Denerim; Marketplace and then the Underground Fighting Ring
Walking down one of the streets of Denerim, a tall elf with worn looking features scowled at the signs of the Chantry that were littered throughout. To some it wasn’t so overt, but for one who had spent a large portion of their life living under the Chantry’s thumb it was rather obvious. Amir crossed his arms and slouched down in an attempt to look less conspicuous to anyone who might be watching their progress. It was enough to make him want to scream, being in Denerim; yet another place that was hostile to elves. Keeping his voice low so no one might overhear, he complained to his much shorter companion. "Oh yes, lets wander into the fucking city with a platoon of templars hanging around. I'm sure they'll understand we're not evil. Maybe they’ll even be polite when they cut off my head."
The youthful elven girl beside him, having reached the last year of her teenage years and appearing to all as if she had only just breached them, rolled her eyes at her long time companion's rant. She was accustomed to Amir's snaps and snips. His temper was legendary when they still resided at The Circle, and Laila was typically the only one capable of sedating it. "Calm down. We got rid of our phylacteries, and they won't recognize our faces if we keep a low profile. The templars have the trouble at the circle keeping them busy. Besides, I have a sister here. She might be able to help us."
"I refuse to be calm.” He replied easily, gesturing vaguely as they started to pass through the marketplace. His tone was already less sharp than before, but he was on a roll and refused to be dissuaded from it just because Laila told him to. “I am claiming my maker given right to be a flighty shit from now until the final blight falls upon our heads."
"Be glad for the blight,” Laila chided. Her wide blue eyes darted about the area restlessly. Having lived in The Circle tower for so long, a crowded city with buildings and people and wide open skies was a jarring shift in scenery. “More folk focused on that means less focused on a mismatched pair of elves like us."
"Oh yes, lets be glad for –“ He paused as a merchant called out to them, waving some vegetables that looked well on their way to being overripe. Amir’s eyes narrowed as he regarded the man and then looked to Laila. “...Did that merchant really just call me a knife-ear?"
"They do that. Ignore them. It's not worth the trouble to pick a fight."
He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly, he could already feel a headache building behind his eyes. "Sweet Andraste, I forgot how much I fucking hated Denerim."
The young female elf turned her head away, a sadness sweeping across her expression that she masked with a blank, unreadable one. She was only five when she was stolen from her family, when her mother died through suicide or murder; Laila never could decide which it was. Either way, she spent little time in this city. Her home was with the man next to her, the man who had raised her and cared for her all her life. She decided to comment with a more vague response, however. Now was not the time for sentimentality. "Mm. I wasn't here long, so I wouldn't know if I missed it or not.” She peered about for the place the two were headed for, a scroll with a splotch of blue wax stamped with a unique seal, the symbol for The Mages' Collective, poking out of her satchel and a parchment with a crudely drawn map etched in charcoal clutched in her gloved hand.
"I was here long enough to learn to hate it.” Amir said quietly, his tone bitter as they kept up their walk through the crowded buildings. He had been eight years old when the Templars had taken him away to the Circle. Eight years old was old enough to remember the squalid conditions of the alienage. He could still remember that his mother died because she hadn’t been able to afford the medicine she needed to treat the coughing sickness that eventually took her life. The humans in Denerim didn’t care what happened to the elves, it wasn’t their problem. In some ways, the Circle was better than the Alienage, but it was just a different sort of cage.
Glancing briefly at her companion before looking away again, Laila took a moment to let his words seep into her. She knew his history well; in their years together locked away in the tower of mages, they had shared many secrets of their respective pasts. She linked a pinky with his, offering a tone of reassurance to him. ”...we won't stay long."
His tone softened as Laila linked their hands. It was impossible to maintain any sort of anger in the face of when she reached out to him like this. It was too nostalgic. "We'll stay as long as we need. And if we're very lucky no one will realize I'm the kid who burnt down the orphanage." He added in drily, lightening the tone of their conversation a bit.
"They won't recognize you,” Laila teased with a playful smirk. “You've grown too grumpy looking. Anyway, the collective's note said the place for the healer job is over there."
Amir scratched at his chin thoughtfully and then glanced down at her slyly, the shadow of a grin hiding in the corners of his lips. "You're right, they're much more likely to recognize you.” He drawled. “Since you're barely a foot taller than when you left."
The elven girl elbowed Amir roughly; she seemed offended, but her attack was hampered by her general lack of strength; regardless, she huffed and crossed her arms with stubborn indignation. “Hmpf."
He took the abuse with a smirk, barely holding back a laugh at the ineffectual assault. Laila was many things, but physically threatening was not one of them.
"I swear, I'll bite your ankles one day.” Her pink tongue pushed out between her lips to enhance her displeasure at his teasing momentarily before she took on a more serious expression. “The note said we should head in through the back entrance down the alleyway."
"Are you sure you want to do this?” He asked, frowning. “We could find work elsewhere."
"It's a quick and easy job, and I get to brush up on my healing. If I do well, we'll make some friends and perhaps even find a way to get safe passage into Quel'Elhen without bothering my sister."
"...So basically I should shut up the moment we walk in the door?" Amir knew the consequences of his tendency to mouth off. The crooked line of his nose was a testament to the situations his thoughtless words got him into.
"I wouldn't go that far, but it would help if you minded your manners. These people are probably not the most...er...civil sort. Not that they can't be civilized...maybe?” She tugged at the hood of her cloak as she frequently did when she felt uncertainty. Her nerves buzzed with worry; Amir was the confrontational sort, and Laila always felt as if she was cleaning up his messes, despite her being the younger of the two.
"Alright, so don't call them knuckle dragging round ears. Got it.” He quipped before opening the door for Laila. But before she could step through, Amir put a hand on her shoulder serious once more. This was no time for jokes. “I'll make sure nothing happens to us, I promise."
Laila's lips curled into a nervous pout. "I know. That's what I'm afraid of.” She meekly took hold of his robes, hiding behind her guardian and brother-figure as they made their way inside the building.
"Hey, none of that.” He chided, noticing that Laila was using him as a shield. “Act like you're scared and they'll eat you alive. I'm here as your crony, remember?” Amir nudged her forward so she was leading the way, relatively calm despite the sketchy location they were making their way through. One of Denerim’s many charms were its dilapidated buildings where all manner of illegal activity went on right beneath the laws nose.
Despite her agitation, she kept her distress under wraps and shuffled forward with all the meekness of a deer caught before a musket lodged in her gut. Standing before her, as they stepped away from the first door into the building and towards the second, was a hulking beast of a man covered from head to toe in a salt-and-pepper bush of hair. Where there wasn't a tangled and matted beard or clumps of body hair, there were scars and muscles and swirling tattoos marking names of loved ones, or perhaps names of victims. Laila gulped, the deep crevasses under her eyes darkening and making her large eyes even larger, exponentially magnifying her intimidated expression. “Um...h-hello,” she managed to squeak out in a miniscule voice a hair's breath above a whisper.
“Tch,” the beastly man tutted. “This ain't the place for children. Leave.”
Well this wasn’t going to work well. Amir frowned and stepped forward letting his normal rough tone take on a more appropriate rough edge for someone who was working within the underworld. “Is that any way to talk to the bloody healer your lot sent for?” He snapped, one hand dropping to rest on Laila’s shoulder to reassure her. “If you're saying you don't need someone to fix up your fighters then we'll take the fee we're owed and leave.” He gestured the way he came, as if he intended that they might leave. It wasn’t likely to happen, they needed the money that the Mage’s Collective was offering this job.
“Hmpf. We hired healers, not snot-nosed foul-mouthed brats,” the bouncer barked, turning his head to spit into a corner before wiping his large nose with an even larger finger.
Thanks to Amir's interjection , Laila had taken the time to gather the courage to speak up. “U-Um...here's the paperwork.” She held up the scroll given to them by the collective, with the wax seal as their proof of authenticity. “T-This should cover the two of us, yes?”
The hulk of a man squinted at the seal, examining it closely. Laila held herself from stepping back in terror. “It seems legitimate.” He grumbled and sighed. “Sending us baby knife-ears these days? What next, dwarven strippers?” Rolling his eyes, he opened the door and waved the two elves inside. “Fine, go in. Don't get mauled, little girl. This ain't the place for young things like you.”
Once they had been given the go ahead to head inside, Amir ushered Laila forward into the darker refuge. But then what the bouncer said sank in and he took a moment to tilt his head and process what he had heard. “...Dwarven strippers? That's a mental image I'm not sure I wanted.” He commented lightly, more than half serious. The image of a hair stout dwarf attempting to be provocative was just… difficult to comprehend without breaking into laughter.
The elven girl nodded to the bouncer gratefully and peeked up at Amir once they had entered the shady sanctuary for ruffians and outlaws. The corners of her lips turned upwards just barely at Amir's successful attempt at humor. He always did know how to cheer her up. “Heh...it is a bit unnerving. You know, I read somewhere that dwarven women have beards. Is that true?”
“I'm not sure, I've never met a dwarf before.” Amir said thoughtfully. It was actually bothering him a little now. “But if they do... how do you tell the men from the women?” Women weren’t supposed to have beards, surely dwarf women couldn’t be so… He shook his head, trying to dislodge the image.
Laila shrugged. “Maybe their axes are pink.”
“I'm going to end up thinking about this all night, damn you. I hope you're happy.”
The young elf chuckled, seeming a little more at ease about the situation thanks to Amir's joking. “You're welcome,” she chimed with a more sincere smile. “Ah...there's the ring. Maker, they're really going at it down there.” Peering down at the fighting ring as she pieced together the sections of her staff, Laila cocked a brow in intrigue at morbid and violent scene displayed below. She felt nervousness and curiosity combine in an unpleasant spiral within her, and winced as the two brutish men exchanged blows.
Amir could smell the ring before he saw it, the iron tang of blood had permeated the ground here. It was a little intoxicating, an assault on senses that hadn’t been so immersed in the smell of blood. There was energy in it, waiting to be used and it called out to the part of him that wanted to push the limits of his blood magic. There was that guilty whisper that it was blood freely given, surely there wouldn’t be any harm in making use of it. However he shut that line of thought down in time to catch what Laila had said. He ran a hand over his face, realizing this was going to be a long job if he couldn’t ignore the blood around him. “They certainly are...” He glanced at the makeshift bar in the corner. “I think I need a drink.”
“We can drink after we're done. Best to keep our wits about us in this place.” Once she had finished assembling her staff, she looped her hand around Amir's arm, looking wary of her surroundings. Her eyes caught the figure they were searching for, and she pointed discreetly in his direction. “Ah, there's our contact. The man in the green and gold hood.”
“Let’s get this taken care of then.” The sooner they finished the sooner they could get away from all the blood and violence around them. With his arm looped in with Laila’s, Amir led the way over the man who was their contact.
The elven girl nodded, feeling only a little more reassured because of Amir as he lead her over; when they reached the man in the green and gold hood, she held out the sealed scroll, who bowed his head politely and took hold of it. He was an older gentleman who seemed to have seen his fair share of adventures judging by the missing teeth and eyepatch. “Ah, so yer the hirelings. Didn't think we'd get a pair o'kids, you poor sods. Must be hard out there for you two. Well, enough o'the pity party, this'll be yer work area.” The man gestured to a couple of chairs, a bag of somewhat unhygienic looking supplies, a somewhat rusty well pipe for easy access to water, a couple wooden buckets, and some straw on the ground covered with blankets for makeshift beds.
“...I think I caught an infection just looking at this setup.” The state of everything was enough to stun Amir silent for a moment. How could this be considered acceptable for the treatment of anyone? It was a disaster waiting to happen. He didn’t want to know who had been in charge of treating wounds previously. Obviously they hadn’t been anywhere near as good as Laila.
With a sigh of acceptance, Laila immediately flicked back her cloak and stepped over to begin unpacking her potion-making equipment. This was her field, and she intended to be as professional as possible in proving her worth here. “Amir, you're in charge of sterilization. Put that fire to good use and boil me some water, clean some cloth, and maybe burn a bit of incense while you're at it. I'll start preparing anesthetics.” With that, she began a flurry of motions. She began arranging vials and flasks, soaking clean rags with tinctures, and hammering away at herbs wielding a mortar and pestle, all well-practiced actions that Laila had engraved into her very being. There was no doubt that she knew what she was doing, even if only judged by her body language.
The man in the green and gold hood seemed a smidge surprised that the little elf lass was clearly the one in charge, but he nodded regardless to the two and sidestepped out of their way. “I'll leave this to the two of ya, then. Maker watch yer backs.” With that, he stepped off to let the contenders know that the healers had arrived.
Amir nodded and followed Laila’s orders exactly. This was her field of specialty, when she gave orders he’d listen and obey.