Dragon Age: Faith Misplaced

A Fragile Web

The Wolves turn slueths, and uncover plots where trust had been

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The heroes’ return to Denerim was at once joyous, dark, and bothersome. The people of Denerim cheered the return of their heroes, having heard the tales of uniting a Ferelden family and an Avvar family after holding off a horde of darkspawn. The comparisons with the Hero of Ferelden only increased, and the Wolves of Baranti found they had many admirers.

Before reporting back to Baranti, the heroes took a few moments in a tavern to collect themselves and eat real food after being on the road for several days. They were approached by the most noticeable patron: a tal-vashoth qunari woman named Vonak Hol. Towering over the crowd, she inquired if the heroes were the Baranti Wolves. Upon an affirmation, she claimed that she was looking for good action and work and sought only the toughest group she could find. While the Blackstone Irregulars would have been the obvious choice the day before, they had none in their ranks who had done quite as much as the Wolves of Baranti.

Finding it difficult to refuse the towering woman, they told her they’d bring her to Baranti for confirmation.

The report to Baranti seemed sour somehow. While she appreciated the glory that was being brought to her house and her patrons, she seemed bothered by something. After approving Vonak’s “application,” she assured the Wolves and their new Warden guests that nothing was wrong; it would be a few days before any new assignments would show up. She insisted that the heroes take a week off from being heroes and told them that they were welcome to attend her grandson’s engagement party in a week’s time.

The triumphant return took a darker turn when the eccentric Jack received a lyrium pouch and quietly died of an overdose of lyrium. Kallian discovered her body but saw little reason to report her death. Her body was eventually dragged from the ally to no fanfare, and her friends never quite knew where she went. Given the troubling history they all shared, little effort was made to find her…

Captain Braedon treated Asha to a dinner in one of Denerim’s higher-end restaurants. The meeting seemed to go well, but Asha did not seem to get the message Braedon was sending to her. Alora and Eshara set to work improving the lot of the alienage elves. They were joined by Asha and Thelriel, who provided healing and other magical services for the elves of Denerim. Vonak quickly became popular among the children of the alienage, who began calling her the “dragon woman”. Vonak never contradicted it, but she never confirmed it. Kallian discovered renewed passions in Adric Baranti, but rather than discourage them, Kallian made use of the attention. Adric’s advances went unanswered, but his quest for her love was prolonged, perhaps out of spite for his engagement within the week.

Desmond was none-too-silent about the accommodations of Ferelden’s largest city. Growing up in the gold-filigreed Starkhaven, the young noble made note of the dirt and cobblestone streets, packed housing, and volume of grime on Denerim’s citizenry. Content to follow Thelriel’s orders, Desmond made himself comfortable at the Baranti manor until Thelriel needed his assistance. After the experience with darkspawn Desmond had the week before, he was welcoming of the break.

Eshara, at one moment, approached Alora with an offer that was given to her by a wealthy patron: a home in the country for her and Alora. Alora was not as ecstatic about the offer, however. Eshara argued that they were a couple and deserved to live together in peace, especially after all the trouble Alora found herself getting into. Alora reminded Eshara that the elves of the alienage still needed them, but Eshara never truly put the deal down.

When it was clear that magical abilities had manifested in Tom, Asha took several steps to take him in, and she decided to adopt him herself. Looking into the legal requirements to adopt the boy that would take months with her being an elf (if they were possible to begin with), she began the process of the adoption in Linnea’s name instead.

One day, the heroes were approached by an old servant woman named Andiel. Andiel explained that she was the servant of Ser Greta, whom the heroes had met before. Ser Greta had recently been blackmailed to halt her investigations into some kind of “Orlesian society”. Ser Greta had told no one, but she suspected that Andiel had told someone about an affair Greta had with someone who turned out to be an Orlesian assassin. They were planning on exposing her liaison to the Ferelden government, which would be ruinous to her career as a blackhaller.

Andiel admitted that she had told one person about the embarrassing event. She had told it to a mute Chantry brother in a Chantry called Andraste’s Ear. She was resolute that the brother would not share the secret, and that they even wrote the secrets to place them in a box, and all of the sins confessed to Andraste’s Ear were burned weekly to signify that their secrets were only for Andraste to hear.

The heroes saw little other course than to investigate Andraste’s Ear. The small chantry building was the largest in the Dregs district of Denerim and a kind of spiritual center. It was clear from the visitors of the small church that Nicola Baranti herself had ordered the construction of the chantry to help the commoners find the Maker’s light. The brothers and sisters of the chantry indeed were mutes, all with their tongues cut out, and they stood In confession booths with worshippers who confessed their sins. More thorough investigating led the heroes to the office of the local Revered Mother, Mother Gabriella.

The Revered Mother was cagey and reluctant to answer questions until the heroes agreed to help her. She was bound to a service that she found foul but could not back out of. She, like Ser Greta, had been blackmailed by an unknown party, but Mother Gabriella had been pressed into a purpose. She gathered the confessions from the previous week and placed them in a barrel behind the chantry. The confessions that she burned every week were blank replacements to keep up the charade. She had no idea who was threatening to expose her past as a reluctant spy for the Orlesians occupying Ferelden in the previous age. She asked the heroes to follow the trail and uncover this treachery, so that she may burn the real confessions once again.

The heroes returned the day of the pickup to watch a drunkard grab the box of confessions and leave with it. The heroes followed him in turn to a familiar apple cart being run by Shayda. He dropped the bag of confessions into the apples and swiped one apple on his way out.

Before the heroes could ask Shayda anything, a group of humans surrounded her and dragged her into an ally, assuring that they would “not take no for an answer today.” This altercation was quick and decisive.

With the human ruffians unconscious, the heroes confronted Shayda about the bag. She saw little harm in it; she merely collected them from the same drunk man to deliver to another Fereldan man for ten silvers a week, which was more than she’d ever make with an apple cart.

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The heroes allowed Shayda to continue her usual drop off to the human later that day and followed him to a small house tucked in Denerim’s back streets. No other entrances seemed to exist, so the heroes approached. A large mabari named Ripper began barking as the heroes approached, and the human they had followed, an older man named Roger, stepped out of the house several moments later, armed with a loaded crossbow. He announced that the heroes had reached a dead-end and should move along. When the heroes seemed reluctant, he asked again, and again, until it was clear he was stalling. The heroes caught on and attacked, bringing the man and his dog down softly without killing them. The house was small and seemed to keep only two humans and a mabari. That third occupant was nowhere to be found, but upon discovery of a trap door into underground tunnels, the heroes knew they should run faster.

The tunnels held traps of both magical and mundane nature, and a mousy girl with magical talents hurled fire behind her as she made her escape from the heroes. Several of her paralyzing glyphs slowed the heroes’ progress, but she was eventually pinned down just before she could disappear into a crowd.

The girl was named Marissa, and she understood quickly that not talking would be a mistake. She revealed that she was a junior spymaster in service to none other than Bann Nicola Baranti. She and her senior spymaster CrannochCrannoch collected the secrets whispered to the Chantry brothers and sisters and used them as further fuel for blackmail campaigns in Baranti’s stead.

The amount of information that Baranti had on the banns, arls, and nobles of Ferelden was staggering. Nearly by herself, she kept the machinations of her fellow Fereldens in check, ensuring that not only did her businesses go smoothly, but also several of her more secret machinations went well. Marissa revealed that Baranti didn’t simply have secrets; she had favors as well. She used Marissa and Crannoch to orchestrate countless incidents of fire, sunken ships, kidnappings, plagues, assassinations, monsters, bandits, noble house in-fighting, and even external military threats that would be considered treason, after which she always had herself and her garrison in place to save the day. The grateful became the controlled, and the difficult not only had their assets removed or hidden but had themselves removed quickly and quietly.

In the tunnels beneath the streets, the heroes discovered one last shocking revelation. A single room in the spy tunnels housed a bloody summoning circle written in the stones. On a table in the room was a map of Denerim, with several circled locations; one of them was the former hideout of the Chantry of the Stilled Tongue. She had been summoning Mother Brianna to recreate the Chantry of the Stilled Tongue and wreak havoc. When enough children had lost their families, Baranti’s guards would swoop in and destroy the cult once again, even taking the now mute children into her orphanages or constructed Chantries to serve her beyond their horrific ordeals.

Marissa pleaded that Baranti did good in building chantries and orphanages, and taking her down would be disastrous for Denerim. Baranti held too many secrets and favors, and if they disappeared, the nobles and banns who would have their way would plunge Denerim into chaos with the in-fighting.

Seeing that the heroes couldn’t be swayed from dealing with Nicola, she told them of her most recent plan. She would be hosting a party for Adric’s engagement to Tanith Curwen. During the event, Baranti planned some kind of plot that would implicate an underground group called the “Society for the Restoration of Imperial Rule” in a treasonous plot against the king and Ferelden. These people would be taken out of the market, granting Baranti near-complete control over the Merchant’s Guild and grant the impression that elves were involved, giving the righteous in Denerim a chance to purge the alienage and grant her even greater favor with the agitated Templars.

Marissa made only one request of the Wolves. There was someone involved in the plot who Marissa had developed feelings for: a squire under a knight named Ser Basil, Lorraine. She would be a relatively small part of the scheme, but Marissa was certain that Baranti would feel no remorse killing her if she thought it might help her goals.

Finally, Marissa shared that Baranti had a vault of secrets beneath her office at her manor that could make good evidence to expose her to the law.

A clear goal ahead of them, the heroes began a slow and careful preparation for the party.

Kallian scouted the manor discreetly and pinpointed the trap door’s location.

Worried for Tom’s safety and his use as a shield against the heroes, Asha decided to get Tom out of Denerim. Accompanied by Pryft, Asha took Tom to her Dalish clan, the Brightmores. Met with suspicion and discomfort, Asha promised that this boy would be a step towards elves and humans understanding each other. A human raised among Dalish would understand their struggle and be able to speak to humans in more safety than any elf. Grudgingly, her clan took Tom in. Before she left, Asha gave Tom one final gift. Asking her spirit for help, she called upon the greatest creation magic she could muster and returned Tom his tongue. He spoke his goodbye.

Asha took Pryft aside on their way back from her clan’s camp, and told him everything about Baranti. She made him promise to stay away from Baranti for the party. She didn’t want to risk his safety, and Pryft was grateful for that.

However, a member of the Emerald Brotherhood revealed himself in that moment, claiming that Asha shouldn’t have to place herself in danger, either. He named himself as Veral Baern, Asha’s appointed guardian and shadow from the Brotherhood. The handsome elf received glares from Pryft, who was still getting over the date that Braedon had set up days before. Asha thanked him for his protection and asked him to see her through the night. Veral readily agreed, calling Asha the change that the elves wish to see in the world. Pryft was not excited about this new man.

When the night finally came, it was a whirlwind. Baranti’s parlor was humming with activity as banns and arls from across Ferelden joined her in celebration of Adric’s engagement. Arl Gallagher Wulff, Izot Wulff, and Izot’s new husband Azur Ar Brosna were in attendance and elated to see the heroes there as well. Old allies were also invited to the party, including Trumhall and Bann Vauldur Krole from Logerswold, Sheriff Milo Kovic and Ser Vilem Richta from Linnea’s new home Sothmere, and Tarl Dale from Vintiver.

The party itself was grand, but the machinations behind the scenes moved quickly. Kallian snuck into Baranti’s office and through the trap door, but what she found in this secret vault were empty books and a pair of enchanted suits of armor that attacked her. The noisy party upstairs kept most of the encounter under wraps until her friends could pull her out.

Despite his dour mood coming into the party, Adric suddenly burst to life upon seeing Tanith. So smitten was he that he beat his grandmother to her and her father to greet them into the home. Not long after some dancing, Bann Curwen was approached by Ser Basil for Tanith’s hand in marriage to make up for past mistakes. The air became tense when the bann refused and the knight stalked away.

The heroes managed to find Lorraine in the chaos and send her out of the house to find Marissa. They would leave Denerim at least for the night while the events at the manor played out. As the party continued, Bando was cornered by the heroes. Not a fighter, Bando offered information for safety, but not quickly, stalling for time to get Baranti’s attention. He did reveal that there would be an assassination at this party, using Ser Basil’s outburst as fuel for speculation that would leave him guilty of the murder of not only bann Curwen, but Tanith and Adric as well, creating a firestorm of controversy that would secure her control of the Merchant’s guild and use the elven assassin Rivka as a scapegoat to pin guilt on the alienage elves as well.

Keeping themselves on their feet, the heroes noticed Baranti call her grandson, his betrothed, and her father to the parlor upstairs. An elven woman followed them with a tray of drinks, but the heroes apprehended her before she could use the poison.

Noticing an opportunity, Baranti called out the heroes, hoping to publicly shame them for stepping on her metaphorical feet. The heroes countered with their accusations of her fragile web of intrigue. While the claims seemed outlandish, the impassioned fire in the heroes’ hearts stood against the word of Bann Nicola Baranti. A debate began, and the heroes slowly swayed the crowd filled with friends and allies to their side.

When Baranti couldn’t take any more stains on her reputation, she smiled wickedly. A song rang out in the room, a song of unimaginable beauty and tone. The heroes saw that everyone around them was stunned where they stood, and a familiar voice called out, taunting the heroes, claiming that their game was too much fun. Nicola ran from the house and into her gardens. The heroes gave chase to find Baranti young and dexterous, beautiful and with a voice like a silver bell. The alluring voice of Mother Brianna mingled with the cold determination of Baranti’s, and she drew a magical bow that she said had been gifted to her to slay the Wolves. Spirits of the dead she had left in her silent fame campaign began to rise from the ground at her behest, and she fell upon the heroes like a storm. Arrows flew, spells were cast, shades were slain, and the words of Mother Baranti echoed in the heroes’ heads. More than once her voice stunned the Wolves, but more than enough the Wolves broke free.

Eventually, Mother Baranti was overcome, and she died in her gardens.

Returning to their allies who were freed of the magics of the demon Brianna, they were greeted with cheers and thanks. Not long after, they were greeted by the king himself, who had come at the behest of a young woman who spoke of treachery against the kingdom of Ferelden.

While the party was secured, Baranti’s body disappeared.

The heroes found themselves being called the Wolves of Ferelden, and Adric became the new head of House Baranti. He happily married Tanith, and the Restorationists were quietly left alone after the party. Mother Gabrielle began burning the real confessions soon after, and Andiel happily returned to service for Ser Greta.

A happy ending came that day…

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