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A Touch of Madness

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It took a full day and night before Fenris was alone with Surana once more. They rotated who stayed with whom, which was a relief -- Fenris didn't want to be stuck in the constant company of almost-bloodmage Orsino. Even if the man had been nothing but polite and meek in this journey, Fenris knew that a monster lay within. And if the pairings had been constant, he had no doubt that Zevran and Surana preferred each other's company over the other two.

Surana had monsters within, too, but they seemed to be of a different breed. More psychological than anything; with his magic stripped from him, he was something of a predator without teeth.

"I don't... hate all mages," Fenris offered, his arms folded, both of them peering out into the dark ocean from the deck. He saw Surana glance at him out of the corner of his eye. "I hate what you can become, I hate how easily power corrupts, but I know there are mages with good intentions and strong hearts. I only worry how long their intentions can stay good, in the face of unending temptation."

"It would be understandable if you did hate us," the Warden replied, "I've been known to sometimes, myself."

"Is that so?" It wasn't the direction he'd meant to take the conversation, but this was intriguing.

"If I'd been born without magic in me," Surana was back to staring at the ocean, which freed Fenris up to look over at him more directly. The sky was starting to brighten with the promise of sunrise, and the light was brutal on Surana's features. The mage looked... tired, and strangely old. He'd been a little less mad, this morning, but only a little. "I could have been anything."

"And the Blight would have swallowed Ferelden," Fenris pointed out, a bit harsher than he intended.

"No, Duncan would have sent a better Warden with Alistair to light that beacon at Ostagar," came the reply, "it was only me because I was there."

"Perhaps it is as you say," Fenris admitted, "I know quite little of the details of the Blight, not even being Fereldan myself."

"Don't feel bad," Surana's tone was wry, "most Fereldans don't know many details, either. What hasn't been enshrouded in politics and exaggerated ballads has been locked up as Grey Warden secrets. And a few things, even the Wardens don't know about."

"Such as?" It was perfectly natural to ask, though he doubted he'd be told.

Surana laughed, though the sound was small and hollow. "That would be telling," and the mood between them shifted, sobering up, "listen, what I did the other night--"

"I wished to speak of that as well," Fenris agreed, looking back out at the water. "I feel that I must apologize."

"You must apologize?" It didn't take looking at him to know that the Warden had been taken completely by surprise, "I'm the one who even went there, after you made it clear back in Kirkwall that you weren't interested."

"Interests... can change," the Tenvinter admitted, "but you were not in your right mind. My moment of weakness took advantage of your... condition."

Surana was silent for a long moment, long enough to dial the awkwardness of the situation way up, so that Fenris could feel the tips of his ears warming in the cold ocean air. And then the Warden laughed, much louder than before, although no warmer. "My madness, you mean?"

"You must admit that you are quite mad," Fenris cleared his throat, finding this talk far more awkward than he'd expected.

"Yes," Surana didn't hesitate to agree, "I am always quite mad, Fenris. Blood magic makes it worse, certainly, firing off all those old fragments of my training... and right now it's like I have this constant, low-level blood magic attached to me. But make no mistake, I have always been mad." Something about his tone made Fenris glance at him again, but Surana wasn't looking at him. He wasn't looking much of anywhere, really, his eyes hazed with memory, "Why do you think I claim to be such a terrible Warden despite my accomplishments?"

"I assumed it was merely an unhealthy albeit normal amount of self-doubt," the warrior admitted.

"No," the Warden sighed, "the more powerful I become, the more dangerous I become. I understand your concerns about mages, Fenris, because even if my heart is strong -- which it has never been -- and my intentions are good, all it takes is a single blood mage to turn me against everyone I want to protect."

"You mean Danarius?"

"No, any blood mage. It happened a few times during the Blight, even," Surana ignored Fenris' staring, if he was even aware of it, "before we killed him, my Master turned me against my companions, even Zevran, as easily as flipping a switch. Other blood mages who didn't even know that I was a thrall sometimes reached out during a fight and grabbed at the nearest target with their magic -- and found that I was all-too-defenseless against their influence."

"Powerful though you may be, I doubt you are such a liability in those instances," Fenris offered, "one need only kill the blood mage in question..."

Surana glanced over and met his eyes, and Fenris fell silent. The mage's expression was... odd, with a tiny little smile on his lips and nothing in his eyes. "You may not say the same if I'm ever forced to fight you, Fenris." But then the moment was over when Surana looked away, "This is part of why I avoid my duties, such as they are. The Wardens have no idea how bad of a liability I am, even though I've explained it to them before."

"You could have yourself made tranquil," the words were out of Fenris' mouth before he even had the chance to consider them.

"I would have been made tranquil right after the Blight," Surana was so matter-of-fact about it that Fenris doubted he was exaggerating. "I had it arranged and everything. But leaving Zevran behind before it's my time is the one sacrifice I will not make. Not for Ferelden, not for the Wardens, not even for myself. My corruption will hollow me out first."

A glance at Surana showed that he was staring very intensely out at the water, although Fenris didn't have all of the puzzle pieces to guess at what he was thinking. Before it was his time?

"...You're making Zevran take the weight of your corruption," Fenris said after the silence had stretched on for a while, "making him watch what you have strangers do to you, giving him that responsibility... it's cruel."

"I know," was all Surana said. No explanation, no defense.

"Perhaps he would be better off if you did--"

"Probably," Surana agreed before Fenris could even finish, let alone second-guess his own rather cruel words. "I doubt he'd ever forgive me, but he probably would be better off."

"You're not going to do something reckless, are you?" Suddenly, having this conversation by the railing of a ship at sea was a little worrisome. If Surana pitched himself over... Fenris was conflicted. On the one hand, it would be one less insanely powerful mage with apparently easily-grabbed puppet strings. On the other hand, Zevran would probably throw him off for allowing it to happen.

"...That," the Warden gave Fenris a lopsided, faint little smile, reminding Fenris that he was dealing with a madman, "would be telling. But don't worry, I think I have another decade or so left in me. Probably. But what is usually a very sporadic burden on Zevran is, I'm afraid, far more of an issue now with Danarius' hooks in me," Surana looked away again, contemplative, "And you're right to point it out. I'm going to have to take some precautions, I think."

"Is there..." oh, he was going to regret asking this, Fenris was certain of it, "any way I can assist?"

"Not without taking advantage of my conditioning, as you put it," Surana shot him a strange look, and turned to leave the railing, "if you do want to help despite that... talk to Zevran. It's time I put him back in charge of me."

"I think not," Fenris replied stiffly, keeping his gaze on the water. Surana paused, and Fenris could feel the madman's gaze on him.

"In this moment of clarity... I should say that it wasn't just my conditioning that had me clamoring to pleasure you, Fenris," the mage said with a kind of quiet calm that had Fenris glancing sidelong at him. Was this what the man normally sounded like, when he wasn't so far gone? "While it's true that an active thrall is blind to such things, you are quite handsome. And you have a voice to die for."

"You are quite the flatterer," the warrior didn't react beyond this simple response. He was rarely flustered by such things, even if he was sometimes perplexed by them.

"So I've been told," Surana gave him another lopsided little smile, and then left.