"Knight Errant"

Leander Coté, aged 34

Minrathous, Tevinter Remnant

19:59 Modern


Of all the places the OKT could send me at a time like this, Minrathous has got to be the worst of it.

'See the world,' they said. 'Become a templar,' they said. Bollocks. In a world where secular thought is increasingly becoming the norm, I can't believe I got suckered into joining what most of my friends believe is the most backwards governmental department in existence.

It could be worse, I suppose. The Order of Knights Templar dropped the more official traditions back in the Carbon Age, and while we still deal with much the same thing as we always have, OKT agents in my day and age don't have to wear skirts and armor. No, none of that bullshit from me, and the Prime Minister in the Union of Lower Countries brought us back into the world of the living with the OKT Modernization Act. The only people who seem to have the right idea of our sphere of influence, however, are the ones who don't watch terrible mirror dramas that seem to be ubiquitous.

I get out of my conveyance and stride into the bustling music venue where I'm told I can find my contacts. "Colwyn and Branwen Michaelmas," my boss said, back when I was still in the lower half. "Couple of kids on the north side." Then she shoved me unceremoniously out the door and I took a mag-lyrium train to the central garage, where I picked up the fastest horseless I had clearance for and drove almost three hundred leagues to the Tevinter Remnant.

Maker, how I hate working on the Northside. Well, at least the treaties with Par Vollen are still intact, and I don't have to worry about Minrathous turning into a war zone…again. I thank Andraste for small favors.

The girl at the door, a scrabbly looking sort with the sides of her head shaved into a mohawk, takes my ticket and looks at me as if I'm wearing a lyrium brand on my forehead. I roll my eyes at her; she rolls her eyes at me. And while I'm not wearing any protective measures as obvious as lyrium branding, I'm quite well defended despite being unarmored.

"I'm looking for two siblings," I say to her. "By name of Colwyn and Branwen."

The girl raises an eyebrow. "Who's asking?" she says, supremely rudely. Kids these days. I roll my eyes again. Really?

"My name is Leander," I say. "My business is my own, but trust me when I tell you I don't mean your buddies any harm."

She clucks disapprovingly and then motions at a burly bouncer type on her left. "They're on right now, but you can talk to them after. Neil will show you backstage."

I thank the Maker I don't have to flash my badge around, especially in a place like this. Then again, I'm hoping that not everything about me screams OKT, because on this job, that could be a liability.

Neil the bouncer—seriously, how did a goon get a librarian's name? —shows me around the front end, and I take a pause to listen to the music. It's turned from a dull roar to a full assault on my ears. The music is loud, the crowd is louder, and I pause the guy in his tracks to get an idea of whom I'm dealing with.

There are two on stage, and they can't be older than twenty. Maker, I remember those days. Back when I still had a soul and the daily grind that is working for the OKT still meant something to me. When I was twenty, I thought I could still make a difference and was sure that the whole of Thedas was my proverbial oyster.

The family resemblance between the two is undeniable, and they could be twins if one of them wasn't an elf. Huh. Don't see many full-blooded elves around Thedas, anymore, even in the north. Here, they mostly stick to their Enclaves: elite sanctuaries in which the pure blood is held to a premium. Especially so for the elves in the Remnant, who have gone from slave class to an elitist hegemony that suffers more from a lack of genetic diversity than a lack of funds.

The boy is the human, and he's maybe just a smidge younger than his sister. They're both of the Northern coloration that's so common here: dark hair, olive skin. They both have the moss-green eyes that are common in the elven race and are a good indicator of an elf or two in the line of a person of the human persuasion.

I force myself to pay attention to the music. They're not quite singing, not quite talking, and a third person behind them is spinning background tracking on two turntables in the background. Every so often the girl pulls a viola from the stand next to her and plays it; it's hooked into a distortion pedal and I have to say the effect is pretty cool. Then I realize that the only people who say that word anymore are what the kids call 'squares'. It would be not cool of me at all to say 'cool' in anything less than ironic fashion.

Of the things their lyrics could be about though, what I'm not expecting is the subject of race relations, at least from this point of view. Interesting. I can't remember the lyrics exactly, but a lot of it has to do with seclusion, denial, and who the fuck cares if my goddamned ears disappear, I'll fuck who I want, thank you very much.

The crowd, who I notice are fairly well distributed among race lines, cheer. I look closely: humans and elves seem to be in fairly even attendance. I even see a few kossith in the ranks, which makes more sense here than in the Lower Countries. Kossith with no love for the Qun made their ways here as early as the Dragon Age and have been happily procreating ever since. It's too bad that they're genetically incompatible with humans and elves both. I have heard in some advances in biohacking that may allow genetic traits of one parent to be sown in another. It was pioneered by the elves, of course; they're desperate to preserve their features without succumbing to the diseases years of inbreeding have slowly forced upon them.

The angry (or should I say fervent? I'm not sure) lyrics cease, and the two step off stage, leaving the deck crew to set up for the next band in the set. Neil the bouncer pokes me, points toward the backstage door. I follow.

The two—I still don't know which is which, damn their mother and her apparent love for unisex names—are sitting down on one of the couches, wiping sweat off with towels and drinking enough water to drown a horse.

"Hi," the girl says. "You must be the OKT bloke we were told about."

"Leander," I say, and extend a hand. She's happy to offer hers, but her brother is a little more reluctant. From what I can tell, the girl's going to be the talker of the two.

"I'm Branwen," she says, "and this is Colwyn."

"Charmed," says Colwyn, though he looks anything but. He turns to his sister and jabbers at her in rapid Elvish, and she says something back. I make a mental note; Reconstructed Elvish is less a complete language and more of a hybrid of the words that survived the ancient purges and high Arcanum from the old Imperium. Insofar as I know, the fact that an elf-blooded human would know it is nearly tantamount to high treason in the Enclave.

"So," Branwen says, as she sits back on the sofa and polishes off her water bottle. "What did you think of the music?"

"Didn't have a chance to hear much," I confess. "A lot of the lyrics were enlightening."

"You can say that again," Colwyn says, and Branwen treats me to a smile.

"What my surly brother means to say is that he doesn't generally expect humans to understand what we're talking about."

I beg to differ, silently: I know of at least three elves in my bloodline, though in the Lower Countries there is almost no stigma to intermarriage. The Remnant has a long and bloody history of human-on-elf violence stretching back to the Imperial slave trade, and the stench lingers; mixed-race coupling is still very much taboo here in the North.

"I didn't get a chance to see the band name," he said. "You finished before I had a chance to look."

Branwen laughs. "Well," she explains, "it's a bit ironic, really."

"Hit me," I say, determined to prove that my status as an OKT agent in his early thirties isn't necessarily doomed to be a square.

"We're the Blunt Knives," she says.

I shake my head; no, the irony isn't lost on me. Well played, Michaelmas kids. Well played.

"So," she says, after we listen to the next band for a couple of minutes. "What can we do for you?"

"Well, I was told you might be able to help me on a bit of a field job I have coming up," I say. The dossiers say that they are talented and well-vetted mages, even if Branwen's abilities border on hedge magic and true apostasy, rather than trained talent.

"Oh," she says. Her Remnant lilt is a little more pronounced now that her elocution isn't tied to a spun beat. "Sounds like fun! What have you got for us this time?"

"Standard fare," I say. "A Circle-trained genius decided to start dabbling in necromancy—"

Colwyn makes a face, and he looks like I feel. We might have grown with the times, even relaxing our vigilance on hedge magic, but necromancy remains a fast-track to Very Bad Things. Thus, outside of very controlled circumstances, it remains highly illegal. "This have anything to do with the serial murders we keep hearing about in the enclave?"

"I think so, yes."

"So not only do you need a couple of mages, you need easy access to the Enclave," says Branwen, with a smirk. "We can take care of the first, but I'm afraid we may have burned some bridges with them, what with our artistic subject matter."

"I've got access to the Enclave," I say, "but I could use translators."

"That much we can do," says Colwyn. Branwen gets up, hands me a card.

"Give us a call tomorrow?" she asks. I nod. "Not too early, though. We've got one more set in an hour, then breakdown."

I have Neil escort me from the backstage area and head back to my room at the Slaughtered Archon for a night's rest. In the morning I wake early, grab breakfast from a cheap spread laid out in the tavern, then take a nap. Maker, I hadn't even realized how tired I was, but when I wake from my nap in the early afternoon, I feel like a new man.

I freshen up and head to the area of town in which the Michaelmas twins live. I knock on the door, and Branwen answers it, beaming.

"Avanna," she says, an old Arcanum word that survived the Reavings. "Thanks for giving us time to sleep in." She asks me if I'd like a cup of java or tea, and I refuse both. "Suit yourself," she says, "but I do my best work when I'm caffeinated." Not long after, Colwyn stumbles out of his room, looking less like a human and more like a reanimated corpse. He perks up after a strong cup of java, and cooks a small meal for the three of us. We make small talk all the while, and when we're done he finally gets serious.

"I know we didn't have a lot of time to talk last night," he says. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like a proper briefing." I note his use of jargon. While I don't believe Branwen has ever been a freelancer proper, I know Colwyn has been tapped both by OKT and Magus Iniciae. Both agencies wanted his considerable talents, but he refused both, preferring to return home to Minrathous and take care of his family. His request was granted, provided he remain on retainer for local OKT or MI contracts, and has proven a loyal ally ever since.

"As I said before," I say, "this is a fairly simple case. I'd be on it by myself, but Control seemed to think you'd be a worthwhile asset."

"And that's because…?"

"You and your sister have ties to the Enclave, and can help me avoid an embarrassing faux pas." I let the obvious go unsaid: I may be possessed of a few elven traits, but Enclave born I am not, and they barely trust their own.

"…and?" Damnit. He knows, or at least suspects, the other reason. Damned empaths!

"…and we have reason to believe our perpetrator is a former colleague of yours from the Circle." That seems to surprise him, and I thank the Maker he's an empathy and not a true Listener.

He laughs. "Marcus, wasn't it." It's a statement, not a question. I nod. "Self-aggrandizing prick. He would have been right at home in the old Imperium. We had a bit of a rivalry back in Dairsmuid."

"Control figured you knew him," I say.

"Oh, I knew him all right, and the only talents I seem to remember him having were in the necromantic arts. I do recall saying as much before his Harrowing." He frowns. "I take it he was summoned home by the Enclave?"

"Apt assessment." Sovereignty has its issues, lack of proper jurisdiction over recalled mages being one of the more obvious—and inconvenient—ones. However, few elven Enclave mages prove to be as much trouble as Marcus has. I get the feeling he might never have passed his Harrowing, if he'd ever had a chance to endure it.

Colwyn nods. "Well, you have my staff, if you want it. Bran, want in?"

I'd almost forgotten she was there. Maker, she's good. "Don't ask me, brother. I'm just the illusionist."

"You're not Circle-trained," I say, "but that could very well end up being the trick up our sleeve."

Bran nods, shrugs, and looks at her brother. "Cole?"

He nods. "I think we could use her."

"I trust you," I say.

"Well then," Cole says. "Let's go nail the bastard."