then. Thanks to this my appetite was pushed aside. The thought of getting food from this place was going to stay just that, a thought.

Commotion at another table pulled my attention. Craning my neck I caught sight of several bodies clad in various types of armor and such sat hunched over the dirty wooden surface, their voices low and eyes serious. Curiosity was burning as the want to eavesdrop just a little tugged at my better senses. It would be rude but I was sitting close enough already to catch bits and pieces here or there.

So why not? Mentally shrugging, I strained my ears trying to catch more than broken sentences.

"If Loghain's influence has weight then our journey will strain under the divided." The dark-haired man sighed running a gloved hand through his messy locks. Everyone at the table seemed to silently agree with several moans and grunts. "Let us hope that his words do not sway those we are seeking aid from."

Another few grunts resounded at the cluttered table. Even with my back turned from them I could see the looks of trepidation that would certainly line their brows and darken their visage. The revelation of just who was sitting only steps away from me did not go unheeded. It was a factor that I was finding concern and a building determination to separate myself from. I did not want to run into any of them so soon without a few answers myself and as of right now I had absolutely nothing.

I would need to leave soon.

Chills continued to plague me as I sat shivering by the warm fire. Continuing to occupy my time with listening to the droning conversations, I found content for the time being. No more attention was coming to me and I could settle a little easier knowing that much.

Until of course I failed to notice that within the group a certain pair of eyes had locked onto my slouched form. No one had taken notice of me since the man had brought me the thin towel. So when my eyes left the dancing flames to find a large body standing next to me I nearly squawked in surprise. Hackles trailed along its broad muscular shoulders and down its back ending at the stump of a tail. Large sharp teeth shown beneath a snarl that rose and dropped as the enormous hound's eyes studied me.

My once heavy lids had sprang up, my wide eyes fixed on the mabari as it stepped closer. As if the spiders hadn't scared me senseless enough, I now found myself at another creature of this world's mercy. Being mauled by a large hound sounded messier than if the mountainous arachnid had done it and neither of which I wanted to experience for comparison.

"Brute!" Its ears perked up when the deep male voice belonging to the dark-haired man bellowed from the table. Within seconds the hound had settled onto its haunches, its attention turned to the man that now stood from his seat. Ice blue eyes found mine, the scowl pulling his dark brows down softened. "I apologize, Miss."

I looked back to the dog, its head hung low almost shamefully but its eyes still piercing and hackles wavering its deep caramel colored coat. The man approached, stopping next to the dog and looking down to him with a look of disapproval. "Your behavior was unwarranted, boy. She has done nothing to provoke such aggression."

Brute whined, his large square shaped head lowering further. It was startling to think that I had caused this reaction from the animal but I had an idea why. "It's fine, really." Smiling through my nerves I looked up to the man towering over me and the hound. "He probably just…caught the scent of my traveling companions."

"Is that so?" He looked down to the dog, both dark eyebrows raised with question as he addressed him. When Brute's head whipped up, his backside shaking as his stubby tail wagged, he gave a gruffed woof. "Still." The man's eyes were back on me. "It was no excuse to behave in such a way." An audible whimper chimed from the mabari.

"Well…" I sighed, leaning forward and smiling to Brute. His ears perked up as I tilted my head to the side, "Please do not take offense, you are quite the creature but my traveling companions were much more unsettling on the nerves." He blew loudly through his nose and tilted his large head. Chuckling, I found his behavior humorous. Such a fierce and loyal animal to both his master and in battle, he was quite magnificent. "You are much more handsome though."

Brute tossed his head back pawing the floor with a grumbled woof. It seems he approved and I was in the safe zone for now.

"Compliments from the young lady that you so rudely approached?" The man smiled down to the dog. "Do not let it go to your head, boy. It is already large enough." Brute looked up to his master and huffed.

Once again I found the man's eyes on me as he stepped forward, his hand outstretched before me. "Now to right my own rudeness," His eyes flicked to his hand a moment and I slipped mine into his slowly. Larger gloved covered fingers encased my smaller hand. "Aedan Cousland." His voice dipped low keeping the exchange from others nearby for purposes unknowingly to him that I understood.

I sucked in breath when his hand slowly rose bringing mine along with it. Before he could, I squeezed his larger hand and tensed the muscles in my arms stopping his progression from going further. When his puzzled look found me I smile sheepishly. "I meant no offense. I would just rather you didn't…" Pulling the thin material of the towel aside I gestured with my free hand to my messy clothing. "I wasn't exactly the epitome of grace on my trek here."

I watched as his blue eyes lit with understanding and a low chuckle rolled from his lips. His grip on my hand loosened and I pulled away tucking it back beneath the warmth of the semi-wet towel. I studied his face as he looked off, a thoughtful expression transforming his handsome features. "Perhaps the innkeeper could spare some clothing." His mumbling was almost lost to my ears as he suddenly turned and walked away.

Brute and I both turned to watch as the man strode towards the bar, weaving around the tables and other patrons. His body, although large enough, flowed through the masses easily and soon enough he was leaning against the bar's wooden surface. The man standing behind it regarded Aedan with a nod and beginnings of a smile as he cleaned the mug in his hand with a dingy looking cloth. Both exchanged words none of which I could hear and when the man dipped his head Aedan returned the gesture before turning around and making his way back.

"You are in luck." He smiled as he came to a stop before me. "Danal, the innkeeper, has a few supplies he is willing to part with."

"So easily?" Both eyebrows rose on my head. I didn't remember the man ever selling anything before but this was not exactly the game I was used to. It was a reality now.

"We did him a service and he is willing to make an exchange." Aedan smirked crossing his arms over his broad chest, the leather straining over his large arms as they tightened and flexed beneath.

I looked over to the innkeeper, "Well, I can't exactly say no to some dry clothing." Turning back to Aedan I smiled. "Thank you."

Luck wasn't exactly something I would ever claim to have. Nothing since my arrival had really even leaned towards that possibility so when I let Aedan lead me towards the bar to speak with Danal; I kept my hopes to a minimum. But I was pleasantly surprised to not only find that he did in fact have spare clothing that fit but also a pair of decent boots. I kept the foot wrappings though, stowing them away in the satchel just in case but reveled in the feel of my feet being protected by more than socks and two strips of leather.

Hobbling from the back room of the tavern after changing, a grimace tugged at my lips. My hip had begun to stiffen after sitting for so long making this short walk back to my chair a bit difficult. But the worst of it was when my knees shook and nearly buckled before I back stepped almost tripping in my haste, stifling the scream of surprise that rumbled in my throat as my hand slapped painfully over my open mouth. My injured hip smashed against the bar and a squawk of pain erupted loudly behind my palm. Doubling over clutching it and keeping my hand over my mouth I tried to tear my eyes away from the sight I had managed to evade until now.

It would seem that the luck I had begun to think I may have was lost to me again. I had taken a different route to go back to my chair, the opening in the crowd of people seemed like an obvious choice to make it back quicker but it was a huge mistake. There had been a clearing for a reason and that reason was all over the wood floor.

The Tavern much like the village had been a bit larger in size than what is shown in game. Once again probably to save time but it was confusing. So it was easy to find a path around the mess at first and not even pass notice until now. I had migrated straight for the fireplace keeping close to the wall leading to it upon entering with help of the gentleman that pulled me from the mud.

But now, lying in the mud didn't sound so bad.

What I guess was a few of the staff and some patrons were making slow work of cleaning up the bloody scene. The two lifeless men still lay in a heap on the wooden floor of the tavern. Blood, so much blood seeped from beneath their bodies and pooled around them. No one had bothered to move them or even reach over to close their glossed over eyes that stared off unseeing.

My reaction had caught some attention but I couldn't tear my eyes away long enough to see who had approached. Or hear the voice next to my ear.

A hand covered my eyes as another snaked around my waist and I felt myself being pulled away from the bar. There were some murmurs, shuffling of chairs and then a gust of cold wind hit my face. The cold air tipped the balance giving my stomach the urge it needed and I was wrenching myself from the person's grasp. Soon finding myself doubled over emptying what little was in it behind a barrel.

When I could finally breathe without feeling queasy, I leaned against the barrel before pushing myself to stand fully. A cloth was held in front of me and I took it slowly muttering a "thanks" as I dabbed my mouth. Following was a cup of water that I took and quickly filled my mouth, swished the cool water around then spit it out before repeating the action until the cup was empty. Another "thanks" muttered and I sighed, groaning as my hands rubbed over my face furiously.

"I could have gone without having to see that."

Someone shifted to my left and I peeked over to see the familiar leather armor. Aedan looked down to me a bit of worry lining his brow. "Are you going to be all right?"

Chuckling ruefully, I shook my head and looked to the muddy earth. Thankfully the rain had stopped but even if it hadn't I wouldn't have been in a hurry to step back inside the tavern. "Early impressions are always remembered." I looked back to him with a half-hearted grin. "Suppose I have managed to set a poor one for myself."

Aedan shook his head and smirked, crossing his muscular arms over his chest. His chest heaved with a deep breath, "No." He exhaled loudly. "Not everyone's eyes are meant for such sights. It makes them no less a person. Even the most hardened warriors' minds are not completely steeled of the bitter truths of existence. Death is never pleasant to view."

Nodding my head I let my gaze travel back down to fall on my boot covered toes. The blood hadn't bothered me. It never really did. No, what bothered me were their eyes. So empty, gone. Open to the world still as they lay there lifeless, no longer able to see. It sent a shiver down my spine and I closed my own breathing in deep and letting it out slowly. "I guess I will just have to learn to become…tolerable." I murmured lowly.

This was not going to be an easy journey for me.