I turn out to be right about the rain. And in an extra wicked twist, it starts halfway through Finn's turn on watch. A fact he complains about the next day--persistently enough Ariane half-jokingly threatens to cut out his vocal cords.
"I'm sure your fellow mages would thank me," she teases when he protests.
"Alright, fine, I get it; no more complaining about the weather," he tosses back with an injured huff. "But you know what comes after rain, don't you?"
"Oh, by all means, enlighten me," Ariane smirks.
"Mosquitoes," Finn retorts, drawing the word out ominously. "Hungry for sweet, untested mage flesh."
She snorts. "That's only in the summer, you--" I clear my throat loudly-- "sillyhead. It's too early in the year right now."
"Oh, well, it's still all muddy and wet," he grumbles. "my robes are never going to recover."
Ariane grins, clearly biting back a laugh. "And this is traveling on cared-for roads. Can't wait to drag Master Fussybritches into the woods."
I give a short laugh. "That will be, uh, fun."
"For who, me or you two hooligans?" Finn interjects.
"Oh, all of us," Ariane promises. "You'll get to see a whole bunch of plants and trees that only grow in the Brecilian Forest, and the Warden and I get to make bets on how many mudstains it'll take for you to truly flip out."
Finn looks ready to comment something less than complimentary, so I speak up quickly. "I'm sure once we find the mirror, the last thing we're going to care about is the local fauna, or counting mudstains on your robe. D'you feel like you've read up enough on scrying rituals to perform one?"
He nods. I'll probably keep reading whenever we stop to camp, just to make sure, but I'm confident I can conduct one properly."
"Good to know," I nod, grateful both that he's distracted. The last thing I need is him and Ariane sniping at each other our entire week of travel. With the current match of wits abated, the three of us walk in rarely-broken silence for a few hours.
"So let me get this straight," Ariane begins, breaking a forty five minute quiet streak. "Your name is Florian Phineas..."
"Horatio Aldebrandt, Esquire," Finn sighs. "Can't forget the Esquire. Father insisted. And have you really been thinking about that all day?"
"I just... Did your parents hate you?" she asks, gaze darting sideways as she throws a stick for Fade.
"Quite the contrary," Finn rebuts, "They adore me. I'm sure my name is just the result of overwhelming love replacing good sense."
"Whatever lets you sleep at night..." Ariane mutters.
The on and off bantering continues through the whole trip. It does get decidedly more congenial--friendly teasing instead of sniping--around the third day. I almost drop to my knees to thank the Maker, but decide against it. If I make a big deal about this, they may revert to old habits. So I play fetch with my dog and don't say a word. Just as Ariane predicted, it takes a week to get to the cavern that holds the mirror. Also just as she predicted, Finn is not happy regarding the number of mudstains on his robes as we make our way through the forest.
To my great surprise, there are actually people in the subterranean ruin. Well, sort of. Elves who have fallen to the Blight and became ghouls. Needless to say, they aren't happy to see us. Given that they're armed and angry, we aren't thrilled to see them, either. Ariane does still murmur Dalish rites for the departed as one by one they fall.
The door Ariane says we need is, of course, locked. And not just locked but enchanted to only open with the key--which Finn only thinks to tell me after I've bent my second-best lockpicks in the keyhole.
"That would've been nice to know," I grumble, glaring at the door. "Guess we better go find the key, huh?"
Fortunately, the tainted elves make that step easier for us. When they see us coming down the hallway they start hissing admonitions at each other to protect the key master. This tells me two things. First, that there's a person holding the key rather than it being buried under a rock or something, and second, that wherever they congregate the thickest is most likely where we need to go. So we follow the 'trail' of angry, armed, tainted elves through the halls until we find the key master--a horribly tainted elven mage with fire at his fingertips and the key hanging around his neck.
"Got a plan?" Ariane asks when I grab her arm to keep her from just charging in.
"Yeah." I survey the layout of the room. "Finn, you get crowd control--" I nod toward the trio of elves that guard the mage-- "I'll help with that and distract old fire fingers there, and Ariane, you take him out while he's focused on me."
"Got it," she whispers, carefully drawing her swords to keep them from ringing and giving away our position. Finn nods understanding as well.
"Okay, then... go!" I rush directly at the mage, Fade only half a step behind me--which quickly turns into barreling past me--but he gets drawn off by one of the guards. The other two, I note as I roll under a gout of flame, are stationary. Stuck. And Finn is not wasting the opening his paralysis spell gave him. It turns out to be a very good thing he's so prompt in finishing them off. Even as Fade rids himself of the elf he was fighting and the mage slides limp and dead off Ariane's sword, I hear our mage shriek. Honest to Andraste shriek. Considering it's because a spider twice the size of Fade almost landed on his head, I understand that reaction completely. Ariane and I are still going to give him grief about it, of course. But giant spiders were enough to make Alistair scream like a girl--probably why Morrigan shifted into one as much as possible--so Finn can be allowed one high-pitched shriek. And this spider is a tough old thing. It's been corrupted, tainted by the mirror like everything else down here.
It hisses angrily and launches a ball of webbing at me, one that spreads too far for me to avoid it entirely. It definitely slows me down; having to fight the sticky strands. Fortunately, Ariane and Fade are right behind me, and they both charge past to deal with the spider and distract it from Finn. I cut away just enough of the webbing that it no longer restricts my movements and dive into the fray myself. A spider's legs are its biggest vulnerability, and we take full advantage of that fact. Well, Fade just charges straight at it, undeterred by the clumps of beady eyes. Ariane and I set about hacking at its legs. Even tough as it is, it can only withstand so much, and when it lunges at me, I hastily maneuver my sword into a position where the spider impales itself. I still have to crawl out from under the spasming corpse, but it's better than having a live spider on top of me.
Ariane and Finn still look wary as I regain my feet, and they both maintain a defensive posture until I've pulled the key from around the slain mage's neck. Once we make it that far with nothing attacking us, they relax.
"Alright, let's try this again..." I mutter, smearing spider ichor off my armor with one hand. We head back to the door, and I breathe a quick prayer as I slide the key into the lock. It settles and turns easily, much to my relief. "Here we go..." I push the door open and we enter the chamber beyond.
Nothing from the descriptions we've read, or Finn's lectures on the subject could prepare me for the sight that greets my eyes. The mirror towers over us, twelve feet tall at least--not counting the raised pedestal on which it rests--flanked by carven-stone warriors and nestled in the root of some great three far above our heads.
"I can't believe this is one of the lost Eluvians," Finn breathes, staring in open-mouthed astonishment. "It's magnificent! ...And broken," he sighs, gaze turning forlorn as it roams over the shattered glass that still clings to the arching frame. "Mostly broken."
"So how big a piece do you need for a scrying ritual?" I prod, carefully mounting the steps and crouching by the pool of shattered glass.
"The size of my hand would be ideal," he replies, still staring at the carvings that cover the frame. "But I could work with anything that's at least half the size of my palm."
With these criteria to go on, we start gingerly sorting through the glass. Fortunately, it doesn't take too long--or too many injuries--to find a good sized piece. I carefully wrap it in an old shirt, for both its protection and mine, before stashing it in my pack, trying to ignore the stinging cut across the back of my fingers.
Finn notices the blood, however, and though he looks a touch woozy at the sight of it, insists I let him heal it before we move on. "We don't know what we're going to encounter going forward. The last thing we need is for that to start festering and get oozy."
"Fine, fine," I sigh, holding out my hand. He's a decent healer, but whether through lack of experience on his part or the cut going deeper than it looks, there's still a scar across my fingers when he's finished. "Good enough." I have so many scars, what's one more? Enough to set Jowan worrying again, part of me whispers, but I shove it away.
"Alright, we have the shard of the Eluvian, but we still need the Light of Arlathan," Finn muses, still staring regretfully at the broken mirror. "We should head to Cadash Thaig. You know, whenever you're ready," he adds hurriedly, I guess so it doesn't seem like he's trying to take over our... expedition.
"Might as well get this over with," I mutter as we head for the exit. I'm mentally calculating how long it'll take us to get there, and not particularly happy with the numbers I'm getting. Two weeks just to get to Orzammar, and then up to another week in the Deep Roads--I can already feel myself getting claustrophobic--to reach the thaig.
Oh, yeah. This is gonna be fun.