It filled his mind and his heart with black, boiling tar. Betrayal. That man's face when Fenris had turned to him in shock, begging him not to do this, Hawke...
You're on your own, Fenris, had been the response. Wasn't he always on his own? Hadn't he always been? He'd been beyond a fool to think it could ever be different. Especially with a mage, of all things.
If you want him, he's yours.
Fenris snarled aloud, his fist impacting the inside of the ship hull hard enough to echo. All the running, all the fighting... it had all been for nothing. He'd thrown it all away on trust. Companionship. Perhaps even lo--
"No," he growled to himself, lowering his gauntleted hand from the wall. Not that word. Never, ever that word.
He turned away and paced, mind scattered in what felt like a hundred different directions. Should he try to escape, again? Run, again? Danarius wasn't on the ship; he'd claimed a detour and had told his men to lock Fenris in the hold 'for safe keeping'. Perhaps he could...
What was the point?
His rage burned away and died at the sound of that damned voice on the deck above. Danarius -- 'Master' -- was back. Even if he'd been about to make the attempt, he couldn't hope to get far. It would be, as Danarius had said in the Hanged Man, throwing his life away.
Fenris let his back hit the wall hard enough to knock his breath out of his lungs, sliding down in despair to sit on the floor, resting his head on his knees. There was no point. Even considering it as he just had... it was just his desperate mind scrabbling for a way out of being shut away again; buried beneath his Master's will. He was and would always be a... a slave. Property.
Footsteps and clinking armor announced the arrival of Danarius' hired goons. The slide-thump-slide of something else on the stairs with them almost warranted a look, but not quite. No doubt Danarius had collected another pet, whether new or old.
The cell door opened with a creak, and Fenris wanted desperately to leap to his feet, put a hand through the nearest human heart, make a run for it--
Thud. Something -- or someone, rather -- hit the floor hard and near enough that he felt it through the boards under him. And then the cell was shut again, and the footsteps and clinking armor thumped and rattled back up the stairs and away.
Fenris didn't bother to pick his head up. He just wanted to curl up in silence and be left alone with his mind. The silence was all the better for mentally picking up and burning each and every false attachment he'd held for... those people. For that filthy mage, Hawke. And his supposed friends, who had stood by and watched him be handed back. Sure, there had been a little protest, but in the end...
He'd actually forgotten about the other person in the cell until there was suddenly a sucking, wet-sounding intake of air from the floor. Had they not been breathing, until now? He raised his head, finally, easily pinpointing the other person in the torchlight.
It was another elf. A man with long, pale-blond hair and bright blue eyes that were currently staring without focus up at the ceiling. He was smeared in dirt and dried blood, and his clothes were torn and burned.
"...You..." those eyes shifted to one side, looking up at Fenris -- no, not at, but toward. There was no focus, there. No sanity -- "You reek of the Fade..."
Fenris felt his upper lip curl. There was only one kind of person who would say such a thing. Fresh from Hawke's betrayal, back under his magister Master's thumb, Fenris was less than pleased at having another one of this ilk thrust upon him. "You," he all but spat, "are a mage." The word contained so much disgust that he felt he would retch from it. Mages.
His fingers flexed unconsciously. It would be easy to just... snap its neck, or rip out its heart. But he was back under his Master's thumb, and what if Danarius required this man's life intact?
"Yes," the man responded, as though it required an answer. Fenris clenched his fists.
"Be silent," he managed to snap, "I want nothing to do with your kind. Least of all now."
The man... laughed. It was a broken, almost breathless sound, but laughter it still was, and Fenris lashed out before he even realized what had happened, lunging over the top of the man and plunging his glowing fist into his chest. The laugh turned into a gasp, the sound full of sharp edges and broken glass as cold, incorporeal fingers curled around his heart.
"Not so funny now, is it, mage," Fenris spat, twisting his hand. The other elf went briefly slack-jawed from the pain, but his intensely-blue eyes suddenly focused on Fenris' face properly, as though the agony cleared some kind of fog from behind them. And perhaps it did; pain could have all sorts of effects on a person.
"S-such..." the man's breath rattled around Fenris' phased-out hand, and his expression shifted into a strange smile, "such heartfelt malice... I..."
Somehow, the man lifted a hand, placing cold bare fingertips against Fenris' cheek. The only thing that kept him from solidifying his hand around the stranger's beating heart was the knowledge that he could very well die himself for killing his fellow prisoner.
Instead, he settled for deepening his grip, twisting his fingers until the man gasped again -- nearly squeaking -- and dropped his hand with a dull thump against the floor. Fenris knew well the stages of torture he could inflict, and felt a grim, dark smirk tug at his lips.
"Don't stop," the man convulsed slightly, eyes rolling back. "It's so... b-beautiful..."
"...You're mad," Fenris bit out, his smirk fading rapidly. Mage or not, it wasn't as satisfying, suddenly, torturing a complete lunatic...
"And you, my glowing friend," it was another voice, and Fenris froze completely at the feel of sharp steel at his throat, "are going to die slowly if you harm him any further." The accent was thick: Antivan. He'd heard that voice before. Recently, in fact. Zevran, the man the Crows had attempted to have Hawke and his companions kill for them.
Fenris slowly withdrew his hand, leaving everything intact behind it. A click of a tongue and a nudge of the blade had him rising carefully to his feet and stepping away from the mage on the floor, who gasped raggedly for air. The sound was wet and terrible, as it had been before Fenris had shoved his hand into his chest, and he saw Zevran's eyes narrow.
"That..." Fenris resisted the urge to clear his throat. That knife pressed delicately to it was far too sharp for comfort. "That wasn't my doing."
"Amore?" Zevran didn't take his eyes off of Fenris, even now.
"Wa-wasn't him," the man replied, rolling weakly onto his side and coughing. The wet sound was accompanied by the scent of fresh blood. "Zev..."
The knife was suddenly gone from Fenris' throat, and the former Crow from his immediate space. In an eye-blink, Zevran was kneeling beside the stranger, lifting the side of his head from the floor with one hand and producing a red-tinged potion from his belt with the other. Fenris watched for a moment and then looked to the cell door, which stood wide open.
So many possibilities, through that open cell door. And all of them false, like wavering mirages in the desert. He could never get out of here alive on his own.
"Your healing?" Zevran asked the man, uncorking the potion with his teeth and helping the other elf to drink it. "I also brought lyrium potions..."
"...They... did more than... drain me," the man replied weakly after drinking the contents of the red vial. Fenris turned his gaze back to them as Zevran helped to lever his apparent 'friend' up into a sitting position. The stranger leaned weakly against the rogue, and it was obvious that he wouldn't be moving under his own power.
"Are you strong enough to carry him, my angry, glowy friend?" Zevran startled Fenris with the question, looking up and over at him. "I seem to recall you using a very large sword as though it weighed nothing, when you accompanied the Champion. Marvelous to behold, of course, but we could really use that strength for something else, right now..."
"You're... taking me with you?" Fenris felt his brow furrow. Was he really getting another chance at freedom? Or was this some form of trap? It seemed a rather pointless one, if so... Danarius already knew he would run if given enough of a chance, else he wouldn't have had him locked up in the hold of the ship like the prized pet animal he was.
"Unless you would rather stay here, of course," Zevran cocked his head to one side, "we haven't much time to discuss it, you see, but you were locked in the cell as well, yes? I assumed it was... involuntary?"
"I..." it meant helping another mage, which was a rather bitter pill to swallow. But wasn't it still better than returning to slavery? And with freedom came the potential for revenge. "Yes," Fenris looked away for a moment, gathering his will, "I... can carry him."
"Good," Zevran remained close as Fenris activated his markings in order to have the needed strength. Even though he was acting friendly again, the look in those golden-brown eyes was sharp. This was not a man to mess with, and he clearly didn't mind that Fenris knew it.
He knelt down and scooped the mage up, although he couldn't help the twist of disgust in his gut as he did so. The qunari had a point, when it came to mages... they tainted everything they came in contact with. "--I will scout ahead and create a diversion," Zevran said, and moved out of the cell and toward the stairs, his wicked daggers visible in his hands.
"Do that," Fenris grit out, confusion and anger coursing through his veins all over again as he stood. Even with his strength, balancing was awkward. It would have been simpler to throw the mage over his shoulder, but with him coughing blood... the tevinter doubted such a move would have ended well for him, right there in front of the protective Zevran. "The sooner this is over with, the better."
The mage was heavier than Fenris had expected, but with the lyrium brands activated it was barely a hindrance in and of itself. It was largely the fact that the man was almost as tall as Fenris that made it difficult to walk easily, thanks to the legs draped over his arm. He found himself forced to side-step through the cell door, and the bars rattled when one of the stranger's boots caught on them.
If the stranger found it awkward to be carried around like a woman, he didn't show it. Barely even conscious at this point, he curled slightly against Fenris' breastplate and wheezed wetly against the smooth metal. At least he was cooperative, keeping his arms up on his own stomach and out of Fenris' way. Small blessing, but he would take it.
Fenris waited at the bottom of the stairs, listening for the promised diversion.
"Remarkable," his burden whispered raggedly, and the warrior glanced down to find that he was being stared at. The mage's eyes were wide and glazed, reflecting the light of Fenris' markings. There were losing focus again. "You're... just like a living, walking glyph..."
His skin crawled, and his stomach roiled. Fenris felt his upper lip curl into a snarl, but his voice was deceptively calm to his own ears. "Be silent, mage, or I will kill you."
Said mage smiled, and something about it was so wrong that Fenris looked up the stairs instead of down at his temporary burden. There was something very troubling here, and it wasn't just the man's corrupted magical nature. Something was off about him.
"So much hidden... like... seeing a few letters out of each word of a book," the mage continued as though he hadn't even heard him, "these lines... they're... glyphic..." Fenris felt his jaw clench, hard. And still the mage spoke, sounding more and more incoherent by the moment, "The fish-bone line here... it... I know I've..."
Cool fingertips touched Fenris' throat. It was barely more than a delicate brush against the markings there, but it was enough to make him immediately drop the other man as though he'd been burned by the weight of him in his arms. The mage fell without so much as a yelp, hitting the floor with a dull, heavy thump, his head cracking back against the base of the stairs.
The stranger was still breathing, however badly... and Fenris stood over him, rage throbbing in his skull and fogging his vision. He could just kill him now. Just kill the bastard now, and make his escape when the assassin created his diversion... he flexed his glowing, armored fingers. They opened and closed, opened and closed, almost of their own volition.
It would be so easy, while the stranger wasn't even conscious. Just snap his neck. Just one good twist...
But no, he remembered Zevran's finesse during the encounter with his former associates; the quickness of that knife as it had flown into a Crow's head; the promise, just minutes ago, in those sharp eyes. He didn't need another pursuer out for his skin, surely. And definitely not one so competent. Not while he had zero allies of his own, and nowhere to go but to aimlessly run.
The mage stirred sluggishly on the floor, and Fenris knelt to scoop him back up again. At least as dazed as he was, he would be quiet now, even if his arms hung awkwardly down and his head lolled against Fenris' shoulder.
A deafening explosion on the deck above sent the boat swaying around them, roiling black smoke billowing over the light outside. That was clearly his cue, and Fenris charged up the stairs with the mage, neatly avoiding scrambling crew members and soldiers in the chaos. He could hear Varania, somewhere in the black smoke, shouting something he couldn't understand--
It took all his willpower not to drop the mage a second time, so as to find her and rip her throat out, but he knew how it would end for him. She had to be near Danarius, and while he would undoubtedly succeed in killing his traitorous sister...
Someday, but not today. It wasn't worth dying for when there was an alternative.
He half ran, half leaped down the gangplank and charged back into the city, trusting that Zevran would find him shortly enough.
- - - - -
The world hurt.
No... that was wrong. The world probably felt just fine, but Tannusen Surana? Hurt. A lot. Less than half-conscious, the arms that scooped him up were those of a templar. The explosion was the roar of the archdemon, echoing in his memory. His head lolled back until it strained his throat, and the acrid smoke filling his lungs became the red fog of Uldred's control... and that Tevinter slaver in Denerim... and the blood mage who had captured him just hours ago...
He thought he might scream, but all that came out was the giggling of Ruck in the deep roads, and when the man -- templar? -- carrying him spoke to him, all he heard was the whispers of the Architect.
Tannusen knew his eyes were open, but all they could see was darkness. He couldn't tell if he replied to the whispers or not -- "First day, they come and catch everyone..." -- before his half-consciousness gave way entirely, and time once again lost all meaning. Touching the Fade, the demons that pursued him closed in, reaching with hungry hands...
- - - - -
"--Nn!" Consciousness rushed back in with a full-body jerk, as though he'd dreamed of falling off the Circle Tower again. Light rushed his senses with blazing fire when he opened his eyes, and so he feebly raised a hand to cover them, unable to hide a pained grimace.
"Amore?" That was Zevran. Zevran. Tannusen shuddered, feeling that familiar, reassuring touch to his wrist. "Are you yourself again?"
"Si, amore," ten years had made a few small phrases in the assassin's native tongue feel natural to the Fereldan. "Are we...?" Tannu finally lowered his hand, squinting at their surroundings. It was a small, cramped room -- but it was one he knew well. One of the Grey Warden's many hidden 'safe' places inside the tangle of Kirkwall. Zevran was crouched on the floor beside him, and he was laying on a cot.
Over Zevran's shoulder, he glimpsed the white-haired elf with the bizarre tattoos, leaning back against a wall with his arms folded. Watching.
"Before anything else, my dear," Zevran drew his attention back to himself, and the faint lines of worry between his eyes. Or perhaps that was a lie; they weren't very faint, just now. "What happened? I went back to the Circle, and you were gone. I barely managed to track you."
"I... didn't mean to be gone for long," Tannusen admitted quietly, "I'm sorry. I... you remember, when we heard that... one of the Wardens from Amaranthine had cut and run?"
Zevran nodded in response, not interrupting.
"I caught wind while you were gone... that he was here, in Kirkwall. So I went to find him. I was on my way back to the Gallows when that damn blood mage--" talking was difficult, and it was suddenly impossible for a few moments as he choked and struggled to breathe, the sound wet and horrible.
"Can you not heal yourself, yet?" Zevran asked once the horrible wracking coughs passed. "Perhaps we should go to the Dalish--"
"Who was that mage?" Tannusen interrupted, his voice reduced all over again to ragged strips of its usual silky purr. His gaze was aimed at the other elf, the silent stranger standing behind Zevran. "You were his... prisoner, too. Who is he?"
"His name is Danarius," the stranger's voice, by contrast, was deep and smooth, "he is a Magister of the Tevinter Imperium. And a powerful one, at that. I," the man's lips thinned into a hard line, "am his property, or so he would have you believe."
"A Magister," Tannu gave a hard half-laugh at that, wincing at the pain the sound caused in his throat, "that... just figures. They hit hard. Even... when they don't whip out the blood magic right away..."
"You have fought many Magisters, then, mage?" the stranger sounded less than impressed. "Duels, perhaps?"
"I have fought a lot of things," Tannusen struggled to sit up, using Zevran's assistance. His head was killing him, almost as bad as the rest of him. He definitely had a concussion. When had that happened? "I'm sorry, amore," he murmured to the Antivan as he leaned against his shoulder, "I don't know yet if I... can heal myself shortly or if we need to find help. I think I am... stable, however..."
Tannu allowed his fingers to clench tightly as a wave of dizziness overtook him. He was severely messed up, no matter how many healing potions the assassin had coaxed down his throat while he'd been unconscious. And he had: Tannusen could taste the bitter elfroot in the back of his throat. It was probably the only reason he wasn't coughing blood, anymore.
The white-haired elf turned away, clearly intending to leave. "Ser stranger," Tannu called after him, managing to put a little force into his temporarily-ruined voice, "your would-be owner isn't... going to give up, you know. On... chaining up either of us..."
"What possible use would he have for you," the stranger asked archly, not turning back around but at least pausing his steps, "beyond simply having yet another mage as a puppet?"
"He had... my phylactery," Tannusen slumped against Zevran even harder, the bit of force he'd summoned into his voice fading quickly. "He clearly knows who... I am. What I'm capable of. He took no risks. Countered my... magic immediately, somehow, as soon as he saw me. I..." the Warden laughed, very faintly, and with pain, "sort of... lit myself on fire when I meant to... do it to his men. They... didn't take kindly to my intent. He... let them beat me pretty good... once he'd done his blood magic thing on me..."
Talking was getting more and more painful, so he looked up at Zevran and managed a faint, pained smile, "Why is it always... blood mages?"
Zevran shook his head. "You do seem to draw them out from the woodwork, so to speak."
"Someone... smuggled my phylactery out of Ferelden," Tannu murmured, "and... gave it or sold it to a Tevinter Magister. That's... no coincidence."
The stranger had turned back around at some point while Tannusen wasn't looking, and stared at them as they spoke. "Why would Danarius go to such trouble? What do you mean, who you are and what you are capable of?"
"…" Tannu opened his mouth to reply and ended up coughing weakly instead.
"This man who you carried out of a burning ship," Zevran told him, helping the mage to lie back, "is Warden-Commander Tannusen Surana, the Hero of Ferelden. He is usually much more impressive to look at, I assure you."
"I thought... you liked the bloodied look," Tannusen croaked hoarsely.
"Silence, my Warden," Zevran tsked at him, smoothing his hair out of his face with one warm-skinned hand. "Let those of us who do not periodically light ourselves on fire speak, yes?"
"I... see," the stranger replied finally, some hesitation of his own finally entering his voice. Tannu's eyes didn't want to focus quite right, so he couldn't really see his expression. "A powerful tool for Danarius, indeed, if true."
"And one that would undoubtedly be sent after you, I should think," Zevran noted, standing up, "this man has crowned Kings, led armies, quelled blights--! I would not wish to be the one he was set upon, that is for certain."
"Is that some form of threat, assassin?" the white-haired elf asked, the rich timbre of his voice tinged with rapidly-growing agitation. Though Tannusen couldn't see much right now, his love of a nice voice made such variations plain to him.
"Not as such, no," Zevran laughed easily, "only an observation. Your former Master will still want you back even if he captures the Warden, yes? Why would he not make use of such a marvelous resource? I, of course, would be dead by then. I see no other way it could happen."
"Or thralled yourself," Tannusen noted weakly, unable to hold back a faint shudder at the idea. He would burn himself alive before he allowed Zevran's heart and mind to be scooped out of him like the insides of a melon.
The stranger's gaze could be felt shifting between the two of them, almost tangible in its weight. Tannu's eyes slipped closed, but he could still feel the soft thrum of the stranger across the small room. It was a tantalizing mystery, but one he knew better -- at least, now -- than to pursue at the moment. He was too weakened, for one thing.
"And so you are suggesting... what, exactly?" the stranger asked, finally. He sounded like he was pacing, even though he wasn't. It was the sheer tension in his voice.
"Well, you see, we could use a third person -- a nice, durable warrior in particular," Zevran chuckled, "as this entire situation has proved, even I cannot guard my Warden's back at all times--"
"You want me," the tone was still tense, but now it was clipped as well, "to play bodyguard to your mage."
"And why not?" If Zevran noticed -- and he undoubtedly did -- he didn't let it show in his own voice at all, "I have seen you fight, yes? With the Champion? You are competent enough, and strong... surely traveling with us can only be of benefit to all involved. We have resources you will never be able to match... or am I wrong?"
"The Champion," the word was spat out, "sold me out to my former Master, for whom I was bodyguard. I am through with trusting his kind."
"Then don't trust me," Tannusen interjected mildly, eyes closed, listening to the angry thrum that didn't come from the stranger's voice. Speaking was still difficult, but not nearly so bad after being silent for a while, "Help all three of us get out of this Maker-damned country in as few pieces as possible, and go on your way whenever you wish..." he had to pause for a moment to let the pain ease, "...stick... with us to Ferelden, and maybe we can set you up with the King, if you like."
"Ah, that is a thought," Zevran chimed in, sparing Tannusen from having to explain more, "Our dear Alistair could always use another competent guard, with the Orlesians eyeballing his neck the way they are. And no few Fereldan nobles, as well."
"It... I will give it some consideration," the stranger said slowly. He didn't sound like he really wanted to consider it, but perhaps part of him knew that the sting of fresh betrayal clouded his judgment. And even a Tevinter Magister would have difficulty touching a royal bodyguard in a country that was already intolerant of actual slavery. Howe and Loghain's nonsense during the blight had been the exception, not the rule.
And to think, Ferelden was considered the country of barbarians.
"Stay the night then," Zevran offered, "I will unfold the other cot for you, yes? This room is about as safe as we will get inside of the city," Tannusen listened as Zevran stepped away from him to do as he said, "and if you are gone in the morning, we will know you decided to venture off on your own."
That was true. If he vanished because the Magister had somehow found the Grey Warden safe-room in the span of one night, it wasn't like Tannusen himself would be left alone. Especially weakened as he was.
"Can you still not heal yourself, amore?" That was Zevran again, of course, stepping close and kneeling down with the creak of leather, his back undoubtedly to the stranger while said stranger decided whether to stay the night or take his chances early and bolt like a skittish stray dog.
"I can... try," Tannusen nodded faintly, and reached carefully for his energy reserves. The pool of energy inside that fueled his spells was about half-refilled, and he mentally dipped his fingertips into the surface--
The cool, calm pool burst into flames, consuming his mind in white-hot pain. Tannusen's reality... flickered, the Fade overlapping his senses, and he could hear himself -- in one world or the other -- crying out in agony.
Flicker -- flicker -- Tannu opened his eyes... or thought he did, anyway. The stranger was a glowing, humming beacon of light. Flicker. He was a blurry mess with a hand on the weapon slung over his back, what Tannusen could see of his stance was tense and ready for an attack. Flicker. Lyrium.
Justice had described lyrium as a beautiful song, once. Tannusen was not a spirit, so he couldn't hear it the way they did despite his affinity for the Fade, just as he couldn't hear the song of the Archdemon quite the way a darkspawn could, but the humming made him wish for a moment that he could, at least in this instance.
The pain returned. As did color, and shadow, and the sense of sucking in air through the agony. Zevran's hands on his shoulders, his worried face above him, his weight on his upper thighs... he'd had to be pinned down. Had he thrashed? Tried to get up, perhaps?
Inside his mind, the pool of energy looked tranquil and calm once more. Tannusen... shied away from it, and shook his head in the real world, very faintly. "...I'm not cut off from the Fade," he rasped, unable to help a glance at the stranger, who'd straightened up and let go of his weapon, at least. "But that Magister did something to make casting... problematic."
"The... word that was on his forehead," the stranger offered hesitantly, "it is Tevinter for 'thrall'. Danarius must have sealed his power away, although I have never seen him thrall and seal another so quickly before," another moment of hesitation, and then the white-haired elf stepped close enough to the cot that Tannusen could see something of his expression, looming high overhead. "If he is Danarius' pet already then he is even less trustworthy than otherwise."
"I'm not--" Tannu reached up with a shaking hand to feel his forehead. It felt... normal. "Is it still there?"
"No," Zevran sighed, "it vanished quickly."
"So at least it won't advertise it too much," Tannusen dropped his hand back to the cot, his tone bitter to his own ears, "except for when I try to cast, of course." Who needed magic anyway, right? He was only a sodding mage.
"You do seem to be a little better, at least," the stranger noted, "perhaps he didn't have time to finish the seal entirely."
"Maker's balls," Tannusen groaned, "we're so screwed if this can't be taken off."
"It looked like it was written in... blood?" Zevran asked, sitting up on Tannusen's thighs so that he could look at the stranger, "Would it wash off? Or perhaps just wear off?"
"It was probably done with blood from his phylactery," the white-haired elf said grimly, "which means that no, it won't simply wash off or fade away. You would need Danarius, the rest of that phylactery, or possibly even both of those things to unlock it again."
"All the more reason you can rely on us not betraying you to him," Tannusen noted, trying to resist the impulse to shove Zevran off of his legs so that he could curl on his side like a child. His magic...
"Or all the more reason you may decide to do so," the stranger countered, "perhaps in a trade, or to appease your Master."
"He's not--" Tannu cut himself off, then sighed. "There's no point in pretending I'm not a thrall, I suppose. But my thralldom happened over a decade ago, and Danarius is not the one who did it. I feel no compulsion to call him Master or to kneel at his feet. And trust me on this if not on anything else," he forced his eyes to focus, so that he could stare up at the other elf with clarity in his gaze, "I know that compulsion."
"I..." the stranger met his look, and his green eyes widened slightly at something he saw there, "perhaps so. I... suppose I can give you the benefit of the doubt on that point," to say that he sounded uncomfortable was an understatement.
"We'll still go to Ferelden," Tannusen told Zevran, "perhaps there's something that can be done through my Warden physiology, or maybe Greagoir can break the seal somehow. There are many avenues to try, still." If he said that as much for his own benefit as anyone else, well... it was still true, right?
"As you wish," Zevran agreed easily, finally climbing off of him. "Well now," he turned to the stranger, "it seems that you know both of our names now -- and I daresay more about my Warden than he would like you to know, as well. Can we at least have your name, my handsome friend?"
"It is Fenris," the stranger cleared his throat, "I... didn't think to give it in all of the confusion."
"We will be leaving in the morning with or without you, Fenris," Tannusen fixed him with another stare, "now more than ever, we can't afford to stick around this place."
"Understood," the stranger -- Fenris -- backed away from the cot by a few steps. Whatever his reasons, he seemed very, very faintly unnerved. He continued to remind the healer of a stray dog, warily watching everything from the shadows. "I will consider my options until then."
"Good enough," Tannusen shut his eyes.
It would have to be good enough. He just hoped the local Wardens had a ship handy, either way.
- - - - -
Fenris did not rest much that night, which he hardly found surprising. Setting his weapon down on the floor allowed him to sit on the cot Zevran had unfolded for him, his back to the wall, one knee drawn up enough to rest an arm on. He bitterly turned over that last scene in the Hanged Man, over and over without even really wanting to, dark anger burning anew at this latest betrayal.
The other two shared the other cot, which also wasn't terribly surprising. Fenris was certain that one or both of them would wake up the instant he left his own cot, if only to be sure he didn't cleave their skulls, but in the meantime they seemed... content enough. The great beast of a mabari hound snored softly near the door, providing the only noise in the small room for a time.
Fereldans and their dogs. Fenris snorted faintly, staring at his sword on the worn floorboards. If the mage was who he claimed he was, then his mabari had seen the blight's end. It was possible that the hound had even tasted the archdemon itself, wasn't it? One more ally of the mage's who Fenris didn't particularly want to have to fend off.
Not to mention that if the mage was who he claimed he was... even with his magic largely sealed away, the Hero of Ferelden would be a force to be reckoned with. If the stories were true, he'd all but stitched his homeland together by hand, crowning multiple Kings and breaking curses over entire regions on his way.
The other two elves stirred, a panicked jerk from the mage at some dream or other followed by quiet murmurings of the assassin. Neither seemed to really wake up, which meant they were both used to this routine, and Fenris watched dispassionately as the mage curled almost completely under the blanket over them both, burying his face against the hardened leather of Zevran's armor. With the threat of being found at any time, it was no wonder the rogue hadn't changed out of it.
He looked away, back to the dog. Jethro, as Zevran had called him in passing, wuffed quietly in his sleep and kicked a leg. What did a Warden's mabari dream of? Chasing darkspawn?
Eventually, Fenris dozed fitfully himself. His dreams were made of chaos.
Danarius, laughing with a guest at some small private function, the clink of glass, the rhythmic thump of a figure being taken casually by one of the guards, right there on the dinner table. Fenris, reaching to refill a wine glass for the bald foreigner seated beside his Master. The elf glanced down at the slave on the table, laid out on his back, placid, pale legs held up by different hands as much for the view as anything else with the complete lack of struggle.
"Take yourself back out, Fenris," his Master's order from over his wine glass. "Let the thrall suck you. He looks a bit hungry to me."
"Insatiable," the laughter of the foreign mage.
Eyes the color of a lyrium potion met Fenris'. Pained, glazed... full of longing--
It was Fenris' turn to jerk awake. There were no windows in the small safe-room, but light leaked in from beneath the heavy wooden door. Morning. He'd stayed without even really meaning to... but really, how much choice did he have? Freedom in Ferelden versus slavery in Tevinter when he was eventually caught once more?
His dream... lingered, and Fenris shifted uncomfortably in place where he sat on the cot, aroused and repulsed in equal measures. Had it been a memory, or some strange mix of imagery in a simple dream?
That eye color wasn't all that uncommon in the Imperium, or even in the Free Marches for that matter. It didn't have to be the unsettling gaze of the elven mage. Even if pained, glazed, and full of longing... just as when he'd spoken of knowing the impulse to serve... Fenris shook his head, trying to clear it. His mind was obviously blending experiences together, the only surprise was that Hawke hadn't been in the dream for his former master to have him serve wine to as well.
"Awake, and not running off?" the mage's voice snapped him out of his thoughts, and Fenris jerked his head up to look at the other elf. Surana was by himself on the other cot, the blanket down around his bare hips. His clothes had been a burned, bloodsoaked, ripped mess and so the elf stripping out of them was only practical, but he wondered why the mage hadn't bothered to put another set on. And where was his assassin lover? Surely he might have helped dress his invalid mage.
"Where did Zevran go?" Fenris asked, clearing his throat. He didn't bother to look away, clinically taking in the mage's well-muscled body -- odd, for a mage, but not unheard of -- and the marking centered on his chest. It was plainly the same marking as on Zevran's face, and Fenris frowned.
"That's a disapproving look if I've ever seen one," Surana noted, and managed a weak shrug. He was barely propped up on one elbow, and it visibly strained him. "I sent him out to give the Wardens a head's up and try to arrange a ship. He's able to move with a lot more subtlety without me along even on a good day. Right now he'd have to half-carry me and that puts any sort of 'blending in' right out."
"You marked him," Fenris half-spat, "his face, no less. Is he even here willingly, mage?"
"I..." Surana blinked at him, then glanced down at the mark on his chest. "Oh. That. You have it wrong--"
"Do I?" the former slave lunged to his feet, his markings glowing in the semi-dark room. "Your kind loves to mark your cherished pets, as I am well aware!" Growling from beside him had Fenris looking over at the battle-scarred mabari, Jethro, whose short ears were flicked back in warning. "Call your hound off, mage, lest I rip his throat out."
"He's not gong to attack unless you do," Surana said mildly, lowering himself back onto the cot properly. What sort of man laid back down the rest of the way in the face of a threat? "And if you attack him first, Fenris, I will light you on fire. Even if the seal kills me."
"Always threats," Fenris snarled.
"At the risk of sounding childish," the mage murmured, "'you started it'."
That was--! The former slave felt his shoulders slump as his markings quieted. What 'that' was, was completely true. "I... apologize," he ground out, just barely. He couldn't help but feel resentment at being managed so readily by yet another Fereledan mage.
"Zevran is covered in tattoos," Surana explained mildly, "it's the way of the Crows. Many of them have secret meanings, most of which I do not know. The one on his face is purely decorative, and until mine it was completely unique to him. Because it's so visible, it's as much his signature as anything is."
Fenris sat down on the edge of his cot, looking down at the sword on the floor beside him. He was silent.
"At the end of the blight, Zevran... proposed, of a sorts. Complications arose, and I... wanted to belong with someone. To someone," the mage continued, apparently reading Fenris' actions as 'listening', which it was. "No matter what. I wanted to wear his mark, and it needed to be something that couldn't be ripped off of me by... greedy hands."
"Thievery?" Fenris hazarded.
"Sex," Surana corrected, earning a quick glance upwards from the former slave. The mage hadn't bothered to cover himself, and the blanket after shifting when he eased back down onto the cot just barely kept him decent. "Zevran and I have an arrangement. He didn't insist on the tattoo and it wasn't his idea, but I convinced him that I needed it, and I did," a hand lifted from the bed to trace the lines over his own heart, and Fenris watched from beneath his hair, processing it. "And I do. So you had it completely wrong, it's not my marking at all, and I'm not the one who engraved it on either of us."
"I would wager that I wouldn't want to know the details," Fenris noted, lifting his sword off the floorboards and inspecting the edges with a critical eye. It gave him something to do other than stare at the mage, who made it so easy by staring up at the ceiling instead of back at Fenris.
"You would probably win that wager," Surana chuckled wryly, "although if you travel with us, you'll probably find out anyway."
The former slave didn't like the sound of that at all, and clenched his gauntlet-sheathed right hand around the hilt of his weapon.
"...Not like that, Fenris," Surana sighed, glancing his way. "We don't touch the unwilling, having both been unwilling ourselves in the past. The Crows are not gentle with their apprentices, and blood mages -- as I wager you have seen in Tevinter -- are not gentle with their thralls."
"You... would win that wager," Fenris agreed grudgingly. "Although in Tevinter, you would have been bled dry for some spell or other within a month, with that mouth."
"With this mouth," the mage laughed easily, "people tend to find better uses for it than to reduce it to a corpse's. My Mas-- Uldred, that is-- used to dispose of his thralls within about six months of taking them. It kept the Knight-Commander from figuring it out, and suicides were so common in the Circle that one more pretty elven boy or girl leaping off the top of the tower was hardly worth extra note. He liked elves in particular, you know. Hairless and tight."
"And you?" Fenris shifted in place a little. He couldn't help it, despite the revulsion he felt at the idea of it, the 'uses' for that mouth reminded him of his dream. Take it out again and let him suck it, Danarius had cooed in the dream. Or something to that effect. Magisters and their games...
"I was kept around for far longer than any others before me. The Knight-Commander eventually figured out that I was a thrall and put me under his protection, of a sorts. He weakened the bond, and Uldred knew if it strengthened again Greagoir would know it," Surana chuckled wryly, "I whored myself around the Tower quite publicly after that, I felt compelled to, because of what I had become. The itch, left unscratched, gets a bit... dangerous."
"Gets," Fenris repeated slowly, "present-tense."
"Yes," the mage agreed. "I was never meant to be more than a fuck-toy. That I've become other things doesn't change what's at my core."
He was so casually... vulgar about his own state. Fenris had no idea how to respond, and so he went back to inspecting his sword. There was a nick in the blade here, when had that happened? His mind strayed, of course, to the topic at hand despite his attempts to distract it. The mage viewed himself as a fuck-toy, which meant he was likely dangerously easy to control. But he also viewed himself as belonging to the assassin. Did that counter any of the danger?
"Why were you so interested in my markings, mage?" Fenris finally found a different topic, one that had been bothering him since he'd hauled the other man out of the ship. Most people were curious, certainly, but the mage had been enthralled. He mentally winced at the word choice, but it was true anyway.
"I've always specialized in glyphs," Surana replied easily, as though the previous discussion was easily just... swept aside. Living with it as he did, perhaps it was. "I have a natural aptitude for healing, but the glyphic language was my original choice for a specialty. Uldred," a short, quiet laugh, "made me the healer I am today, if only to clean myself up properly after a session. And the blight, of course. But glyphs..."
Fenris shifted a little on the cot, uncomfortable. "I don't understand the connection."
"Most wouldn't," the mage agreed, "most mages, even. But because I've studied them for so many years, I see the patterns many do not. Your markings are... glyphs," Surana made a vague gesture, "or glyphic in nature, at least. I'm sure of it. It really is a language, you know. Most mages never learn more than a few basic patterns and are content, but with a deep enough understanding of the patterns you could practically write books in it. They'd be very oddly-shaped books, and the translation would be hell, but books nonetheless."
"And what do my... glyphs say?" the former slave wasn't sure he wanted to know, but he couldn't help but to ask. Few who knew anything about his markings had ever volunteered information on them, after all.
"I don't know," Surana replied almost wistfully, turning his head to look over at Fenris. He could feel that blue gaze as though it was a solid force in the air, assessing... reading... coming from a mage, it was familiar enough to made his skin crawl. "For one thing, I can't see most of them. I'm not going to ask you to show me the rest, but it's like spilling ink across a page and then picking out a half-word here and three letters there. I know that they're lyrium, and highly concentrated lyrium at that."
"How?" Fenris couldn't help but look up, matching gazes with the mage.
"They... sing," said mage smiled, very faintly. "Or rather, they hum. Very slightly. If I was a spirit, I imagine I'd hear a song. Justice once told me that--"
"You know Justice?" Fenris didn't lunge to his feet again, but he couldn't help but clench his hand around the hilt of his weapon. The wayward Warden the mage had mentioned, had that been Anders?
"Knew Justice," Surana corrected with a sigh, looking away and back up at the ceiling again. "I forgot, he follows your traitor of a Champion, now. I knew his host, too, as he was before they merged. I met Justice in the Fade before he touched our world, and when he was ripped back through the veil with the rest of us by accident, I guided him in learning to cope with 'the mortal realm'..."
"So the abomination is also your fault," the former slave noted sourly. "I shouldn't be surprised that another mage set it all into motion."
"I..." said mage went quiet, and Fenris looked up to see that Surana had closed his eyes. "Yes," he eventually agreed, much to Fenris' surprise. No argument? No outrage or denial? "I was friends with Justice when he was in Kristoff's body. I thought I was friends with Anders, too, by the time Amaranthine was stable... but I guess not, since he didn't come to me when things went pear-shaped."
Fenris was silent. What could be said, really? He didn't pity any of them.
"Kristoff's widow... Justice couldn't abide not letting her bury her husband, but we should have found a better alternative," Surana re-opened his eyes and slowly levered himself up onto an elbow, again, and even more slowly he managed to sit up. "An unused golem's body, perhaps, without any dwarven souls occupying it. But, hindsight is always so much clearer than the present."
"I suppose there's no denying that," Fenris agreed dryly, Hawke's betrayal fresh in his mind again. He watched as Surana reached for one of the bags at the foot of the cot, over-extended, and fell the short distance to the floor. The blanket, already barely on him, stayed behind. Fenris didn't move to help, or make any comment, merely raising an eyebrow at the fallen mage on the floor.
Surana slowly pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, and then collapsed again with a pained groan. The room was small and the cots were barely raised off the floor, and so the mage was actually quite close to where Fenris sat with his sword across his folded knees.
"That didn't work very well," said the other elf, speaking into the floorboards.
"No," Fenris agreed, taking some perverse enjoyment out of this despite his attempt to be civil to his potential ticket out of the country.
"Did you really..." Surana picked his head up, and his eyes were slightly out of focus, "stick your hand through my chest, when we met? Or did I hallucinate that?"
"Yes," Fenris sounded faintly smug even to his own ears, "I did. If you like," he offered the threat quite casually, "I could do it again."
"Could you?" the mage breathed, and Fenris was struck once again, by the look in Surana's bright blue eyes, that something was very wrong with him. Aside from the most obvious things, of course. "Would you?"
"If... given cause, yes," the Tevinter cleared his throat, shifting minutely in place. Threatening a mage wasn't supposed to make him uncomfortable, but it did in this case. Not out of any sort of fondness for the man who was barely more than a stranger, but because he couldn't tell where this was going. The Warden -- if that was who he truly was, and Fenris wondered why his madness made it seem more likely to be true instead of less -- wasn't reacting in any of the expected ways.
"What if I asked you?" Surana asked breathlessly, putting the final seal on his status as 'completely insane'. Fenris couldn't help but recoil, slightly, and his hands twitched faintly under that strange stare.
"Do you have a death wish, mage?" he snapped out, fighting the urge to put his hands behind his back so that the mage couldn't stare at them like that. Instead, his grip tightened once more on the sword across his knees, and his other hand tightened around nothing.
"No, not really," Surana put his head back down. "If it wasn't for Zevran, yes, but... my heart is not my own, to wish it to be ripped out of my chest, or crushed, or punctured. Not anymore," he took a deep breath, "but it doesn't have to be that way, does it? You didn't kill me earlier."
Sick little thing. Fenris felt his lip curl in disdain. "You enjoy being tortured, do you?"
"Yes," the mage shuddered on the floor. This close, Fenris could make out the glimmer of old, faded, smoothed-over scars on his rather muscular back and shoulders, so aged that it was only the shininess of the scar tissue that gave them away by sight. Had he begged for those, too? Like he was now, perhaps, like some pathetic wretch? "On far too many levels."
Well, he wasn't quite begging yet, Fenris had to admit. But he was definitely a bit wretched. "...What do you mean, 'not anymore'?" he couldn't help but asking, feeling a little like a bystander on a beach, watching some terrible shipwreck on the horizon.
"I once tried to carve my own heart out with a knife," Surana admitted softly, "it didn't work very well. I imagine if I'd met you back then, the problem would have been solved quite handily."
Years around Varric had Fenris' gaze sharpen at that last word. And sure enough, the mage was snickering very quietly to himself, his face against the floorboards again. "You find such things humorous?" Fenris heard himself ask, without really meaning to.
"If I don't laugh at my own suicide attempts, who will?" Tannusen -- no, the mage -- said with a sort of wistful amusement, pushing himself up off the floor again. This time, he managed to rock back onto his shins, at least, although he wobbled dangerously in place.
Fenris didn't bother to not look, since Surana was so unabashed about exposing himself, but he at least had the decency to not stare at the other elf after taking him in, his gaze ending up on that tattoo again. Was that where it had happened? There was no shimmer of scarring, but Fenris knew full well that that meant nothing. Either it had been healed by a more expert hand, or the scar tissue was deeper... or both.
"I do not know you well enough to laugh at your suicide attempts," Fenris eventually said, quite stiffly, watching as Surana beckoned his mabari hound over. Jethro took the pack his master had been attempting to reach gingerly in his teeth and dragged it over to him, his short tail wagging when he received a scritch behind the ears for the good deed.
"Give it time," the mage said with an odd seriousness underlying his cheerful tone. Now that he wasn't in quite so much pain, his voice held a constant purring quality to it that Fenris wondered whether it was natural or affected. "But when you get sick of us, I meant what I said; we'll help you get set up in Ferelden if you like."
"Why?" the warrior asked, watching Surana dig through the pack and produce several tightly-rolled parcels of black and dark gray cloth, as well as a sharply-folded larger piece. A sleeve-cuff on top made it clear that the large folded bit was a coat or robe of some form. At least he was putting some clothes on, or so Fenris surmised.
"Why not? We were nearly slaves under the same bastard, for one thing," Surana shrugged, glancing up at him from under his long, white-blond bangs. Some of it was visibly singed, even in front, the tips blackened and fused together in places. "Or do you not consider thralldom the same thing?"
"It is, in many ways," Fenris admitted, "only the method of control really separates them."
"Yes. Also, Zevran says you have skill. I know several people who could use someone with skill, both royal and otherwise. I happen to be one of them," the mage admitted, shaking out a pair of black pants, "but I won't begrudge a free man the choice to come and go as he pleases. If I just so happen to set you up with those who I can mostly trust to not stab me in the back later, that's just intelligent on my end, don't you think?"
"...I suppose so," the Tevinter looked back down at his sword, eyeballing that nick in the edge again, leaving Surana with a small measure of privacy as the mage struggled to sit back properly on his ass so as to slide his long legs into his unrolled trousers. Perhaps what the man said about being a fuck-toy was accurate, in as much as he had no problem doing this while facing a stranger, putting himself on total display in the process.
Was it a test of some sort? Fenris honestly couldn't tell.
The sound of skin sliding against cloth and then the soft grunt as the mage picked his rear off the floor for a second to slide the pants over it was the only noise in the room for a few minutes, and then the clink of a belt buckle and the slide of leather on cloth. And then... silence.
Fenris hazarded a glance upward when the silence dragged on for a while, finding Surana leaning back against his mabari, his eyes closed and features creased with exhaustion and pain. Jethro noticed they were being watched and offered a quiet whine, which had Surana's eyes snapping back open and his face smoothing immediately. He reached for a bit of dark gray cloth, which turned out to be a close-fitting tunic that he pulled over his head, leaving the laces undone so that it exposed his tattoo.
"How much of a liability are you, with your magic sealed as it is?" Fenris asked bluntly, watching the other elf shrug into a black vest, slightly-shaking fingers doing up the dull bronze buttons.
"If it wasn't for my contacts," Surana replied quietly, "I would be of no use to you. Does that answer the question?"
Fenris frowned a little.
"Of course, abandoning me to my fate and risking Danarius catching me and using the full brunt of my abilities against you would be less than wise," the mage added, "beyond that, my contacts, what medical knowledge I possess outside of the arcane, and any sexual favors you might fancy are all I bring to the table. At least, without my magic."
Green eyes narrowed. "Sexual favors I might fancy?"
Surana smiled a faint, lopsided smile at him from under his singed bangs, doing up the last of the buttons on his vest. It was cut low enough that part of the tattoo remained exposed. "I'm still just a fuck-toy under it all, Fenris. A willing one, these days, but a fuck-toy nonetheless. If you want a skilled tongue or an extremely tight little hole, you know exactly where to find me."
That was... direct. Fenris felt his eyes widen again, minutely, and he coughed into one hand. He couldn't help but look away, down at the sword across his knees. Suddenly hyper-aware of the way his hand gripped the hilt, he let go of it and fidgeted for a moment in place.
"Fenris," the mage called quietly, causing him to glance back up again.
"What?" he demanded crossly when Surana didn't immediately say what was on his mind.
"I wasn't kidding," that damned purr had only deepened a little further, "hell, stick your hand through my chest while you fuck me and I might just beg you to stay."
"Enough," Fenris felt his face heat, but he refused to look away, and he grit the words out, "I have no interest in your kind, mage."
"Very well," Surana smiled, "I'm hardly going to take it personally, all things considered."
Fenris opened his mouth to retort, and then both elves lurched forward where they sat, green and blue eyes going as wide as possible while the room shook and rumbled. The dog whined, then barked, but neither of them could hear the sound..
The explosion outside was deafening, and it sounded like it went on for an eternity. The building shuddered violently and something large whistled past the door outside like a crossbow bolt, slamming into the wall beside it hard enough that Fenris felt the impact more than he heard it, his hearing ruined for the moment by the thundering roar.
Something had just happened. Something big. As his hearing finally cleared of the explosion, Fenris could hear shouting and wailing outside, and one person running past the safe-room was yelling two words that sent a chill down the Tevinter's spine.
"...Perhaps you should pass me my boots?" the mage had dropped all innuendo, but the purr was still there. Fenris realized dimly that it was probably always there, whispering and yelling aside. One didn't fake that after such a moment.
Dimly, he got to his feet to crack open the door and peer out, sword in hand. The air outside was choked with an oddly-red colored smoke, and chaos reigned in the street as people ran along, presumably to their various homes or even to the Chantry itself. Many had dropped to their knees to pray, and even Fenris found himself mouthing the words to something he'd learned in that very building before he turned back to the small room. He hoped Sebastian hadn't been inside at the time; he'd actually liked the deposed Prince.
Surana had pulled on a pair of socks with a great deal more speed than he'd displayed in getting dressed so far, and was shrugging on what turned out to be a long black and gray coat. Not at all what Fenris was used to mages wearing, but he had the idea that this one, Hero of Ferelden or not, did a lot of odd things.
And odd people, his mind supplied, latching briefly onto the thought in the chaos. Fenris bent and grabbed the pair of black boots that he assumed belonged to the oddly-dressed mage, tossing them over without a word. Then, he was back to peering outside, closing the door periodically to not draw any attention and simply listening through it.
"If you go out there," Surana noted mildly, lacing up one of his boots, "you'll probably be caught by one enemy or another."
"Do you think I don't know that?" Fenris snapped.
Surana merely shrugged. He stayed on the floor, but Fenris doubted the man had the ability to stand, from what he'd seen of him since he'd woken up from his disturbing dreams. The huge mabari, Jethro, remained sitting behind his mage, though his ears were flattened back.
The door under Fenris' hand shoved inwards, and he brought his sword to bear with a snarl-- it was only Zevran, who ducked under the blade as though he'd fully expected it. And perhaps he had. "Well," the Antivan quipped, "that was certainly... something!"
"Something," Surana agreed, "any idea what?"
"The Chantry, as you may have gathered from all the weeping and screaming outside," Zevran ran his hand backwards over his hair, and Fenris only now noticed he was slightly out of breath. He supposed anyone would make a sprint of it under the circumstances. "Those closest to the Vicount's Keep speak of an apostate."
"An... apostate," Surana deflated visibly in place.
"I am afraid so," Zevran nodded.
"There are a lot of apostates in Kirkwall," Surana noted slowly, looking down at the floor he was sitting on, "but my gut tells me that I know which one they mean."
Fenris turned back toward the door, cracking it open to peer outside again. A fine red dust had settled below the height of the buildings around them, and now swept and billowed and roiled through the streets, coating everything in a surreal scarlet. There was a gasp from behind him, and he glanced back to see that Surana had lifted his head again, staring at the dust as it swept into the room with that strange, glazed-eyed expression.
Zevran reached past Fenris and firmly, pointedly, closed the door again.
Surana's strange, wide stare didn't lessen, it only grew worse the longer he watched the dust swirling in the air. His madness was plainly, almost painfully visible, as blatant as the word 'thrall' had been across his forehead. "The Wardens have arranged a ship," Zevran said, walking over to the mage, "it will leave at first tide in the morning. We can board after night falls."
Fenris had no reply handy, so he didn't invent one. He leaned his side against the closed door and watched as the assassin crouched down in front of his lover -- for there was no doubt that the label fit them -- and snapped his fingers in front of the other man's face. Surana blinked, finally, and focused his stare up at Zevran's face, and Fenris looked away as the two spoke quietly with one another.
It had been early evening yesterday when Hawke had betrayed him utterly. It was perhaps mid-day today. Not even a full cycle had gone by yet, and he could feel the rage and pain in himself as a bubbling black tar. Every time he lacked sufficient distraction, it was there, just waiting to swallow him back up.
"Very well," Zevran was saying when Fenris next shook himself out of his stupor, "I will return with news as I can," and the assassin was striding for the door again, though he paused beside Fenris and looked at him searchingly for a moment. "If you are to stay as his guard," he said levelly, "consider this your first day on the job, yes?"
Fenris stared at him for a moment, and at the tattoo on his face. Then, very slowly, he nodded.
"Most excellent!" Zevran clapped him on the shoulder, ignoring the way Fenris tensed at the gesture, "Do not disappoint me, my friend," despite the jovial tone, the threat was clear, and the Antivan stepped past him and slipped out the door without another word, leaving him alone with the mage and the mabari.
"…" Fenris looked over to the mage, finding that he'd been levered back up onto the cot, at least, where he sat now with one leg folded up to rest his hands and chin on. "If you are who you say you are," he asked Surana, finally, because the silence was too much, "is it true that you fought an entire Circle full of abominations?"
"Yes," the mage nodded the little bit that his position allowed, "the Circle that I grew up in, no less. The templars held the door, and a few of us went in to clear the place out..."
- - - - -
It was just after nightfall, and many stories later, when Zevran kicked the door to the place in and staggered through, dragging an unconscious form half-slung on his back. Fenris nearly had a heart attack on the spot, leaping to his feet with his blade out before the BANG! of the door hitting the wall even truly registered.
Surana sat up straighter with interest, and hissed in a surprised breath at who, exactly, Zevran drug the rest of the way in -- kicking the door closed behind him -- and then let fall onto the floor at Fenris' feet.
"Orsino," the Warden whispered, shocked, then looked up at Zevran, "what happened?"
"Nearly everything that could go badly, did," the Antivan replied grimly, "except for my interference, of course. Meredith's response to the apostate's actions was to invoke the Right of Annulment... this one, cornered like a rat, very nearly turned abomination when the templars stormed the island. I have seen enough blood magic in our time together... I took him down before he could complete his ritual."
The slender, elder mage's chest was moving faintly under his robes. Zevran hadn't killed him. Fenris growled low in his throat and stepped forward, sword ready.
"No," it was Surana, speaking with far more command than Fenris had heard yet. It actually made him pause. "Did you interrupt him fast enough, Zevran?"
"I believe so," the assassin replied calmly, eyeing Fenris sidelong. "But if I had left him behind, he would have been executed on the spot. They were going to do it anyway. He sounded quite mad, amore, but I knew you would wish to at least speak to him first." The First Enchanter going blood mage was serious, after all, even if this wasn't his Circle.
"We need to leave as quickly as we can, if things have gotten this serious," Surana murmured, "I'm no good to anyone here as I am now. And we have to... we have to warn Greagoir," his low, purring voice held a definite note of distress there, "this is going to cause shock-waves across all of Thedas. Get him awake, Zev, we have no more time to waste."
Fenris set his sword aside and sat back down on 'his' cot, watching the proceedings with a wariness he didn't bother to try to hide. An elfroot potion poured down the elder mage's throat combined with sharp herbs held under his nose by the assassin had him stirring sluggishly. Large green eyes opened slowly, focusing up at the younger mage who peered down over the edge of the other cot.
* * *
"Warden-Commander...?" Orsino asked rather numbly, "What is...?" And then, panic visibly hit him like a punch to the gut, and he sat up with a pained groan, "The others! We have to--!"
"They're all dead," Zevran interjected coolly, but it was Tannusen who put a hand on the older elf's shoulder to keep him from lunging to his feet. He could feel the other mage trembling.
"Pretty Orsino," the Warden murmured, catching the other's gaze and holding it, "Zevran tells me you were about to use blood magic. Explain yourself to me." The nick-name had its effect on the older mage; his shoulders slumped, and defeat leeched the strength straight out of him.
"I failed them," the First Enchanter whispered, sounding tortured as he gazed up at the seated Warden-Commander, "I failed to protect any of them," and he crumpled forward, burying his face in the edge of the cot. "I couldn't even die fighting for them..."
Tannu settled a hand on top of Orsino's head. "You wanted to make a last stand, didn't you? But you would have died just the same."
"I should have died for them!" Orsino jerked back, and Tannusen could see the anguish in his large, expressive eyes, "I don't care if it meant using blood magic, I don't care anymore! They were my people!"
"Your Circle wouldn't have wanted you to stoop so low, or to throw yourself away just to take a few templars out with you," Tannu murmured calmly, and reached forward to card his fingers through the older mage's hair.
"What else was I supposed to do?" the First Enchanter asked, his rage dying once more. "surrender was not an option... it was better to die fighting, to make it cost them dearly," he looked utterly lost, allowing the touch without even seeming to notice it, "And now... what am I to do?"
"You're coming with us," the blond mage stated, his tone matter-of-fact, "you have a choice, Orsino. You'll either join the Ferelden Circle, and submit to Greagoir's ruling on the incident, or..."
"Or you'll kill me yourself?" Orsino's voice was drenched in bitterness, and his gaze was empty and hopeless. Tannusen could barely believe that this was the same man he'd been studying with only hours before his encounter with the Magister Danarius. But at the same time, he'd seen some of this then as well, hadn't he? The sucking despair, the waning hope, the certainty that everything was spiraling out of control...
"Or," he didn't voice these thoughts, and instead said patiently, "I'll be conscripting you into the Wardens. To be honest, your chances are bad either way... Greagoir lives and breathes his duty, although he at least doesn't perform the Rite on Harrowed mages. He'll probably execute you, or send you to the Aeonar. But the Joining will probably kill you, too. We don't normally put anyone through it once their hair has gone grey," Tannu was still carding his fingers through said grey hair, "and even youngsters have a coin's toss for odds."
"How long do I have to decide?" Orsino asked quietly, lowering his eyes.
"Until we reach the Ferelden Circle," Tannusen replied gently, "but we need your help in the meantime. I need your help, Orsino. My power has been sealed by blood magic," which was true, if not the whole story, "and we're going to need a working mage for our travels."
"I..." Orsino looked back up again, brow slightly furrowed. Tannu didn't look away. "I will aide you, Warden-Commander."
But it wasn't enough, and Tannusen knew it. "If you want to help your people," he murmured softly, "you need to do this. You need to tell the Ferelden Circle what happened here, in your own words, whether you do so as their charge or as mine."
That, if nothing else, seemed to sink in past the despair. Purpose, a way to make sure that Meredith's word wasn't the only story to reach the other Circles out there... Tannusen stared at him for a little while longer, then nodded to himself and took his hand back from Orsino's hair. The older mage wouldn't kill himself just yet, at least.
One crisis down. He glanced up, seeing that Zevran had been quietly packing their gear up for travel, and that Fenris had simply been staring in suspicion-laced, angry silence. He supposed he couldn't win them all, especially while he was still so wounded and drained. Keeping himself together was a feat all in itself, and he privately worried about the effects that latest blast of blood magic would have on his own mind later.
"...Now, if you can help me be capable of at least standing upright again," Tannusen said, turning his attention back onto Orsino, "The lot of us have a ship to catch."