Characters: Kaaras Adaar, Aith, Kaariss, Shokrakar
Pre-Inquisition (Kaaras 25 years old)
Warning: Contains profanity, character death, adult themes, alcohol mentions
He didn’t even have time to grieve as she lay there, the gore covering her body. An axe, and a big one. It didn’t matter how powerful the woman had been, she was no match for multiple assailants. No match for a fucking ambush! An ambush which could have very well been avoided. But this was what happened when the majority of a group voted, wasn’t it? And when Kaaras didn’t have the last say in such orders.
He’d already told himself that this was it. It was over. How could he possibly continue to work for people such as the Valo-Kas when they were so rash in their thinking, in their strategies? This was what happened when money was more valuable than a person’s life! And not just any person, but his trainer, his mentor, the woman he’d been training with for years now! Over ten years! And now she was gone within the blink of an eye. How easily a life could be taken...
It was a miracle that he was alive himself, and he’d managed to take a few men out, but when it came down to it, Kaaras didn’t really blame the enemy—especially when they knew no better than to see Saarebas as a savage oxwoman who would kill any man who crossed her path. She looked the part, yes, but she was like a second mother to him. She had been there for him when his father had died, when he could not look his mother in the eye after it all happened. She’d never just been a mentor to him, but family. And there was another one to add to the damn list! Another name on his fucking hands. This would have never have happened if he’d put his damn foot down harder! If he’d been calling the shots. If he’d stood up and made his point clearer. Of course... he turned to self blame. Kaaras always did.
He warned them! He warned them that the mission was dangerous. And yet, to a mercenary, nothing was dangerous provided the coin was enough payment. And they’d been given such a large sum upfront that of course Shokrakar wouldn’t deny it. Greedy. Fucking greedy! No coin, no riches, was ever worth someone’s life!
Shaking, Kaaras panted as he marched his way back to the meeting point. The mission was done, they’d get their coin, but at what cost? If he knew that this would have been the outcome, he’d have never agreed to take the job. Alas… time was something he knew he could never turn back. It was too late, Saarebas was dead, and there was nothing he could do to bring her back.
But there was something he could do to make damn sure that this would never happen again…
Pushing the door open, the young mage moved over to their captain, and vermillion eyes were fiery, red not just because that’s the colour they were, but they were angry, burning, and perhaps even tear-stung. He’d not even been able to retrieve her body yet, not in the mix of everything.
“Are you happy now?” he barked. “A valuable part of this team had been killed! That didn’t have to happen, and you all know damn well that it could have been prevented!” To say he was furious was a damn well understatement. The young qunari was deeply upset and disturbed by the outcome.
Shokrakar stood up, the woman taller than him—although it didn’t take much for any qunari to be taller than Adaar. He was the runt of the littler, even if he was a good build and a strong mage.
“Calm down, Adaar, you got your coin.” She shoved the little bag into his hands, and it was immediately tossed onto the floor, clinking with a heavy thud, just to signify the amount that was within. An easy job never got heavy coin.
Kaaras seethed. “I don’t want your coin! I want Saarebas alive and well!” Which very well wasn’t going to happen, and he knew that. It didn’t stop the words from spewing out of his mouth, thick with daggers in her direction. Because, yes, it was her fault that this happened. Bad orders were made, and as the captain of this mercenary band, she had to take responsibility of the lives within.
What was there of the group moved a little uneasily at the scuffle that was going on between the two. Shokrakar’s eyes moved to the elf that had joined up with Kaaras, his adopted sister of sorts. But when she went to put a hand to his arm, he just threw it off. Temperamental mage, he was. He’d always been hot-headed, and she knew that the moment they started working together, but Kaaras’ heart had always been in the right place. In her eyes... that wasn’t always a good thing. It got in the way of their work. Such as now.
She clicked her tongue in a scoff. “Look, Kaaras, you knew the risks of being a mercenary when you joined Saarebas and her company before coming here. I don’t know how they do things in Ferelden, but the Marches are different. A lot more people here, too, and a lot more bad people. A lot more coin and a hellova love more competition. We got the job done--,”
“Is that all you care about? That you got some fucking coin!?” Kaaras’ voice was strained, disbelief cracking through. He couldn’t believe it. He knew that things were different up north, he also knew that mercenary life wasn’t always the most ethical in nature, but this was drawing a line.
He drew a heavy breath, hands balling into fists as he tried to keep his temper down to a minimum. It was to no avail. He didn’t like being angry, in fact, he hated it. He feared his anger turned him into a monster, like so many people had said about him, even when calm. He was a qunari, he was a savage. He thought that the humans of Ferelden had just been cruel, but this... this made him worry that perhaps what they said about his kind was in fact true. And that shattered his heart.
He’d worked so hard to not be that image, to be a kind hearted individual, giving and compassionate. And now, what stood before him was the opposite. She cared for nothing but her coin. Even her people were expendable. It didn’t matter so long as her pockets were heavy and her sword was strapped to her back. It made him sick to the stomach.
“One of your people died today, Shokrakar, and you... you can’t show at least a little bit of sympathy?” Why was he even bothering with it? He’d seen it before. People died in companies every day, just as bandits did. And honestly, he was starting to feel like that’s exactly what this company was. A group of thugs. The only difference was that they got paid, whereas bandits simply raided for the sake of it. Perhaps that was even worse.
He couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t stay... Not when it was clearly alright that people died so long as they got a little coin in their purse. That wasn’t what he stood for, and it never would be. Kaaras simply wasn’t the type. He became a mercenary to help his mother survive, so he and Aith could grow up and provide for themselves and they could keep a place they could call home. He knew it wasn’t easy work, and he knew it was dangerous, but he couldn’t work like this and feel proud of himself anymore. He felt no more than a common thug, and that went against everything he believed in.
Shokrakar shook her head and gruffly sighed. “What do you want me to do, Adaar? Sing a song for her? That’s not my thing, and it’s not gunna bring her back either. We move on and we do the next job. If you want a eulogy, then talk to Kaariss.” She threw her thumb over her shoulder.
“Hey, have some respect!” the small elf snapped from beside Kaaras. She could already tell that Kaaras was on breaking point, and Shokrakar wasn’t making it any better with her quips. She wasn’t going to sit by and let her speak about Saarebas like that. That was her friend, too. She may deal with her grieving a little differently than Kaaras, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t upset that the woman had died.
This was just getting tiring. “Kaariss, I’m done, can you please deal with your boyfriend?” She gave a huff and sat herself back down, eyeing the coin that was on the floor from where Kaaras had thrown it, but Aith saw her and snatched it up, shoving it into her pocket. Smart girl. Kaaras, in his own tiff, probably would have just left it there. At least someone in the damn family knew how things were. Took an ex Dalish to as well. Balls, Kaaras could be so dumb sometimes.
Kaariss had been sitting at the table within the room they were all in. Currently, the older qunari male was nursing a tankard of ale. It was around about now that he’d usually be writing his next ballad after a job well done. Unfortunately, he didn’t like the outcome of this one, but he also had been on Shokrakar’s side for this mission. Sometimes, people were lost, and there wasn’t much to be done about it.
Alas, he cared deeply for Kaaras, and had for the last year. The young man had been... troublesome when he’d come to them, moody, drinking, guarded. Incredibly guarded. It took patience with Kaaras, patience that Kaariss had, and he’d fallen for the young lad. Still, it was times like this that he was reminded that Kaaras absolutely wore his heart on his sleeve, and at times it was... irrational.
Standing, he gestured for Kaaras to follow him, taking his hand carefully. “Come with me, we’ll take a walk outside, get some fresh air.” His smile was gentle, tender, and he saw Kaaras’ eyes flicker back to Shokrakar. He knew that the Vashoth needed time away from the situation to settle.
“C’mon.” It was a soft, encouraging order, and his hand moved to Kaaras’ back, quietly ushering him out of the door. When there was no argument from the blonde, the corners of his eyes creased in a smile, the warm, city air hitting his skin when they stepped outside.
Kaaras took a deep breath, and there were tears in his eyes now, the shock of Saarebas’ death finally starting to settle in. He swallowed thickly, and desperately tried not to let the tears slip down his cheeks, looking away from his lover. If there was someone other than Aith, surely it was Kaariss who would agree with him.
“I’m sorry...” he murmured, putting a hand to his face and trying to wipe away the tears from his glazed eyes. They continued to come, though.
Kaariss shook his head, frowning. “Oh, Kaaras, don’t apologise.” He took the man’s hand and lowered it, only to see Kaaras lower his head and close his eyes, the tears being forced from his eyes. He pulled him into a careful embrace, and then he felt the smaller man’s sobs shake through his body.
Losing someone was never easy. Shokrakar didn’t have a lot of sympathy, no, and she could have dealt with the situation better. But Kaariss had to agree that they got their coin and the job was done. It had its losses, yes, but... they all knew the risks—including Kaaras.
Pulling him tight, Kaariss moved his hands over Kaaras’ back, cooing to him softly. “I’m sorry, Kaaras. Shokrakar should not be so rough, but you know her. She’s a ‘get the job done’ kind of woman. It’s nothing against you.”
Kaaras’ eyes clenched shut against the warmth of the other man’s chest and he pressed his face into the crook of his neck before he withdrew, tear stained eyes looking at the older man. “Don’t... don’t stick up for her. She knows what she is doing. She just doesn’t care.”
“That’s not true, Kaaras.” He put his hand to the man’s stubble-covered cheek, eyes caring and soft.
“Bullshit. You saw her just as well as I did back there. She didn’t even bat an eye at knowing someone died.” Kaaras wiped his face down and pushed the tears back. Not here, not like this. He would mourne when he could, but he wasn’t about to bring Kaariss down with it, too.
“Maker’s breath, I... She’s still back there, Kaariss. I... I have to get her body. I have to burn it.”
The Ferelden tradition, Kaariss knew. Burning the bodies so they did not catch the Taint of the Blight. “What Shokrakar said back there... about me saying some words. I can if you wish, Kaaras, I don’t mind.”
Kaaras shook his head, sniffing softly. “No... it’s... it’s alright.” He looked back up at the older man and offered him a sad smile. “It’s something me and Aith should do alone. Just... wait for me, please? I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep tonight.” And he was still furious about Shokrakar, but there was little he could do about that now. At least, she was out of his sight.
Kaariss nodded, and he planted a kiss on the mage’s forehead. “I will wait up for you.”
With a soft sigh, Kaaras licked his lips and pulled his shoulders back, putting a brave face on. He needed to go and collect Aith, and then they’d travel back to where he’d moved Saarebas’ body. He should have carried it back with him, but it had been too risky. Now, the woman’s corpse sat alone, bloodied and gory. He’d at least do right by her, by saying a final goodbye and burning what remained.
It was late by the time Kaaras got back in, and the tavern they were staying in had all but died down. There were some common folk who were still drinking, and Kaaras could smell the alcohol in his nostrils. It took every ounce of his strength in such a state of mind to just continue walking up the stairs. He desperately wanted a drink, but all his hard work would be for nothing. He couldn’t lose that tonight, too.
The smell of ash and burning was against his clothes. The scent of death, blood and gore. He needed a bath, urgently, and he wanted to be alone. He wanted to be back in Ferelden, home and away from this place. He wanted to be away from the Valo-Kas and the city. Fuck, he hated the city so much! It was smoggy and reeked of plague illness and death, as well as drunkards. He missed the smell of hay and grass, the farm back home. But every day he was away from Ferelden was more coin he earned for his mother to she could still keep that farm.
Tugging his collar undone, the Vashoth pushed the door open to see Kaariss laying on the bed, quill and a pot of ink there. He was writing a poem, he assumed. But even right now, Kaaras couldn’t deal with listening to such sweet and symbolic words. He was tired, so tired, and his eyes stung from what felt like a fountain of never ending tears, the salt drying there.
At the sight of his lover, Kaariss leant up, putting his quill aside. “Did everything go alright?” he asked. “Do you wish to speak of it?”
Kaaras just shook his head. “It’s done... that’s... that’s all that matters right now.” He made his way over to the small desk inside the tiny room, the boards beneath him creaking as he did so. It wasn’t quite over, though. Kaaras had had time to think when he and Aith were there with what remained of Saarebas. They did more than just think, too.
He couldn’t be here anymore. He couldn’t work with the Valo-Kas anymore. It hadn’t been the first time his ethical conscious had prodded him and he’d felt uneasy doing a job. Things were different in Ferelden, with Saarebas leading them. The jobs they did still meant hard work, but they weren’t... like this. Breaking the law wasn’t something Kaaras enjoyed doing, even if it was for coin. And while not all jobs were like that, he knew, there was still enough to make him feel uneasy, and unhappy. He wanted to be proud of his work, and here, he simply couldn’t.
Sensing the tension within the other man, Kaariss pushed himself up from the bed and approached the younger qunari. “Kaaras, I know you’re going through the mourning stages, but--,”
“I can’t do this anymore.”
Kaariss blinked, trying to analyse the look across his lover’s face as one of confusion spread across his own.
“I... I can’t work with this company.” Kaaras swallowed thickly and folded his arms against his chest, his expression stern, but still hurting. The sound of his voice was more trying to convince himself than anyone else.
Kaariss felt his brows furrow. Because Saarebas had died? Was it all because of that? “Kaaras, you’re grieving--,”
“No.” The Vashoth shook his head. “It’s not that, Kaariss. It’s... it’s the way this company runs itself. Someone died today, someone close, and a part of this team, and Shokrakar just shrugs it off like we mean nothing! Like life itself means nothing!”
His hands slapped back down to his sides. “You’ve been here longer than I have. Don’t you see how that’s not alright? It wouldn’t have mattered if it were someone else, and it’s not just because Saarebas was my mentor,” although that was pretty serious, considering, “I am here to make a difference, to try and better this world. How am I doing that when people are dying?”
Kaariss shook his head, putting a hand to Kaaras’ shoulder. “Bad things happen, Kaaras, you can’t save everyone. You know this,” he explained. “You’re upset, and you are hurting, and I understand that, but please take a moment to listen to yourself. What you are saying. You’d give up your work here, because something bad happened? Because we lost one man.”
One man? That woman was his family! And Kaariss was...
Kaaras’ brows arched as he watched the expression form across his lover’s visage. How did Kaariss not understand, because what he was saying was simply that he was upset because someone died. That someone wasn’t just a someone to him! And that someone could have been any other man or woman in this company and he’d still feel the same! And they should be mourning! People weren’t just items that got slashed to pieces every damn day, they were people!. Real, living people!
“And you’d stay? Knowing that your captain is a heartless, greedy, coin mongering bitch?” he asked.
The expression on Kaariss’ face hardened at the name calling. “Kaaras, that’s uncalled for.”
“No, you sticking up for her is uncalled for!” He shook his head in disbelief. “Because that’s what she is. She doesn’t care for anything other than her coin! And perhaps it’s unfair for me to call her a bitch, but you stand there and tell me she isn’t. Because every mission we go on, she always been up her arse over it. She doesn’t listen, she doesn’t care who gets injured, so long as the job is done. I will not stand by when coin becomes more important than people’s wellbeing!”
The older man’s frown didn’t disappear. “This is how we’ve always done it in the Valo-Kas, Kaaras, and when you and Tully’s men wanted to join, you knew what was at stake. I am sorry that Saarebas didn’t make it, but you are acting like a child.”
Kaaras’ ears pricked back and his jaw grew tight. So he was a child because he cared? Because he didn’t want to be part of a group that was fine with their members dying off so long as a job got done and coin went in their pockets?
To say he was disappointed was quite the understatement. He was pissed off and hurt, and even more, he felt betrayed that Kaariss could stand there and call him a child for his caring. He knew that his temper could get the better of him at times; he also knew that his moods made him hard to be around. But he would never take back the fact that he cared about people more than the weight of his coin purse.
Stubborn til the end, he stood his ground. “I have made my choice, Kaariss. I’m leaving tonight, Aith and I, and a few others who have agreed with me.” Which was why he’d taken so long to get back tonight. He’d spoken to a few of the other members of the company, and they agreed that they could no longer take part in the group’s activity.
A few others? Kaariss’ expression turned to concern, but he was just as stubborn. Kaaras was still young, and highly emotional. He had gotten better now that he was off the hooch, but even then, the man was exceptionally emotional at times. He’d come back, surely. Once the morning came around, all of this would blow over. Kaaras, after all, needed the coin, despite his caring nature. He was also (usually) a reasonable man.
“Kaaras, I can’t stop you from leaving, but please sleep on this. What you are saying is... unreasonable.” He chose his words carefully, not to stir the other up again. “Shokrakar may not be the most tender of leaders, but you can’t deny that she does get the job done, and that that work has made you wealthy in your stay here. What do you expect? For her to beg for you and the others to come back? Begging is not in her nature.”
“No,” Kaaras stated calmly, but still blunt in tone. “I don’t expect anything, Kaariss. I already said I have made my decision. We are leaving come morn, and you are welcome to come with us.” Part of him wanted to beg that the older man would come with him. Was he foolish to expect his lover to follow him? Perhaps. But this was not his choice to make. He’d already made his, and he was leaving. If Kaariss wanted to stay (and he hoped he did not), then there was little he could do.
What was he saying? Kaariss took a breath and tried to make sense of it all. Damnit, the man was stubborn! But he couldn’t just up and leave. Unlike Kaaras, this was his life, and it had been for years now. He couldn’t just stand there and give it all up because Kaaras was being stubborn and throwing a tantrum.
Putting a hand to his forehead, he looked back at the ruby eyes. They were clearly waiting for an answer. Kaariss had none. For once in his life, he didn’t know what to say. No poem or ballad could get him out of this.
Kaaras saw it, though, and he felt his chest clench tight before his heart fell to his very bowels. “You don’t need to say it,” he commented, “your silence and hesitation is enough.” Kaariss wanted to stay.
When Kaaras turned to grab his things, Kaariss pulled his arm back. “Wait, Kaaras, please reconsider.”
“There is nothing to reconsider. It’s done... We’re... we’re done.” And it burned to say it, and his heart shattered into a million tiny pieces as the words escaped his mouth. The anger from his expression was gone, morphed into something else. But he couldn’t stay here, and if Kaariss couldn’t come then that was it. The both of them were simply too hung in their ways.
“Don’t do this, Kaaras. We can work something out. Let me talk to Shokrakar for you, she might listen to me, I’ve known her longer,” he tried to explain. Damnit, the man didn’t have to leave! And yet, it seemed that this had been something Kaaras had been considering for quite some time. Maybe this was just the thing that pushed him off the precipice.
“And what? Have her ignore you, or worse, lie to you? Nothing will change, Kaariss. You said it yourself, you’ve known her longer. Look me in the eyes and tell me that it will change, that she will change.” When the other man said nothing, Kaaras just nodded. That was his answer once more, Kaariss couldn’t tell him anything else, nor could he convince him that things would be different. He needed out.
“Shokrakar and I are too different, and that—that’s fine. I’m not asking for her to roll over, and I’m not about to mutiny against her. This is her company, Kaariss. Not mine. But I can no longer work for her, and that is my choice. Just as it is yours to stay here.”
There was silence between them for a moment, and Kaariss tried to think of something he could say that would make Kaaras change his mind. Nothing came, though...
“I’ll write to you... We can meet up, catch up with one another.”
That only stung more. Kaaras couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it to himself and he couldn’t do it to Kaariss. If he’d not cried all the tears his body was capable of producing when they burned Saarebas, then he’d be crying this second. But he also didn’t want to, he didn’t want to make Kaariss feel guilty, he didn’t want to manipulate him, he didn’t want any of this! But he had to do something.
Closing his trunk, he stood back up and turned to the man he’d almost said he loved on so many occasions, and the words still lingered there at the tip of his very tongue. They wanted to come out so badly, he wanted to tell the man that he loved him. If he said it now, though... that was only cruel. Cruel to the both of them.
“Thank you,” he said instead, his eyes raw and tired, but honest. “For everything you ever did for me, Kaariss. You helped me more than anyone in this world has, and I will never forget that.” Before he broke down there and then, he opened the door and made his way out of the room as quickly as he could. If Kaariss tried to stop him, he didn’t know what he’d do, and he couldn’t afford it right now.
He was wrong, there were still tears there, and they were quick to blur his vision as he made his way down the stairs. When he got outside, he pressed his back to the wooden wall and sunk to the floor in a crouch, his hands overing his face. Why’d he do it? Why’d he say goodbye? Fuck, he didn’t even say goodbye! But he couldn’t stay here anymore, he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t work like this, and it wasn’t just him either. He had to look after his sister. If Shokrakar ended up putting her on a mission and she got herself killed... He’d never forgive himself. The only reason Aith was here was because of him.
This was the right choice. He knew it, Aith knew it, and the others who agreed knew it, too. Shokrakar was restless, brash in thinking and eventually she’d get everyone killed, including herself! And as much as it hurt to do what he just did, he could no longer stay. And it was clear that Kaariss couldn’t go with him.
Drawing his scarf up around his face, he wiped his eyes with it, the scent of the other man still clinging to it from their time shared together. There was nothing he could do now, though, but move forward.
Taking a deep and controlled breath, he pushed himself back up, swallowing and wiping his face. He’d not forget the nights spent of passion with him, the soft words and even softer kisses. He’d not forget the nightmares and shakes he suffered, sweating while detoxing from alcohol and feeling utterly useless while Kaariss encouraged and supported him every step of the way.
He had become a better man because of Kaariss, and he would never, ever stop thanking him for that. But he also had to keep being that better person, and staying here... He could not achieve that. It didn’t matter how much his heart ached right now, from two losses this night, he had a family to protect, to care for and look after, and that included himself.
Gathering himself, he took his trunk and headed towards the meeting spot they’d previously spoken of. It would be empty now, but he couldn’t return to the tavern. He’d wait for morning to come, and a new day would dawn. A new life for him also. It hurt now, but in due time, Kaaras knew that the pain would make him stronger, and that it was time to run his own life.