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The Arlathan Android

It took only a little prompting from Merrill for the Magistressa to accept the invitation to dine with the Magister Danarius.

To add face to the woman's importance, Merrill went along as a favoured bodyguard. All the Magistressa knew was that Dalish mage had acquitted herself magnificently in this year's round of Provings, and her presence would be a compliment to the Magister Danarius.

Merrill thought otherwise. Danarius' past reign of the Arena's victories had come to an abrupt halt shortly before Merrill's purchase, his sole champion withdrawing and rumours of Fenris' death on Seheron circulated widely. Parading another Champion in front of him was surely an insult.

Still, Merrill said nothing. Unbeknownst to the Magistressa, Merrill's secret intentions were to get as close to Danarius as quickly as possible, and the whole Arlathvhen's assessment deduced the Arena would be the most suitable avenue. Prior attempts at infiltration of Danarius' inner circle had fallen through. The man seemingly only aroused for the act of gross murder.

Danarius' particular research raised many concerns for the Arlathvhen. Where had he found so much of lost Arlathan's knowledge? Where did he keep it? Could they get it back without counterattack from Tevinter and another purge of the elvhen few? Stealth was the only way, but pretending to be a slave was useless. Once into Tevinter under the banner of a slave, there was no way out.

Now here she was, with a personal invite to Danarius' house through all those lowered magical barriers lowered. Only a year of her life whittled away, rising through the Arena's ranks and committing gross murder in the name of Arthalan's lost knowledge.

Merrill took care to dress up for the party.

What Merrill failed to anticipate was Danarius' particular covetousness for Arena Champions. His eyes hardly left Merrill all night. Merrill served her mistress and topped up Danarius' goblet, then Danarius served Merrill directly, his questions directed at Merrill rather than the Magistressa, whose fingers clenched tighter and tighter around the goblet, threatening to buckle the metal.

Fortunately the endless meal gave Merrill moments of respite from attempting - inadequately - to appease both seething Magistressa and demanding Danarius.

Merrill regarded the meal itself with only mild bemusement. Minrathous' decadence had numbed her: obviously Danarius had not heard half the Imperium's citizens and chattel were starving in the wake of an unseasonal flood.

Eventually the dinner party moved to a lavishly appointed courtyard, filled with attractive slaves moving through the motions of training and fights. Their sheer clothing showed they were available for any kind of entertainment the Magisters might wish. All the guests appeared to find sufficient variety to appease their endless boredom.

Spared from enforced participation by her slight privilege as Champion, foreigner and Liberati, Merrill was therefore positioned to watch as a fully armoured house guard - not available for use - trotted briskly over to whisper into Danarius' ear. The Magister's face went blank, almost angry, and Danarius hurried from the room.

Surreptitiously, surrounded by blood mages as she was, Merrill convinced her Magistressa that a break from bodyguarding over a sordid liaison to relieve her bladder was in order, and scurried after Danarius.

The interior corridors were cool with the weight of stone, voices echoing. Merrill crept up on the room in question as surreptitiously as she could, glancing past the fall of a decadent tapestry.

What she saw was not what she expected.

Three guards held between them a struggling Fenris. The face and body would be hard to forget after near three seasons of dominance of the Arena; Minrathous' most expensively augmented warrior slave. Apparently rumours of his death had been exaggerated, because here he was in all his naked glory, every muscle popped into stark relief.

Danarius bent to do something, and Fenris slumped instantly. There was the sound of a gentle 'snick'.

'Give it half an hour to....do whatever it does, then wash him and ready him. I will return after the guests leave.'

Merrill flinched and fled.

The rest of the night passed as expected. Merrill felt waves of pity and rage for those other elven slaves who had seemingly resigned themselves to the use. But she carefully put it aside, numbed to this as well: she could do nothing here, for the individuals. It was Arlathan's old power which could reclaim them their glory. It was that power she was here to steal back from Danarius.

When the party reached its peak, Danarius himself eagerly directing the slow death of one of his men, Merrill absented herself to find Danarius' study.

Audacity reached through Merrill's blood and opened the way.

Merrill found the documents in question and at her leisure. Danarius's particular bargain for power had been made based on Pride, also, it was hubris which kept him certain his barriers infallible, and she had no fear he would think his barriers breached. Merrill set herself to memorising, lines, shapes, forms, maps. All her excitement at what little she could understand was set aside to deal with later, when it would be appropriate: she had trained for years simply for this act of memorisation.

Leaving the study, Merrill made sure to put everything back where it was, and Audacity set the locks.

Wading through the flesh which remained, Merrill found her mistress passed out safely in one of the side rooms. She felt some small fondness for the woman's petty aspirations after a year with her; for a Tevinter, she demonstrated generosity for Merrill's unfamiliarity with Minrathous and city life in general, almost lonely, so keen to have found herself a captive audience. But ultimately it was no loss at all to leave her.

Merrill readied herself to leave Minrathous and its stinking summer.

She paused in passing, overhearing as Danarius excused himself for the night, rubbing his hands eagerly.

In a rush, all her stifled, tangled emotion surged to the fore. Even Audacity questioned. Merrill could leave, certainly, with her dry memorised knowledge. But where would that leave Fenris? Another elf in the hands of a Magister, Arlathan's heritage abused. Tevinter thought Fenris was dead: if he disappeared, what grounds would Danarius have to demand his return? Not to mention Fenris' body itself had been the first sign to alert the Arlathvhan to the fact Danarius, somehow, had acquired more of Arlathan's lost knowledge in centuries, enough to actually put something together out of it. Imagine how valuable her stolen documents, replete with magics of old Arlathan, if she brought Fenris as living proof.

And, Audacity noted, Merrill was angry, too, having witnessed so much misuse of her people tonight, bastardised by association with humanity as they were. Angry enough to act on behalf of the one individual.

It was the remembered image of that fine, firm body slumped in the hold of three guards which decided her. The lyrium vallaslin were every inch of them old Arlathan. A living scroll.

Merrill let Audacity cloak her again, then passed through a still part of the estate not open to the celebration. The sound of flesh on flesh. No guards at the door. Only two bodies, Audacity said. The thread of Danarius' magic was thick enough to assist Merrill in finding her way through the maze, masculine grunts louder as she approached; Merrill thought only of her footsteps, memorising the way in so she could flee the way out. Cities had been hard to learn, but landmarks were landmarks, after all. This mazed stone. This chipped tile. No Minrathous estate was ever built mimicking the layout of another.

When she reached the Magister's bedroom, again, Merrill was surprised.

There were no lamps lit, an eerie light emanating instead from Fenris' brands, colouring everything in shades of grey. Merrill was close enough to hear it when Danarius' neck snapped. The glowing hands kept working, though, wringing and wringing, throat and bone and flesh becoming a limp, gristly tangle. When it did not seem Fenris would be likely to stop until he had wrung Danarius' head from his body with bare hands, Merrill stepped into the room.

'I think he's dead.'

Fenris dropped the unclothed corpse of his former master and lunged at her, gory hands outstretched.

She flung him back with a mental blast - except it passed right through him. Through the brands, she realised, horrified, if only for a moment before they were engaged in a life and death struggle. Merrill kicked and flailed, too far from honest dirt to call on Arthalan's old roots to protect her. But she hadn't been the Arena's Champion this year for nothing. Merrill dislodged his hands from her throat and cried out in Arcanum, without thinking: all the old Arena warriors who had known him said the Champion Fenris only ever spoke in Arcanum. ::Only the living know victory!::

::Stop! I'm not your enemy!::

Instantly, Fenris stopped. He stood, hands lax at his side. His face was utterly blank.

Merrill looked out the door warily, but no guards were coming. Apparently expecting some sort of struggle between master and slave? She wondered how Fenris claimed the upper hand.

'I think we should both get out of here. They might kill you a second time when they find out you did this to your master.'

Nothing. Merrill swallowed her surprise - the bruise around her throat would last for too long - then tried in Arcanum again.

::You should clothe yourself. We need to go.::

Fenris immediately went to where Danarius' robe lay crumpled - well, it was the only clothing, unless one wore curtains - and dressed himself.

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