Chapter 1: Wherein parenthood is hard
Raising baby Malcolm is overwhelming and new parents Lisbet Hawke and Fenris are on edge.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein parenthood is hard
Dust flew, as feet bare and booted pounded across Skyhold’s training circle. Fenris’ onslaught was relentless, but the look on Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast’s face, as well as her stance, said she would not be moved. Fenris had seen Aveline look like that often enough. Nevertheless, Cassandra was a wondrously focused partner to spar with, efficient in her movements as in her words. He was in no mood today to train with the Iron Bull, or another of the Inquisition’s warriors, who would think it necessary to pepper the bout with their taunts and wit. Fenris wanted only the quiet and calm that came with a sword-dance trained to the point of instinct. Cassandra, like-minded, happily obliged.
He feinted left, then swept his greatsword around to bring it up on the right, but the Seeker’s shield was already there and she twisted fluidly out of the way. Though his intent was to spin back around to face her with an overhand swing, Fenris stumbled suddenly when the quiet of the bout was shattered by a panicked cry of “Malcolm!”
He righted himself and turned toward the voice, just in time to nearly trip over his infant son, crawling out into the ring (much faster, Fenris thought, than any child that small ought to be able), eyes alight as he scurried over to his father. Fenris barely had the presence of mind to sheathe his sword before Malcolm reached him, reaching up to cling to the elf’s ankles. Scowling, Fenris detached the child from his leg and hefted him up in his arms, where Malcolm cooed and made a grab for his tantalizingly pointy ear.
Lisbet Hawke was only steps behind their son, fear and fury struggling for control of her face. She was never one to yield to fear: fury won out. “Fenris!” she shouted, loud enough for the whole courtyard to hear, though they were near enough even for whispers now. “Have a care! You could’ve stepped on him!”
The mood that had been growing on him in recent days flared between them like the Seeker’s shield. “Yes, and what was he doing out here in the first place?” Fenris snarled in return. Hawke reached for the child; without thinking, Fenris pulled back, shifting the boy to his hip. “I thought you were watching him in the keep.”
“I was!” Hawke protested, crossing her arms since Malcolm was withheld from them.
“Then how did he --”
“We went to the tavern,” Hawke frowned, “looking for Varric. Something about a children’s book he wants to publish, if the draft goes over well with our convenient little test audience here.” Absently she flicked a stray leaf from Malcolm’s curly hair. “It was quite a sight, actually, Uncle Varric sitting cross-legged on the floor so Mal could climb up in his lap. So then he was reading this book to him and Malcolm was babbling at the pictures. Then Varric turned to ask me something and when we look back, the little scamp’s booking it out the tavern door and across the yard.”
“And you tell me I should be more careful?” Fenris frowned.
Hawke winced. “One second, Fenris! I look away for a second and he’s off to explore Skyhold! What do you want me to do, put up fences everywhere?”
“I…” Fenris glanced down, letting his forehead brush the child’s hair, prompting a chortle from the boy. “No. I just…”
A polite cough interrupted them and both looked up to see Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, quite possibly wringing her hands as she glanced between them in evident distress at being caught in the middle of such a quarrel. Fenris blinked. “I...apologize, Seeker. We shall have to continue our bout another day.”
She cast anxious glances at them both again before answering, “Of course. I would not...That is, if you and the Champion…” Cassandra backed away. “I should go. This is a private discussion.”
It would be, Fenris thought, were Hawke not so quick to shout and make a scene of it. But immediately he regretted the thought and turned to step out of the sparring ring, shifting Malcolm to his other side.
Hawke looked after him for a moment before following. She fell into step beside him as they walked up the stairs into the keep. Finally she dared to rest a hand lightly on his elbow, glancing at him with brows furrowed. ”What’s wrong, Fenris?”
“It is nothing, Hawke.”
“Of course it is. I know brooding when I see it, dear heart.”
“I do not --”
“Pretend that you do, then. If you were , hypothetically, brooding today, and come to think of it, perhaps not just today but for the past several weeks, just what might be the cause of this ill temper?”
He flashed her a quelling look as they passed through a door and into Skyhold’s little garden. Safe, Fenris thought, here is one place in Skyhold where this child might crawl a bit without falling down stairs or throwing himself into battle on his hands and knees. Even the well is safely covered. So long as he stays away from the plants with thorns.
Hawke, once again her usual patient self now that Malcolm’s immediate danger had passed, reflected Fenris’ silence, staying close to his side till they reached the gazebo. They arranged themselves there face to face, seated on the floor with Malcolm crawling between them, their arms and legs enough of a fence to hold him in for now.
Fenris was avoiding her eyes (but she was content to let that pass as it meant he was keeping his on the busy child). Finally the weight of her patient silence drew out his answer. “I do not know what to do, Hawke.”
She raised an eyebrow. “About…?”
The other eyebrow joined the first as her eyes widened. “Is there a decision concerning him I’m unaware of?”
“No, it’s nothing of that sort. I just...It was not so difficult when he was smaller. Protecting him; seeing to his basic needs -- keeping him warm, fed, safe and clean -- it was clear what to do. Now, everyday he grows bigger, faster, finds a dozen new ways to get himself killed , and I...I do not know how to keep up with this.”
Her lips thinned in the effort to hold back a smile even as she reached to hold their son back from crawling out under her bent knee. “He does seem well on his way to being the death of us both, I’ll grant you that.”
“If something should happen to him…” Fenris shook his head. “It is not just that, Hawke. I can keep him safe no matter how much of a challenge he makes it. But that is the work of a...a bodyguard.” He looked away. “I have been a bodyguard. But I have never been a father.”
“First time for everything?” she leaned forward to take his hand. Malcolm crawled over and reached up to pound on their joined hands with his tiny fist. Fenris smiled at that.
“I know there is more to this than protecting him,” Fenris went on. “But what do I know of...family? You can remember your mother, how she raised you, what she would have done when things go wrong.”
“As they inevitably do.”
He nodded. “But I have no memory of my father.”
“Even now?” she frowned. “I thought your memories...there were some things that have come back to you?”
“In flashes,” he said. “I remember my mother, a little. Varania -- I can recall her more clearly, now, the girl I once knew, ever since I saw her again.” He turns away. “But nothing of a father. I begin to think I never knew him, not even before.”
“And so you have no one to model your own parenting after,” Hawke nodded. “Look, Fenris,” she drew his attention to the child now attempting to somersault over the elf’s thigh and make his escape into the wilds of the garden. Fenris pulled him upright and set him on his lap. Hawke continued, “Does that look like a child who disapproves of your fathering?” Malcolm reached up, eyes drawn as ever to his father’s ears. “He adores you,” Hawke went on. “I mean, he clearly prefers you to Varric, at the least, taking off like that the second our eyes were off him, just to go see you .”
A smile tugged at the corners of Fenris’ mouth now as Malcolm, cooing, leaned in to his side. “I am not sure,” he murmured, “that I can be worthy of such attentions. For now, perhaps, but surely in time --”
“Serah Fenris?” a voice interrupted. They looked up to see a dwarf approaching the gazebo, dressed in the Inquisition uniform with her hair braided up around her head.
“Yes?” Fenris answered, appraising her as his arm around Malcolm tightened.
“Glad I found you, ser. Scout Harding,” the dwarf introduced herself. “His lordship wants to see you in the War Room.”
“Me?” Fenris exchanged a glance with Hawke.
“And the Champion’s welcome too, of course, but the Inquisitor did say to fetch you specifically, ser,” the dwarf nodded.
“Well, this should be interesting,” Hawke grinned.
Chapter 2: Wherein an expert is required
Venatori in Seheron are experimenting with lyrium tattoos; Thayer Trevelyan's advisors convene and send for Fenris.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein an expert is required
They stood gathered around the War Table, waiting, watching as Hawke entered, balancing Malcolm on her hip, with Fenris following a step behind. Thayer Trevelyan grinned and nodded to them. Beside him, Josephine smiiled and waggled her fingers at the baby. Commander Cullen looked up briefly from the map spread out on the table, on which the elven woman beside him was in the middle of pointing something out.
“Ah, here you are!” Thayer waved them over to the table. “Just in time. Something’s come up, and we could use your input, Fenris.”
“Mine?” he cast a skeptical eye at the map.
“Charter,” Thayer nodded to the elven woman. “Go over it again, will you?”
Nodding, the elf called Charter gestured again to the map. “The Venatori are up to something in Seheron.”
“Seheron?” Fenris frowned. “I’m told I was born there, but…”
“Were you?” Thayer rested a finger on his chin. “I don’t suppose...no, probably no connection.”
“Yet I presume there is some connection to me, or you would not have sent for me,” Fenris said.
Charter nodded, her eyes flicking between him and the map. “We’ve been in contact with a magister in Tevinter.” Fenris stiffened; Hawke’s free hand reached out to brush his fingertips. Charter, nodding as if she had expected his reaction, explained, “She’s a friend of the Inquisition, someone who’s stood against the Venatori in the Magisterium. It was Master Pavus that put us in touch with her, back when Corypheus was alive. She’s...what my department would call a reliable source.”
“You’ve dealt with plenty of pockets of Venatori resistance since the Inquisitor put an end to Corypheus,” Hawke pointed out. “What’s special about this one?”
“This group,” Charter said, “they’ve apparently been...experimenting. On elves, mostly, and there are unconfirmed reports of a few Qunari subjects. Magister Tilani has an agent in Seheron who sent her this description.” She bent her head to read from a well-creased bit of parchment. “‘I have seen many a man taken by the red corruption, Mae. This is different. They seem to have applied the red lyrium to the skin in patterns, all over the prisoners’ bodies, from fingertip to toetip as if to mimic the very skeletal structure itself. Nor is the red lyrium growing to overtake these people as we’ve seen it do with those who have simply ingested it; it seems, for now, to remain confined to these elaborate tattoos…’”
Fenris’ fists had slowly clenched as Charter read, but it was Hawke who finally gasped as all eyes turned to her husband. “Lyrium tattoos?” she squeaked, taking a firmer grasp of Fenris’ hand, slowly prying his fist open to twine her fingers with his. “But... red lyrium? Oh, Maker.”
“Maker, indeed,” said Cullen. “We’ve seen what red lyrium can do to people, but we’ve also seen what...skills those markings give you, Fenris. The implications, if the Venatori have managed to combine the two…” he shuddered, shook his head, dropped his gaze to Seheron again.
“Odds are,” said Thayer, “they’re planning something big. One of those branches of the cult that doesn’t believe Corypheus is truly dead, and just won’t give up.”
“After all the times they may have seen him returned to life, who could blame them?” Josephine asked.
Thayer shrugged. “Well, it sounds like they’re trying to create an army of elite warriors to bring him back. Or bring Tevinter back? Or maybe they’ve found a new Old God. You never know with Venatori.”
“Test subjects,” Fenris finally spoke. “These elves...Qunari. They suffer this ritual, and all for an experiment?”
Charter winced. “Presumably the Venatori mean to apply the markings to their own agents once they are sure of the process.”
“This is wrong,” Fenris growled.
“And extraordinarily bad news for us if they keep it up,” said Thayer gently. “Both of which are extremely good reasons why we must put a stop to it.”
“We can send troops to Seheron,” said Cullen, “but they won’t know what they’re up against. Few of us have trained against you, Fenris, and even so, you rarely use your markings in training.”
Fenris barked a bitter laugh. “Few of you would survive the training if I did.”
“Just so,” Cullen nodded. “We could ask you to brief the soldiers on what to expect. Tell them how the markings work, what the marked Venatori could do to them…”
“Assuming their skills are the same as Fenris’,” said Hawke.
“That is the best assumption we can make at the moment,” said Josephine. “At least, it is a starting point.”
“We need a closer look at these experiments,” Thayer decided. “We’ll send troops, yes, but we need a scouting team to learn more. I want to see these Venatori for myself. And Fenris, I’d like you to be a part of that team.”
“I…” Fenris caught Hawke’s eyes only briefly before he twisted away, stepping forward to trace a finger over the map of Seheron. His chin dropped, his eyes squeezed shut, and he finally answered, “I will go.”
“What?” Hawke burst out. “Then I’m going too.” Every eye turned to her -- except for Fenris, who simply sighed and remained bent over the War Table. Hawke returned the stares, meeting each gaze until one by one, the council shifted their eyes -- to Malcolm.
“Hawke,” Thayer began, “perhaps it’s not --”
“We stay together,” Hawke insisted.
“But you have a child to --” Josephine began.
“I -- yes, but -- Fenris and I…” Hawke trailed off, her throat seizing up as tears welled in her eyes.
“Inquisitor,” Fenris said, staring at the table, “may I have a moment to discuss this with Hawke? In private.”
Thayer cleared his throat. “Take all the time you need.”
Chapter 3: Wherein an agreement is reached
Amantium irae amoris integratio est.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein an agreement is reached
Josephine saw them to the door, offering to mind Malcolm while his parents talked. The baby went to her with minimal fussing, quickly forgotten when the ambassador suddenly produced a frilly doll, dressed in some replica of Orlesian finery, for Malcolm to chew on (or so he interpreted it, though Josephine’s strained look suggested that was not her intent).
Silence stretched between them as Hawke and Fenris stepped out into the hall. Hawke paced, opening her mouth half a dozen times to begin and then thinking better of it when every argument that came to mind threatened to bring her to tears as soon as she spoke. Fenris stood apart, arms crossed and head bent, brow furrowed with his own thoughts.
Finally Hawke stood still, her back to him, and sighed. “This is unfair --”
“I know, Hawke, but --”
“No,” she glanced over her shoulder at him. “I don’t mean that they want you to go. Well, maybe it is a bit unfair, asking it of you, but I understand why you’re needed. What I meant was, it’s awfully unfair of me to be upset at you for going away like this. You’ve better reason than I had for leaving you behind in Kirkwall the first time I came here. You’re braver than I am, too, taking time to discuss it when all I did was to leave you a note.” A bitter vein of sarcasm curled through her voice; she was pacing again, and Fenris turned to watch her in growing alarm. “So it’s only fair,” she spat, “if I take my turn now being the one left behind. I understand why you should be the one to go. I do, truly. And I know you can take care of yourself, and it’s not like you’ll be all alone. The Inquisitor and the rest of his team will back you up. You won’t -- You can’t -- You will be perfectly safe even if I’m not there to -- to…”
The tears would no longer be denied, and she launched herself at him, fisting her hands in his tunic and burying her face in his chest before the floodgates opened. “Damn it, Fenris,” she sobbed, muffled against him, “I just don’t want you gone!”
“Hawke,” he murmured, hesitating just a moment before gathering her in his arms.
“I could go too,” Hawke gasped between sobs. “I think I’m more familiar with your markings by now than anyone but you. I could be useful. I want to be useful.”
“And what of Malcolm?”
“We could bring him along,” she said quickly, pleading with herself as much as with him. “We brought him to Val Royeaux.”
“When we thought we were going to nothing more perilous than a wedding! Besides, then he was still small enough to carry everywhere. He’s nearly walking now. It is difficult enough to keep him safe at Skyhold, and you would drag him into battle again?” He pulled back. “Hawke, look at me. Look. This is not like Val Royeaux. These are no ordinary assassins. Even one warrior with markings like mine could do us grave injury, and we do not know how many of them we will face. I will not have Malcolm anywhere near this fight.”
“All right, then he’s as safe here without me as with me. There are plenty of people who could watch him. Josephine, maybe. He seems to be doing fine with her now. Or Carver and Merrill. He’d have the whole Daisy Patch watching out for him.”
“Hawke, this is no overnight journey. Seheron is weeks away, even by the fastest ship, and then how long will it take us to deal with this threat? By the time we returned, if we return, he’d be walking. Speaking full sentences. Outgrowing all his clothing. He’d...he’ll barely remember us, Hawke.” His voice broke at the end and Fenris pulled away from her grasp, stepping quickly over to the wall. “Would you take both his parents from him?” he spoke barely loud enough for her to hear.
“But you’ll miss all that if you go, no matter what I do!”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” he rounded on her in a fury.
“Then why do you want to go?” she shouted back. He turned back to the wall, hands closing into fists, without a word.
Silence fell again as Hawke’s sense caught up with her tongue. “Fenris,” she asked more gently, “do you even want to go?”
“Hawke,” he said, his voice raw, as she stepped nearer, laying her hand on his shoulder just where she knew there was a space between the markings, safe and free of pain. “I would not leave you for all the world. Especially not for Seheron. You know...what memories I have of that place. I would like nothing more than to stay here with you.”
She nodded. “But.”
“But...I do not want the Inquisitor to fail in Seheron. This is...a terrible thing, and a great threat. If I can be of assistance…”
“They might manage just fine without you.”
“Yes. But I might be the advantage the Venatori do not know that we have. It is the right thing to do.”
Hawke sighed. “Clearly my sense of obligation to solve the world’s problems has infected you.”
“Perhaps so,” his lips twitched in a half-smile. “But Hawke, I will not decide this without you. If you wish me to stay, I shall. You have but to say the word.” He looked at her sidelong, almost hopefully. I am yours, she read in his eyes once again.
She could insist. Keep him here at her side, where he was happiest, where they were both happiest, where Malcolm needed his father to be.
But Hawke knew in that moment she would not abuse his devotion so. However much he hated to go, he would someday regret staying out of this mission. “I won’t ask that of you,” she whispered. “Go be our advantage, if you must. I…” she faltered, swallowed as she reached for his hands. “I’ll be fine. No, that’s a lie, I won’t be fine. I’ll miss you like the sun on my face, like water in the desert, like…” she sighed. “Like I missed you when I left, but all the worse now that I know how much I missed you then and I won’t be the one running into danger to distract me from missing you. But I’ll manage. I’ll tell our son stories of his father the hero so he won’t forget you before you come back. And I swear to the Maker himself, you will come back to us.” She fixed him with her most determined look, not to be gainsaid.
He smiled. “Then so it is sworn and so it shall be.”
“I’ll write to you every day.” She looked at him earnestly, almost a challenge.
A funny look flickered over his face, almost flushing, pinched. “I...shall look forward to that.”
“You’ll write back?”
“Of course. Perhaps not every day, but when we have ravens to carry the messages.”
“I’ll make Charter send out my letters every single day, and then you’ll have plenty of ravens.”
He laughed. “I will take time to reply when I can. If you do not hear from me every day, please do not assume we have been imprisoned in the Venatori stronghold.”
“Oh. Now that you’ve said it, that’s exactly what I’ll imagine, you know.”
“Hm. Then imagine that we are...infiltrating the stronghold under strictest silence?”
“That’s better. Maybe Varric will help me make up stories about your heroics there to tell Malcolm when the letters...stop coming.” She looked away at the thought, but he drew her close, brushing a kiss over her forehead. Then together they returned to the War Room, hand in hand against the day that would take Fenris away from her.
Chapter 4: Wherein farewells and firsts are spoken
Hawke bids Fenris farewell as the Inquisition's expedition to Seheron sets out.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein farewells and firsts are spoken
That day approached sooner than either of them would have wished. Within the week, ravens had gone back and forth between Skyhold and the magister’s agent in Seheron to make arrangements, bags had been packed, and a ship had been secured to take the Inquisitor’s advance party as well as a detachment of soldiers to back them up once the scouting was done.
The morning of departure dawned in silence. Waking earlier than usual, Hawke lay still, first in darkness and then as the pale sunlight slowly slanted into the room, watching Fenris sleep, watching him slowly come awake, tracing with her eyes every line of lyrium, so detestable and so beloved, as if she had not long since memorized them all. She stored up the sight of him in the depth of her heart until at last his lashes fluttered and eyes flicked open to complete the image with that smoldering green gaze that still set her heart alight after all these years.
Even if, this morning, it was not so much smoldering as bleary and just a bit dazed. Hawke supposed she was to blame for that, after her brilliant plan to have Malcolm stay with his Uncle Carver overnight so she and Fenris could have the chamber to themselves for their last night together before months of separation. “Morning, handsome,” Hawke whispered, brushing back tousled hair from his forehead to plant a kiss there. At first his only answer was a grunt, and Hawke wondered if she should have let him get more sleep before setting out on such a journey, but then with a sudden rush of breath into his lungs he was awake, and drawing her into a kiss that tasted of desperation.
“Hawke,” he whispered when they pulled apart, brows furrowed as he studied her now as intently as she had just been watching him.
“Tell me,” Hawke said, “it isn’t morning yet. Tell me that’s just the moons shining especially bright tonight, and we have hours yet before…” She swallowed, tangling her fingers deeper into his hair.
Fenris glanced toward the window, appraising the slanting light with a frown. “Hours I cannot promise, Lisbet,” he answered after a pause, reaching out to trace a finger along her cheek, “but the morning is yet young. One hour, I think, no one will begrudge us.”
“One hour. Let’s make the most of it, then,” Hawke said, rolling over to straddle him even as he smiled and reached up for her. “An hour to remember until we’re together again -- however long it takes.”
Somewhat more than an hour later, they stood at Skyhold’s gates as scouts and soldiers loaded gear into the carts that would carry it to the waiting ship. Merrill and Carver had come to see them off, with little Malcolm flailing in glee from atop his uncle’s broad shoulders, babbling enthusiastically in the secret language of infants. “Ow!” Carver grunted when tiny fists caught at his hair once too often, but he grinned as he lifted the boy down.
“My big boy!” Hawke enthused as Carver held him out to her. “How did your first sleepover go? Were you good for Uncle?” She started to reach for the baby, but Fenris halted her with a hand on her arm.
She glanced up to see his cheeks tightening with emotion, and she stepped back, nudging him forward. “Go on, then, darling. I’ll have plenty of time to hold him after…” She swallowed, nudged him again.
Fenris took the boy from Carver and balanced him on his hip, laying a kiss atop his curly head and then gazing down on him as if to fix this too in his memory. “Be a good boy, Malcolm,” he finally said. “Look after your mother.”
“Yes, do,” Hawke teased. “It’d be nice if he started doing his fair share of the looking after, instead of me always chasing after him.” Malcolm babbled some clearly heartfelt response to her words and she reached around Fenris to muss his hair.
“I wonder what he’s trying to say,” Merrill mused.
“Telling you off, Liz, no doubt,” Carver grinned.
“Something he learned from his uncle, I presume,” Hawke retorted, but her smile was fond and Carver only rolled his eyes at her teasing.
“But if Malcolm is to look after Hawke,” Merrill asked suddenly, eyes wide as she looked around at them, “who will look after Fenris?”
“That’ll be me, Daisy,” answered Varric, slinging Bianca over his shoulder as he stepped up to the group.
“Varric?” Hawke asked. “I didn’t know you were going.”
“Yeah, well, you’ve been a little...distracted, Hawke,” the dwarf grinned, looking between her and Fenris in a way that made Hawke flush and run a hand through her hastily combed hair. “Thing is, it turns out this Venatori stronghold is a place I’ve...had business in, before.”
“You’ve been to Tevinter, Varric?” Merrill asked. “You never told me that!”
“It wasn’t that long ago, Daisy. After...you know. Kirkwall. Rivaini and I did a favor for the King of Ferelden.”
“Seheron, too. Apparently we cleared one crazy Tevinter cult out of that fortress just to make room for another, if the Venatori are using it now. Look, I’ll tell you all about it sometime when we get back. If this trip doesn’t make for the better story, that is.”
Merrill frowned at the dwarf, hands on hips. “You can tell me both, Varric!”
“We’ll see. Anyway, don’t you worry about this elf of yours, Hawke. I’ll keep an eye out for any brooding.”
“And what will you do if you spot it, dwarf?” Fenris quirked an eyebrow. “Tell stories till it goes away?”
“Oh, you never know. If it’s really good brooding, I might use it in a story.”
“Just so long as you make sure he writes to me often, Varric,” Hawke admonished.
Fenris looked over at her with an odd sort of grimace. “That...reminds me, Hawke. I wanted to…” He shifted Malcolm on his hip, trying to reach one-handed for a pouch at his belt, and then finally thought better of that and held the boy out to her. “Here, if you’ll hold him a moment…”
Hawke reached for Malcolm, but the boy tightened his grip on his father, his constant baby-talk babbling suddenly resolving into a loud and clear “Da!” as he clung to Fenris.
Everyone stared. Merrill’s hand fluttered to her mouth in a delighted “Oh!” as Carver said, “That one made sense,” and Varric chuckled, and Fenris stood agape, blinking at the boy in his arms, until Hawke laughed lightly and reached for Malcolm again, brushing a kiss to his cheek as she said, “Yes, my dumpling, that is your Da. And I’ll give you back to him in just a second, so don’t fret.” Malcolm went to her at last, still mumbling “Da, Da, Da…” thoughtfully as they both watched Fenris pull a packet from his belt pouch, an array of papers, yellowed with age, tied up with a string.
“This is…I meant to...” Fenris began, stumbling over words as he turned the packet over in his hands with eyes downcast. “When you were gone. To Skyhold. I wrote to you, but...I never sent the letters.”
Hawke sucked in a breath, holding it for a heartbeat before slowly asking, “You kept them?”
“I was angry at first, Hawke. No, not just at first. Most of the time. And I was confined to bed for much of that time, recovering from my wound, so I took to writing these. But I couldn’t bring myself to send them. Perhaps I was merely sulking, because I had only the note you left behind. I suppose it was petty of me to stop short of sending these, for so little cause.” His eyes flicked up to her, hesitating. “They are not always...sweet. But nor are they always angry. But I missed you, and…” He held out the packet and looked up. “Perhaps, when you are most angry with me for being gone, these will be a comfort.”
“Oh.” She blinked back the tears that had been so near to springing these past few days, and nodded, at a loss for words, and handed Malcolm back to him as she accepted the letters.
“Do not read them all at once,” he cautioned her. “I will write when I can. But when I...cannot, you will have these.”
Then Commander Cullen’s voice boomed across the courtyard, marching his soldiers into position to move out, and Thayer Trevelyan turned from where he had been bidding Josephine farewell and waved to them. It was time to go. Hawke flung her arms around Fenris and Malcolm together, pressing the letters to his back in her embrace, and she kissed them both goodbye once and then again, holding back tears as long as she could.
“Daaaaa,” Malcolm cooed once more as Lisbet stepped back with the child in her arms and Fenris not.
“Don’t worry, my dove,” she murmured into the boy’s hair. “Your Da will be back as soon as he can.”
Chapter 5: Wherein the ship sails
En route to Seheron, letters are exchanged.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein the ship sails
A sea voyage to Seheron meant many days without a chance for Hawke’s letters to reach Fenris, as Skyhold’s ravens were not trained for offshore deliveries, yet still somehow she had managed to have one already waiting for him at Jader when the Inquisition party boarded their ship there. Fenris allowed himself a smile as he stood on deck hours later, reading her words over yet again while shielding the well-creased paper from the salt spray with his back to the railing.
Fenris, my brave hero,
Here’s hoping this reaches the harbor before you, or it may seem a very strange slice out of time when you collect it on your way back to Skyhold. But I don’t like to think about how far off that return voyage may be, so just don’t you dare reach Jader before this raven!
I miss you so much already. How did I ever do this to myself (to us both!) before? Why did I force such a separation upon us when there was no need? I find myself looking up expecting to see your scowl whenever I do something especially foolish (not that I am doing anything foolish at all with you gone, please don’t worry), or that little smile you try in vain to hide when you don’t want to admit my joke was funny. I’m trying hard to be especially humorous right now, just to imagine the smiles I might coax from you if you were here.
Malcolm misses you too. He has expressed his disapproval of this separation by crawling under the bed and refusing to be removed from it. Until Merrill crawled under there with him and began tickling him. He did it again hours later only to peek out from under there with this impish grin like he was just waiting for her to find him. But then at dinner he cried when you were not there to make stern faces at him till he eats his mashed turnips. My sternest face is just not up to the task; faced with his tears I am hard-pressed to hold back my own. I am sure we both will never look upon turnips the same henceforth.
Be well, my heart. We are thinking of you every moment. I am
prayingconfident that you’ll deal quickly and victoriously with these Venatori and hurry back to us. And that seasickness will not trouble you on the voyage to Seheron. Just in case, I’m enclosing something to help if the boat’s too fishy-smelling. I know how you hate the smell of fish. Smell this and think of me, not fish.
Wishing I were there or you were here,
“You wrote her back, I hope?” Varric leaned against the railing at Fenris’ elbow, determined to keep his promise to Hawke regarding her husband’s correspondence.
“Of course,” Fenris replied, running a thumb over the linen sachet Hawke had sent with her letter. The scent of violets lingered in the paper as well as in the sachet itself. Finally he tucked the letter back into his belt pouch, the sachet into Hawke’s red ribbon on his wrist.
“Is that...violets?” Varric’s nose crinkled as he caught the scent.
“Better than fish,” Fenris explained gruffly, crossing his arms and leaning on the railing, closing his eyes as the sea breezes stirred his hair and drew just a hint of violets from the ribbon to his nose.
“Ha! Better hope it holds out, then. I foresee all too many fish in our future.”
“You’re not helping.”
Varric sighed and pushed himself away from the railing. “Suit yourself. I’ll just leave you to your brooding, then.” When the elf failed to immediately retort that he was not brooding, Varric looked back over his shoulder and smiled to see the faraway look on Fenris’ face as he gazed back towards the mainland.
Meanwhile, far, far inland, Hawke shifted slightly before her arm could go to sleep under the soundly snoozing child on her lap, and read over the reply the raven had brought.
No matter how strongly the smell of fish should assail my nostrils, I would be thinking only of you.
Nevertheless, the violets do help and I thank you deeply.
It is a relief knowing that you are safe with Malcolm. That...is somewhat of a surprise, if you can believe it, that this should be a relief to me. I would sooner have you with me, even in danger, knowing that you are a most capable woman when faced with perils, and I am accustomed to facing them at your side. The dwarf and the Inquisitor are good men and trustworthy comrades, but there is an emptiness here where you belong. And yet I am glad to think of you safe and far from peril, this time. Perhaps I understand now why you went to Skyhold alone. I am sorry I was so angry then. Please, when you read those old letters, bear that in mind. And please, I ask again, don’t read them all at once. We depart as soon as this letter is sent, and I cannot write again for many days. We are safe and well for now. Please continue to think of us as such.
Hawke set the brief note aside on a table with a sigh and picked up the other packet of letters. Naturally, she had already read through the whole stack, all in one sitting, though she had tried at first to pace herself and save some for later. In the end, she had reasoned that it was better to devour them all at once, bingeing upon all their sadness and longing and rage and blame, and to let the weight of all that tear her up until she simply sat over them and had a good cry, while Malcolm clung to her knee anxiously repeating “Da, Da, Da?” which only made her cry the more.
It was a purging sort of cry, though, and now that it was over, she could savor the letters again, one at a time, feeling the weight of Fenris’ long-ago anger at her absence less keenly now, through the veil of time passed. She had wept for the sum of his sorrows in all these letters, for how she had hurt him by leaving without saying goodbye. Now she could stoically suffer the pinpricks of his hurt in each letter individually, without it overshadowing the sweeter things he had written. He had missed her as she missed him now. He had, in his fear for what was to become of her without him, recorded the more endearing parts of his feelings for her too. No absence could erase that he had once written, Hawke, I bought apples today. I thought of sending some to Skyhold for you, but I suppose they have apples there already. I’m saving you some though. Come home soon. Apples don’t keep forever, you know. She smiled and wondered briefly if there were apples in Seheron, and how she would go about sending him some if there were not. Charter had been picky enough about the violet sachet, making Hawke empty half the dried petals from it before she declared it light enough to enclose with the letter sent to Jader. Obviously apples would be beyond the capacity of ravens to carry.
She could, at least, write of apples. And of whatever else might make him smile when the raven reached him. It was days yet till their ship would reach port in Seheron, but Hawke balanced the sleeping child on one knee so she could lean over the small table with her free hand and begin writing today’s letter.
Sometime later, after a voyage so uneventful that Fenris was relieved to lose count of the days, the Inquisition arrived at Seheron. Varric, when not irascible with seasickness, had plied them with tales of his last voyage to Seheron and of the Qunari who nearly sank Isabela’s ship, took them all prisoner, and then finally entered into an alliance with them when their unlikely passenger, King Alistair, somehow talked the Arishok (who naturally turned out to be an old friend of his) into it. Fenris assumed that, as usual for Varric, the tale was half invention, but he was relieved nonetheless when they saw no sign of Qunari dreadnoughts along the way.
Avoiding the coastal cities of Seheron and Alam, with their occupying forces both of Qunari and Imperial soldiers, they anchored in a cove off the Boeric Ocean. Harding and her team of scouts took the first rowboats over to shore, soon sending up a series of signal flares.
“All’s well,” reported Thayer, watching the first signal. “They’ve encountered no opposition and are establishing camp.”
A few minutes later, a second pattern of lights rose into the air from the arcane device Dagna had sent with the scouts for this purpose. “And now?” Fenris asked, glancing at the Inquisitor, who was smiling as he read the signals.
“Our contact has found them and awaits us in the camp. Looks like we’re up next, gentlemen.” Thayer waved to the sailors now returning the rowboats to the ship, and within minutes Fenris and Varric found themselves in one small boat with the Inquisitor, approaching the shore of Seheron.
Chapter 6: Wherein Metis meets the Inquisition
Seheron is not a very safe place for the Inquisitor and friends, but they do find one friend waiting for them.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein Metis meets the Inquisition
Scout Harding waited to help them out of the rowboat when it reached land. Fenris was last out of the boat, glancing around at the scouts carrying supplies from the shore up a sandy path to the clearing, just visible through the tall trees, where they were setting up camp. Absently pondering how long it would be before Skyhold’s ravens knew where to find them again, he looked around suddenly to see Thayer shaking hands with a man not in Inquisition armor but robes of green and brown, an echo of the jungle beyond the beach. An elf. Nearly a head shorter than Fenris himself, who was tall for his kind, the man’s greying red hair was tied back neatly, his green eyes looking oddly distorted behind a pair of thick-glass spectacles. The staff at his back gave Fenris pause. A mage? But an elf. Not a magister, most likely. Can we trust him?
“I’m Metis,” the man was introducing himself with a ready smile. “Welcome to Seheron, Inquisitor.”
“Call me Thayer,” said the Inquisitor, turning to his companions. “And this is Varric Tethras.”
“Master Tethras!” Metis beamed. “Even in Tevinter we know of you. I’ve yet to acquire a copy of your Tale of the Champion, but your crime serial has been quite popular at the Circle of Minrathous in recent years.”
“Yet another conversation I’ll need to have with my publisher, I see,” Varric sighed.
Fenris caught up to them then, but before Thayer could make his introduction, Metis’ eyes widened and his hand moved toward his staff. “Kaffas,” he murmured under his breath before addressing the other elf with eyes narrowed. “Where did you -- What are you -- Maker have mercy, you’re not one of the red ones, though, are you?”
“Steady, Metis,” Thayer cautioned, one hand extended. “This is Fenris, also of the Inquisition.”
Understanding dawned in the man’s eyes as he held Fenris’ gaze for a moment longer, then glanced over the markings visible on his arms and throat. “He is...safe?” Metis asked the Inquisitor.
Varric chuckled at Fenris’ glower, answering for them, “Depends on how much you annoy him, but he’s no Venatori.”
Thayer frowned at the dwarf and interposed, “Fenris is an ally.”
“Then I must apologize,” Metis said finally, no longer hesitating to offer his hand to Fenris, “and beg your forgiveness. Please understand, I’ve seen markings like yours all too often in recent months, and had to defend myself a time or two.”
Fenris accepted the man’s hand warily. “I...understand. Think nothing of it. I imagine, too, that if the Venatori markings are at all similar to mine, and you have survived your encounters with them, your skills in combat are to be respected.”
Metis laughed with delight. “You’re far more fair-spoken than they, to be sure!” He glanced round at the others and then beckoned them to follow up the path to the camp. “The Venatori use red lyrium in their experiments; because, I presume, they have a readier supply of it. They have ways of growing the stuff, whereas since they lost Corypheus they have not had support enough in the Senate to gain access to normal lyrium, not with all the mages in the Imperium competing for their shares. But it seems to be a side effect of the blighted red that it...drives the subjects mad.” He looked at Fenris with brows drawn in apology. “If I survived my encounters with some of them, it is probably only because they retained too little of their right mind to use their markings to best advantage. And I have come to expect the ravings of madmen when I see the red tattoos. It’s nice to see that you seem quite sane, for a change.”
Behind them, Varric chuckled and mumbled something under his breath about broody elves and their dubious sanity. Fenris scowled over his shoulder at the dwarf as Metis continued, “This is a wonder, though, to see the markings done in pure lyrium! I was unaware any such warriors existed.”
“I was told that it...is rare,” Fenris reluctantly answered. “As the...mage who gave me these markings was not known for his truthfulness in other respects, I had begun to wonder if the ritual was a creation of his, and I alone had been cursed with them.”
“Ah, I see. Perhaps this mage is working with the Venatori?”
“He is long since dead,” Fenris said shortly.
“Oh.” Metis fell silent in thought a moment when Fenris, stonefaced, refused to elaborate. “I suppose, then, the Venatori could have come upon his research notes at some point after his death. Hm. Or, more likely, since your mind seems to have withstood the process, the Venatori are trying to recreate experiments that he had already gone through, if indeed he created this ritual.”
“Any idea how many Venatori we’re dealing with?” Thayer asked. “Or who’s in charge? Charter might be able to shed some light on their past.”
“I fear not,” Metis shook his head. “I’ve had difficulty getting a closer look at the fortress on my own. If the Venatori have not yet produced marked warriors to satisfy their purposes, it is not for lack of trying. The unfortunate victims of their experiments are cast out to patrol a sort of no man’s land in the wilds surrounding Ath Velanis. They are like animals now, cut off from reason, prone to attack on sight. I was lucky to escape from the ones I encountered, but it left me no nearer to even seeing what exactly the Venatori are up to, let alone putting a stop to it.”
“Which is why Maevaris asked for our help,” Thayer nodded.
“Just so.” Metis gestured around at the clearing. “This is as safe a spot for your camp as can be found in Seheron nowadays, but once we move toward the fortress, perils abound.”
“Besides the nature of the jungle itself? Seheron is a land long at war, Inquisitor. The Qunari claim it as their own, yet they view it still as kabethari, a land in need of conquering. Avoiding their main forces at the port of Seheron will be simple enough, but their warriors patrol the whole island and anyone we meet could be one of the Ben-Hassrath. Meanwhile the Tevinters keep trying to take the land back, some of the natives are content with the Qun while others rebel against Qunari and Tevinter both, and let us not forget the Fog Warriors.”
“In short,” Thayer grinned, “everyone here would as happily kill us as each other.”
Metis adjusted his spectacles with a wry smile. “It would seem so.”
“Can we just redirect them to go on killing each other and ignoring us, then?” Varric proposed. “I’m good with that.”
“There’s still the jungle,” Fenris reminded the dwarf, who grimaced in response.
“Just how far from Ath Velanis are we, Metis?” asked Thayer.
Metis gestured to a path leading westward into the jungle. “Several days, on foot. Perhaps a week at most if we can move unhindered.”
“And on foot is our only option?” Varric asked, looking longingly back to the rowboats.
“Beasts of burden won’t make it through,” Metis said. “And sailing into the fortress’ docks would be perhaps too direct.”
Thayer nodded. “Our troops can sail in after we’ve had a chance to investigate, but I don’t want to alert the Venatori to our presence too soon.”
“I’ve been briefing your Head Scout on what I know of the fortress and the rest of the island,” Metis added. “But my knowledge is not the most timely. The Qunari patrols have likely moved on since I saw them last.”
“We’ll send our scouts on ahead, then,” Thayer said. “And the four of us can head out in the morning.”
Not half an hour later, having tucked his gear into one of the tents and claimed a corner of the camp to begin writing a note to Hawke, Fenris suddenly realized the sounds of the jungle around them had gone still. Raising his eyes from the letter, he met Metis’ gaze across the camp for just a second before Metis turned to peer into the jungle. The older elf had noticed it too, then.
“Varric,” Fenris murmured to the dwarf, who sat across from him, also writing, probably notes for yet another of his impossible tales. “Something is wrong.”
“We’re stranded in the outdoors on a jungle island inhabited solely by people who’d like to bury us in it. What could possibly go wrong?” Varric drawled, but when he saw Fenris reaching for his greatsword, he sighed and shouldered Bianca.
Meanwhile, Metis had alerted Thayer and Scout Harding, and between them the camp was soon roused. “It’s not been that long since we sent out the scouting parties,” Harding was saying, notching an arrow to her bow as Fenris and Varric joined them at the jungle’s edge. “Normally I wouldn’t worry if we hadn’t heard from them yet, but…”
“It’s too quiet,” Metis said plainly. “Something has the jungle’s attention.”
Thayer glanced at the elf and then back to the jungle, twisting slightly to take in the full arc of the tree line surrounding their camp like the curve of Qunari horns. “Yes, but our attention --”
His reply was cut short with the sudden soft, wet thwack of impact and they all stared in a split second of shock at the short spear that had buried itself in the Inquisitor’s shoulder, out of nowhere it seemed, staggering him to his knees looking nothing so much as confused.
Then, “Qunari!” Metis hissed, and they turned to defend themselves, as more of the sleek, deadly shafts flew from the trees, missing their marks mostly now that they knew to evade them; mostly, but not entirely, as cries of pain from the scouts around them demonstrated.
Metis’ staff was in motion, weaving a barrier around first the Inquisitor, then Fenris and Varric and the scouts nearest to them. Somewhere in the quiet at the back of his mind Fenris remarked on how inexplicably comforting that was, having a mage fighting on his side, after years of learning to rely on such things from Hawke. He gave little thought to it in the present, though, willing the lyrium in his skin to flare to life as he charged toward the trees, where even now the Qunari themselves were following their missiles into the clearing. All around him (sometimes slightly too near him, and then he was especially grateful for Metis’ barriers) flew Bianca’s bolts and the scouts’ arrows, pricking at the ox-men, hindering them, but on the front lines Fenris fought alone, without Thayer’s daggers to appear suddenly in a Qunari’s back when they were needed most.
Keep to the clearing, he reminded himself, where the Inquisition archers could see their targets, but the Qunari with their spears kept just out of his reach, taunting, luring, and gradually he found himself under the cover of the trees, battle behind him and enemies all around him. Then he called to his lyrium again, till it threatened to be the whole of him, till he was little more than a ghost blurring between the foes. A sweep of his greatsword here, and two Qunari fell, split open from side to side; a slash of his fist there, and another Qunari fell heartless to the jungle floor.
But they were many and he had advanced too far from the archers. One moment he was standing, turning away from a foe whose blood he still shook from his gauntlet; the next he was tumbling, winded, battered aside by the sweep of the giant maul wielded by the Qunari who had come up on his other side.
Fenris gasped for breath, coughing, tasting blood in his mouth, and groped for his greatsword, cast aside in his fall. To his left, the enormous Qunari advanced, maul poised to swing again --
And even as Fenris awkwardly rolled out of the enemy’s path, there was a sound like the wind through the branches and a muffled Qunlat curse. He clambered to his feet and looked back to see the giant Qunari entwined in the branches of the tree nearest him, a sylvan embrace slowly squeezing the life from him as he struggled. Then Metis ran up, following his spell with another, and the Qunari froze, not as ice but as stone, petrified for a moment before a twirl of the mage’s staff set the tree’s branches to squeezing again, and between one breath and the next Fenris saw the petrified Qunari suddenly shatter into little more than gravel.
Still winded, Fenris finally found his greatsword and looked around to see that they were alone now, two elves surrounded by the remains of many a Qunari. “The camp?” he asked when he could finally catch his breath.
“Danger averted, for now.”
“He will live. I saw him throw a dagger or two at the Qunari rushing Master Tethras, even with that spear in him. And I have some skill at healing.”
“In which case, we should head back so that you can put it to use.” Fenris sighed as the last of the lyrium-light faded from his markings. “Thank you. Your spell, with the maul-wielder. That was...timely.”
Metis was watching him very intently. “I am honored to be of assistance. The way you fight…” His eyes darted from one eviscerated Qunari to the next as the elves turned to walk back to the clearing. “I have never seen anything like it.”
Fenris frowned. “Yet you are our expert on these markings.”
“No, my friend,” Metis smiled, “clearly that title is yours.”
“I cannot explain them,” Fenris cautioned as they walked slowly out from under the trees. “I only know what they allow me to do. Am I to understand that the warriors marked with red lyrium do not fight in the same way?”
“Those that I have encountered had little of your skill,” Metis shrugged. “But they, I presume, are the failed experiments. The red lyrium drives them mad; if it gives them your abilities, likely they do not even know it. Not that they are unskilled, mind you. You will see soon enough what they can do. But they have, or at least make use of, only a fraction of your power.”
“How long, then, before the Venatori perfect their ritual? Before they produce warriors who know what they can do?”
“That,” Metis nodded, “is what worries me.”
I will not ask you not to worry, though I will wish it. Know, at least, that we are all alive and unharmed. Be assured of that, and of our intention to remain so, whatever this journey brings.
We have reached Seheron and established a camp in what we are told is one of the safer areas. Regardless, a Qunari patrol found us here within hours of our arrival. Thayer was wounded, but Maevaris Tilani’s agent here, a mage by the name of Metis, has managed to heal him adequately enough. Two of the scouts did not survive the attack. Only one of the Qunari did, and he is being interrogated now. I write quickly as I expect I may be called upon to lend my own skills to this interrogation before long, for all the good it will do. He is Qunari.
Three scouting parties went out as soon as we had made camp here; of them, only one has returned, the other two assumed to have fallen to the Qunari en route to attack us, thus our lack of warning. We have sent out new scouts with greater caution to determine our route through the jungle. Thayer is eager to leave soon, before new patrols of Qunari come to replace the one we eliminated, but Metis argues against his traveling so soon after healing. I suspect the Inquisitor will charm him into agreeing soon enough, however, so I must end this letter and prepare to depart.
I have changed my mind. I will, after all, ask you not to worry. We are well, my Hawke. There is danger here but we are capable against it. Please do not worry. Let me think of you safe, smiling, scolding Malcolm while you try not to laugh at whatever trouble he is getting into now. I wish I could see it.
3/14/16: Thanks to broodywolf on tumblr for the world's first Metis art! :-D You can see him now at: http://broodywolf.tumblr.com/post/141004885001/another-giveaway-prize-metis-for-rannadylin-if
Chapter 7: Wherein the forest is welcoming
The trek through the jungle begins; meanwhile, interesting developments are occurring at Skyhold...
So....it's been a while! A busy week or two at work, mostly. Having next week off for Thanksgiving break hopefully means a few more updates with not quite so long between them, though. Here's one!
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein the forest is welcoming
“Of course I’m not worried,” Hawke grumbled to herself as she read over the letter for the third time, heart pounding every time she saw the word Qunari, knowing how many dead enemies, how many horned giants wanting to kill her husband and her friends, were implied in the word.
“After all,” she sighed, “they’re the dead ones and you’re the one alive to write to me. This is as it should be, my wolf.” And he needed, oh how he would need it after such a battle, to think of her safe, smiling, scolding. It mattered little enough that Malcolm was in no need of scolding for the moment, giggling as he crawled between Merrill and his uncle Carver as they took it in turns to call to him from different corners of the garden. Malcolm was exuberantly delighted with this game, bursting into peals of laughter every time one of them disappeared from his path so that the other could call him from another side. Hawke smiled and set her worries aside, reaching for fresh parchment to write her reply.
My dear, beloved Fenris, alive and unharmed,
Would it help if I concentrate on my smaller worries? I have been somewhat worried about whether you were eating right on that long sea voyage, but if you had the strength to fight off a sudden Qunari attack I will take comfort in the likelihood that you have not fallen prone to scurvy.
You did pack plenty of bandages, I hope? And a change of clean clothes?
Oh Maker, I sound like the mother I am becoming. Perhaps I’m out of practice at being a fierce Champion. The worst thing I have to fight here is Malcolm’s tantrums when he does not like his dinner and his pitiful cries when nappies need changing and the odds that I will not get to sleep through the night until he is at least in his teens…
You know, I am smiling even as I write of such things. I don’t think I was ever really prepared to enjoy the battles of parenting so much, but Fenris, I do. Oh, I do. This child is ridiculous and impossible and so very ours. Merrill says he has my nose, and I suppose she may be right, but he still crinkles that nose just the way that you do when he’s upset and I think I love that best of all. (Carver accuses me of teasing the child relentlessly to wring that look from him, but he is his father’s son and really it does not take that much teasing. You may be happily thinking of me scolding Malcolm, but most of the time I think he is secretly scolding his mother. That look of infantile disapproval is so precious, I could just eat it up. I can hear you sighing all the way from Seheron now. I suppose Malcolm’s disapproving glares do not work on me any more than yours do, unless his intent actually is [as I assume yours often is] to draw kisses and giggles from me.)
Well, here are all my kisses and giggles for you, then. Kisses, at least. I cannot summon laughter when I think of you all attacked as soon as you set foot on the island. Just go on about your business there, then, and let me worry.
All my love,
The mage’s scrutiny was making Fenris itch.
They had been hiking west through the jungle for a day and a half now, following a route that the forward scouts had recommended as the least thick with hostile patrols. Fenris had dutifully tried to answer Metis’ questions the first day, while the man eagerly pressed him for information about his markings. This was, after all, the reason Fenris was here, in jungles that evoked his most wretched memories, rather than at Hawke’s side. If Metis was to be of any use to them in this endeavor, he needed information about the lyrium tattoos, and so Fenris tried to answer, to be of use himself. But the mage’s rather academic enthusiasm for the matter soon irked Fenris, reminding him too much of every magister who had ever looked at him as a curiosity, a successful experiment, rather than a person, from Danarius on down to the rivals he had used Fenris to intimidate. So after hours of Metis first peppering him with questions, then falling silent in thought until Fenris began to hope he had finished, then piping up again suddenly when a new line of inquiry occurred to him, Fenris finally snapped and shouted at him, something about minding his own business, then stormed off to march at the front of the group till he cooled down.
So now Metis was only watching him quietly and carefully, shrewd eyes on what was visible of his tattoos, forming whatever hypotheses he could from Fenris’ every move. Somehow this was even more annoying than the direct questions. Fenris kept his distance from the mage (and by extension, from the others, because Metis was generally a likeable person and Thayer and Varric took to him readily enough) until it felt awkward to return, even when he had admitted to himself that he needed to cooperate.
“Fasta vass,” he swore under his breath as he was collecting firewood just out of earshot of their small camp the second night. “I’m doing it again, Hawke.” Running away because of his discomfort, keeping his distance rather than face his own vulnerability. He had cursed that habit when it cost him three years of holding himself apart from Hawke, but even now he was falling back into the same defenses.
You’re stronger than that, my wolf, he imagined her saying. With a nudge. Possibly an actual shove back in Metis’ direction. Hawke had been patient with him those three years, but she was also stubborn. She would see through this tantrum of his all too quickly, now that she knew him like her own heart. Now that he knew her well enough to let her bring him to his senses. He sighed, hefted the stack of firewood to his shoulder, and headed back to camp.
Metis looked up with a wary narrowing of his eyes when Fenris came to sit beside him after passing the firewood on to Varric. “Here,” Fenris said without apology or preamble, peeling off his gauntlets and holding one lined arm out to the mage.
Metis blinked, looking between Fenris’ arm and somewhere that was not quite his eyes, opening his mouth twice and then closing it again with a grimace.
Fenris sighed, dropping his own gaze at the reminder that he was, after all, crafted to intimidate, and reached for Metis’ hand, guiding the mage’s fingers to his other arm. “You need to study me,” Fenris explained. “I will...not deny you that.”
Metis ran a finger tentatively over one white line, twitching back when he felt the faint thrum of the lyrium pulsing within like a vein of blood, yet with its own rhythm apart from the pulse of Fenris’ beating heart. He rubbed his own thumb and forefinger together for a moment before prodding cautiously at Fenris’ markings again. “You...mentioned yesterday,” he began hesitantly, “that they sometimes hurt. If this is…”
“It’s fine,” Fenris insisted shortly, concentrating very hard on not breaking into a scowl.
“I apologize, Fenris. My questions yesterday...Well, my teachers in Qarinus have called me ‘relentless in the pursuit of knowledge,’ but I forgot my place. You are not some dusty old tome for me to pore over through the night till I have wrung every drop of knowledge from you.” He chuckled awkwardly, sitting back to meet Fenris’ eyes. “I suppose the authors of those books would have been just as rightly furious if I had questioned them in person as relentlessly as I did you. Books cannot object when I subject them to such questioning. I may have forgotten that people are more complex.”
Despite himself, Fenris felt his mouth twitch with a smile. “Ask what you must, mage.”
“Oh, be careful, lad. Do not assume that just because I asked you everything under the sun yesterday I have not already come up with twice as many things I wish to know.”
“I expected no less.”
Varric snorted from across the fire. “He’s not kidding, elf. He’s been asking us questions the whole time you were out of camp, and looking like an ogre stepped on his spectacles when we couldn’t answer for you.”
“You mean he has questions you haven’t spent the last ten years pestering me with, dwarf?” Fenris smirked.
“Perhaps a few?” Metis pursed his lips, looking away. “I don’t wish to overwhelm you again.”
Fenris held very still until Metis leaned in to peer more closely at the lines of his arm. “I suppose,” he finally said, fingers twitching once when the mage’s prodding did tease a tingle from that line of lyrium, “it would not harm me to become accustomed to such relentless questioning. Hawke says that Malcolm is learning more words since we left. I imagine he will be full of questions by the time we return.”
“Maybe in a few years, elf. But if he isn’t, Hawke will be,” Varric chuckled.
“Hawke?” Metis asked, looking up from his examination of the lyrium lines. “Have I heard this name before?”
“You should read more of my books, Professor,” Varric said, rolling his eyes. “She’s only the Champion of Kirkwall.”
“And my wife,” Fenris explained softly but with a warmth unprecedented enough to raise Metis’ eyebrows.
“Ah,” said the mage. “And Malcolm would be your son?” Fenris nodded. “I recall,” Metis murmured, his grip on Fenris’ arm slackening, “when my daughter was at that questioning phase. How she found time to breathe, I never knew.” He chuckled and shook his head.
“Didn’t realize you had a daughter,” Varric commented when Fenris failed to follow up on that detail himself. Fenris was surprised the dwarf had not yet pulled out his little book to make notes of all this; the wheels turning in his head were practically visible behind the glint of his eyes.
“I had,” Metis said with a lightness that seemed forced. “That was...a very long time ago.”
Before Varric could press him further, the Inquisitor stepped out of the forest’s shadows. “I hate to douse this lovely fire when you’ve just got it going, Varric,” Thayer said, striding toward their packs piled at the base of a tree, “but it looks like we’re due for a little stroll under the stars.”
Varric groaned. “Can’t even see the stars under these trees, Inquisitor.”
“All the better. Less light to see us by.”
Fenris joined Varric in putting out the fire and gathering what equipment wasn’t still in the packs. “Trouble ahead?” he asked with a glance over his shoulder to see Thayer shrugging his own pack on and loosening his daggers in their sheathes.
“Signs of a Qunari patrol,” Thayer answered as the others shouldered their packs and quickly fell into step behind him. “They might or might not be heading this way, but if we move now we can steer clear of them.”
“Just remember,” Varric sighed, “we’ve got to sleep sometime. In an actual tent, maybe. Or better yet, something roofed.”
They spent that night under a roof after all. It came about thus:
Starlight was sparse under the trees, but after they had marched along as silently as possible for several miles, till they were well past the patrol, they began to take note of a growing green light around them. Magic? A clearing large enough for starlight or moonlight to filter through the leaves? They looked around and realized as Thayer raised his hand suddenly: the Anchor, shining visibly even through his glove.
“I presume there is some significance to it glowing like that?” Metis squinted in the rising light.
“It’s always glowing,” Thayer pointed out, tightening his gloves and drawing his daggers as he turned in a slow circle. “It just flares up like this when I’m near rift activity. Ah - this direction, I think.” And he strode silently off in that direction.
Metis glanced at the others as they followed. “Rift activity? Meaning…”
“Demons incoming,” Varric said, lifting Bianca. “Probably.”
The glow increased as they followed Thayer following his own hand toward the rift that had called to the Anchor. There were sounds, too: an almost electric crackling, soon followed by the hiss and roar and bellow of the demons drawn through that rift.
They found it, the epicenter, near the outskirts of a ring of huts around what appeared to be some sort of Chantry: a village, silent as death but for the demons’ screams.
“Abandoned?” Varric guessed as they crept closer.
Thayer stumbled, then grimaced as he took a closer look at the path. “Ugh. Not entirely, I fear,” he said, gesturing with his hand’s light toward the corpse of what might once have been an elf.
Then the demons were upon them, drawn by the voices or by the Anchor’s glow, and every thought for several long, dark minutes was given over to battle. Fenris felt one of Metis’ barriers sliding over his skin even as he charged towards the largest of the demons; out of the corners of his eyes, he saw Thayer emerging from shadows to strike nowhere expected, as Bianca’s bolts flew at their foes against the backlight of fire from Metis’ staff illuminating first one corner of the battlefield then another.
It was the sort of fight they were all too used to, and Fenris was barely even winded when the last of the demons crumpled and Thayer raised his hand to seal the rift.
And then, in the magelight softly shining from Metis’ raised staff, they looked around them to see faces, not of more demons or corpses but of living elves, emerging hushed and wide-eyed from the Chantry and a few of the huts farthest from where the rift had been.
One stepped ahead of the others, approaching Thayer with a look of disbelief. “They’re...gone?” the elf finally asked, looking around as if dazed.
“Won’t be coming back, either,” Thayer dazzled him with a smile. “Not through that rift, at least.”
“You closed it.”
“It’s a talent. Inquisitor Thayer Trevelyan, at your service.” He swept a slight bow.
The elf nodded. “We have heard tales. But a hole in the sky, here?” He shook his head, glancing sadly around what remained of the village. “The tales were of far away.”
“So am I,” Thayer shrugged.
“Then we are glad you have come here!” the elf smiled at last. “More glad you than the sky-hole, certainly.”
Then the villagers gathered in around them, staring, murmuring, a few brave souls stepping forward to touch the visitors’ hands in some gesture of greeting or thanks. Fenris bristled, but the welcoming ended as suddenly as it had begun when the elf who had spoken first, apparently some sort of leader to the villagers, shepherded them away from the crowd and into one of the huts, where, exhausted from the night march ending in battle, they were asleep before anyone even thought of setting watches.
Hawke sat on the stairs leading down to the Undercroft and frowned at the letter in her hands. One of Fenris’ old letters -- it had been days since the ravens had brought fresh news of him from Seheron. Worried, regardless of his views on her worrying, she had been reading the old letters again for scraps of comfort.
This one was less than comforting as she looked down into the Undercroft, watching Dagna and Merrill in animated conversation.
I do not trust the blood mage, Fenris had, to no one’s surprise, written. (It did not help, Hawke conceded, that she had left Merrill in charge of tending his wound that had kept him bedridden when she set out for Skyhold the first time.) The letter continued: What good ever came of her meddling with that accursed mirror anyway? Now you want her meddling with me?
“Perhaps,” Hawke murmured, “more good than we knew, back then.” Keeping half an eye on the scene in the Undercroft, she propped clean parchment against her knee and began to write.
Interesting things are happening at Skyhold.
(I’m sure interesting things are happening in Seheron too. I really wish I could read of them. I know, oh light of my life, you’ll write when you can. Knowing that does not make me any less worried, because if you’re not writing because you can’t, well then--
Oh, it doesn’t do to dwell on that! Just...write soon, my wolf.)
Skyhold. As I was saying. Do you remember the Inquisition’s Arcanist, Dagna? That smiling dwarf who always freaks you out with her enthusiasm for everything under the sun and especially the things that probably shouldn’t be meddled with?
And you remember Emmen, that boy we rescued from Red Templars in the Hinterlands? One of Merrill’s new clan? Of course you do; he rode my horse home to Skyhold so the mages could try to cure the red lyrium he’d been planted with.
Well, Dagna thinks she’s on to a solution to the Emmen problem. (She calls it that, Fenris. She actually calls it that. I could cry. Merrill did, at least twice, when Dagna approached her.)
Because Merrill is apparently the solution. Somehow (I swear I had nothing to do with it; and Malcolm’s vocabulary is still only a handful of words) Dagna found out about Merrill’s mirror. She made connections; or leapt to conclusions, if you wish. Supposedly what Merrill did to cleanse that mirror of corruption, even if she never did manage to get the thing working like she wanted it to -- Dagna thinks the cleansing part could be applied to Emmen’s red lyrium.
They’re about to start...whatever it is they’re doing. I’m keeping a close eye on it. No one’s turning into an abomination on my watch, especially not Merrill. I don’t think actual blood magic is involved in this procedure, but we’ll be cautious.
And I’ll keep you posted. Those poor people you’ve gone to Seheron to save from the Venatori experiments? If Emmen can be cured, maybe they…
Well, I’ll let you know how it goes.
Worrying and not just about you,
Chapter 8: Wherein Hawke’s worries are not ill-founded
Fenris knows when things are fishy; saarebas are deadly; the jungle is a big place but Harding has lots of scouts looking for our heroes! Also Metis is kind of new to this combat thing.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein Hawke’s worries are not ill-founded
It wasn’t the village leader that woke them the next morning. An elf with short brown hair and grey eyes that never quite met any of theirs brought them a breakfast of thin flat cakes wrapped around some sort of gruel and chunks of fish, at which Fenris made faces, picking fish out of the gruel in search of anything that hadn’t absorbed its flavor, and finally giving up and scraping the whole concoction onto the plate to eat the wrap alone.
The boy watched in silence as they ate, standing in the doorway and glancing from one of them to the next as if worried they would bolt for it and mow him down. When they had finished and rose to gather their things, he finally spoke up. “I’m Kynix,” he said. “I’m to take you safe through the jungle.”
Thayer glanced around at his companions. “That’s kind of you,” he said slowly, “but I think we --”
Kynix shook his head vehemently. “Please. You must come with me. At least till you are a safe distance from the village. We are grateful you closed the hole in the sky, yes, but you can’t stay here. Tevinters leave us alone mostly, but if they found you here...”
“Overstayed our welcome, is that it?” Thayer cocked his head and quirked a smile. “All right, then. We don’t wish to put you at risk. But you still needn’t come with us. We’ll just be on our way and…”
“Wander into Vint raiders?” the boy raised his chin in challenge, his voice breaking. “They took my brothers last year. Don’t even know if they made it safe through the slave markets or died at sea. You want to get through the jungle safe, you follow me.”
Metis nudged Thayer and gently confirmed, “It is actually raiding season, Inquisitor.”
Thayer fixed Kynix with a hard stare for a long moment before bursting out, “By Andraste, what sort of land is this that arranges such things in seasons? Oh, very well. Show us this route of yours.”
“I knew he was trouble,” Fenris grumbled, hours later and deep in the jungle, as they drew their weapons, standing back to back surrounded by at least a dozen Qunari while Kynix disappeared into the trees. “Fish. Pfaugh.”
“Fish, as a sign of betrayal?” Thayer laughed in surprise. “By that logic, all of Seheron’s probably out to get us.”
“Likely enough, by any logic.”
“Well, by my logic, Kynix’s little heartbreaking tale about his brothers was a scam of the first rate. Wouldn’t you say so, Varric?”
“Actually,” Metis interrupted, “it was probably true. A grudge against Tevinter would explain why he was working for the Qunari.”
“Not uncommon,” Fenris confirmed. “There are Qunari agents throughout Seheron. Anyone we meet could --”
“Right. Fine. We’ll watch out for people offering us fish in future.” He frowned and shifted a dagger, crouching at the ready as the Qunari slowly closed in, one of the larger ones raising a hand to halt the rest when they were within spearing -- or speaking -- distance. “Do you suppose,” Thayer mused, “it would help if they knew we’re not Tevinters?”
“Doubtful,” Fenris glanced at the Inquisitor, “but the attempt can be made.” He straightened, lowering his greatsword to shout across the clearing at the apparent Qunari leader. “Shanedan! Anaan esaam Qun.”
The Qunari leader looked the slightest bit surprised at hearing his language from the elf for only a moment before responding in kind. Thayer and the others shifted and exchanged glances as the parley stretched on, until finally Fenris turned to Thayer to say, “They wish to know if you are the Inquisitor.”
“Well, obviously --” Thayer gestured with his Anchor hand.
“The Inquisitor whom they blame for the loss of a dreadnought off the Storm Coast some time ago.”
Thayer frowned in thought. “Dreadnought? What the -- oh. That.” He shrugged, keeping an eye on the Qunari leader. “It was the dreadnought or the Bull’s Chargers. The Inquisition offered reparations, but the Qunari made it clear that their interest in an alliance was at an end.”
The Qunari shouted something more, at which Fenris snorted and interpreted: “It appears they have no wish to reopen negotiations at this time. They do, however, aim to take us alive.”
“Is that so?” Thayer grinned. “How heart-warming. I wonder why. Let’s not find out, shall we?” A volley of Qunari spears flew in to punctuate his words, and the Inquisition team answered with the zip of Bianca’s bolts and the crackle of lightning called down from Metis’ staff, with the flare of lyrium tattoos and the sweep of Fenris’ greatsword, with the hail of sudden cuts from Thayer’s daggers when he appeared as if from nowhere behind the warrior bearing down on Varric.
This was a dance the others knew all too well, Metis thought as he called to roots and branches to entangle, lightning to spark, fire to kindle along the Inquisitor’s daggers or in the leaves beneath a Qunari’s feet. The mage himself had often enough had cause to defend himself with his magic, as was inevitable when one had the privilege of magic in Tevinter, but seldom on the scale his companions had reached in their first few days in Seheron. Metis was finding them fine companions, but for all the Inquisitor’s optimistic charm and the dwarf’s compassionate wit, they were fatally efficient in battle. And the elf. Every time battle found them, Metis was astonished anew at the gulf between Fenris’ lyrium-imposed abilities, honed in years of such combat, and the berserker-like madness of the red-engraved warriors whom he had thus far encountered in the wastelands of Ath Velanis. This, Metis reminded himself, this is what the Venatori hope to create, as he watched Fenris, with a flare of lyrium light, stop one Qunari’s heart and eviscerate the next with gestures that from anyone else would have been merely a shove.
They played to one another’s strengths, too, these three so oddly matched: Fenris held the enemies’ attention with his violent and glowing onrush, till at some point the balance of the lyrium was tipped and the elf almost seemed to vanish from their sight, ghosting about the battlefield even as Thayer emerged from his shadows to catch them off guard when they were looking around to see where Fenris had gone. Meanwhile Varric had found cover behind a fallen tree and kept the bolts raining down in all directions, including three shots fast on each other’s heels into the chest-throat-head of a Qunari that Metis turned to see rushing up behind himself. He flashed Varric a grateful smile and reinforced his flagging barriers around them both.
And he was a scholar, not a warrior, but Maker if there wasn’t a giddy joy flooding him as yet another Qunari writhed to the ground with Metis’ thorns squeezing at his legs; as the sudden rush of his fire, kindled at another enemy advancing upon him, stole the very breath from that horned warrior’s lungs; as Fenris ghosted suddenly in behind him to take the head of a third, so bloody and determined and intense when he briefly nodded to Metis in passing that the mage felt the most illogical urge to burst out laughing.
Three days, and they had certainly improved as a team; but of course the others already were one, Metis knew, so perhaps it was just that with repetition of this dance he was seeing their efficiency more. Or that he was starting to find his own place in it. Nevertheless, this was quicker, easier than the battle that first day had been, ambushed by Qunari in their own supposedly safe camp. Though he was fairly sure there had been more Qunari ambushing them that time, and besides, they’d had a little more time to ready themselves for this one while Fenris chatted with the Qunari leader; but even so, it seemed --
“Venhedis,” he swore at the sound of a battle horn echoing through the trees. It seemed the dozen or so that Kynix had stumbled them into hadn’t been patrolling all alone. “Reinforcements incoming!” Metis shouted over the cries of battle and the roar of his own fires.
They came from the -- well, he’d lost his sense of direction in the midst of scurrying about the clearing to evade any Qunari taking too great an interest in him, not to mention that clearing was really too generous a word for a spot under the trees where one could at least see one’s enemies between one tree and the next but could still not see the sky. North, for his best guess. Hopefully not west, because they still needed to head that way. North could be given a wide berth. Except that north seemed to be nearly upon them anyway.
The last of Kynix’s Qunari friends fell just as the first of the reinforcements’ spears flew past the trees into their midst. Metis and the others ducked behind cover -- Varric’s fallen tree, many a fallen corpse -- till the volley lifted. Then they had just a moment to exchange glances, take stock -- each of them still breathing, good; nasty scratch on the dwarf’s biceps and blood seeping between Fenris’ fingers where he pressed his hand to his side, not so good; Metis shot quick tendrils of healing energy both their ways in haste -- before the enemies were within sight.
Very not so good. Metis caught his breath when he saw their numbers, easily twice the dozen that had surrounded them at first. And they had…
“Saarebas,” Fenris growled when he saw it, the giant enshrouded in the visor and chains.
“We are in such deep shit,” Varric agreed.
“Qunari mages,” Metis told Thayer, since the other two at least seemed aware of them, “are the greatest weapon they have. They know no magic but destruction. And they are very, very destructive. If that one can control the battlefield, we could be undone in seconds. They are hardly more than killing machines.”
Thayer nodded. “Of course,” he smirked over his shoulder at the others, “arguably, so are we. All right then, the saarebas is our first target. I’m going in close; Fenris, keep the rest off me. Metis, Varric -- oh, to the Void with it, you all know your jobs.” He nodded again and darted into the shadows of the trees even as Metis lit barriers around the four of them and Fenris charged into the thick of things, his tattoos flaring to life again.
And then it was chaos, in comparison to which the first round of this battle had been a leisurely and routine thing, allowing Metis time for reflection, which, in hindsight, was a remarkable luxury. Every thought now was for a root to tangle there and fire to singe the enemy rearing up behind him here and ducking that blow only to bring his staff around and parry this one…
It was brutal and it was fast and there was no pause. He was too old for this and he had never felt so alive but Maker, it would be nice to catch his breath at some point. The barrier flickered and he went to cast it again but first there was a sword much closer than it should be and he was bleeding suddenly even as he twisted away, even as the roots squeezed at his foe and the fire sprang up all along them. And then he was on fire, somehow, his own? the saarebas? he could not even tell, but he rolled into the leaves and the damp of the jungle floor to put the flames out and still he had not found a second to spare in casting the barrier up again. Groaning, crouching in the leaves, pulling himself up again so he could spin his staff, weave the next spell (a barrier? a blast of fire scattering the three bearing down on him now? Oh, to cast both at once…) when there was a light, bright in his eyes -- behind his eyes? -- not ruddy as fire, no, nor blue of lyrium, only -- white and --
Cut off suddenly, from chaos to quiet, knowing no more.
When he woke again, disoriented and confused and frankly a little surprised to wake at all, there were a great many people moving around.
None of them seemed to be Qunari. At least not the horned-giants kind.
Metis groaned and tried to roll to his side. A throaty chuckle made his ears perk up. The wrong side though -- he rolled over again, the other way now, and found Varric sitting beside him, oiling that contraption he called a crossbow.
“So, Professor. You’re still with us,” the dwarf greeted him.
“It would seem so,” Metis allowed, wincing at the pain in his head when he tried to sit up. He took it as a sign that he wasn’t meant to try so soon, and lay back down, turning his head to keep an eye on his companion. “And...the others? Everyone all right?”
Varric nodded. “You got the worst of it, I think. Saw that Qunari mage fling a rock at you that knocked you out cold, just before Thayer got in behind him and slit his throat.”
Metis winced. “Er...how did he…?”
“Past the fancy cage they wear?” Varric asked. Metis nodded faintly. “Oh, his worshipfulness has his ways. Don’t expect me to go spilling his secrets; I’ve still got a book on the Inquisitor Trevelyan Story planned and secrets sell books, you know.”
Metis blinked in acknowledgement and laid his head back again. “Was anyone else hurt?” he finally asked.
“Nothing serious, other than that bump on your head. Oh, and the stitches in your arm. Sorry we didn’t just heal that with magic; our healer was unavailable.”
Barely sparing a smile for Varric’s teasing, Metis found the alleged stitches, more neatly done than he was expecting, and carefully prodded at the wound with healing magic. “You took a cut to the arm yourself, as I recall.”
“Also stitched. Don’t worry; it’ll make a decent scar.”
“And Fenris? A side wound…”
“Bandaged; he’ll live. He’s always been quick to heal. Brooding enhances his immune system, I guess. Or it’s the lyrium.”
“Doubtless.” Metis glanced around. “I don’t seem to recall,” he mused, “quite so many people traveling with us.”
“Forward scouts,” Varric chuckled, gesturing around at the soldiers in Inquisition armor who, it became clear when Metis managed to focus on them longer than a second, were at work setting up a camp. “Harding’s had groups following us to establish perimeter camps after we blaze the trail. Makes getting back to the main camp a little easier later on. Plus, they brought ravens. Thayer and Fenris are over there now,” he waved in a direction Metis couldn’t really look at the moment anyway, “catching up on all the news their ladies have been sending from Skyhold, I assume. Or maybe something more official from Charter.”
“So we’re safe for now,” Metis sighed. “The rest of the Qunari?”
“Let’s just say Harding’s scouts have damned good timing. That war horn that signaled the Qunari reinforcements? Apparently our reinforcements came running too.”
“None too happy with us,” commented Fenris, striding up from Metis’ other side, marginally slower than the mage was used to seeing him, bandages just visible between the latches of his tunic, “for being so far off the course Harding had plotted for us.”
“Hey now, Thayer explained about the rift.”
“And the...fishy Qunari spy?” Metis managed a grin.
“Of course!” Varric laughed.
“Nevertheless,” said Fenris, lips thinned with a suppressed smile, “they had been trying to locate us all this day. Perhaps without the battle we would have gone on missing each other in this jungle.”
“I for one would have been fine with also missing the Qunari,” Varric shrugged.
“It is done,” Fenris waved a hand, consigning to a footnote in history what had arguably been the most exhilarating and doubly most tiring day of Metis’ life. Then he raised the other hand, bearing a crumpled parchment. “Besides, Hawke wrote. The scouts brought ravens. They’ve got messages flying back and forth now between us and the main camp.” He smirked. “She’d accumulated quite a backlog while we were away from camp. I’m not sure there aren’t ravens still on their way to us.”
“All’s well?” Varric asked, all trace of jest evaporating.
Fenris nodded. “Safe and sound. Metis?” He held out the letter. “Something she wrote in the last letter. I thought...you should know about this.”
Metis nodded, carefully pulling himself up to a sitting position and blinking against the fireworks going off behind his eyes till he could focus on Hawke’s neat and narrow script. Adjusting his spectacles, he felt the ghost of a smile form at Hawke’s endearments, her entreaties to Fenris to write, her worries at why he couldn’t...and then he read what she had written of Dagna, Merrill, mirrors, and red lyrium corruption.
“Emmen?” he asked finally as he looked up from the end of the letter.
“A boy in Merrill’s...er, clan,” Fenris said.
“The one who got infected with red lyrium?” Varric remembered.
“Planted with it,” Fenris frowned. “We fought red templars who threatened the refugees Merrill had gathered,” he explained to Metis. “Emmen had located red lyrium growing in a cave nearby. They followed him to the source and then somehow planted it in him. When we found him he was nearly unconscious, with bits of it growing out if him, twining along his limbs like…” Involuntarily his eyes fell on his own tattoos. “Well, Thayer brought him back to Skyhold. The mages there managed to stop its growth but could not wholly separate him from the infection. Dagna…” His face twisted at the attempt to explain Dagna.
“She’s from Orzammar,” Varric assisted. “Studied magic at some of the Circles before war broke out. Of course she can’t do magic, but you’d hardly know the difference between what a mage does and what she can make. Enchantments, runes...she studied red lyrium while we were fighting Corypheus, so the Inquisitor put her in charge of curing the kid. Or at least studying him.”
“And Merrill?” Metis asked, rereading the letter.
“A blood mage,” Fenris said curtly and crossed his arms.
“Soon to be his sister-in-law blood mage, if the rumors are true,” Varric teased in wheedling tones. At Fenris’ glare, he shrugged. “What? Daisy’s as nice a person as can be, elf. Sometimes I think that’s why you don’t like her, as much as the blood magic.”
Fenris huffed, but finally unfolded his arms and admitted, “She is...not as reckless as she once was. Nor, I suppose, as annoying.”
“Aw, she’s grown on you.”
“She is kind to Malcolm,” Fenris shrugged. “But she is, or at least was once, a blood mage, Metis. She bargained with a demon to learn a way to cleanse a shattered eluvian of the Blight that had corrupted it.”
With each word, Metis’ eyes grew rounder. “You’re saying she actually succeeded? In cleansing something of the Blight?”
“So it seemed.” Fenris nodded at the letter as Metis reread it once more. “Hawke -- Dagna seems to think it significant. What Merrill did.”
Varric coughed. “The Blight. It’s...I’ve got a...friend, who’s done some research in the thaig where we found that red lyrium idol, all those years ago. Recent conclusions? It’s the Blight. Red lyrium is lyrium that’s got the Blight.”
Metis frowned thoughtfully, tracing an absent-minded pattern over the edge of the parchment with his thumb. “It’s fairly new in Tevinter, you know. Red lyrium. I understand the Inquisition did much to keep it from spreading this far north, but I suppose it couldn’t be delayed forever. But a colleague and I, at the Circle of Minrathous, had a chance to run tests on a sample of it. Our conclusions...were tending to the same end as yours.”
“Any chance of bringing this colleague of yours in to help?” Varric ran a thumb over his chin, eyes narrowing.
Metis laughed, a huff of irony. “Possibly, but news is scarce out of Weisshaupt these days.”
“Weisshaupt?” Fenris looked up.
“My friend became a magister. He ran afoul of certain rivals, and being, as he was, one of the few magisters in Tevinter not to embrace blood magic, he ran very afoul of them. In the end, to keep his life he had to yield it up to a Grey Warden recruiter. Ironic, isn’t it? After all our research into red lyrium and the Blight, Caius is now better acquainted with it than anyone outside the Order can be. Last I heard of him he was at Weisshaupt. But word can be sent.” Metis shrugged. “Every resource is precious, is it not? What I know, what Mae knows, what Caius knows, what your Merrill and Dagna know.” He shook his head, then smiled and shook the letter at Fenris. “As for you, oh Wolf, have you written back to this Hawke of yours yet?”
“I was about to,” Fenris admitted, slow smile spreading.
“On with you then,” Metis admonished. “The lady has worried enough. Send her my regards, hm?”
“Write to her yourself,” Fenris countered, eyes rolling to the branches overhead as he walked away. “Maybe she’ll take your word for it, as healer, that I am not in fact dead.”
Yes, we are well. You can tell Malcolm, if you are still spinning this story for him, that we have twice fought Qunari and once demons (there was a rift, even here) and we are still alive.
I will leave it to Varric, or your own most excellent imagination, to fill in the details. I trust either will make it sufficiently exciting for Malcolm and for his [alleged aunt] Merrill.
I hope all is going well with Merrill’s and Dagna’s work on Emmen. The mage here confirms that red lyrium is connected to the Blight, so perhaps Merrill really can be of use. I wish her luck (you may even tell her so) but I truly hope blood magic will not be required in the process (absolutely tell her I said so)!
Tell me, Hawke, when we were at Weisshaupt, do you recall a Warden called Caius? He is a mage, a friend of Metis’ who last he heard was at that fortress. Together they studied red lyrium and the Blight, before Caius became a Warden -- which cannot have been so long ago, so I do not think this Warden would have followed the Calling yet, but I cannot recall anyone by that name at Weisshaupt when we were there. You surely made more people’s acquaintance than I, however. Metis will try to contact him, but if you recognize the name perhaps you could write to him as well, for whatever advice he can give in the matter of Emmen. Anything but blood magic, which Metis says his friend never practiced.
Metis sends you his regards, by the way. I wonder what you would make of him. There are worse mages we could be obliged to work with, no doubt. He seems honorable enough, and if he is damned inquisitive, at least it is with cause and not mere curiosity. Still, I would be happier not to be the subject of anyone’s research. I suppose Emmen may feel the same way, if he is conscious enough to think on it at this point. Metis is certainly capable in a fight -- Merrill would no doubt be intrigued by what he can do with roots and branches, and he’s a decent healer -- but I do miss the heady chill of you freezing everything in sight, and the scattering of light when my blows shatter your ice statues. And your far superior healing (I hesitate to mention it, lest you worry, but I did take some blows in this last fight; think nothing of it, Hawke, you know I heal fast, and really it troubles me very little already). Also your laugh. And your eyes. The way you narrow them when you do not believe what you are hearing, as I know you are narrowing them now when I assure you my wound is nothing like that other one, the one you left Merrill to tend.
I’m sorry. I was not going to write of that. You already have those letters.
Maker’s truth, Hawke, I just miss you. Everything. Seheron is a a death trap riddled with hostile Qunari and Tevinter raiders and treacherous fish-bearing natives and worst of all, there is no trace of you here. Not even a hawk in the sky or a violet amidst the tree roots to remind me of you.
In retrospect, though, I hardly need reminding, do I?
Be well, my love, my Hawke, ever on my mind,
Chapter 9: Wherein the weather interferes
It's a bad idea to wander around a jungle when you can't see where you're going.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein the weather interferes
Ordinarily Fenris would have chafed at any delay, preferring to move on through the jungle and get this mission over with. Yet as they set out the next morning, in good health and higher spirits than the previous few days had seen, he was the last to leave, casting one more hopeful glance back at the scout who handled the Inquisition’s ravens.
Varric caught him looking, of course. “No word back from Hawke, elf?” he guessed.
Fenris wrenched his gaze away and stiffly marched after the dwarf. “It is a long journey even for a raven,” he reasoned.
“Especially if she keeps writing every blighted day and weighing the poor birds down with a packet like the last one,” Varric grinned.
“I appreciated the packet,” Fenris countered.
“At least you haven’t made it hard for me to keep you writing back, like she asked. Looked like an extra long one you were writing last night.”
“There was much to recount,” Fenris shrugged.
“Oh, I can imagine,” the dwarf chuckled, raising his eyebrows.
“Don’t worry, I won’t press you for details this time. Wasn’t planning on a sequel to the Tale of the Champion. Actually I should be nagging His Inquisitorialness now; the raven that brought him Ruffles’ letters looked almost as laden as Hawke’s. And the sweet ambassador does have a way with words. Did I ever tell you about the time he challenged her fiance to a duel?” Ignoring Fenris’ longsuffering sigh, Varric continued, “See, that’s the sort of material a good biographer can work with. You and Hawke? I still don’t know who swept whom off their feet. She’s almost as tight as you are, elf.”
“Good.” Fenris suppressed the urge to smile at Varric’s invasive prattle. “I note that you managed to work with what little material we presented for that book, nonetheless.”
“What, puppy eyes and favors?” Varric gave the ever-present red ribbon on Fenris’ wrist a friendly nudge. “Nice, but you could’ve at least dueled someone.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t work Hawke’s duel with the Arishok into your telling of the romance.”
Varric was silent. Fenris turned after an awkward moment to see the dwarf wide-eyed, mouth gaping. “Varric?”
“Andraste’s flaming knickers,” the dwarf finally muttered. “I should have.”
The fog crept in while they were halted for lunch. For a while it was easily overlooked, filling in what little spaces there were between the distant trees. But by the time they had gathered the remnants back into their packs and risen to continue on their path, a white haze lay before them. The sun was still high in the sky, filtered now through the fog as well as the branches high overhead, but as they walked on, soon it was all they could do to see the next tree along the path. Soon even the forms of their own companions, as they marched single file along the narrow path, were reduced to eerie silhouettes.
“The question,” Thayer’s voice floated back through the mist from where he led them, “is, do we press on and look for this to clear up ahead? Or stay put and wait it out?”
“At least I can still see you,” Varric called from somewhere behind Fenris. “You sure you know where you’re going, Shiny? Won’t do us any good if we start wandering in circles.”
“According to this gadget of Dagna’s, we’re still moving westward,” Thayer called back. “Do these sort of mists usually pass quickly, I wonder? Metis, do you know anything of the weather here?”
No response. Fenris halted when he saw Thayer suddenly stop and -- if he was reading the silhouette rightly -- turn to look back at his followers. Varric halted in turn, throwing his hands up when he nearly plowed into the elf in front of him. “Whoa, we’re stopping?”
“I don’t see Metis back there,” Thayer said, the tone of his voice suggesting a frown that no one could see.
Varric turned. “He was right behind me. Professor!” he shouted.
“Damn it, Thayer, I don’t even see the trees back there,” Varric said, his voice rising in pitch as he stared into the mists.
Fenris turned slowly to inspect all directions, but the fog had continued to close in until, as the dwarf had said, even the nearest trees had been swallowed up in the white oblivion. Slowly he drew his sword, holding it at the ready as he turned in the direction he thought Thayer should be, saying “The elf may have betrayed us. Be wary.”
“More likely,” Thayer grumbled, “he fell behind and lost sight of us. I don’t like the thought of him wandering around in this.”
“And if we go wandering back in search of him, we will most likely miss each other in passing.”
“If we could even tell which way is back! I can barely see you there, Fenris, and you’re near enough to touch --” The Inquisitor’s marked hand, even its green glow barely visible, appeared suddenly through the fog, connecting awkwardly with Fenris’ shoulder armor. “Ah, see? Or not see, as the case clearly is.” Thayer’s chuckle was hardly reassuring.
“Varric,” Fenris asked, turning again in what he thought was the direction they had come from, “do you still have that spyglass of Isabela’s? Perhaps it would...Varric?”
Thayer’s hand on his shoulder tightened. “Maker preserve us, he was right there! Talking to us not a minute ago!”
“Inquisitor,” Fenris said, low and quiet, “perhaps you should draw your weapons. This is no ordinary fog, I think.”
“What then?” Thayer asked, the pressure of his hand on Fenris’ shoulder suddenly replaced by the chill of the fog against his skin. “Saarebas? Or some sort of mage, anyway?”
“Not magic either,” Fenris said, dropping to a fighting stance, darting cautious glances into the fog over one shoulder, then the other. “Fog Warriors. The mist is an alchemical trick; I never saw them use it, but I heard of it. When I was…” There was a shift in the silence, the eeriness of the jungle. Balancing the greatsword in one hand, Fenris reached out with the other in the direction Thayer should be, letting the lyrium tattoos slowly flare alight; even their glow did not pierce the unnatural fog. He could feel the lyrium active on his skin, but could not see even his own hand held out before him. “Thayer?” he shouted. “Inquisitor, say something!”
No response. Fenris growled and readied himself, circling where he stood with the greatsword poised to strike at phantoms, staring out into unchanging white.
He saw nothing, but he sensed the shift in the fog when they came for him. He twisted away from a presence over his right shoulder, saw the faintest eddies in the fog where someone darted back from the point of his sword -- or was it only the displacement of the fog through the space where he himself had just been standing? Far off he heard a bird’s call, but the warriors in the fog were silent. Then a hand grasped his arm and Fenris turned, raising the sword to defend himself --
But he recalled the last time he had been on Seheron. Looking down at the massacre of the Fog Warriors, his comrades, his saviors, free men and women who had done him no wrong. Looking up at his master’s confident smirk. He could not -- would not do that again. He hesitated. He froze.
Then a hand clasped a rag against his face, wet with the smell of --
He knew no more, falling limp into strong arms.
Come home immediately. Your son is driving me mad.
No, actually, you are probably better off in your jungle right now than in Skyhold. Malcolm’s caught a little head cold, that’s all, and is rightly miserable. Of course I’m easing his suffering a bit with magic (if he’s such a horrid grump now, I shudder to think how he’d be without a healer in the family), but it’s nothing life-threatening, just the sort of common bug that needs to run its course so he can build up some immunity to it. So he’s fussy and wretched and I’m not much less wretched with the headache I’ve developed, between spending my mana to make him breathe easier and listening to him wail as if it made no difference.
So I am letting him cry in his crib for a few minutes while I slip outside to write and distract myself from giving in and over-healing, leaving him still vulnerable to the same abominable bug the next time it makes the rounds.
Do you remember that first winter after the Chantry, when we were newly married and you took so sick with that horrid cough and fever? Maker, how I panicked, thinking I was going to lose you, trying to magick every last trace of infection out of you all at once. I am still so very sorry (and I confess, still laughing a little) at how dehydrated my over-healing left you then. And so frightfully thin . In hindsight it’s obvious: healing magic functions primarily by speeding up the body’s own natural healing processes, which means it draws on the patient’s own reserves as much as the healer’s mana. I can coax broken bones or torn flesh to knit back together in a high-speed parody of nature. But if I try to drain a body of the fluids that come with infection...well, I must take care not to drain far more than that! Now we know why Father never let me or Bethany try to cure the various colds and fevers that our family came down with. So lesson learned, thanks to your being my first common-cold patient; I am being very careful with the baby. And I think he hates me for it.
Oh, sod it all, he won’t stop crying and I give up. I suppose the least I can do is a sleep spell.
There. He’s sound asleep now and the room knows peace. Poor darling! His first bout with nasty dripping and coughing and all the rest. No doubt many such exciting and traumatizing illnesses await us.
But speaking of infection, please tell me you had your new mage friend take a good look at whatever wound you suffered in that last fight! The fact you mentioned it at all tells me it can’t have been inconsequential. Unlike the common cold, a wound like that is a perfectly reasonable thing for a mage to treat, and I don’t want it getting infected while you are wandering about in a jungle! Just imagine if it did get infected and you carried some disease back here for your son to suffer from it too! I promise the crying would keep you awake all night. Or, Andraste forbid, what if you took sick from an infected wound and died out there, without me to treat it as I have learned from trial and error to safely do?
Oh, Fenris, I miss you so much. I would gladly have you back here in any condition just to be done with worrying so. Also, you always were better than I at comforting this child when he cries. Lately I just want to cry along with him, which is very companionable but not really solving any problems.
A brighter note: Problems are being solved in the Undercroft, it seems. Merrill reports that Dagna has come up with a way to convert her mirror-cleansing ritual to something safe to use on living flesh. They’ve tested it with some success on Emmen’s left arm and have apparently managed to cleanse a portion of the red lyrium that had taken root there. I thought perhaps this would leave him with regular lyrium growing there -- how odd if he should end up with something like your own tattoos out of all this -- but Dagna says, no, something about your tattoos being symbiotic whereas the red lyrium is a parasite, it’s growing on him and not actually safely (I would challenge that word, but so she says) infused beneath the skin like yours, so as they cleanse the lyrium they have to also drain it away from his flesh because of course the raw, pure lyrium would drive him mad or something, which is why normally only dwarves can mine the stuff.
From what we hear of the warriors you’re investigating, perhaps the red lyrium does the same. I hope it’s not too late for the boy.
Well, now that it is quiet here, I’m going to take my cue from Malcolm and try to sleep till my spell wears off and he is miserable again. I hope you at least are sleeping well! Rest is very important when you are recovering from injury.
Your fond wife, missing you even more than sleep,
Chapter 10: Wherein things become clearer
Fenris' past catches up with him, in more ways than one, and the Inquisition gains a formidable ally.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein things become clearer
Voices. The smell of the jungle, decay and growth in harmony. Light pressing in at his eyelids, faint but persistent. The chatter of birds overhead, but muffled somehow. The smell of bread, fresh, his stomach responding with sudden urgency…
Fenris opened his eyes to see fabric overhead, a tent of drab grey cloth insufficient to keep out the morning light completely. He blinked once in confusion before the strange events of the day before -- was it only the day before? -- rushed to memory and he sat up, instantly alert and anxious.
He was not bound. Looking around, he saw a tray near the tent flap with the bread he had been smelling, and close to hand, his sword and armor. So he had slept through someone divesting him of his armor? As he reached toward the pile, a twinge in his side reminded him of the wound he had taken in the latest Qunari ambush, and he twisted to inspect the bandages. Fresh and clean -- someone had taken the time to change them while he slept. Quickly now he strapped the pieces of his armor back on, slid his sword into its place on his back, and considered the bread.
If he had guessed correctly at where he was, it was probably safe to eat. They had neither bound him nor killed him in the fog. It was not the first time he had awakened in a tent of this sort, mystified to find himself treated as an honored guest without knowing how he had come to be there.
Fog Warriors. He was sure of it now.
Then again, considering the state in which he had left the last such camp in which he was an honored guest...He left the bread behind and slipped out into the morning.
The fog had lifted, if any part of it had ever been natural in the first place. Grey tents formed a companionable ring around a fire circled with logs and stumps where a number of elves and a few humans now sat, eating breakfast and chatting amiably. Fenris noted their numbers, their weapons, sized them up as potential foes, scanning the faces for his own comrades.
And there was Thayer. Smiling his most disarming smile, his posture conveying ease and trust, head to head in conversation with a grey-haired elf, an old woman whose garb Fenris recognized as the white robes of the Fog Dancer. He could see no hostility in either the Inquisitor or the Fog Dancer, nor for that matter in the numerous other Fog Warriors gathered around the fire or wandering around the camp.
What he did not see was most likely not there to be seen, Fenris reassured himself. He had never known anyone so open and honest before he had met the Fog Warriors all those years ago, the ones who had taken him in when his master left him behind…
The ones he had slaughtered at that master’s command. This was no place for him to relax. This was no place for him to be.
“Awake at last, elf?” Varric’s voice startled him out of his thoughts and Fenris jumped as he turned to meet the dwarf. “And brooding already, I see.”
“I should not be here,” Fenris repeated his last thought to the dwarf in a murmur.
Varric took a closer look at him, wrinkling his brow in confusion. “What? Just because the last people who gave us a bed for the night ended up betraying us to the Qunari doesn’t mean these guys will. And that whole fognapping thing was all a big misunderstanding, from what Thayer’s got out of their shaman there. They don’t like the Tevinters or the Qunari. Once he explained that neither party likes us much either, it’s all enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend and I think we’ve found some actual allies here.”
Fenris shook his head, seeking the words to explain but hesitant to even try. “Varric…”
But as he hesitated, Metis wandered up to them, holding out a steaming bowl. “Breakfast?” the mage suggested as he handed Fenris the bowl. “They make a decent stew here. Absolutely no fish in it. I checked.”
“I...thank you,” Fenris said, surprised at the gesture. He fell into step behind the others as they moved towards the fire, while Metis filled them in on the progress of negotiations.
“They’ve had some encounters with the red warriors too,” Metis explained. “They’re actually rather eager to help us, now they know we’ve come to put a stop to these experiments. I suppose the maddened ones wandering near Ath Velanis have begun encroaching on the Fog Warriors’ territory, causing them no end of problems. And I gather from some of the things she says,” he nodded at the Fog Dancer as she spoke quietly to Thayer, “they have cause to know how dangerous these warriors could be if the Venatori manage to perfect the process.”
Fenris’ hands tightened on the bowl as the Fog Dancer’s shoulders shifted at Metis’ voice, as her gaze slowly turned toward the three of them. Her eyes, blue so pale as to nearly match the fog, flitted briefly over the mage and the dwarf before fixing their intense gaze on him, and he knew. “Yes,” he murmured. “They have cause.”
In an instant, the Fog Dancer shouted to her warriors and the bowl of stew crashed to the ground as two of them closed on Fenris, catching his arms in firm grips. He did not struggle, made no effort to escape them. The lyrium tattoos remained inert, unlit, as he held the old woman’s gaze.
“You,” the Fog Dancer said, approaching him slowly even as Thayer shot to his feet, appalled, and Varric and Metis were held back by other Fog Warriors when they made a move towards those holding Fenris. He shook his head at them, and they ceased struggling, exchanging a bewildered glance while the Fog Dancer reached Fenris and stood silently, looking him up and down.
“Avanna, Domna*,” Fenris greeted her, inclining his head respectfully.
“Stories have reached us,” she continued in a low voice, circling around him, studying the markings where they were visible on his skin. “South of here, a camp of our brethren fell silent, many years ago now. When envoys of other camps traveled to see what had become of them, they found only corpses, drained of blood.”
Fenris winced. “I...was not responsible for the draining, though I suspect I know who was.”
She nodded thoughtfully. still pinning him with her gaze. “Some investigated. All they could learn of the matter was that the camp had taken in a strange elf, weeks before the slaughter. Lost and wandering in the jungle, wounded in battle and perhaps near death.”
Fenris hung his head. “Very likely.”
“And marked,” she said finally, narrowing her pale eyes and jabbing a crooked finger at the markings on his arm. “The markings were described, but no body so marked was found among the corpses.”
“No,” Fenris agreed.
“Imagine, then, my curiosity when my warriors brought in an elf marked just as the stories describe. And yet they say you put up no fight when they found you in the fog, though you were not taken by surprise as were the others.”
“Is that why I was not bound?” Fenris guessed, eyes widening as his brows rose.
“Other warriors so-marked wander these lands now,” she shrugged, “but you are the first we have seen with markings that are not red. Still, there could have been others like you. We will hear what you have to say for yourself. For instance, you say,” she recalled, leaning closer, “you were not responsible for the draining. For what, then, do you claim responsibility? Hm?”
He could not help but glance up, meeting his comrades’ eyes each in turn before answering. Thayer looked grim. Varric -- Varric knew the story, after all; had earned its telling with his friendship just as Hawke had once, she who was the first to hear it since that dreadful night when his flight for freedom began. Thayer probably knew it as well, having read Varric’s account. But Metis, hearing all this for the first time, looked at him with such horror that Fenris closed his eyes as he answered the Fog Dancer. “Domna, I...killed them.”
“All of them?”
“Fog Warriors are not easily killed. What treachery was this?”
“They...Your stories are correct; they saved me from the jungle. They restored my health, offered friendship, showed me a life I had never dreamed of. They gave me everything, and I...I killed them all.”
Her eyes widened and then narrowed again. “And here you are again, a guest of those you once slaughtered.”
“Then you know your life is forfeit, coming here.”
Fenris met her gaze, but before he could answer, Varric’s shout rang out, “No!” and all eyes turned to the dwarf.
“You ever heard of extenuating circumstances?” Varric grunted, struggling again against the arms binding him. “It’s not his fault. Not if you hear the whole story. Go on, elf. Fenris. Tell them.”
A smile twitched at the corner of Fenris’ mouth at Varric’s defense, but he kept his voice even as he turned back to the Fog Dancer. “Perhaps it is not so simple, dwarf. I have...often wondered if I could have behaved differently, that day. Prevented it from happening. I have blamed myself. Perhaps you are not wrong to find me guilty.”
The Fog Dancer cocked her head to one side. “But?”
“I...acted at the command of my master,” Fenris spoke harshly now. “I was a slave. Danarius made me...as I am, to be his bodyguard. To intimidate his rivals. To be, simply put, a killer. I was with him on Seheron when a Qunari attack drove him to flee, but I was left behind in his escape. I barely survived to escape the city myself. When the Fog Warriors found me in the jungle, it was the first time in my memory that I had been separated from him. I saw for the first time what freedom could mean. But he found me again, somehow, and came for me. My...friends, those who had saved me, had no idea what they harbored. I was never free. I was always his weapon.” He bowed his head. “He laughed and told me to kill them, and I did not even think that I could refuse.”
The Fog Dancer regarded him in stony silence until Varric spoke up again, voice pitching high in worry, “See? Danarius was the one to blame. Fenris didn’t know any better, back then.”
“And do you know better now?” asked the Fog Dancer, sparing half a smile for the dwarf though her eyes remained fixed on the elf.
Fenris met her eyes steadily. “I am a free man now. I have killed many; most of them deserved it, and I do not regret being the end of slavers and blood mages. But this? I have long regretted this.”
“And atoned for it, don’t you think?” Thayer put in with eyebrow raised and arms crossed.
“Not to you, Domna,” Fenris bowed his head.
She narrowed her eyes in thought, then turned to one of the Fog Warriors hovering near and demanded, “His blade!” The warrior quickly drew the greatsword from its place at Fenris’ back and handed it over to the old woman. Fenris tensed in the warriors’ grips but kept still as the Fog Dancer stepped back, spun the blade through the air twice with an agility well-hidden beneath her age and robes of office, then leaned forward to place the tip of the blade against his throat in one smooth motion. He caught his breath, not daring to swallow.
“A fine blade,” she said, her tone of voice suggesting friendly conversation more than proposed execution. “Now, if I were to run you through at this moment as the confessed killer of my people, would you blame this sword of yours for the killing?”
“I...no, Domna,” he whispered.
And just as quickly, the sword was whisked away again, held out at the old woman’s side for one of her warriors to take and return to Fenris’ back. “Nor can I blame the sword of Danarius,” she said, firm and clear. And then her wrinkled fingers were on Fenris’ cheek, stroking gently. “No one should have to carry out such an order, child,” she whispered over the collective gasp of everyone in earshot suddenly letting out the breath they’d been holding. Fenris held her gaze for a long moment before he nodded, even as the warriors holding him released his arms. He rolled his shoulders, reaching to rub life back into the flesh where they had gripped.
“Thank you, Domna,” he murmured.
“If you truly wish to atone to me,” the old woman said, one hand resting on her hip as she regarded him now more shrewdly, “it seems this Danarius is our true enemy.”
Fenris smiled. “Then may your dead rest easy. Danarius no longer lives.”
“Your doing?” she asked. He nodded once, sharply. “Then only one task remains. These Venatori whom you hunt. The warriors they have marked in imitation, or mockery, of what was done to you.” She frowned and shook her head. “I think they are even less free than you were, child. One needs reason to find freedom. Dozens of them, as violent as they are mad, surround the fortress, not two days’ march from here. Some of them…” She swallowed, closing her eyes. “We think they experimented on slaves at first, but recently some of our own warriors have gone missing. I fear the Venatori think to put the markings on them too. It may be our own brothers whom they send against us next.”
Fenris nodded. “Then we will end their suffering, if we cannot prevent it.”
Thayer stepped up, nodding to the Fog Dancer. “And you’ll still aid us? You were saying something about an entrance to Ath Velanis that your people could show us.”
“Inquisitor,” the Fog Dancer smiled, “had you not come, we would have had to deal with the Venatori ourselves, even if it left us vulnerable to the Qunari. Perhaps it is you who will aid us.”
“And do so gladly,” Thayer grinned, reaching out to clasp hands with the old woman. “We are honored to ally with the Fog Warriors. And we thank you for your hospitality. And for my friend’s life, of course,” he winked at Fenris.
“Let him earn it in the battle to come,” the old woman intoned, “and all is forgiven.”
The mage’s eyes were on him again, as they made camp that night, a day’s march away from the Fog Warriors’ camp and less than a day to march on before they would face the maddened warriors of Ath Velanis. Fenris had felt Metis watching him as they walked, a strained silence replacing the mage’s usual curious inquiries.
Tiring of the scrutiny, Fenris sighed and sought him out, bringing Metis a bowl of the stew that the Fog Warriors who now accompanied them had prepared. “You were right,” Fenris remarked, taking a seat next to the older elf and sipping at his own bowl. “No fish, and it is indeed quite good.”
Metis did not answer, but Fenris, sneaking a glance at him out of the corner of his eye, thought he saw the mage’s mouth turn up in a smile even as Metis averted his own sidelong glance. The silence persisted as they both slowly ate. Finally Fenris set down his empty bowl, cleared his throat, and began, “If you have something to say --” even as Metis turned to him and said, “Fenris, I was wondering --”
They paused; Fenris finally chuckled and said, “Go on.”
“You spoke of...you were a slave of one Danarius?”
Fenris scowled at the name, but then shifted, tension draining from his shoulders as he realized that this was what Metis wanted to talk about. Was it not the horror of his revelation as a slaughterer of innocents that morning that had made the mage so awkward around him all day? Was it only yet more of his unquenched curiosity? He sighed. “I...was. Do you mean you have heard the name?”
“I am surprised. His infamy in Minrathous is widespread, I thought.” He gave a harsh laugh as Varric and Thayer, apparently sensing the imminent telling of a story, joined them, settling in on the other side of Metis. “In fact,” Fenris mused, “I was once an...instrument of spreading it, I suppose.” He narrowed his eyes at Metis. “Are you not of the Minrathous Circle?”
“Oh, indeed, but only in the last few years, as a researcher,” Metis spread his hands and leaned back on the rock he had made his seat. “Before that I was trained at the Circle of Qarinus. And before that I was a slave myself.”
“Also in Qarinus?” Varric asked, eyes glinting.
“What does this have to do with Danarius?” asked Fenris at the same time, eyes narrowing.
Varric waved him down. “Hold on, elf. Let him tell it from the beginning.”
Fenris glowered, but Metis nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I suppose that is the best way to go about it. Very well, then. In brief: I was born on Seheron myself. My grandparents, like many of the natives here, had been slaves, fleeing their masters to live free on this island. My parents were born into such freedom, though in the midst of a war, and so in turn was I. But everything on Seheron is in flux, freedom no less so than the lines the Qunari and Tevinters draw on their maps. The war caught up to my family when I was still young, with a wife and a daughter and another one on the way.”
He closed his eyes with a weary sigh as the tale continued. “I was tending the trees when they came -- even then I had a knack for growing things, you know, even before my magic had shown itself. We had a proper cabin, with an orchard out back. It was a decent living. Simpler times. Well, as simple as anything ever was on Seheron. So -- it was a raid. Tevinter slavers caught the village unawares. I wasn’t even there when they took my -- my wife. My little girl. I kissed her goodnight the night before, told her some prattling story, and never saw her again.” His eyes shone when he opened them, looking fiercely at Fenris. “Your boy. You kissed him goodbye, I hope?”
“I -- yes. Of course.” Fenris cleared his throat, looking down from the intensity of the mage’s gaze. “Yes. Ser.”
“Hold on to that,” Metis said more gently. “Just -- You’ll see him again, of course. But I -- I never knew that would be the last time. I have held onto that last memory for -- oh, decades now.”
“You never learned what became of them?” Varric asked.
“Now, dwarf,” Metis chided, a smile lightening his demeanor, “bide your time. Were you not insisting on hearing the tale in full?”
“Right,” Varric laughed. “Go on, then.”
“They took half the village in that raid,” Metis explained. “When I came into town with the fruit to sell and realized what had happened, I joined a handful of the survivors intent on going after the slavers, getting our loved ones back.”
“Unsuccessfully, I take it?” Thayer guessed.
Metis nodded. “In the end we were only captured ourselves. I was sold to a magister in Qarinus without seeing my wife or my daughter or learning where they had been taken.”
“You gave up?” Fenris frowned.
“I...I am afraid I did,” he admitted. “I was a slave. You must know, lad, what that means. How was I to make inquiries? I left my heart behind on Seheron. I thought of them as dead, after a while.”
“So how did you end up in the Circle?” Varric asked.
“Ah. How quickly fate may change!” Metis brightened. “I had served the magister for many years, mostly in his gardens when my knack was known. Oh, and he knew it was magic, but beyond the basic training so I wouldn’t slip up and summon demons or anything so unfortunate, he had no intention of letting me hone my skills. He had no need for an apprentice -- I served in a more practical fashion,” Metis said with a faint laugh, pulling up a sleeve to reveal several deep scars running along his arm.
“He used your blood,” Fenris growled.
Metis nodded. “He was one of those superstitious about how much more effective blood magic could be if fueled by blood bearing magic, but too practical to use up too much of his own precious blood. There were several of us on his estate, slaves with some magical talent, guarded closely lest we do anything dangerous with it, but kept close to the master in case he needed us to fuel his spells.” He shrugged and let the sleeve fall. “It was...not all so terrible. The gardens were very pleasant, the bleedings infrequent, and I could have gone to far worse masters.”
“That is true,” Fenris said darkly. Metis eyed him thoughtfully before continuing his tale.
“Then one day, there was a Qunari attack. I happened to be near the docks, tending to errands, when it happened. There was fighting in the streets once one of their dreadnoughts breached the defenses, magisters and slaves and soldiers all running about in chaos. I was trying to run to safety when I came across a pair of Qunari cornering a girl in a blue dress, fiercely flinging fireballs to hold them back.” He chuckled and shook his head. “I suppose she reminded me of my own daughter, in a way. Whatever foolishness drove me, I had the two of them wrapped up in roots before I really knew what I intended to do with them. Fortunately, she had ideas, and I gave her the space she needed to put them into action.”
“That, I suppose,” Thayer said, “was Maevaris Tilani?”
“Of course,” Metis nodded. “Not yet a magister, but already a promising mage herself. Apparently I impressed her with my fumbling, for she insisted that I had saved her life and that magic such as mine should not go to waste. So she followed me home, argued with my master for hours, and ended up signing my manumission papers herself and sponsoring my admission to the Circle of Qarinus.”
“She freed you,” Fenris gaped.
“Well, not on the spot,” Metis admitted. “It took years, in fact. First she had to bully my old master into selling me to her. Then, in fact, I served at her estate for a few months, in which time she trained me and tested me herself before finally deciding I needed formal training.”
“Including formal manumission,” Fenris insisted.
“Slaves,” Metis shrugged, “are not admitted to the Circle. But liberati are.”
“But you are serving her now.”
“She is my patron now,” Metis explained. “All that binds me now, my friends, is gratitude. In truth, most of my time now is spent at the Circle of Minrathous, where I’ve been researching the red lyrium, as I believe we discussed previously. But when Mae wrote to me about the Venatori experiments here and asked if I would investigate on her behalf...well, I would gladly repay her kindness in this way.”
Fenris nodded, looking away as he thought this over. “But then,” he asked finally, “why did you ask of Danarius? Is this connected to your investigations?”
“Oh. No. Not on behalf of Maevaris, at least,” Metis shook his head. “You...asked earlier if I never found out what happened to my family in the raid. And of course, as a slave there was little I could do to learn that.”
“But then you were free,” Varric caught on.
“So I was. Yet even then, for many years I did not think to pursue the matter. After all, I had let myself think of them as dead for years, lest it be too much to bear. I had gone on as if I were a different man, I think. But then, a few years ago I began to wonder what I might find if I were to look.”
“And did you?”
“Oh, I looked. Maevaris helped me gain access to auction records, and after months I came across the records of that raid, the year we were taken from Seheron. At least, I was taken from Seheron; as it turned out, my wife and daughter were at first sold to a Tevinter Altus to work on his plantation on the island. But when I traced the man down, visited the plantation, they were long gone. He had sold them to another master, back in Tevinter. Then it took time to track down that master, and the one who had bought them from him, and so on. I nearly gave up. But I did at least learn that they had been kept together -- my wife and daughter, and -- a baby.”
Varric looked as if he were itching to go after his notebook. “Say what now?”
“I didn’t even know, for all those years,” Metis laughed. “She was pregnant at the time of the raid, only we didn’t know it yet. For years, I didn’t even know I had a son, born on that plantation and then sold along with them. It’s a wonder, really, that the three of them were kept together in the sales, but the children were both so small, I suppose no master would have bought them without their mother.”
“And did you find them at last?” Thayer asked gently.
Metis shook his head with a sigh. “The trail ended with a magister called Danarius.” He looked up at Fenris’ sharp intake of breath. “So you see, that was what I wanted to ask. If you too were in his service, perhaps you knew of them? I heard that they had been freed, but the magister was traveling when I visited his estate, and no one would tell me anything more. And now of course he is dead. Her name was Mara -- my wife -- and my little girl was Varania. Not so little now, I suppose. I do not know what they called the boy --”
But at the names, Fenris had first frozen, and then flew to his feet, staring at the mage agape before turning to disappear into the jungle without a word.
Metis looked around at Thayer, half risen as if to follow the elf, and then Varric, equally agape. “Have I said something wrong?” the mage asked.
“Professor,” Varric said finally, shaking his head and staring at the trees where Fenris had staggered out of view, “I have a guess what they called your boy.”
Metis followed his line of sight, frowning, then eyes widening as he took the dwarf’s meaning. “You can’t -- Do you mean…?”
“I met his sister a few years ago,” Varric said, “in Kirkwall. Varania. It was...complicated. Don’t know where she is nowadays, but he didn’t kill her, at least.”
“He didn’t -- what?” Metis gasped.
“It’s complicated,” the dwarf repeated with a shrug.
“If he...Can it be? Maker!” Metis started to stand, to follow after Fenris, but Varric put out a hand to stop him.
“Word of advice, Professor,” he said. “Give him a moment. That is one elf whose brooding you don’t want to interrupt.”
The sun had nearly set when Fenris finally returned to the camp. Most of the Fog Warriors lay wrapped in their bedrolls already, but Thayer and Varric sat silent before the fire. At his approach they looked up, starting as if caught mid-conspiracy.
“I...should apologize,” Fenris began.
Thayer shook his head. “No need. That was...er, Varric’s explained the bits that weren’t in his book. This is all a bit overwhelming, I should imagine.”
Varric laughed heartily, pounding the Inquisitor’s back. “Apparently I didn’t explain enough, or you’d realize what an understatement that was, Shiny.”
Thayer looked affronted. “I was trying to be polite, Varric.”
“Still,” Fenris said, “that was...not how I would have wished to...well.” He looked around. “He’s not here?”
“Ah…” Varric almost flushed, reaching to scratch at his grizzled chin. “He ran off right after you did. Opposite direction. Looks like brooding maybe runs in the family.”
“Which way?” Fenris asked, straightening, definitely not brooding now, a frown crinkling his nose beneath the slant of his eyebrows. Thayer pointed, and Fenris strode into the darkening woods as to the executioner’s sword.
“Er, elf?” Varric’s voice caught him at the first tree. Fenris looked back over his shoulder, arching one eyebrow. “Go easy on him?” the dwarf gently urged.
“As I said,” Fenris answered, “I intend to apologize.”
He found the mage near the bank of a stream not far from the camp, sitting with his knees drawn up and arms wrapped around them, curled into himself in a way that, despite his greying hair, made him look so young and vulnerable that Fenris halted at the sight of him, trying to reconcile the image with the smiling, curious mage he had been growing used to.
He approached quietly, lowering himself to a crouch at Metis’ side near enough to touch, despite the sense of a vast distance between them. Though he had come intending to apologize for his abrupt reaction to the mage’s story, now that he was here, he could not seem to find the words.
Metis, eventually, spared him. “Is it...true?” the mage asked quietly, not looking at him, resting his forehead on his knees.
“I suppose,” Fenris mused, staring out at the stream in the last of the day’s light, “it might not be, for all that.”
“Varric said you...had a sister called Varania.”
“I do,” he said. Metis dared a glance in his direction at the present tense. Fenris continued, “It is not such a common name.” And dared a glance of his own. “She...favored you, I think. Eyes and hair. Magic, too.”
“You...believe it is true, then.”
“I have given it some thought.”
“As have I. What of your mother? Was she called Mara?”
“I…” Fenris shook his head. “I cannot remember. I remember little of who I was before these markings. Varania says that I competed for them, and as a boon when I was selected I asked for my mother and sister to be made free.”
“Well. That explains why...I heard the women had been freed, but not what had happened to the...the boy.”
“Varania...was not so pleased with the boon.”
Metis chuckled. “Mm. Freedom brings its own troubles.”
“I remember her being an awfully stubborn little girl,” Metis sighed. “But Maker, how I missed even her tantrums.”
“Perhaps I am glad not to remember that part,” Fenris smiled. “I...have no memory of my father, though.”
“Which...also fits the story, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose...it might.”
“Fenris. Tell me the rest of the story? What happened to you, to Mara and Varania?”
“I know little of it. If not for Varania, I would have only flashes, the faintest memories.”
“And Varania said…?”
“I competed for the markings. I became Danarius’ pet,” he spat, “and the boon was granted. They were freed. She said that freedom was no boon. My mother died. I don’t know how. Varania entered another magister’s service for a time, in Qarinus, then returned to Minrathous to make a living on her own, as a tailor. She had no patron to send her to the Circle, so she…” He cleared his throat awkwardly as he realized what the story was coming to. “In the meantime, I was Danarius’ bodyguard, having lost all memory of my life before receiving these markings. And then came Seheron, and the Fog Warriors.” He looked away.
But the awaited censure did not come. Instead there was Metis’ hand, gentle on his arm, the warmth of the touch drawing a tingle from the lyrium. “I am so sorry, Fenris.”
“I was...a monster. A terrible thing.” He glanced at the mage’s hand. “You...do not think so.” It was not a question, but a realization spoken in quiet wonder.
“More terrible he who made you so,” Metis answered, chin tucked and eyebrows tilted as he appeared to study Fenris’ markings once more. “Perhaps we should continue to the part of the story where he meets his well deserved end?”
Fenris smiled. “I ran, when I saw what I had done here. Danarius was injured but followed soon, sending hunters after me. I evaded them for years -- and then I met Hawke. I...owe her much, Metis. I would likely still be running were it not for her support.”
“You tracked Danarius down, I take it?”
“Not exactly,” he winced. “Varania...led him to us.”
“When I learned that I had a sister still living, I sought her out and asked her to come to Kirkwall. But Danarius made a trap of it and came with her.”
“How could she -- her brother! She knew you were her brother?”
“She blamed me, I think. And Danarius promised her an apprenticeship.”
“Still, that hardly excuses…”
“No. It does not.” Fenris turned wide eyes on the man who might -- he was beginning to believe it -- be father to them both. “Let us not speak of her. I have not seen her since that day -- we defeated Danarius and Varania fled. I...would have killed her, I think, if not for Hawke.”
Metis shuddered. “This...this is not quite what I expected when I was trying to find her. You. All of you.”
“Nor are you what I expected,” said Fenris with a wry chuckle.
“Well!” Metis smiled. “Given your tendency to expect the worst, I think perhaps I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Fenris shook his head, returning his gaze to the stream, now shrouded in darkness. “Do you think it’s true, then?”
Metis was silent in thought so long that Fenris turned back to look at him. The mage’s eyes were closed tightly, head bowed to touch the fingertips of his hands clasped over his knees. He might have been in prayer; dark as it was, Fenris thought he saw his lips move slightly. Then his head rose and he turned to meet Fenris’ gaze with a ready smile. “Fenris!” he said. “I...I would like to think so, at least. Perhaps it can never be proven beyond doubt, but I would be glad to call you my son.”
Fenris’ shoulders straightened as a weight he had carried unawares seemed to lift from them. He returned Metis’ smile with his own crooked, tentative one. “And I,” he said, “am glad to find in you a father, mage. Even if you are a mage. Because of course you would be,” he grumbled, taking an unexpected pleasure in the irony as they both turned again to face the stream, falling again into silence as they thought over the weaving together of their stories.
“So,” Metis finally broke the silence, standing, stretching, and reaching a hand down to help Fenris up, “tell me of yourself? We have years -- decades! -- of catching up to do, haven’t we? All the little things I should know of my son. For instance, I gather that you do not care for fish.”
Fenris could not suppress a sheepish laugh as he stood and they turned to walk back to the camp. “I...do like apples.”
“Apples. Excellent. I can plant you an orchard. Though I am partial to peaches myself,” he offered as if such facts were currency, one detail exchanged for another, glancing sidelong as if to gauge Fenris’ reaction. In this way they made their way back to camp, gradualy coloring in the details of their lives.
I’d love to say I’ve never seen your broody husband speechless before, but obviously you’d call me on that one. However he is at least so at a loss for words that he’s turned over the writing of this letter to me.
I promise, I’ll get him to write a nice footnote at least before I send it.
Anyway, apparently today was one of those days that has overloaded his brooding meter to the point where he can’t talk of it until he’s mulled it over a good long while. I told him that this is VERY IMPORTANT and HAWKE WILL WANT TO KNOW and BESIDES, YOU PROMISED TO WRITE TO HER, and he threw the scraps of parchment at me to prove he’d been trying to. (I’m gonna enclose them. Consider it a historical document, Hawke. Blackmail also comes to mind.)
Consider also that your elf is alternating between crumpling those attempts at letters, smiling off into the darkness like he sometimes does when he’s thinking of you (I’m just going to assume so, anyway, for your sake, and because I’m essentially ghost-writing a love letter here, aren’t I?), and telling the most random bits of his life story to a near stranger.
Because that (until a few days ago) stranger is Metis, the mage Maevaris sent to work with us. I think you’ve heard of him? Broody claims he has written of him before.
And that stranger, it turns out, is your long-lost father-in-law.
Yep. Fenris’ dad, it turns out, is a mage in the Circle of Minrathous. It’s quite the story, actually, and I am itching to tell it to you, but Fenris is shouting something about JUST TELL HER WHO HE IS AND LEAVE THE REST TILL LATER (all while pacing, I should say) and I think he really wants to explain it all in person. He’s giving me the fish-eye like he’s certain I’ve already written every sordid detail down.
All right, I’ll save the story for later (besides, it gives me time to write it down properly, with suitable polishing, because you’d better believe I’m getting a book out of this one), and just say: I can’t wait till Malcolm meets his granddad.
He’s a nice guy, Hawke. You’ll like him. Malcolm should like him. Sod it, FENRIS seems to like him well enough for a mage.
Oh, and we’re storming the Venatori fortress tomorrow. Thought you’d want to know.
[addendum, written on a fairly pristine scrap of parchment amidst a handful of rather crumpled ones with many a false start scratched out:]
I truly, sincerely, earnestly wish you were here. I hope Varric has not overdone things -- perhaps I should not have let him write for me -- but…
I have a father. I wish you were here.
That is all.
*Some made-up Tevene and some not-so-made-up Tevene. Avanna is a greeting (taken from Fenris’ short story preceding DA2, citation: http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Tevene) and Domna is my invention, a term of respect for a female leader, based on the Latin Domina for lady/mistress. I’m presuming the Fog Warriors, being Seheron natives, might speak some form of Tevene because Seheron was part of Tevinter decades/centuries ago, before the Qunari conquered it and it ended up being eternally fought over between those two nations.
Chapter 11: Wherein we explore Ath Velanis
Time to see what's actually going on in that Venatori fortress, as soon as we find a way in through creepy tunnels! It's all fun and games till someone slips and falls!
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein we explore Ath Velanis
Knowing the fog was alchemical made it no less creepy. Even having seen it emanate from the various flasks of reagents which the Fog Warriors traveling with them carried for this purpose made it no less creepy as the Inquisitor and his companions advanced through it. The keening battle cries -- and death screams -- of the mindlessly wandering red-lyrium-marked warriors, taken by surprise as the vanguard of Fog Warriors slipped through the mists, only made this last slow push toward Ath Velanis even more tense. Fenris gripped his sword tighter, ever at the ready, poised for the moment one of those lost souls, broken by the Venatori’s failed experiments, would dodge the Fog Warriors to attack the Inquisitor’s team.
Then they emerged from the fog atop a slight hill, looking down over the wasteland surrounding the Venatori fortress, and not even fog could make Ath Velanis look any creepier. It sat along the shore, the land around it barren and dry, with deep cracks spidering through the earth, even so near to the lush jungle that had impeded their march for the better part of the past week. The fortress itself rose up with the cliffs from the water’s edge, with spikes of stone jutting from the masonry of its heavy wall at intervals, like the spokes of a great wheel. Beyond the spiked wall, the keep soared in a pattern of round towers. And between their hilltop vantage point and the outer curtain of that spiked wall wandered the red warriors, patrolling the wasteland as if at random, dozens of elves and men and even a few Qunari with the red lines twining around their limbs and whatever else their ragged clothing left visible.
“Curious,” murmured Metis, glancing between Fenris and the nearest rank of red warriors. “Each one is different.”
“What?” asked Thayer, glancing back at the elves.
Metis gestured at the red warriors. “The patterns of their markings vary...well, markedly.” Varric barked a laugh while Fenris glanced at the mage with narrowed eyes, but Metis continued: “None of them, so far as I can see, have quite the same design as any other.”
They looked again in slow and shrewd study, each one glancing back at Fenris so often that he finally answered with his most meaningful glower. “What now?” he huffed.
“They don’t quite have your pattern, either,” Thayer pointed out.
“Does that mean they don’t have his abilities?” Varric wondered.
Metis hefted his staff and tapped the tip of it against his ear in thought. “We’d best not assume that. I have yet to see any of them make use of the markings quite as effectively as Fenris does, but that may be for lack of experience with them rather than a lack of ability. I would advise caution.”
“Caution it is,” Thayer nodded, waving over one of the Fog Warrior scouts, a slim elven woman barely taller than Varric, her skin and clothing whitened with the paint that the Fog Warriors used to camouflage themselves in the fog. “Caligo,” he addressed her. “You know a way into the fortress that doesn’t involve frontal assault, right?”
“There are passages,” the woman nodded. “A cave on the coast leads through tunnels to an old sally port. I can take you there.”
“How far?” Thayer asked.
She peered out over the wasteland and toward the coast, crinkling her nose as she judged the distance. “No more than an hour’s walk, I would think. Allowing for some o’ them attacking us along the way, that is.”
“A sensible allowance,” Thayer grinned. “Very well. We’ll set out at dusk in hopes of fewer of them attacking us then. Rest up, lads and lasses. Our work is soon to begin.”
I apologize for not writing to you myself at first. I was...overwhelmed. Even so, the dwarf refuses to destroy his letter or surrender it to me, so I suppose you will have to read it. Please bear in mind that it was Varric writing that and without a doubt he will have exaggerated. Whatever he said, do not make too much of it.
Yet even now, I find myself at a loss for words to explain what has happened -- what we have discovered. Is this not a strange fate? That of all the agents the magister might have sent to work with us on this mission, she should choose the father I could never have found by my own efforts, not even if I spent my life trying to? Perhaps the Maker -- but I am not sure he takes any more notice of us than it seems he does of the world as a whole. Indeed, given the things you and I have lived through, Hawke, it might be better if he (and the world) took less notice of us. Still, what are the odds? Then again, Varric tells tales of bringing the king of Ferelden to this fortress to find his father. Apparently Ath Velanis is simply the sort of place one goes to do...such a thing. At least I have found mine in better condition than Maric, if Varric’s tale is to be believed.
It is clear now why I had no memories of my father. He was separated from us -- my mother, Varania, and myself not yet born -- by slavers, sold away from us without even knowing I existed. (I am ashamed, Hawke, to recall the years I hated him for his absence from my memories. Not when my memories began with Danarius, at least; but when I began to recall things, even the briefest flashes -- seeing Varania again, I knew her, I recalled our mother at her chores, but nothing of him. I felt as if he had surely abandoned us, but…)
Even now, knowing better, it is difficult to forgive.
But that is unfair, and unworthy of the...earnestness with which he almost courts me now, as if he must earn the fatherhood that the slavers so long ago deprived him of. I am...unaccustomed to such attention, so many small kindnesses from a mage, of all things. (Well, besides you. I am cognizant of the irony, Hawke. I know when I am surrounded. I don’t suppose Malcolm has started summoning sparks yet?) This...sollicitousness is not unwelcome, precisely, yet...overwhelming. I may have spoken in a temper this morning when he sought to help with one too many trivial tasks. (I did apologize, I assure you. It is as difficult to remain angry with Metis as it is to remain aloof to him.)
I cannot say what I was expecting in a father, were I ever to find him. I am only certain that Metis was none of the things I may have expected. Yet I think...perhaps he is just as he should be.
But enough of this; you shall judge for yourself what manner of man my father is when you meet him.
We have made one final camp, overlooking Ath Velanis. Tonight we attempt to enter the fortress and find out what the Venatori have done there -- as if the hordes of unfortunate souls between us and the walls, wrecked by this mad experiment to recreate what Danarius made of me, were not answer enough to that question.
The more urgent question is: Have they yet refined the process to create the warriors they desire? And what, all told, do they desire? What do they intend to do with the men they turn to living weapons?
And what will we do with what we find in there?
Ah, but you can no more answer these questions than we can now. Answer me this then: How fares Emmen? Has Merrill been able to reverse any of the damage done to him? Will he come through this ordeal, do you think?
And most importantly of all, Hawke, how fare my wife and child? I shudder to think of Metis torn away from his when Varania was scarcely older than Malcolm is now. Decades, Hawke, he has thought us all dead or lost to him, and yet he...perseveres. He meets this world with open arms despite all its cruelty to him, even when he believed himself alone in it. In his place I think I would be a broken man, helpless and hopeless and blinded by rage. Not even knowing if you and Malcolm survived -- what life would remain for me then? I am so glad that Skyhold yet preserves you till my return.
Dusk approaches. The Inquisition scouts have caught up with us again and will hold this camp till our return or till we signal for the ships to bring in reinforcements. Our intention is to be in and out of the fortress quickly, to see how it lies and what goes on there so that we can make further plans for dealing with its threat. And in the meantime, the scouts have brought their ravens, so this letter will accompany Varric’s.
I do not know when I shall emerge again from Ath Velanis, for all the Inquisitor’s confidence in this plan. If you do not hear from me again soon, please -- do not worry, Hawke. But think of me, as I will surely be thinking of you and of Malcolm, of a world in which he will grow up with no Venatori or slavers to fear. Nor will any such withhold his father from him. I am yours still, Hawke, and not even Ath Velanis shall keep me from you.
The setting sun turned the sea to molten gold as they crept toward the coast. The Fog Warriors, save their guide Caligo, had remained behind with the scouts guarding the camp. Neither Thayer nor Varric were unfamiliar with stealth when called for, yet even they could not match the silent, barefooted steps of their elven companions. In the fading light there was little chance of their party drawing the attention of the wandering red warriors.
Yet it was not long before a pair of them, streaked with red stripes at harsh angles far unlike the delicate curves lining Fenris’ skin, reared up in their path, bellowing with rage.
The first two warriors were easily dispatched, with a swing of Fenris’ sword taking off one man’s head while Caligo’s arrows and Varric’s bolts converged on the second. The Inquisition party paused, scanning the darkening horizon for more, but all seemed quiet again. They advanced with heightened caution.
Not a minute later, the next three warriors found them.
Then it was wave after wave of them, flinging themselves at the intruders without caution or any apparent concept of tactics, yet slowing their progress along the coast by sheer force of numbers.
“Where are they all coming from?” Varric groaned as Metis petrified the last of one wave just moments before they heard more of their keening cries up ahead as another group rushed to meet them.
“The fortress, presumably,” Fenris snapped.
“I’m almost sure,” said the dwarf, “we’ve fought through more of them now than I counted from the overlook. What, are they mass-producing them in the keep now?”
Fenris parried a sloppy blow from an attacker’s crude shortsword and twisted to bury his gauntlet in the man’s chest before replying, “It is not a simple process. It would...each one would take days.”
Varric winced but finally fired back, “So, what, they have a stockpile of them inside?”
“Not unlikely,” Metis said, straining with arm outreached until he finally convinced one of the cracks in the dry earth to widen, swallowing two more of the oncoming warriors with a low rumble.
“What I’d like to know,” shouted Thayer, yanking his daggers from another warrior’s back, “is what’s drawing them all here. To us.”
“Inquisitor!” Caligo called from behind them. “To your left. Do you see the path there? Between the broken rocks?”
Thayer glanced and nodded. “I see it.”
“On my signal, make for that path, all of you!” Slinging her bow over her back, the Fog Warrior reached for her belt.
“Your signal?” Thayer glanced from the path to their guide. “What do -- Oh. That.” And already the fog was billowing from the flask she had tossed into the red warriors’ mist. Thayer and his companions, as quickly as they could finish off the enemies in their way, scurried for the marker Caligo had shown them. The fog swallowed them up even before they reached the broken rocks, and they stumbled blindly across the sand toward the memory of the path.
Then the rocks -- two great piles of them with the narrow path cutting between -- loomed before him and Thayer swerved towards the path. He had been nearer the rocks than the others had when the fog signaled them to run, so he guessed he had reached them first; turning back the way he had come, he peered into the fog to watch for the others. One by one their silhouettes appeared in the mist, and he called out till they found their way to him: Fenris, his markings dimmed now; Metis, spectacles askew; and finally Varric, grumbling about the terrain, with Caligo on his heels, her bow at the ready as she glanced over her shoulder for pursuit.
But none came; behind them the mists remained silent. “That will delay them,” Caligo nodded at last, “but not long enough. Quickly, this way!”
She slipped ahead of them, jogging along the path with the elven men close behind. Varric still struggled to keep up; Thayer fell in behind him, keeping watch over his shoulder for enemies to emerge from the fog.
The path wound along the base of the cliffs as the minutes and the shoreline stretched on till Thayer winced with the pain of the exertion pinching at his side.
“Path, she calls this,” Varric grumbled beside him. “Just more bloody sand if you ask me. More sand in my boots than feet now.”
“Come now, Varric,” the Inquisitor grinned, “it can’t be all that bad if you still have breath to complain.”
“Complaining’s how I know I’m still breathing, Shiny,” retorted the dwarf.
On they ran till even complaining was beyond Varric’s strength, and only the desperate force of his breathing -- and the shuffling of boots in the sand -- indicated that he yet lived.
Then they rounded a corner, and there ahead of them the elves crouched at a dark opening, more in the sand than in the cliffs, it seemed. Varric and Thayer caught up and leaned against the cliff wall, catching their breath.
“The passage,” Caligo explained with a nod to the Inquisitor.
“This leads under Ath Velanis?” Metis asked.
“To an escape route, yes. Whether the gate will be open, I cannot say. We know of this entrance but have not had cause to use it in years. It may be watched.”
“I’d like to think we have the element of surprise,” Thayer frowned, “but I really don’t like how those warriors swarmed us on the shore. Maybe they weren’t expecting us before, but the trail of tattooed corpses will probably tip them off now.”
“So let’s get in and out before the sun comes up and the fog lifts so they can follow the trail,” Varric wheezed.
Caligo nodded. “You must be quick.”
“We will,” Thayer said. “Wait for us here. If we’re not out by daybreak, alert the camp.”
The Fog Warrior nodded, backing away and slipping into the shadows in a cleft of the cliff while the rest of them crouched to enter the cave. A faint light sprang up from the tip of Metis’ staff, just enough to show them the way, and they began the long walk into the bowels of Ath Velanis.
If the path between shore and cliffs had seemed long, Thayer thought as they trudged along after Metis, the tunnel under the cliff was like walking through a never-ending dream. Their feet slipped every so often in a trail of slime and sludge down the center of the tunnel’s floor, remnants of some long-forgotten stream that had perhaps shaped the passageway itself. Nothing else served to break the monotony of the journey. The tunnel ran on and on, dark and nondescript, without even the passage of moon and stars overhead by which to judge how long they had traveled its course. Soon enough, though, he could feel the slope rising, up from the shoreline, up towards the keep atop the cliffs.
And then without warning, ahead of them loomed a gate, the light of Metis’ staff reflecting dimly from the damp coating the metal bars. They pulled to a stop, studying the gate from a presumably safe distance for a moment before Metis started to reach for it.
“Wait!” Varric hissed. “Could be trapped.”
Metis’ eyes widened, reflecting the light of his staff as he glanced back at the dwarf with a nod. “Ah. Shall we…?”
“Give me a moment,” Varric answered, glancing around at the tunnel where it narrowed to the gate’s fittings. “And a bit more light, maybe?” The staff flared brighter; they blinked till their eyes adjusted to see Varric crouching near the gateway, running a hand lightly along the ground and then up the doorframe and over each metal bar.
Finally he turned back with a satisfied grin. “Clear,” he said. “No sign of traps, but it is locked. Care to do the honors, Shiny?”
“What?” Thayer raised an eyebrow. “Drop your own lockpicks in the fog, did you?”
“Nah, I’m good. But it looks like one of those fancy Antivan locks Zevran sent you as a wedding gift after the trouble in Val Royeaux. You know, with the note about something to keep the assassins out on your wedding night?”
Thayer groaned, grateful for the darkness obscuring the heat rising to his cheeks at that moment. “By which assassins we were never sure whether he meant the ones that tried to kidnap Josephine, or the one that gave the gift? Maker, I should never have told you all that story.”
“Still, at least they were good for lockpick practice. And you’re better at this kind than I am, so have at it, Your Worship.”
With a sigh, Thayer stepped up to the gate and knelt to inspect the lock. Complex, yes, but it was as Varric had said: not at all unfamiliar. Not a full minute passed before it yielded with a satisfying series of clicks and the gate, like a portcullis, rumbled up into a recess in the stone above it. Almost it seemed the pathway beyond grew brighter, welcoming them in. All was still; the four of them had all crouched with weapons ready in anticipation of guards inside, but one side of the gate was as abandoned as the other.
So they made their way cautiously into these new tunnels. Unlike the long passage from the shore, this was no single, winding path, but a central corridor from which they soon saw smaller tunnels branching off. And then they found themselves in tunnels reinforced by brickwork, and soon the last traces of the natural caverns were gone and they were creeping through hallways with ceilings of vaulted stone and torches on the walls. Habitation. As the torchlight became a regular feature, Metis let his staff go dark.
“Anything looking familiar, Varric?” Thayer whispered as they emerged from one hallway into a wider room, with motifs of dragons in its mosaic floor and on the sconces from which torches burned brighter than they’d seen yet. In each corner of the room, narrow stone stairways led up to a gallery with another row of torches; doors, many of them veiled in cobwebs glistening in the flickering firelight, lined the gallery as well as the lower level where they now stood.
“Can’t say I remember this area, specifically,” the dwarf answered, leaning out Bianca-first into an open doorway to peer into the gloom beyond, some dusty side chamber whose use could not be guessed, “but it’s a distinct architectural style, that’s for sure. The decor involved more blood the last time I visited, though.”
Fenris bit out a curse as he lifted one bare foot, peering at the residue of what he had just stepped in. “I do not think they have redecorated as thoroughly as you believe, dwarf.”
“Ew. Blood on the floor?” Varric grimaced. “Judging from all the cobwebs, I was sure they had a better cleaning crew than that.”
“Fresh blood,” Fenris pointed out. “We should be cautious. And we should move on.”
“So we should,” Thayer nodded. “Any idea where we’re going, Varric?” Thayer nudged the dwarf back on topic.
“I didn’t come in through the bowels last time. And we don’t exactly know where in this place we need to go, Shiny.”
“For a start, though, I do remember where Aurelian Titus kept the prisoners when he set up shop here. And...he had a...laboratory. Mae said it used to be a torture chamber. Odds are the Venatori are using it for one or the other of those things, too.”
“We know they have taken prisoners to bear their markings,” Fenris said, testing another door.
“Then that’s a good start,” Thayer nodded. “Freeing anyone they have lined up for the ritual is a priority. But we should explore as much as we’re able tonight. Anything we learn could be useful.”
“Especially names,” Metis added. “Maevaris thought of half a dozen magisters who might be behind these experiments. If we knew whom we were dealing with…”
“Ah!” a voice, urbane and resonant, startled them all and they spun to see the speaker standing on the gallery behind them, above the door through which they had entered the room. “If it isn’t the gardener. How interesting.” Tall and thin, draped in the elaborate robes of a magister with his short, pale blond hair set in careful curls, he leaned over the railing, smiling as if in welcome.
“Gardener?” Varric muttered. “What’s…”
But Fenris’ eyes widened as he followed the magister’s gaze to Metis, whose face had gone ashen as he gripped his staff more firmly, staring up at the magister with furrowed brow. “Metis,” Fenris said in a low voice. “The gardens...you said…”
“Licinius,” Metis named the magister, his voice carefully controlled. “I was once his...gardener, yes.”
“You were his slave,” Fenris elaborated, turning his glare on the so-called Licinius with a fury that drew the gleam of lyrium from his own markings.
“Why, so he was,” Licinius answered, casually leaning back from the railing and clasping his hands behind his back, raising an eyebrow at Fenris. “Until Tilani made an offer I couldn’t really refuse, not for a mere gardener. More than he was worth, even for an incaensor, though I’ll admit my orchards have never been quite the same since. You, however,” he nodded at Fenris, “are even more interesting.”
“I am not --” Fenris began, but the magister cut him off with a wave of his hand that casually drew the torches to a greater glow.
“You’ve no idea,” Licinius said, turning to pace the gallery at leisure, as if strolling through an Orlesian market, “how dreadfully difficult it has been, recreating the ritual that gave you those markings. I had a glimpse of you only twice, you know, once in Minrathous and once when you accompanied your master to Qarinus. I don’t suppose you recall? No, perhaps not. But that fool Danarius apparently had everyone killed who had anything to do with the process of making you.” He chuckled, a startlingly bright sound that did nothing to ease the tension as the Inquisitor and his allies gripped their weapons, following the magister with their eyes and spreading out in the beginnings of a combat formation. “I’ve often wondered if you weren’t even his weapon in that. The artist who inscribed the markings, the apprentices who worked the spells to activate the lyrium…” He shrugged. “All gone. And that cuculus burned all his research notes, every failed experiment, every mistake I could’ve avoided along the way…” He sighed, eyeing the elf greedily. “Obviously you were his magnum opus, the pinnacle of his career, a masterpiece he had no intention of ever recreating, nor allowing to be recreated by another.”
“Yet that is precisely what you mean to do,” Metis said quietly.
“I saw this little wolf kill three of Danarius’ rivals in Minrathous,” Licinius said, tilting his head back in reminiscence. “In rapid succession, three powerful mages heaped on the ground while Danarius stood back smiling. It was...breathtaking. Well, their breath,” he chuckled. “You, as I recall, scarcely broke a sweat.”
“That is not all I will break, mage,” Fenris snarled, but even as he willed his markings to flare to life, the lyrium light wavered and flickered and --
He stared ruefully at the pale, inert lines on his arm, and back up at the magister, who clasped his hands before him in glee as a smirk lifted the corners of his mouth. “What...what have you done?” Fenris demanded, while the rest of the Inquisitor’s team drew in closer to him, weapons trained on the magister.
“I had wondered if that would work on you,” Licinius spoke as if to himself. “Or if it was only compatible with the red lyrium. We had to develop some way of controlling them, you know -- those early trials were horrid; I lost three mages for every man whose markings drove him mad. Of course there was no way to be sure your lyrium would be affected as well, there being only the one of you to test it on, but it seems my hypothesis was correct. This is a fortunate application. Oh, it’s nothing, really -- a bit of magebane and a few other things; it...quiets lyrium, if you will. That’s not blood on the floor, if you must know. You’d have had to make your way to this chamber sooner or later, so I set out a welcome for you. Oh, and it’ll have a similar effect on any spells you might try to cast, gardener, in case you were feeling heroic.”
Thayer exchanged a glance with his comrades at the implication, then took a step forward to accuse the magister: “You knew we were coming.”
“Of course I did. I saw you.”
“But how?” Thayer demanded, while Metis, staff raised before him in concentration, winced with the strain of trying to draw upon a supply of mana suddenly gone dry.
“I have many eyes,” Licinius laughed. “The red warriors, of course. They are bound to me through the markings. It’s a simple spell -- yet I do like to think it’s an innovation of mine; stop me if this sounds familiar, little wolf? -- it lets me see what my warriors are seeing. It works best on the ones who retain the least of their wits, but at least it makes them useful to me.”
Varric groaned. “That’ll be how they knew where to find us on the coast. Why they just kept coming.”
“And when they lost you in the fog,” Licinius confirmed, “I had to assume you’d found a way into my home. So! Here you are. I really must thank you for walking right in like this; having a working set of markings to study is going to…”
“No!” Fenris bellowed, raising his greatsword and charging toward the stairs. Varric came to his aid with a shot at the magister, but Licinius laughed and turned the bolt to ash with a wave of his hand. With another such wave, the doors at the far end of the chamber burst open and half a dozen red warriors charged toward them.
“Alive, mind you!” Licinius shouted at his pets, slipping away through one of the upper doors even as the Inquisition allies turned to face the new threat.
“Inquisitor!” Metis called out. “We cannot face them here! Not with the magebane! I’m of no use to you here!”
“And Fenris is likely to start punching them around when he forgets he can’t punch through them,” Varric added.
Thayer nodded. “Retreat it is!”
They made it out the door through which they had entered and halfway down the first hallway before the red warriors caught up with them. Licinius’ lyrium-quieting trap had no effect on Bianca’s quarrels, nor Thayer’s daggers, and Fenris’ sword was swift enough against their foes even if he could not punch through any chests -- whatever powers their red markings might have given them, at least they too seemed blocked by whatever they had walked through in the room with the dragon mosaics. But more of the red warriors poured from the hallways that branched off of the large corridor that had brought them to Licinius’ gallery, and they were forced to keep retreating, even when Metis’ magic and Fenris’ flares gradually returned the further they moved from the trap.
But there was no point in finding another route through the fortress. Enemies were everywhere now, the keep alerted, and if they had not accomplished everything they came for, at least they had a name. When they had a moment to rest before more red warriors found them, Thayer said between gasping for breath, “Back to camp. Regroup. Replan.”
They nodded and followed after him, back through all the torchlit corridors, back through all the darkened tunnels as the light sprang up again from Metis’ staff. Back all the way to the gate with the fancy Antivan locks.
Thayer and Varric were ahead, well beyond the gate when suddenly Metis’ light went out again and he slipped on the damp floor and fell. Fenris turned and bent to help him up. “What is it?” he asked.
“I --” Metis raised a hand, tried to summon his light, but nothing came. He exchanged a look with Fenris. “Your markings -- can you?”
Fenris frowned at his arm, but the lyrium lines stayed dark. As did the tunnel, save for the faint green glow of Thayer’s marked hand, nearly dormant in this rift-free place.
“Magebane again,” Metis groaned. “We’ve got to --”
But even as Fenris slung the mage’s arm over his shoulder and turned to pull him through the gate, even as Thayer and Varric started back toward them to help, the gate slammed shut from its hiding place in the stone above with a crash like the sound of the executioner’s blade falling to.
For a moment they stared at each other across the bars. Then Thayer bent to the lock, whipping out his lockpicks, but Fenris knew something was wrong from the way the Inquisitor’s face fell as soon as he tried to insert the pick in the lock. Tried.
“I can’t --” Thayer looked up, crestfallen. “Fenris, it’s jammed.”
Fenris tightened his grip on Metis with a curt nod. “Then go.”
“We can’t just leave you!” Varric shouted.
“Back to the camp,” Fenris turned to the dwarf. “Get help, Varric. You aren’t coming through this gate again, and we can’t come through either, with the magebane. Summon the ships. Find another way in. Storm the keep if you must. Do not stay in this tunnel to die!”
“And what of you?” Thayer asked quietly, face pressed up against the bars of the gate as if to squeeze his way through to them.
“We’ll hide. The other tunnels -- it is a large fortress. There must be somewhere. We’ll find a way out, or if we cannot, we will stay and scout until you find another way in. Go quickly, Inquisitor. We cannot evade them forever, and you must call the ships.”
Finally Thayer nodded, reaching through the bars to grasp Fenris’ arm, then Metis’. “Andraste guide you, my friends,” he whispered, and then backed away, gripping Varric’s shoulder to draw the dwarf away from his sad post.
“Varric,” Fenris called. “Tell Hawke -- If --”
“I’ll tell her you’re on your way out, elf,” Varric called back, even as his voice and the slap of their footsteps on the wet stone floor grew fainter and fainter in the distance.
Made-up Tevene note: cuculus is a Latin word that can mean “fool” and/or “bastard” (and also “cuckoo…”) and sounded like just the sort of term of endearment Licinius would pick for a rival like Danarius, so...there you go, add that to the collective Tevene vocabulary :-) And magnum opus is a masterpiece, or “great work,” a phrase common enough in English so hopefully it still sounds exotic enough for Tevene?
Chapter 12: Wherein plans change
From opposite sides of the Ath Velanis gate, Thayer and Varric, Fenris and Metis reconsider their course of action.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein plans change
Outside Ath Velanis, it was night still, yet the moonlight tinting the waves so near the tunnel’s entrance could have been broad daylight after running through the dark beneath the earth with only the Anchor lighting their way. Thayer blinked as he emerged onto the shore, hearing Varric’s relieved gasp of the fresh air.
He looked around and saw no sign of their guide. “Caligo?” Thayer called softly.
From above, a whistle sounded, and they turned to see the elven archer crouched on a ledge carved into the cliff. “Inquisitor,” she called back, scrambling down from her perch by footholds invisible in the moonlight.
Then she looked from one to the other of them, registering their dwindling numbers, and arched a querying eyebrow at Thayer.
“It was a trap,” the Inquisitor winced. “They’ve got a spell for seeing through the marked warriors’ eyes. Up until you fogged them back there, the Venatori were watching our every step.”
Caligo pondered this with a grim nod. “Then...the others with you?”
“Alive. I hope. But caught in the trap, until we find a way to get them out.” He turned to retrace the path along the coast at a jog; Varric and Caligo fell in behind. They had not gone a dozen steps before they passed the first corpse, a red-lined human sprawled on the sand with an arrow through his eye. Two steps further and it was an elf with an arrow sprouting from his chest. Thayer tossed a glance at the Fog Warrior as he swerved to dodge the third such corpse. “You’ve been busy.”
“They didn’t make it difficult,” Caligo shrugged. “Some of them even glowed; couldn’t ask for an easier target. I’ll wager whatever their masters saw through their eyes, though, wasn’t me.”
“He was probably busier siccing the rest of their brood on us,” Varric guessed. “And monologuing. I’m just gonna assume monologuing takes priority over maintaining that sight spell, right?”
“Regardless,” Thayer said, “we’d best not rely on this entrance again. Even if we could find a way through the gate now.”
“You mean to go back in?” Caligo sounded surprised.
“That’s generally a crucial element of a rescue, yes,” Thayer glanced back at her. “We’re getting them out. And then we’re finishing the job we came to do.”
They ran on in silence. Not until they reached the broken rocks at the end of the path did Caligo point out, “You realize there may not be much point in a rescue now.” At Thayer’s and Varric’s converging glares, she raised her hands defensively. “I am only saying that we have never seen anyone come back out of Ath Velanis since the Venatori moved in. Not without…” she gestured at the corpses piled not far from the path, where they had fallen in the fog just hours ago. In the moonlight, the lines of lyrium on twisted limbs and torsoes looked like nothing so much as blood from countless wounds, blending in with the actual wounds the five companions had inflicted upon them in their flight towards the shore.
Thayer’s hands clenched into fists as he looked at the tattoed bodies, and then back towards the path, thinking of the time they had lost already, running from the gate back through tunnels to the shore, and back down the path to this point. How long would Fenris and Metis be able to keep ahead of pursuit on their side of the gate? How long before they fell into the magister’s hands, or met their end with a lyrium-red hand wrapped around their heart?
“And yet here we are.” Varric’s voice, rough with worries unspoken, broke the Inquisitor out of his thoughts. :You saw us come out of there, right? First time for everything.”
Thayer nodded firmly. “We’re getting them out,” he repeated. “The sooner we get back to camp, the better. We’ve an assault to plan.”
Fenris, best beloved, carrying my heart with you into that fortress:
I don’t even know what to say.
I got your letter (and Varric’s) while we were all at dinner, and according to Merrill, halfway through reading it I went as pale as the mashed potatoes, into which I promptly dropped it. Once I’d wiped away the gravy stains enough to finish it, I told Merrill what you said and she agrees with me, we can think of nothing more unexpected that you could have written.
Then I told Malcolm that he has a grandfather. He looked confused and corrected me: “Da!” as he does whenever he sees one of your letters in my hand. (This one is far too perceptive for his years, or rather months, dearest.) I attempted to explain the concept, but, to be fair, his world has never previously extended beyond parents and uncle.
Though presumably there’s also still an aunt out there, and I do not mean Merrill however readily Malcolm would accept her as one. But Fenris -- I have to ask -- are you all right with this? Finding your father. From your letters he seems a decent sort, and Varric vouched for him too, but I remember how difficult it was for you, seeing Varania again, and I only hope that this will be a thoroughly happy reunion. I couldn’t bear to see you hurt in the end.
And I know by the time this letter reaches your camp you’ll probably be off dealing with the Venatori so perhaps I’m a fool to worry about little details like how you’re getting along with a sudden influx of family. But it matters. As surely as you have my heart in your care wherever you go, I should like to think I’ll do what I can to defend yours. So whatever happens with this father of yours -- truly, I am hoping for the best -- I remain,
P.S. And if he is in any way a disappointment, your father will have me to answer to, love.
The fortress was enormous. This, Fenris acknowledged with something like hope flaring for a moment, was to a fugitive’s advantage.
The lyrium-quieting potion seemed to affect his markings less severely than the magebane in it affected his father: by the time the red warriors caught up with the two elves as they retraced their steps towards the hallway with the many side passages that they had ignored on their first trip into Ath Velanis, Fenris’ markings had recovered from their forced reset enough to rip out hearts as necessary, though Metis could still do little more than swing his staff at those who came too close. It was a sensible combat staff, though, with a bladed end that kept him safe enough in the absence of magic. Fenris tried not to worry.
But they made slow progress, even once they had slain and evaded enough of the enemy to find a side passage to hide in. Metis had twisted his ankle slightly when he slipped on the way to the gate, so when they weren’t pausing to fight their way past someone, Fenris wedged a shoulder under the mage’s arm and half carried him.
He felt the tingle of restored magic against that shoulder just before they heard a Venatori patrol up ahead -- perhaps they were running short of the red-tattooed warriors to throw at the invaders, or perhaps it only meant Fenris and Metis were drawing nearer to the part of the fortress set aside for the cult’s own use, not just for Licinius’ experiments -- and Fenris pulled his father into the first open room he could find, not even shutting the door lest it draw attention. They flattened themselves against the wall in the dark of what turned out to be some sort of storage room, holding their breath and listening for the patrol to pass. When it was long gone, Metis finally sighed and sank down to sit with his legs stretched out in front of him.
Fenris glanced over, unsurprised at the faint healing glow as Metis ran a hand over his ankle, brows furrowed in concentration. “Your magic returns,” he observed.
“Barely,” Metis grunted, “but it’ll do for now. I’ve slowed you down long enough.”
“You are not --”
“Oh, hush, lad. I know the predicament we’re in. If I hadn’t tripped -- if you hadn’t come back to help me before that gate came down…”
Fenris considered this until the light finally dimmed and Metis carefully hauled himself back onto his feet, leaning carefully on the newly healed ankle to test it.
“I...would have come back for you anyway,” Fenris finally admitted. “I would not leave you here on your own.”
“That gate might say otherwise.”
“It would not have stopped me.” He held out a hand, letting the lyrium flare up till even through his gauntlets the markings were brightly visible, no longer affected by the lyrium-quieter at all. “They affect my whole body. Passing the whole of me through, say, a wall, is difficult -- more so than passing my hand through flesh, certainly. But the bars of the gate would offer less resistance than a wall.”
Metis raised an eyebrow and drew nearer, eyes fixed on the lyrium glow. “Except of course for the magebane you’d just walked through,” he reminded Fenris.
Fenris scowled. “It can’t be just magebane. I have...encountered that poison before. Danarius was as ruthless with rivals as he was unscrupulous. My hands were made to deliver it because they were unaffected by it, as his would not be.”
“Oh? That’s interesting,” Metis said, some of the worry seeming to lift from his shoulders as this new puzzle drew his attention. “Yet whatever they’ve been using on us has magebane enough to affect me, plus whatever it is that counteracts your lyrium.”
Fenris shook his head. “Whatever it contains, our concern for now is only to keep away from it.”
“Fair enough.” Metis looked up at him, eyes softening. “You know, potion or no potion, if you’d ghosted back through that gate you couldn’t actually have ghosted me back out with you.”
“I know,” Fenris said in a tone of voice that discouraged further speculation. “If your ankle is recovered now, we should move on.” He slipped back toward the doorway, sword at the ready as he leaned out to check the hallway.
Metis leaned against the wall next to him. “Perhaps we might consider where we are moving on to.”
“Ahead of the patrols is all that matters now.” Finding the coast clear, Fenris stepped quietly out of the room.
“Is it?” Metis followed, limping only slightly but moving quickly enough to keep up with the taller elf now. “Because I’ve an idea.”
Fenris glanced at him. “For escape?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Fenris’ eyes narrowed. “In how many manners may such a thing be spoken of, then?”
“Please don’t ask me to enumerate, Fenris.”
Fenris blinked and then, to his own surprise and even more to Metis’, laughed. “Very well, then, Professor. Enumerate when this is all over. For now, tell me your plan.”
“I was thinking of facilitating other escapes. Namely, the prisoners we’ve heard the Venatori have for test subjects. For one thing, our purpose here is to make sure no one else has to undergo that, after all. And for another, a jailbreak would divide Venatori forces rather than having every last one of them looking for us.”
Fenris considered and then nodded. “It is better than hiding.”
“Then all that we require,” Metis smiled, “is to find these prisoners.”
Chapter 13: Wherein saboteurs are loose in Venatori territory
Stranded in the fortress of Ath Velanis, Fenris and Metis make mischief for the Venatori.
So getting this chapter out took rather longer than I hoped! Last week of teaching before Christmas break (plus various knitting commissions to finish and ship in time for Christmas)...but now I have time off and hopefully will get a bit further ahead in this story! Gotta get these people out of all the trouble I keep getting them into, right?
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein saboteurs are loose in Venatori territory
They had not seen a red-lyrium marked warrior in hours, as far as Metis could tell the time in the depths of the fortress. He mentioned as much to Fenris as the two elves combed the lower levels of Ath Velanis in search of prisoners to free or any other way to hinder the Venatori.
“Maker knows they have sent enough of them after us,” Fenris said. “Perhaps we have finally exhausted their supply.”
“Conveniently completing one of our mission objectives even while saving our own skins,” Metis grinned. Then the grin fell as he recalled the mindless frenzy in which so many of those lined warriors had attacked them. “Maker also knows, I’d have wished we could do more for them than just put them out of their misery, though.”
“Their madness is reassuring,” Fenris pointed out. “We have not yet seen proof that the magister’s experiments have been successful. These warriors cannot even control the markings and use them to their advantage.”
“Perhaps it can’t ever be done with red lyrium.”
“I hope not.”
The slap of booted feet on the stone floors met their ears, echoing from a hallway to the left, and the elves ducked behind an appallingly ugly statue of a dragon to wait for the patrol to pass. Peeking between its marble wings, Fenris saw two Venatori Zealots, anonymous behind their heavy helmets, dragging a third person between them. From the back he could see only that it was an elven man, his tattered clothing and dark hair smeared with the pale, camouflaging paints of the Fog Warriors. His arms were bound behind his back; the Venatori yanked him along by his elbows.
Fenris felt the faintest tingle of magic brushing across his markings only a moment before he saw the prisoner stumble, almost twisting free from the guards’ grip. The Venatori swore as they paused to straighten their prisoner, oblivious to the tiny root that had grabbed at the man’s ankle, even now shrinking back down into the corridor’s paving stones while Fenris shot a warning glare at his father crouched behind him.
Metis answered with pursed lips and a determined crease to his forehead as he slowly raised a hand in the guards’ direction again. Fenris reached out to stop him from doing anything more to draw attention to their hiding place, but halted when he caught a fragment of the guards’ conversation.
“...to the laboratory now,” one said. “Lord Licinius is waiting.”
“Making him wait won’t make this any easier on you, rabbit,” the other guard said.
“Who knows,” said the first, “you might even like it when it’s done. Saw you take down one of the brutes what caught you. You’re a decent fighter; the magister’s ritual is supposed to make you a real warrior.”
“If you come out of it with your senses,” the second guard laughed.
By that time they had moved down the hall and around a corner, and Fenris slumped with relief as their voices died away.
Metis nudged him. “They’re taking him to the laboratory, Fenris.”
“I heard,” Fenris grumbled. “I also heard that the magister awaits him there.”
“We could stop this ritual. We could…”
“Run straight into another trap?” Fenris scowled. “You know he has to be looking for us. Every red warrior we killed after the gate fell told him we are still in the fortress. It is likely he is preparing another ritual just to lure us in.”
“We have to do something!”
“We will.” Fenris crept from behind the statue, approaching the intersection of hallways through which the Venatori and their prisoner had just come. To the right, the three even now marched on towards the laboratory. But to the left, from which they had come… “Presuming that was not the last of their prisoners,” Fenris whispered, beckoning Metis to follow him to the left, “let us find where they took that man from. Now is as good a time as any for our jailbreak.”
The cells were well guarded, and not only by the Venatori Brutes and Gladiators patrolling the long hallway, lined with barred doors, behind which Licinius’ prisoners awaited their turn to be subjected to his ritual. But Fenris and Metis were not unprepared. Approaching cautiously, sending tendrils of his magic skirling along the floor while Fenris peered around a corner at the Venatori Zealot standing guard at the entrance to the dungeon, Metis detected a patch of the lyrium-quieting potion smeared in the main entryway, and two more patches further in.
“Another trap,” Fenris whispered when the mage pointed this out to him.
Metis nodded. “Unless they’re actually keeping marked warriors in here, I don’t know who else it would be meant for.”
“So we find another way in,” Fenris said, looking around for a side passage.
“I believe,” Metis said, nudging him and pointing upwards, “I know just the thing.”
Fenris followed the mage’s line of sight to see, far overhead, a grating in the wall just below the ceiling. Its purpose was unclear -- ventilation? -- but it was well beyond his reach. He ran a hand over the wall, seeking climbing holds, but the stone was smooth and neatly fitted without gaps for his fingers. “It seems of little use to us,” Fenris finally said, “unless you also know how to fly.”
There was a strain in Metis’ voice when he answered, “Better. You can climb, I presume?” and Fenris glanced back at him to see his face contorted in concentration as the mage wove his staff through a delicate pattern, then thrust it up towards the grating, moving his free hand as if to beckon, or as if slowly pulling at something Fenris could not see.
But when he looked back at the grate, he could definitely see the dark vines spilling down from it, growing longer with every breath the mage took.
“Metis,” he said, watching the vines lengthen until he could reach out and touch one green stem, even as the ends nearer the grate suddenly sprouted leaves, “we are several floors away from the actual earth beneath this fortress, are we not?”
“Indeed,” the mage said, speaking quickly, uncharacteristically terse.
“Then where in Thedas are you even getting these from?”
Metis’ voice was still strained, faraway, as he answered, “Well, it isn’t exactly easy. They heard my call, though. That is what matters.”
“It is...impressive,” Fenris conceded, giving the vine a tug and finding it firmly attached. “I am all the more curious, now, to see these orchards you have promised.”
Metis laughed, swaying slightly as he finished the spell. “Trees do take a bit longer.” Fenris put out an arm to catch him when he stumbled approaching the vines. Metis patted the arm steadying him and nodded his thanks. “Give me a moment. That was rather more mana than I expected to use.”
“Further from the earth than you thought?” Fenris guessed with half a smile.
“Or nearer the magebane,” Metis reminded him.
“Then the sooner we distance ourselves from it, the better,” Fenris said, reaching for the vines as soon as Metis had regained his balance.
Six Venatori, none of them mages. At least twenty prisoners, possibly more further back in their cells. Two more patches of the potion that would stop them both from using their powers. From the third grating along the crawlspace they had found behind the one sprouting Metis’ vines, they could look down and take stock of the odds, but there was little they could do from there.
Or so Fenris thought, noting the Venatori’s positions and timing their patrol patterns, looking for a weak spot. “What I wouldn’t give for one of the Inquisitor’s smoke bombs right now,” he muttered. “Or Caligo’s fog.”
“Some of the prisoners are likely Fog Warriors,” Metis recalled. “At least the one on his way to the laboratory was. No doubt the Venatori stripped them of anything that useful, but…”
“If we could find where they put it,” Fenris nodded.
Metis gestured toward an open door not far from the main entrance to the dungeon, between it and the barred cells. “That would be my guess. But there’s a patch of magebane in the doorway.”
Fenris nodded, watching a Venatori Gladiator march past the open door and turn again. “You’re staying here, then.”
“The potion affects your markings, too, Fenris.”
“But not my sword arm. There are only six of them.”
“Wait,” Metis said, catching at his shoulder before Fenris could pry the grating away and launch himself into the corridor. “Before you go, I have an idea. The prisoners might be of aid themselves, if we could open their cells.”
“Hadn’t we best deal with that after the Venatori are dead?”
“Every bit of chaos helps,” Metis grinned. And he pushed back from the grating, motioning Fenris to scoot further away until he had room to move his staff in the patterns he had used before to call vines from wherever he had found them.
Apparently the vines were poised for his call now. Fenris glanced through the grating to see them springing up, more quickly than before, around the bars of each cell. Faster and faster, thicker and thicker they grew, squeezing tighter around the bars until, with a series of loud groans, the metal bent and twisted until each barred gate popped free.
“Go,” Metis whispered through the strain of his spell, clenching his teeth, and Fenris took his cue, wrenching their own bars free and throwing himself down into the confusion as the Venatori veered from their patrols, looking wildly about at more than a dozen cell doors suddenly torn open at once. By the time they realized that there were less than half a dozen of them to guard the newly opened cells, Fenris had run his sword through the nearest Gladiator and, lyrium flaring while he was still out of reach of the potion traps, ducked under the swing of a maul and crushed the heart of the Brute turning to his comrade’s aid. The Zealot guarding the main entrance went down with another sweep of his greatsword, as Fenris skidded into the open doorway of the side room that Metis had guessed to be storage.
His father had guessed right; possessions of far more than a dozen or two dozen prisoners were scattered over shelves and in chests crammed into the small antechamber. His lyrium markings, still glowing from their use on the Brute, gradually flickered and faded from the quieting potion smeared in the doorway. Keeping his greatsword at the ready, Fenris grabbed up a handful of swords and daggers from one chest, swept aside a motley assortment of clothing and armor in another, and finally laid hands on a belt into which three of the Fog Warriors’ flasks were tucked. Slinging this over his chest, he emerged from the antechamber to find that Metis had kept the remaining Venatori occupied with more of his vines and that the prisoners were starting to poke their heads out of the ruin of their cell doors to see what was going on.
Reaching the first such cell door, Fenris found the man inside wide-eyed, stammering questions. He cut the ropes binding the prisoner’s wrists and ankles with one of the daggers he had found in the antechamber, then pressed it into the man’s hands. The prisoner’s eyes lit up as he squeezed out of the cell and threw himself upon the nearest Venatori, slashing at the cultist’s ankles before he could bring his sword down on the prisoner in the next cell. Then Fenris joined the fight, keeping the Venatori busy with his greatsword while the first prisoner cut the second one’s bonds.
On down the corridor they went, freeing and arming the prisoners, who soon made up a sizeable mob, descending upon the remaining Venatori when they broke free from their vines. Metis, Fenris guessed, was tiring too much to call the vines again, but the mage remained out of sight in the crawlspace while Fenris finished off the last of the Gladiators. Then his red hair appeared at a grating further down the corridor from the one Fenris had jumped down from, even as Fenris was freeing the last of the prisoners.
“Fenris!” Metis called down. “It sounds like reinforcements are on their way.”
Fenris nodded acknowledgement up to him. “Don’t come down,” he insisted. “The potion. I’ll meet you back at the first vines.” Then he slipped the belt with its flasks of fog from his shoulder, handing it to one of the prisoners bearing the Fog Warriors’ paints. “I cannot show you a way out of the fortress,” he told them, more than two dozen who looked to have been capable warriors before the Venatori had captured them. “But you are free to find one. Be cautious. The fortress is on alert, looking for us.”
The Fog Warrior nodded. “It is more than we have hoped for in many days. We will not be captured again.”
Fenris stood aside while the mob rushed out the dungeon entrance, heedless of the lyrium-quieting potion beneath their feet. Fenris followed more cautiously, stepping gingerly through the potion trap in two long strides, still faintly disoriented by his markings’ unresponsiveness. For all the pain and trouble they had caused him, he had still come to rely on the abilities they provided. Fighting the Venatori guards and rescuing their prisoners almost entirely without the aid of his lyrium had left him wearier than he would like to admit.
From ahead, around the corner, came sudden sounds of fighting before he had even reached Metis’ vine trail to the first grating, and within seconds a dense white fog was rolling through the hallway. “Kaffas,” Fenris swore, gripping his sword at the ready as he dashed ahead into the midst of it.
The Venatori reinforcements had cut off the prisoners’ escape, it seemed, but the fog helped to even the odds. Fenris moved slowly through it, taking care not to strike out with his sword until he was near enough to be sure that the Venatori, not their former prisoners, would be caught in its arc. He had felled three of the cultists before it occurred to him that he had not yet seen any prisoners at all in the fog. Perhaps, then, they had all taken the opportunity to escape beyond its boundaries, leaving the Venatori -- and himself, of course -- to stumble around blindly. Counting on it, he advanced more boldly, keeping close to the wall so that he could watch for the vines even as he fended off ever more and more of the Venatori.
He should have reached the vines by now, he thought. This was the side of the hall on which Metis had summoned them. Unless -- he nearly stumbled at the thought -- he had gotten turned around in the fog. Perhaps he was heading in the wrong direction, back toward the dungeon. He parried a blow from a Venatori Gladiator’s mace, roared in fury when one of their Stalkers appeared out of nowhere to slash at his arm. Fenris whirled to run him through but the assassin had already vanished again into the fog.
And then, with a faint breeze and a tsking sound, the fog suddenly parted and a familiar voice filled the space it had vacated. “Unharmed, I’m sure I said,” Licinius scolded his Venatori, tucking his hands behind his back as he advanced. “We do not have time to deal with scars obscuring the markings.”
Fenris turned again and raised his sword with a scowl, poised to charge at the magister. But then a flare of light surrounded him and he felt himself paralyzed, fixed in place. From the corner of his eyes he could barely make out the glyph that Licinius had cast at his feet. A growl tore from him as he struggled against the magic, to no avail. With his markings active, he could perhaps have overpowered the spell, but the effect of the potions he had walked through in the dungeon yet lingered.
Licinius advanced, casting a calculating eye over the frozen elf. “You do seem inclined to make this more difficult than necessary, little wolf.” He gestured to one of his soldiers, who reached out cautiously, keeping his feet well outside the glyph, and plucked Fenris’ greatsword from his hands. “I mean you no harm,” the magister said, reaching a finger to trace one of the lines down Fenris’ throat. “But I do mean to make use of you.”
The paralysis glyph restricted even Fenris’ jaw, so it was with difficulty that he finally bit out: “I...am...not your slave!”
“Dear me!” Licinius chuckled. “I can’t recall saying you were. Would it help if I assure you that you’ll be free to go when we are finished here? Truly, this would be easier with your cooperation.”
“No...intention...making it easy, mage,” Fenris managed at last.
“So I gather,” Licinius said lightly, turning to glide down the hall again with a gesture to the Venatori Brute nearest the glyph. “Bring him. And do not damage the markings.”
With a grunt, the Brute swung the blunt end of his weapon around at the back of Fenris’ head. The last thing the elf saw before darkness claimed him was a flash of red hair at the vine-covered grating just down the hall.
Metis was halfway back to the grating at which they had originally entered the crawlspace when the fog rolled in, though in the dimness of his passageway it made little difference. By the time he made it back to the vines at their entrance, the sounds of battle had died down, and as the fog faded from his hiding place he saw Fenris locked in a paralysis glyph and Licinius gloating at him.
He counted the Venatori gathered around his son with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Too many. And the magister was a force to be reckoned with.
But then, so was Fenris. If he could just loose him from that glyph, between the two of them their odds might not be so bad. Metis gathered his mana, beginning to move his staff in a spell to counter the paralysis --
And suddenly Licinius turned away, and the Venatori Brute knocked Fenris unconscious. Metis winced as his son fell and the Venatori gathered him up and marched after their master. Cursing under his breath, he tried to think of a spell that would help from this distance, but before he could do anything they had turned a corner.
Metis reached for the vines to climb down and follow, and then hesitated. Licinius had to know he was still in the fortress. If he had left potion traps in the dungeon, there would certainly be more up ahead. But the crawlspaces…
He turned to follow, crawling after them in hopes that this path of his would lead as far as the laboratory. Metis had no doubt that was where Licinius would end up taking his son. And whatever use he intended to make of Fenris, it couldn’t be good. Someone had to stop him.
Hoping this finds you well and that the assault on the fortress is going well and everything. (Or has gone well, I suppose, by the time you get to read this.)
While Malcolm has yet to start, how did you put it, “summoning sparks” or anything, he is beginning to show signs of an affinity for stealth. By which I mean that the little scamp found himself a hiding place under the Inquisitor’s throne, of all places, and we spent all morning looking for him until he finally crawled out at lunchtime looking insufferably pleased with himself. For a boy who normally chatters as much as he does these days (it’s not just “Da” anymore, I must inform you; although sadly he has yet to decide what to call his mother, Malcolm has picked up the terms “Po” which we think means “puppy” in reference to the mabari, and “Boo” when he wants a book read to him, and “Buh” for the birds outside our window, which make him giggle uncontrollably. It’s adorable enough to make even “Da” smile), right, anyway, for all his usual chatter, he was suspiciously quiet the whole time he was hiding under that throne. I had to lie down after we finally found him. I haven’t been feeling all that well the last few days and had no appetite for lunch after such a worried morning. (Oh and now I must remind you not to worry! I’m fine, really. Whatever it is will pass. Probably I’ve just caught whatever it was Malcolm was sick with not long ago. And he’s sufficiently recovered to resume driving me insane.)
And speaking of miraculous recoveries, Merrill and Dagna really have worked a miracle on poor Emmen. They’ve finished cleansing and draining away nearly all of the lyrium growing on him. Dagna thinks there’s more growing internally and it will take them a while to work all that out of his system safely, but his progress is truly amazing. He’s been awake for a few days now, and says the pain of the lyrium is growing less. Linian -- you remember her, his fiancee that we saved from the demons -- has scarcely left the Undercroft and he seems more comfortable with her sitting there holding his hand. And Merrill! She’s practically giddy to see this adopted-clanmate of hers restored, and to know that her skills were enough to save him. And Carver struts around being proud on her behalf. I try very hard not to laugh but fortunately he is a little oblivious to his big sister when Merrill is around. (I could hug Merrill for that alone, I think. Also, if I laugh at Carver, she usually laughs with me, and then he can hardly object, can he?) Even you would be happy for them, especially as Merrill has managed all this without any blood magic.
So, good news out of Skyhold, yes? Maker, I hope the news out of Seheron is as good. Come back to me soon, my love.
“Chief Scout, Ser!”
Scout Harding looked up at the communications officer’s shout to see him hurrying toward her from the fondly-nicknamed Touring Rookery that they’d set up for the raven cages in the middle of their base camp near the Seheron shore. She nodded and smiled as he handed her a letter tightly rolled into a scroll.
“Who’s sending love notes this time, Deakins?” she asked him. “The Inquisitor or the elf?”
Deakins grinned. “You tell me, Ser. It’s addressed to you.”
“Oh, that’s new!” Harding said, noting the Inquisitor’s seal on the scroll before breaking it open. “Not that our Herald isn’t quite the flirt, but he is married now, and…” She trailed off, eyes widening as she took in the contents of the scroll.
“And?” Deakins prompted, even as Harding’s grin widened to rival her eyes.
“And...looks like our vacation here is over, Deakins. Signal the ships. It’s time to move on Ath Velanis in full force.”
Chapter 14: Wherein the magister refines his ritual
Licinius intends to use Fenris' markings as a template for his next red lyrium warrior...and so the ritual begins...
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein the magister refines his ritual
“Our objectives,” Thayer ticked them off on his fingers, pacing before the Fog Warriors arrayed for battle, their eyes intense bursts of color in contrast to the white paint with which they had covered their skin and clothing: “Stop the magister. Take him into custody or kill him if he can’t be taken alive, but our priority remains putting an end to his experiments, and we accomplish that quickest by removing him from play. Second, rescue our friends. Fenris and Metis are more than capable. I refuse to believe they’re not still holding their own against whatever the Venatori can throw at them, but the sooner we get to them, the better their odds. And finally, neutralize any remaining Red Lyrium Warriors that Licinius has already created and free any slaves or captives he intended to put through the ritual.”
Varric coughed and added, just loud enough for the Inquisitor to hear, “And then maybe we can leave this fortress in ruins so we don’t have to keep coming back here every few years.” That won a smirk from the Inquisitor. Varric considered it a small victory.
“We don’t have the manpower for a frontal assault,” Thayer continued, nodding to the Fog Warrior archer who had guided them to the tunnel for the previous night’s reconnaisance, “so Varric has identified a few possible infiltration points. Caligo, you’ll lead a team from the south. Varric and I will enter from the north with the second team. Get in as quickly and quietly as you can, and remember the objectives: magister, allies, prisoners. If things go to pieces, get out of there. If they don’t, we’ll meet somewhere in the middle.”
A shout interrupted the briefing, and they looked up to see one of the Inquisition scouts approaching from the raven cages. “Reply from Harding, ser,” the man said, offering up a small scroll.
Thayer hurried to open it; scanning the words there, he smiled and nodded to Varric. “The ships are on their way.”
“It’ll take them most of the day to sail around the coast,” Varric pointed out. “Do we wait?”
Thayer considered the timing with narrowed eyes, then shook his head. “We use that time to do this right. Licinius has probably realized that some of us made it out of the fortress last night. He’ll be preparing reinforcements. We need to approach Ath Velanis cautiously, but if we wait too long…”
“We’ll face more of his reinforcements,” Varric nodded. “Okay then, Your Heraldicness. Let’s go scale that fortress wall.”
It was cold. Perhaps, some part of Fenris mused as he gradually regained consciousness, it was the cold that finally brought him back to his senses. At least by the cold he knew that he was awake; it never seemed this cold in dreams. In the Fade. There was a pounding in his head, besides, and the ozone smell of magic.
Magic. In a panic his eyes snapped open and he tried to sit up, thrashing against the shackles that now revealed themselves at his sudden movements.
“Ah, welcome back, little wolf,” he heard Licinius’ bemused voice somewhere behind him. Panting as he tried to turn, Fenris took stock of his situation. He had thought he was lying down, but as the swimming world righted itself while his vision caught up to it, he found himself secured by metal cuffs at his wrists and ankles to a table of sorts, likewise of metal, cold against his bare skin, propping him up at an angle somewhere between standing and reclining.
The metal shouldn’t be able to hold him like this. I am a free man. He willed his lyrium to light, to let him phase through the bonds, but the markings remained white and inert.
He stilled, catching his breath while his hands balled into fists. The cuffs kept his arms stretched wide enough to limit his range of motion, but he could still turn his head. To one side he saw a wall lined with shelves of potions, and between them a single door, guarded by Venatori. To the other, a table like the one to which he was bound, at an angle that seemed to match his; stretched out on it, likewise stripped and shackled, a dark haired elf. Traces of white paint still clung to his hair, but from the redness of his skin Fenris guessed that more of the paint had been freshly scrubbed from his body.
Facing forward again, Fenris saw a sight out of his nightmares, with one difference: the lyrium in the bottles was red, not blue. In all other regards, it seemed that even without Danarius’ notes, Licinius had come to many of the same conclusions about the process of bonding lyrium to the skin. Fenris’ earliest memories -- before his time with Hawke had begun to stir the older memories locked behind the wall of torment that in all his years as a slave he had not been able to breach -- had overwhelmingly featured the pain of the process and less so the specific details of what Danarius and his assistants were doing throughout it, but he recognized the rod, even now heating over glowing coals, that would be used to etch on the skin the burning brands to which the lyrium would fuse. His pulse raced, his breath came short and ragged as he realized that this must be the magister’s laboratory, where his lyrium-marked warriors had been created -- and to all appearances, soon would be created again.
Then what was he, already the product of such a ritual, doing trussed up on a table like this?
“What,” he finally rasped, willing to his voice the veneer of calm that had often been his shield in Danarius’ house, “do you intend to do with me?” Despite the cold, sweat dripped into his eyes and he shook his head to scatter it.
“Quite simply,” came Licinius’ voice again from behind him, “you are to serve as a template. The ritual I have recreated works; at least, we have succeeded time and time again in creating markings like yours. But my subjects have not been able to make use of their markings as you do, which rather defeats the purpose.” He appeared suddenly at Fenris’ side, smiling widely. Fenris clenched his fists in an effort not to flinch away from the magister’s nearness, glaring at him with furrowed brows as Licinius continued, “I theorize that the actual layout of the markings is of greater importance than I had originally presumed. It is as if we were inscribing runes of enchantment upon the flesh, after all. Perhaps I have been leaving out some vital branching or,” he cast a critical eye over Fenris’ skin, running a too-warm finger over the lines curving around his arm, “filigree. Now that we have your markings to refer to, we can either confirm my theory or at least rule it out by making an exact copy of these patterns on my next warrior. If they do not work on him, we must look elsewhere for the flaw in the process.”
“And merely to see my markings,” Fenris growled, “you find it necessary to restrain me so?” He nodded toward his bound wrists.
Licinius chuckled as he moved toward the table where the apparatus of the ritual was laid out, lifting the branding rod and holding a finger an inch from it to confirm the heat now radiating from the metal. “As you may recall, since we met I have been extending the offer of cooperation. I truly mean you no harm. Alas, given the hostility you have shown to my men in your time here, I can only assume that you cannot be trusted to cooperate.”
“You cannot do this,” Fenris insisted with no attempt to swallow the hostility Licinius had already observed. “This ritual is...it is a curse. Danarius died by the very markings he etched on my hand. Do not think you will escape.”
“Tell me, little wolf,” Licinius drawled, inspecting one of the lyrium bottles, “just how deadly are those markings of yours right now?”
Naturally, the crawlspaces did not quite match up to the hallways through which Licinius and his brutes had dragged Fenris back to his laboratory. Metis kept as close to them as he could at first, but every intersection meant a detour, either to find another route through the fortress’s ventilation, or to wait till the coast was clear to drop down from one grating and summon vines at another so he could resume crawling through another dusty shaft. Eventually, he dropped from a grating, looked around, and realized he had no way of knowing which direction the magister had gone from this intersection.
With a sigh, he lowered himself to the floor, listening. Even to elven ears, the fortress was silent. He had fallen too far behind already. Licinius was beyond his reach; he couldn’t even say for sure that the magister had passed through this intersection. Somewhere in this place, his son was in the clutches of Metis’ old master, a man who could not even imagine the concept of mercy unless it were sweetened with more mercenary motivations. And once again, Metis was too late.
“No,” he whispered, brushing aside the first frustrated tear and forbidding its fellows to fall. “Not this time. He won’t be taken from me again.”
It was a large fortress. But with Fenris he had already explored a good part of it, and the laboratory could not be too far; the last time he had crossed an intersection from one grating to the next, he had certainly seen his son being dragged away down that hallway. So he was starting from the right point, at least. He’d just have to explore a bit more, carefully, and be on the alert for the magebane that would render him useless again. He brushed the dust of the crawlspaces from his robes and picked a hallway to begin.
There was little enough room to thrash in the restraints. From the silence of his markings, Fenris guessed that Licinius had kept him drugged with the quieting potion. Ropes might have eventually loosened if he worked at them long enough, but the metal cuffs were inflexible. No matter how he squirmed and tried to make his hands and feet smaller to slip through them, his position scarcely changed.
Licinius ignored his every move, evidently confident that the restraints could keep the markings still enough to copy. Grudgingly, Fenris conceded that escape, for the moment, was beyond him. He lay still, except for his eyes, narrowed as they followed the movements of the magister and his assistants preparing for the ritual.
Two Venatori mages were present to assist Licinius -- perhaps more, behind the table and out of sight, Fenris considered. Two warriors stood guard at the door to Fenris’ right; whether the laboratory had any other entrance beyond his range of sight was difficult to tell. In front of him, a Tranquil in Venatori robes bent over the lyrium flasks, preparing a pipette with which the fluid would be transferred to the lines soon to be branded on the Fog Warrior’s skin.
The Fog Warrior himself seemed to be unconscious. Remembering the pain of the ritual even after so many years, Fenris envied him that. It occurred to him that perhaps the subject’s consciousness was a necessary ingredient in making the ritual successful; otherwise, could not Danarius have created his markings on a Leto who need not feel every burn, every cut, every searing pain of the lyrium bonding with his flesh? Or perhaps the pain itself would bring the Fog Warrior back to a consciousness he would gladly abandon again. Either way, Fenris was not about to suggest to the magister that keeping the unfortunate man awake might be necessary to making the markings work. Let him rest while he might.
Soon enough, the Venatori gathered around the ritual table. Licinius nodded to one mage and the man carefully collected the branding rod from the brazier and approached the victim, while the Tranquil stood ready with the first flask and pipette of red lyrium.
Licinius frowned, looking over at Fenris, considering the patterns of lyrium on his skin once more. “The torso, I believe,” he said over his shoulder to the branding mage. “Let us begin there.”
The Venatori mage nodded, following Licinius’ gaze to take a careful look at the lines on Fenris’ chest before he brought the branding rod to the Fog Warrior’s skin for the first delicate line.
The man’s screams at the first sizzle of his flesh answered one question. No one would have the luxury of remaining unconscious for this ritual.
Screams from a hallway he had just passed brought Metis up short. He held his breath for a panicky moment, wondering if he would even be able to tell Fenris’ screams from another man’s. To be sure, his son had not as yet provided much of an example to go by in their brief acquaintance; Metis had known many taught by servitude to keep their emotions well guarded, but even in combat Fenris was quiet. Perhaps, in an ordinary life, Metis would have once sought the patience to outlast a stage of teenaged tantrums, but it was too late to even guess if Fenris had ever been the sort of child to rage against parental boundaries.
Then a sharp, curt shout rose above the screams, and Metis would know that voice anywhere. He turned to follow, keeping to shadows since he saw no convenient gratings in this hallway.
“It will never work,” Fenris shouted above the Fog Warrior’s pained screams, goading the magister. “Red lyrium is not the same as what marks me. You cannot expect the same results.”
“It has already worked,” Licinius finally shouted back, yet without losing his concentration, as Fenris had hoped. The magister continued to focus his magic upon the prisoner, fusing the red lyrium into the burns left by the branding rod even as his assistant mage slowly and carefully piped the lyrium into its tracks. As Licinius’ hands passed over each flowing line, the lyrium faded from brilliant red to the purple of an old bruise, forming a membrane of sorts over the top of its channel that left the lyrium flowing below, independent of the Fog Warrior’s body and yet now inseparably a part of it. Apart from its color, it was in every way like the blue-white lines Fenris knew as well as the rest of his own flesh.
“They will not be able to control it,” Fenris insisted. “It drives them mad. What good are the markings to you if they cannot make use of them?”
“That is,” Licinius said, sounding more strained for breath than at any time since they had met him, “the final step. And we are nearly...nearly...there.”
“It has nothing to do with the shape of the lines!” said Fenris, wriggling again against the bonds that now chafed his wrists and ankles from all his prior attempts to escape them. “You cannot make this work with red lyrium.”
“We shall see,” Licinius brushed him off, resuming his magic without any further acknowledgement of Fenris’ arguments.
Of course the door was guarded.
Metis crouched around a corner where he could just see through the doorway, beyond which the screams of the ritual’s victim continued, now hoarse between gasps for breath. Venatori Gladiators in their heavy armor stood at the door, likely to see him each time he peeked around the corner.
No going in that way. Nor did the laboratory seem to have access to the crawlspaces with which he’d become so familiar today. Odds were good he’d run into more of the magebane even if he could get any closer to the door without the guards catching him.
It was a fortunate thing, then, that magic still worked from a distance.
He could see Fenris, not far from the door, arguing with the magister despite the metal cuffs binding him to some sort of operating table. Beyond him, Licinius and his Venatori assistants were intently focused on the man whose screams had led Metis here.
Intently focused, indeed.
Metis raised his staff cautiously, keeping it out of the guards’ sight around his corner even as he kept his eyes fixed on the laboratory door. Quickly, in and out and around, through the well-known pattern, and then his free hand beckoned, calling…
He could barely see it from here, the green vine that suddenly, quietly, curled around the nearest of Fenris’ restraints.
“You cannot hold me here forever,” Fenris continued to feint at the Magister with words so long as his limbs were bound.
“Nor will I,” Licinius finally rose to the bait, but his magic over the red lyrium lines never faltered. “But my potion will keep you compliant long enough.”
Fenris opened his mouth to reply, then twitched at a sudden tickle against his wrist. Suspecting some new trick of the magister’s, he turned to see…
They grew quickly, as they had when Metis made a ladder of them. One wrist-cuff was now wholly covered in green, and a glance at his ankles showed them succumbing to the vines as well. Fenris glanced around, seeing no grating overhead from which his father might be calling these vines.
There were plenty of things in this room that Fenris, from his spot in the limelight, could not see. But it would not do for Licinius to see what Metis was doing, either. So Fenris kept talking -- Licinius had thus far disdained to even look at his precious lyrium template when he replied; let him not grow curious now!
“I have to wonder, mage,” he growled, “what use these marked warriors will be to you if you must always keep them under control with that potion? How would you even know if they learned to use their markings? And regardless, if you rely on rendering them powerless in order to keep them from turning on you, why make them at all?”
“Those that gain control of the markings,” Licinius replied, “will learn to obey me in time. The potion is for temporary control. It is certainly not our only option.”
The vines covered each of the cuffs now, pressing uncomfortably against Fenris’ skin as the space between the metal and his limbs grew ever more full of plant life. He willed the Venatori not to notice, to keep their eyes on the Fog Warrior. But then the mage who had been etching the lines on the man’s skin turned aside to replace the branding rod in its brazier, and looked up to check his work, comparing the new red markings with the pale lines on Fenris’ chest.
Fenris tensed as he saw the mage gasp. Licinius looked up at the Venatori, then followed his line of sight to Fenris, his eyes widening as he saw the sudden riot of color (even one or two blossoms had come with the vines).
Then, just as the mage and the magister took a step towards Fenris’ table, with a loud popping sound all four of his restraints snapped open, yielding to the unrelenting pressure of Metis’ vines. Fenris rolled off the table into a crouch, launching himself past the mages, at the brazier where the brand-wielder had just set the rod down to gather heat again.
It might not be hot enough yet to scorch the flesh for lyrium bonding, but it would do to keep the Venatori at arm’s length, at least for a moment. Fenris looked around frantically for a better weapon, even as Licinius and his pet mages, though clearly drained of mana by their work on the Fog Warrior, began to gather some spell or other to stop him. His sword was nowhere to be seen, let alone his armor or even basic clothing. Nor were his own markings yet recovered enough from the mage’s potion to be of use.
No time like the present, then. Fenris snarled and lashed out at the nearest mage, interrupting the man’s incipient spell with a thrust of the branding rod at his eye. He flung the brazier itself at the second mage, setting the man’s robes on fire and occupying him with putting out the flames. That left only Licinius, since the Tranquil assistant appeared content to stay out of the way and await the outcome of the fight, much to Fenris’ relief. Even as he looked around for something more to fling at the magister, there was a scuffle at the door. He looked up, expecting to see the Venatori guards joining the fight.
They were, in a sense. Their weapon was merely the mage held firmly between them, his spectacles askew on his very dusty face.
Fenris froze as the guards informed Licinius, “Found this one skulking just down the hall, ser.”
“Well, well, gardener.” Licinius straightened, dropping whatever spell he had begun, to smirk back at Fenris. “Couldn’t bear to be parted from this one, could you?”
“Let him go,” Fenris warned in a low growl, crouched and ready to spring, held back only by the guards’ grip on his father.
“But he so clearly wishes to be a part of the ritual,” Licinius said, raising one eyebrow as he looked between the two elves. Then he seemed to make up his mind, and raised his staff to begin a spell.
“No!” Fenris shouted, lunging towards the magister. From the door he could hear Metis cry out as well. The guards gripped him tighter, making no move to stop Fenris --
Nor did they need to. Licinius completed his spell, and once more Fenris saw the lights of a glyph spring up at his feet, felt himself jerked to a stop, held against his will.
“Licinius!” he heard Metis call, but could not turn his head to meet his father’s eyes. “Please.”
But Fenris certainly saw the magister’s smirk as he turned towards the doorway again. “You needn’t beg, gardener,” Licinius said. “I would be happy to include you in the ritual.”
Fenris could imagine the look of shock on Metis’ face when he heard him reply, “You’re joking. You can’t possibly imagine I would want to help you mark that poor man.”
“Oh, you mistake me,” Licinius chuckled. “Although it appears I will have to replace my current assistants, nonetheless. You,” he shot a glance back at Fenris, “seem to have well earned the wolf part of your name. No, my old gardener, it occurs to me that I have not yet tried bestowing the markings upon a mage. Perhaps the magic in your blood would draw a greater response from the lyrium. How would you like to be my next red lyrium warrior?”
“No!” Fenris shouted again, straining against the paralysis glyph. “Do...not...do this!” It was easier this time, fighting against the magic’s hold on him. He managed to turn his head enough to see his father gaping at Licinius as he took in what the magister had said.
Metis finally collected himself, shaking his head slowly. “No, magister,” he said, “I think you mistake me. I would make a terrible warrior, no matter what markings you put on me. I wish no part at all in your ritual. I wish only to take Fenris and go.”
“You know I cannot grant that,” Licinius laughed. “There is so much I can learn from his markings. Why, if simply copying them onto my next warrior does not work…” He glanced back at Fenris with a smirk, folding his hands thoughtfully beneath his chin, “we can always cut him open and find out what makes them work from the inside.”
“What?” Metis froze, then shook his head frantically, struggling to break away from the Venatori guards. “No. No, no, no, Licinius, I will not permit you to harm him!”
“Will you not? How interesting,” Licinius stepped closer to Metis, crooking a finger to raise the elf’s trembling chin. “You know, gardener, you are stronger than you look, but have you the strength to deny me?”
“You will not have him,” Metis whispered through clenched teeth.
“Such single minded focus!” Licinius smiled. “Such willpower! Your magic shows strength of mind as well. And I recall,” the magister flicked a finger at the scars just showing on Metis’ arms where his sleeves had twisted up in his struggles against the guards’ grip, “you always did have a high tolerance for pain. You bore those cuts so stoically.”
“Not willingly,” Metis hissed.
“Yes, that’s a good point. You see, I have noticed that this ritual of mine turns out better for the subjects who willingly submit themselves to it. The more they struggle, the more it seems to break their minds in the end.”
Metis stared at him. “You...want me to agree to this.”
“It would be better for all of us. A willing subject and the proper pattern of markings. That is the alchemy I have been searching for. Do this, and I will have no need to dissect my template.”
“You mean,” Metis said slowly, “you will have my willing participation, or you will kill him.”
“Metis,” Fenris gasped, “don’t! You...do not know...what he is asking...of you.”
Metis’ sad eyes met his son’s, holding them even as he spoke to the magister: “You will release him, Licinius. When this is over, no matter whether or not your ritual succeeds, no matter what becomes of me, you will let him go, unharmed. No dissections.”
“I assure you, there will be no need,” Licinius began, but Metis turned to glare at him, and the magister threw up his hands. “Unharmed. Regardless. You have my word.”
Metis nodded. “Then you have mine.”
Chapter 15: Wherein Metis gets a tattoo
Thayer and Varric return to Ath Velanis but Metis is already being prepared for lyrium markings...
Apologies for the chapter title. Really.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein Metis gets a tattoo
Maker willing, you will never have to see this letter. But it must be written, just in case, a contingency to be delivered only if we do not return from today’s assault upon Ath Velanis. I leave it here in camp with strict instructions that it be sent only in the event that neither I nor Varric return to tell you in person.
At this moment, Fenris and Metis are trapped in the Venatori fortress and we who escaped are preparing to go back in for them. And for our mission, of course, but I confess I am more concerned now with bringing them back safely. You came so close to sacrificing yourself for us all in the Fade, Hawke, and after working more closely with both you and Fenris I know how that would have devastated him. And here I have gone and put him in much the same position to devastate you. I swear to you, I will do everything to ensure that he returns to you unharmed.
But here I am forgetting the purpose of this letter. If you are reading it at all, I suppose everything I could do was not enough. So I must tell you what I would say in person if I could:
Your husband was the bravest of warriors. If the worst has come to pass, he, as well as myself and the rest of our team, must be either dead or in the magister’s hands. We were caught in a trap when we first infiltrated the Venatori fortress, and though Varric and I escaped to plan a second assault upon it, Fenris and Metis were cut off from us and forced to hide as best they could until we returned with help. And if you are reading this, that help was not enough. I am so, so sorry, Hawke. I bear full responsibility for this, for bringing your husband and your friend into danger and not bringing them home again. I could not have asked for better companions. It may be small comfort to you, to hear that they gave their all, that they fought with everything in them to right the wrongs we discovered in Seheron. It may be poor condolence to know that I would do no less, but that even all our efforts combined were insufficient.
But if you are reading this, we have failed. And the threat remains. The Venatori have not, as I write this, yet perfected their lyrium ritual, but from what the magister said when he sprang his trap on us I think he expects that having Fenris in his clutches will somehow supply what he needs to achieve that goal. The Inquisition, even without an Inquisitor, cannot allow this to happen. So as sorry as I am for losing Fenris, I must apologize too for what I ask of you next. Summon the advisors of the Inquisition, Hawke. Inform them of what has happened and work with them to plan the next step. You cannot leave Ath Velanis unchecked. I do not hold out hope that your next move might even rescue whatever remains of us in Venatori hands, but you must put a stop to their experiments here if we have failed to do so.
I do not ask you to come yourself, Hawke -- please have a care for the child you would leave behind! -- but I will understand, all the same, if that is what you decide to do. I ask only that you do not rush into your counter-move, nor neglect to bring a force sufficient to stand against a number of Venatori with Fenris’ markings and skills, for if you are reading this letter, that is what you are surely soon to face.
I pray it will never come to pass.
And with that, Varric and I depart now to prevent all the fears I have written here. It will be one of the happiest moments of my life, Hawke, to return to camp and tear this letter to shreds.
In earnest hope,
Inquisitor Thayer Trevelyan
Fenris took little satisfaction in the delay brought on by his desperate gamble for freedom: the ritual to mark Metis could not begin until the Venatori had reset the laboratory -- cleaning up the mess he had made and swapping the injured mages for others of Licinius’ apprentices. When, however, he and Metis were rounded up and marched down the hall, to be tucked away in an empty chamber until the Venatori had finished preparations to begin the ritual again, he gladly took the opportunity to speak with his father alone, in whispers lest the guard outside the door might not be the magister’s only way of overhearing.
“You cannot really mean to go through with this,” he began in a furious hiss, brows furrowed as he rounded on Metis, hands clenched into fists where the Venatori had bound them behind his back.
“I would not object,” said his father wryly, “to an alternate solution.”
“Then tell him you are not willing!”
“He’ll kill you, Fenris.”
“And he will unmake you!” Fenris shouted. Metis winced and nodded to the guarded door, gesturing as best he could, with his hands likewise bound, for quiet. With a sigh, Fenris began to pace, but he dropped his voice again. “Nothing is worth that. Not even my life.”
“I beg to differ.”
“Do you realize what this will do to you? Aside from the likelihood that the red lyrium will drive you mad as it has the others, even if the ritual succeeds, even if you gain the abilities that my markings gave me, it is what you will lose that concerns me - no, it terrifies me.” He met Metis’ gaze with wide and furious eyes. “Danarius’ ritual left me with no memory of my life before. You will look at me when this is done, and you will not know me.”
Metis dropped his gaze to the floor, but a weary smile quirked at one corner of his lips. “Back to where we were just a week ago, then.”
“Does that week mean so little to you?” Fenris hissed. “Or are you so prepared to forget all the rest as well? Varania and our mother, even the very fact that any of us ever existed?” Metis winced, but Fenris continued, his voice edging again alarmingly far past the whisper. “Are you so eager to serve your master again?”
Metis blinked, and then, with a sigh, lowered himself awkwardly to sit against the wall. “Perhaps you’re right.”
Fenris, somehow managing it with grace despite his bound hands, came to sit next to him. After a moment of staring at the floor between his knees, he spoke, hushed and trembling: “You are -- Metis, you are a good man. Those markings will remake you. I...I am afraid, father, to lose you again, so soon and so utterly.”
Metis stared at him in wonder. “Do you know,” he said, “I believe that’s the first time you’ve called me that.”
“I might not have another chance to.” Fenris grumbled, looking away.
“Don’t be so sure,” Metis smiled. “At the least, this has bought us time. You said once that this ritual can take days. I assume that’s true for Licinius as it was when you…?”
Fenris nodded slowly. “His process is very similar to what I recall of Danarius’ ritual. They had barely made any progress on the Fog Warrior when you interrupted, and the mages would have needed to rest soon anyway, to recover their mana. I do not think the Venatori could complete a full set of markings in less than two days, more likely three.”
“Well then, just how long do you expect it to take the Inquisitor to find us?”
Fenris opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it, frowning as he considered the distance back to their camp, the size of the fortress. Thayer and Varric would have wasted no time, from the moment that gate cut their party in two. Metis elaborated, “We’ve been wandering this fortress all night, haven’t we? It must be tomorrow by now. I would wager that Thayer Trevelyan is quicker about rescues than Licinius is at his ritual.”
Turning narrowed eyes upon his father, Fenris protested, “Unless he is already within the walls -- which, if he were, the Venatori would be busier preparing a defense than your markings -- they may not have time to complete the ritual but they will surely have time to begin it.”
“I would also wager,” Metis nodded thoughtfully, “that the effects of it which we most hope to avoid -- the memory loss, the madness -- do not arise from the beginning, but more gradually, as exposure to the lyrium --”
“And the pain.”
“-- yes, and the pain, presumably, as all of it combined suffices to break the mind.”
Fenris scoffed, almost fondly. “How can you speak so...academically of what you are about to suffer?”
“Avoidance tactic?” Metis grinned. “I’ve been researching the red lyrium lately, you know. I’ve seen some terrible things, Fenris. One learns to approach it rationally, even clinically, lest the mind fail to withstand it. And one endures.” He shrugged. “If rescue is late, my boy, it need not be too late. If no other chance of escape can be found, if I must let him begin the ritual upon me, I do not think all hope is lost.”
Fenris considered this in silence for several minutes, till Metis felt his eyes grow heavy as his thoughts began to drift to the memories Fenris’ words had stirred. Mara. Their first kiss, her hair soft and dark beneath his hands, her eyes taunting, tantalizing, her laugh teasing and fond all at once. Her hand in his, slender and strong. Her glance across a crowd bringing warmth to his cheeks, her gaze that never left his when they danced at their wedding. The first time he held Varania, his own green eyes in her mother’s delicate face, eyes crinkling as she broke into infant cries and he couldn’t stop smiling. And then those eyes again in Fenris’ face, so many years passed that the memories of his baby girl had faded or surely he would have sooner recognized him, this son he had so long not even known he had…
No. Losing those memories would be untenable.
But losing his son again, even more so.
Then Fenris broke the silence, speaking softly: “Perhaps...one thing the magister said was correct.”
Metis looked over at him, brow furrowed in inquiry.
“You go into this willingly,” Fenris continued. “Brace yourself against it, and you may withstand the ritual better than his previous subjects have.”
Metis nodded slowly. “Will you tell me, then,” he whispered, “what to expect? The more I know, the more I may brace myself for it. Academically, you know.”
Fenris drew in a long breath and then nodded. “Very well. If you’re sure it will help.”
“If...you’re sure you don’t mind talking about it.”
“Better that than letting you go through it unprepared.” And he began to speak of pain. Slowly at first, halting, overwhelmed himself at the memory of the torment he had long struggled to put behind him. But it became easier as he went on, the warmth of his father beside him a reminder that his purpose was to spare Metis the same panic he had felt at the first bright flare of pain from the brand on his skin, the first white wash of pain from the lyrium bonding to the burns, the mad rush of pain overwhelming his thoughts, flooding his mind and crowding out his dearest memories. Fenris grasped at Metis’ own tactics and found the strength to explain it all calmly, academically, observing from time’s distance the unspeakable trial he had gone through and finding it possible to speak of it after all.
And by the end, his father’s head leaned against his shoulder; for which of them the comfort was meant, Fenris was unsure, but it was enough for them both. Bound hands prevented Metis from working any magic, but Fenris could feel the lyrium in his skin listening to the magic in his father’s blood, as if waking from the sleep induced by the magister’s potion upon them both.
Magic. Fenris tensed again and said, “Promise me one thing, Metis?”
“Anything,” came his father’s voice, weary and tingling with that same magic.
“I...do not know if Licinius is correct in his theory, that the markings will be more effective on a mage. But there is a risk for you beyond what a warrior would face. The lyrium...it is connected to the Fade. I know you are a capable mage, father, to have resisted the temptations that come with your power all these years, but promise me…”
Metis chuckled as Fenris trailed off, shifting uncomfortably against the wall. “Have no worries there, my boy. I promise not to take the easy way out, no matter what demons offer when the pain seems unbearable.”
“They can be very persuasive,” Fenris winced, remembering years ago, in Kirkwall, a dream into which they had all walked together and the demon’s promises for which he had abandoned Hawke.
“Oh, I’m familiar with their wiles,” Metis said. “Persuasive; not particularly innovative. I’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve tried to portray your mother in my dreams. Occasionally your sister. Never you, though. How curious. I don’t think the demons knew about you either.”
“Now they surely do,” Fenris almost smiled. “Suppose they try to portray me during the ritual? Offer you a way out, power to kill the magister, take his place and set us both free?”
“Sounds a very demonic strategy indeed,” Metis grinned. “But I shall have you there, the real you, right beside me to tell me what an idiotic idea that would be.”
“That,” Fenris grinned back, “you shall.”
“Trust me, Inquisitor,” Varric said, his voice hushed in the pale pre-dawn light. “It’s a perfect blind spot. I got in this way just fine the last time.”
“I have every faith in you, Varric,” Thayer said, gauging the distance to the top of the outer fortress wall as he gave the grappling hook a few preparatory swings. “I’d just feel better about this if the ships had reached us already. We could use the distraction.”
“Look, Shiny, last time we had Qunari dreadnaughts creating the distraction. And it was a mess. This’ll work. We slip in, shoot the magister and find our friends, and when the ships get here they can deal with rounding up the rest of the Venatori. You know, the part that can wait.”
“Well,” Thayer grinned as he let the hook fly up to the ramparts, “I’m glad to see you remember the objectives, Varric.”
All too soon, the Venatori returned for their test subject and template, marching them back down the hall to the laboratory so quickly that Metis stumbled twice and even Fenris found it difficult to keep to his feet.
But the lyrium in his skin tingled once more when Metis stumbled against him, and Fenris caught his breath. The potion was wearing off. Would Licinius think to drug them again before this ritual began? Or would he perhaps want Metis’ magic unhindered when they began bonding the lyrium to his skin?
It was something, at least. They had been rendered helpless too many times this night. To have his lyrium awake again was a card up his sleeve that Isabela would have envied. Figuratively speaking, since his gauntlets and all his other clothing were still stashed wherever Licinius had put them before his first attempt at copying Fenris’ markings. His wrist, without Hawke’s favor and her violet sachet, felt barest of all even as the ropes chafed at it.
And then they were stripping Metis as well, though only to the waist, his upper robes pooling behind his back as they locked him down on one table in place of the Fog Warrior, who had been cleared away to Maker knew where while the laboratory was restored. Fenris shifted, glancing around at the guards still gripping his arms, and the doubled guard of Venatori at the door, Licinius and his Tranquil and two new mage assistants all fussing over Metis, scrubbing down his skin and positioning him just so. Fenris considered finding out just how well recovered his markings were, but the extra guards and his lack of any other weapon, as well as the fact that they already had Metis fastened into his restraints, stopped him from any rash attempt at escape.
Then Licinius, raising his staff, motioned for Fenris to be brought close. Feeling the ropes cut away from his wrists, he tensed, prepared to be returned to restraints himself, but the magister had other ideas.
“We must be sure the markings are done exactly right this time,” Licinius said, beckoning Fenris closer to Metis’ table, where a chair had been set out on his right hand side. “I want you where we can see you most easily. Sit here. No, draw the chair up closer -- right up to the table. Yes, that will do. Now hold your arm out, on the table next to him, and -- perfect.” Fenris scowled and then felt the expression frozen on his face as the magister once again caught him in a paralysis glyph.
“Will...you…” Fenris bit out, with marginally less difficulty than the last two times this had happened, “ever stop...doing that?”
“I need you perfectly still,” Licinius chided. “And the restraints would be ill positioned for our first session, anyway. We’re going to take the procedure a little slower this time, just to be sure there are no untoward...effects to inscribing the markings on a mage. I intend to begin with your left arm, gardener. If that turns out well, we can go on with the rest. And if problems should arise, well, limbs are expendable.” Fenris tensed at this despite the magic holding him so still, and Licinius chuckled. “Relax, both of you. This will all be over soon enough.”
Sooner, Fenris hoped, than the magister could guess.
Licinius nodded to the Tranquil, who brought forward one of the red lyrium bottles now neatly lined up on the side table once again. One of the assistant mages stood ready to apply the lyrium, while the other reached for the heated branding rod. Metis’ jaw worked as he watched the Venatori gather around him. Meeting Fenris’ eyes, he managed a faint smile. Fenris tried to smile back, barely managing it despite the paralysis glyph. Then Metis turned his eyes upon the arm prepared for the ritual, swallowed, and went very still.
Licinius glanced between Fenris and Metis, reached to adjust the angle of Fenris’ arm, and then laid a hand on Metis’ left arm, which had been left free of its restraint so that the whole arm could be branded without working around the metal cuff. “Keep as still as you can,” he advised. Then, at his signal, the mage with the branding rod stepped forward.
At the first touch of the rod to the back of his hand, Metis sucked in a gasp of air through clenched teeth, eyes widening at the shock of pain. Licinius’ hand, still resting firmly upon his arm, kept his reflexive flinch from marring the lines as the rod moved steadily up to his wrist, as the trail of lyrium followed after, as the magister reached with his free hand to bathe the lyrium lines in the magic that fused them to Metis’ flesh. Fenris watched his father tremble and shudder while the smell of lyrium and burnt skin brought tears to his own eyes, and whispered finally, “Breathe, Metis. You have to breathe.” And with great effort, pushing against the paralysis, he stretched his hand scant inches across the table till his littlest finger brushed against his father’s, and grasped for his hand. Their fingers linked, and suddenly Metis’ breath wheezed out again. He whimpered, tears welling in his eyes as the rod moved on up past his wrist, and finally gasped in a shuddering long breath and --
At that point, his screams came as a relief.
Infiltrating Ath Velanis proved easier than expected, for the fortress was in disarray.
Thayer and Varric, with their share of the Fog Warriors, scaled the wall and found only a handful of Venatori guards patrolling it. Daggers in the dark (or what was left of it as the sun went on rising over the fortress) quickly dealt with them, and within minutes their team had moved on from the outer wall to the next layer of the Ath Velanis defenses. Finding these likewise underguarded, they proceeded nearly unhindered till they stood atop an inner wall, listening at the door that had till now been guarded by only one highly nervous Venatori Zealot, now crumpled on the floor.
From within came the sounds of battle. Thayer exchanged a glance and a shrug with Varric, then signaled to the Fog Warriors to follow as he slipped through the shadows inside.
Objectives: Magister. Allies. Prisoners. The magister could be anywhere in this huge hideout of his. Fenris and Metis, likewise, though Thayer guessed Licinius would keep them close if he had caught them by now. The prisoners, however, that was a place they could start. “You remember where the dungeons were on your last visit, Varric?” Thayer asked.
“All too well,” the dwarf nodded, taking the lead.
The sounds of combat grew louder as they hurried towards the lower levels of the fortress. “Caligo’s team, do you think?” Varric guessed.
“Let’s find out,” Thayer said, breaking off into a corridor that seemed to lead toward the chaos.
They emerged at last into a room lined with tables -- or presumably they had been arranged in lines, before the fight swept in to make barricades of the furniture and a general mess of the room. There was no sign of Caligo and the other Fog Warriors who had been sent to infiltrate the fortress from the south while Thayer’s team came in from the north; instead, they saw half a dozen Venatori warriors in close combat with a ragtag gang of elves and men, wearing no armor over their shabby clothing, wielding swords and daggers and table legs and what appeared to be one whole chandelier with a relentless fury, though there seemed to be fewer of them still standing than were scattered around the room, dead or unconscious, while the Venatori all seemed to be still standing.
“I see odds that need evening,” Thayer murmured. “Whoever they are, the Venatori are slaughtering them. Let’s change that.”
The Fog Warriors fanned out around the room, bursting in on the fight with a ready will, while Varric climbed onto one of the still-upright tables to rain down Bianca’s bolts on the enemy and Thayer slipped in to stab Venatori backs while Varric had them distracted. It was over quickly.
One of the elves in the ragged clothes came forward afterwards, while the rest of his group moved to check on their fallen comrades and rouse the survivors. Drawing closer, Thayer could see the traces of white paint in the elf’s hair -- a Fog Warrior, once.
“You’re...not one of Caligo’s team, are you?” Thayer asked, squinting to be sure. He usually had little trouble remembering faces, but their Fog Warrior allies were new, and also numerous.
“Caligo?” the man’s face lit up. “She is with you?”
“Other side of the fortress, if their insertion went as well as ours,” Thayer grinned. “A friend?”
“A wise woman,” he said solemnly, “who warned me against venturing too near Ath Velanis. If I’d listened, I would not have spent these two months in the Venatori dungeon.”
“Ah!” Thayer beamed as the puzzle came together. “You’re the captives they were planning to install those markings on.”
The man nodded. “I’m Aeris.”
“But...I take it Caligo’s team weren’t the ones who broke you out?”
Aeris shook his head. “No. It was no Fog Warrior, but an elf wielding a greatsword, tattooed like one of Licinius’ warriors but not red, if that makes sense.”
Thayer grinned. “It makes the best kind of sense, friend Aeris. And the best kind of news. Think you could point us in the direction of those dungeons?”
It was quiet in the laboratory when the mages finally finished the markings on Metis’ arm. His screams had gone hoarse, as the ritual dragged on, and finally dwindled only to shuddering breaths. Fenris ached to press back against the paralysis spell again, as he felt his own markings returning to their strength, lending him a resistance to magic that could have thrown off the spell entirely with enough effort -- but he would settle for grasping his father’s whole hand more firmly in his own. But that would not go unnoticed as Licinius and his mages looked between his white markings and the red ones they were still twining around Metis’ arm, so Fenris settled for the linking of their pinky fingers, willing what strength he could through the contact.
Then at last Licinius and his mages stepped back, looking over their work. Metis’ skin shone with sweat and his eyes behind his spectacles were closed, but his breath began to come more evenly now that the branding had paused. With them came a groan, and his little finger twitched against Fenris’ grasp.
“A satisfactory replica,” Licinius nodded, raising Metis’ marked arm to inspect it from all sides. “Well done.” He gestured to his apprentices and they staggered over to return the branding rod and lyrium flask to the table, while the Tranquil stepped forward and began gently rubbing a clear salve into Metis’ branded skin. “This will prevent infection to the brands,” the magister explained. “It would be a shame for all this work to go to waste.”
The Tranquil wrapped the arm in a clean white bandage when he had finished rubbing in the salve. Next he brought a flask to Metis’ lips. Fenris stopped himself from bursting through the paralysis to grab the Tranquil’s hand just in time, instead looking up at him and growling, “What are you giving him now?”
“It is water,” said the man in his toneless, detached voice. “The burns are dehydrating, and his throat will be raw.”
“Ah. I...see,” Fenris mumbled, still hovering tensely at Metis’ side for fear of magebane in the water. But even without the magister’s potions, Metis was in no state to work magic.
“An hour’s rest should suffice,” Licinius was telling his mages. “Go and prepare yourselves for the next section, and we’ll --”
Then a murmur at the door drew his attention, and Licinius strode over to the guards. Fenris strained against the paralysis spell enough to turn his head and watch as the magister conferred with another Venatori at the door, panting and disheveled. Within moments Licinius turned his sharp gaze back to his assistants.
“It seems I am needed elsewhere,” he said. “Rest, as I said. And you --” he turned to the guards. “Keep the subjects somewhere safe until we are able to continue. Not in here. And no fewer than two of you guarding them at all times, no matter who comes through, until I tell you otherwise. Do I make myself clear?”
The guards nodded and “Yes, ser”’d him, and Licinius departed in haste.
The paralysis spell broke when they pulled Fenris away from the glyph at his feet, tying his hands again behind his back while he shook his head and rolled his shoulders, stiff from hours of leaning over Metis’ table. They loosed Metis from his restraints as well, but hesitated to tie his hands when when he cried out at their touch.
The guards exchanged a look. “Not much he can do even untied at the moment, I guess,” said the first.
“Like the others,” the second guard nodded. “Good for nothing the first few hours.”
“Can he even walk?”
He couldn’t quite, but they managed to prop him against one guard while the other force-marched Fenris down the hallway. The closet in which they eventually deposited them, perhaps in their distraction at having to half-carry the branded mage, wasn’t even the same chamber they had been locked up in before.
But it had one pleasant surprise. Piled in one corner were the clothing and armor that had disappeared from Fenris between being knocked unconscious outside the dungeon and fastened to a laboratory table for the Fog Warrior’s branding. There was no sign of the sword taken from him by the Venatori, nor of Metis’ staff, but it was something going right and Fenris felt his spirits begin to rise.
As soon as the door was locked behind them, cutting off the two guards’ nervous conversation about what in the Void was going on elsewhere in the fortress, Fenris gave his markings free rein, flaring bright blue and slipping like a ghost from the ropes at his wrists with a sigh of relief. In a few minutes he was back in his own outfit and armor, smiling and bowing his head in thanks for a moment when he found Hawke’s red ribbon and violet sachet tangled with the rest. He wrapped her favor back in its accustomed place on his wrist with fierce gladness before turning to help his father back into the sleeves of his robes.
“How are you holding up?” Fenris whispered, reaching tentatively towards the bandaged arm, hesitant to touch him.
“I would be extremely pleased,” Metis rasped, eyes still closed as he huddled on the floor, holding the marked arm to his chest, “if this interruption means the rest of these appointments are to be rescheduled.”
“I was hoping for a full cancellation, myself,” Fenris managed half a smile. “And I think the Inquisitor’s humor has rubbed off on you.”
One green eye opened, Metis’ eyebrow quirking up at him. “No, I’m fairly certain Varric is responsible for my jests in the face of certain annihilation.”
“Nothing is certain, Metis.”
“That dwarf’s sense of humor certainly is.”
“A fair point.” Fenris frowned then, quirking his own brow. “Are you certain that this sudden urge to jest is not simply a sign of possession? Did a demon of...of wit make you any promises?”
“No, lad,” Metis sighed. “It is a sign of weariness. I lack the will to speak sense.”
“Do you lack the strength to escape?” Fenris asked, easing Metis’ sleeves back over his arms and fastening the robes carefully.
“Help me stand,” Metis said, all trace of jest and most of the weariness vanishing from his voice. Fenris did so, and Metis leaned on him for the first few turns around the small room, then managed a few steps on his own.
“Well,” he said at last, “I’ll manage to walk, but I won’t be running from pursuit any time soon.”
“Then if we are pursued, we stand and fight.”
“I’ll do well even to stand. And I’ve no staff, but I...even if I did, Fenris, I’m not sure I could cast at present.”
“Then I’ll fight.”
Metis nodded. “Time to go, then?”
“Thayer has to be behind the disturbance. Let’s not wait for him to find us.”
“What about the guards?”
Fenris stood facing the door, flexing his fists. “There are two of them,” he noted. “I have two hands.” And with a grim smile he strode forward, lyrium flaring, thrusting both hands through the wall to each side of the door and directly through the chests of the guards who had taken up their posts there.
Crushing the door’s lock with similar efficiency, he eased the door open, saw that the hallway was clear apart from the guards bleeding out at his feet, and beckoned to Metis to follow.
Chapter 16: Wherein everyone is loose in Ath Velanis
Licinius resorts to blood magic; Thayer searches for lost elves; and the lost elves discover side effects of the red lyrium ritual...
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein everyone is loose in Ath Velanis
Fenris, heart of my heart,
All right, I know it’s not even a whole day since my last letter (still on its way to Seheron, no doubt, of course you can’t have seen it yet and written back) and it does take time for the birds to fly back and forth so you’re probably done with the Venatori and on your way home by now. At least I would like to think so, except that Charter says there’s been no word from the Inquisitor to say that the ships are on their way back. Maker, I worry. I’ve been helping Josephine with her correspondence, just to keep busy. Never was my strong suit in Kirkwall but after these weeks of writing to you I should hope I’ve developed a skill, or something. All right, I’m just hoping that writing on Josie’s behalf to contacts I established as Viscountess will distract me from writing to you twenty more times a day.
I’ve been spending more time in the Chantry here, too, for what it’s worth, lighting candles and praying for your safety. Oh, and Merrill has invoked the Creators on your behalf. Someone had better be listening. I need you back here. It’s horribly selfish of me, I fear, and perhaps for that reason the Maker frowns on my prayers, but it’s…
Well. I would very much like to have you here with me now. Surely the Maker can understand if I wish my family near me? After everything...after everyone I’ve lost, he wouldn’t take you away too. It’s been more than a month since I bid you farewell, and…
Let’s say I am just anxious for you to be here for Malcolm’s first birthday. Barely two months away now, and I expect him to start walking any moment. Also do not fear that he has forgotten you in your weeks away. Oh, no. It is “Da” this and “Da” that everywhere he goes. He throws a fit when I read your books to him, you know, the ones he always picked for you to read because apparently he has sorted the books into Da books and Mum books and I am not allowed to read from your share. Also, he has been fascinated with Merrill’s vallaslin lately and I think perhaps they remind him of your markings. Or perhaps he’s just fascinated with Merrill as usual. Definitely his favorite aunt.
Oh yes, I may have forgotten to mention. It’s official, or will be soon. I’m not sure if Carver popped the question or Merrill rambled her way into talking about what they would do after they were married and he just went along with it, but it is A Thing now. My little brother’s engaged, Fenris! This is actually quite a useful distraction as there is much to do in preparing for the wedding, especially in figuring out how to blend Dalish vows with a Chantry service, as Carver says Mother would have been scandalized at anything less but he won’t hear of leaving Merrill’s traditions out of it either. So we’ll be making an official aunt of Merrill soon. Not too soon, though. Not till you’re here to welcome her into the family with a scowl!
It’s becoming quite a good family, after all. But it still needs you. And we’ll make room for your father too, if that’s worked out all right. We’re all looking forward to meeting him, if so.
Love and kisses (oh, and Tiberius sends puppy kisses too, don’t give me that look, you know you adore my dog),
Licinius sped from the laboratory to his tower, his alarm growing with each Venatori corpse he saw. The intruders had clearly passed this way, but the magister thought better of trying to follow their trail. He left that to the Venatori he found still alive (more of them than the corpses, he was relieved to see; wherever the intruders were going, they weren’t stopping to fight every denizen of Ath Velanis, at least), directing some of his men to pursue the enemy forces loose in the fortress, others to come with him to the tower. Until he could determine the source of the disturbance, it would be rash to go about without backup.
The Inquisitor’s breach of his defenses yesterday had left too few of Licinius’ marked warriors available, but the hordes of them patrolling outside the fortress had consisted of those least useful to him, whose minds had been too broken by the ritual for them to learn control of the markings. Some of the red warriors who had fallen to Danarius’ pet inside the fortress had been more skilled, occasionally able to pull some bit of power from the lyrium; what Licinius had seen through their eyes in their last moments made him all the more eager to produce warriors who could control the markings as Fenris did.
But there were a few who had had the will to withstand the branding nearly as well as Metis was doing when the ritual upon him was interrupted. Licinius had tested them, found their minds surprisingly intact, compared to most of his subjects, and begun to put them through training. Their control of the lyrium was still tentative, faltering, yet every one of them had at one time or another managed to activate the markings by their will, not just at random as the broken warriors tended to do, and two or three had nearly succeeded in phasing a hand through solid objects. Licinius was sure, in time, he could make something of them.
But right now, they were all that remained to him, and he would make use of their eyes.
He dispatched guards to bring his pets to the tower. As soon as he arrived there himself, he set about preparing the seeing spell. A slave, chained to the wall, trembled as his master approached with a mirror in an elaborate frame. “Be still,” Licinius snapped, pressing the mirror into the slave’s shaking hands before drawing his knife. “And try to keep the mirror still as well,” he admonished, tilting it till the polished surface reflected the tower’s ceiling far above.
Drawing his knife, he added a quick and practiced cut to the other scars along the slave’s arm and guided the mirror beneath it to catch the first drops of blood. Then he signaled to one of the Venatori attending him to bind up the wound, while Licinius focused his magic upon the mirror.
He was just finishing this step of the spell when the guards he had sent for his elite warriors arrived with five of them in tow. Licinius had seldom had cause to use the eyes of this group of his warriors, but they did not balk when he drew their blood and added it to the mirror, each one in turn, weaving them into the magic.
At the end, the mirror shone with a menacing red light but no trace of the blood that had stained its surface. Licinius pressed it back into the slave’s hands, fitting his fingers into the grooves and rings placed on the mirror’s sides for this purpose. Then he turned to the red warriors with instructions. “Intruders are loose in the fortress,” he explained. “Find them. Stop them by any means necessary. I will be watching so that I may come to your aid when required. I want this disruption settled quickly; I have work to do in the laboratory.”
The red warriors bowed as one and took their leave, splitting up to patrol one by one through the fortress. Licinius turned back to the mirror, stepping close as the slave holding it squeezed his eyes shut, shuddering.
“All right, boy,” the magister said, wrapping his hands around the slave’s to hold them tight to the mirror’s frame, “show me what the first one is seeing.” At his command, followed by the spark of his magic, the light of the mirror resolved into images: hallways, doors, ceilings and floors, everywhere the first of the red warriors was looking, transmitted by blood magic to the eyes of the slave whose blood had first infused the mirror, and through him to the mirror itself. The slave shook with the force of the magic conveyed through him to the mirror. Licinius watched with grim focus for any sign of the intruders disrupting his experiments.
Cycling through the five warriors’ views, at last he saw something of worth. A dozen or so Fog Warriors in their ritual paints raised their weapons against Licinius’ pet, their eyes widening and reflecting a gleam of red when his markings flared to life. Licinius estimated that the red warrior might kill at least a third of them before they could stop him; an unfortunate loss, given that this one could so readily activate the lyrium at will now, but that was the extent of his control; he would not be able to use the markings in his defense as easily as the Fog Warriors clearly feared.
Licinius had seen no other sign of the intruders from the other four warriors’ eyes. Perhaps he could learn more in person from the Fog Warriors facing this one. With a gesture, he broke the seeing spell, returned the mirror to its cabinet, and strode out to find his beleaguered warrior.
The dungeons were almost empty when the Inquisitor’s team reached them. Thayer swallowed his disappointment at not finding Fenris or Metis safely locked up there, in the last place he knew either of them had been seen.
They had, at least, found Fenris’ greatsword along the way, cast aside in the hallway just outside the dungeon. Fallen Venatori, and a few corpses that appeared to be prisoners cut down in their attempt to escape with Aeris and the others, left a trail nearly to the dungeon door, but there was no other sign of Fenris or Metis.
They found the dungeons themselves guarded by only one Venatori Zealot, who succumbed to trembling and babbling when he saw the Inquisition team approaching. While the Fog Warriors tied him up and tried to question him, Thayer and Varric searched the cells.
“Something here you’ll want to see, Shiny,” Varric called to him from across the hall. Thayer hurried over, dodging to avoid yet another Venatori corpse, a hole punched through its chest yielding further evidence that Fenris had been here.
Varric waved from a cell, and Thayer slipped past its mangled bars to see the wreck of an elf, dark hair still matted with fragments of the Fog Warriors’ white paint, curled up in the corner to which he was chained, hand and foot. At Thayer’s cautious approach, the man finally looked up, pale eyes glazed over as he tried to focus on his visitors.
“It’s all right,” Thayer reassured him, arm outstretched. “We’re not Venatori.”
“Wonder why he didn’t escape with the others?” Varric asked.
“Because he wasn’t here when we escaped,” came a voice behind them. Thayer and Varric turned to see Aeris slipping into the cell with them, his eyes intent on the chained elf.
“I thought you were on your way out of the fortress,” Thayer said.
“I was,” Aeris nodded. “Then I remembered what brought me here in the first place. If you’re putting a stop to what the Venatori do here, I want to help.” He stepped forward to kneel by the prisoner. “Nubis. Can you hear me?”
“Ae...Aeris?” the man’s voice rasped, the name barely recognizable from his raw throat. He blinked, focus slowly returning to his eyes as Aeris’ face fell at the sight of him.
“They took him from the cells last night,” Aeris explained. “For the ritual.”
Varric stepped forward with a flask from his belt. “So if they brought him back, did they...is he…?”
Aeris held the flask up to Nubis’ lips. As the man uncurled from his corner to drink, the markings on his chest, purpled like angry bruises, came into view. Thayer sucked in a breath, the smell of burnt flesh and lyrium catching him by surprise when the man moved.
“I know none of them so far have had identical markings,” Varric pointed out in a low voice, fishing out his lockpicks and stepping forward to begin on Nubis’ chains, “but they do usually cover the whole body, right?”
“They weren’t finished with him,” Thayer nodded. “Why bring him back to the cells, then? Did they usually do so, Aeris?”
The Fog Warrior shook his head. “No, never. Once they took a man to mark him, we never saw him again, unless the magister had the whim to parade him before our cells when it was all over, show us what we had to look forward to.”
“They were interrupted, then,” Thayer guessed. He exchanged a look with Varric.
“You think?” the dwarf began. “Might not be them.”
“Would they send this man back to his cell just because we’re here?”
“I don’t like the implications of them getting rid of one ritual subject when they’d barely started on him…” Varric mused.
“We can’t be too late,” Thayer said briskly. Turning to Aeris, he asked, “Can we move him?”
“Go on, Inquisitor,” Aeris said as Varric finished unlocking the last of Nubis’ chains. “I’ll see that he gets out of the fortress safely. You see that the Venatori never get the chance to finish what they started on him or anyone else.”
Fenris cast the broken shortsword aside, cursing the negligence of these Venatori in maintaining their weapons. It was the second weapon he’d stripped from the trail of corpses they were leaving behind them in their flight from the storage room. Fighting by lyrium alone would not be his first choice; of course it was a relief to once again have the option of snatching hearts from chests, if pressed, but like a mage’s mana his markings took time to recover after such an expenditure of power, and it was better to have a weapon in hand and not to rely overmuch on his lyrium. But these poor little knives made him miss the greatsword taken from him after they freed the prisoners.
The way ahead was clear. When he reached for Metis, left to lean against the wall while Fenris fought off their attackers with the now-defunct shortsword, the mage winced and caught at his bandaged arm.
“You’re in pain,” Fenris said.
“Well,” Metis breathed, “not so much as...before.”
“You needn’t make light of it,” Fenris insisted, brows furrowing as he eased Metis’ free arm more carefully over his shoulders. “I know how bad it is, you remember.”
“I do. You described it all quite...intensely.”
Fenris glanced at him as they walked slowly down the hall. “You do remember that.”
“It did in fact help.” His voice was still shaky, but he pressed on, eyes fixed ahead. “Knowing what would happen. I...recalled your words, rehearsed each description in my mind as it was done to me. It did help.”
“It still hurts,” Fenris said, pausing to lean him against a wall again. “Here. Let me see.” Gently he lifted the branded arm and unwound the bandages. The skin revealed was furiously red, hot to the touch, but the lines inscribed upon it were a deeper crimson, like purpling veins too near the surface of the skin. Fenris frowned at the sight, hesitating to touch it, until Metis himself reached with his right hand to poke tentatively at one red welt. He started and swore at his own touch, pulling his hand back quickly. Fenris shook his head. “Don’t be an idiot, father.” He quickly and carefully rewrapped the bandage.
Metis frowned at his palm beneath the wrappings. “Can you...hear it?” he finally asked.
Fenris looked up to see his father’s head tilted to the side, his eyes fixed on his hand. “Hear what?”
“I didn’t notice it at first. Because of the pain, I’m sure. But it’s...almost like it sings.”
“It...sings?” Fenris frowned. “Do you mean…”
“Do yours do that? It’s like it’s...calling to me. Like a song at the back of my mind, something I’ve heard and I can’t remember where and I can’t quite turn it off.”
Fenris’ eyes grew wide and he groaned as he seized Metis by the shoulders, forgetting for a moment to be gentle. “No. Metis, you mustn’t listen to it. Fight it. The red lyrium…” he shook his head, glancing down again at the branded hand. “I should have guessed. No wonder the other subjects went mad. Varric’s brother, and the Knight-Commander...”
“It’s...rather persistent,” Metis mumbled.
“Can you...do something with magic? To block it, or...if you speed the healing of the brands, perhaps…”
Metis went quiet, frowning at his hand, and then his shoulders tensed in Fenris’ grasp. “I...can’t.”
“Can’t even feel my magic.”
Fenris froze. “Perhaps the magebane?”
Metis shook his head. “It had worn off by the time Licinius caught me. Vines, remember?” He waggled his unbandaged fingers at Fenris’ wrist. “He didn’t administer any more of it before the ritual.”
“Maybe you’ve stepped in more of it.”
“I’ve been leaning on you, and your markings still function. No, it’s not like being cut off by magebane, anyhow. It’s more like...the song. Whatever I’m hearing, it’s too loud. It drowns the magic out.”
“Fasta vass,” Fenris spat. “The sooner we find the Inquisitor, the better. Varric...knows something of this. And Hawke...Hawke wrote of work Merrill was doing at Skyhold on a boy taken by red lyrium corruption. We will fix this.”
Metis nodded, and after a moment Fenris slid a shoulder under his arm again and they continued down the hallway.
“What about...the rest of your memories?” he asked as they neared a corner.
“Hm?” Metis responded as if in a daze.
Fenris squeezed at Metis’ hand over his shoulder. “You remembered our talk before the ritual. Do you remember the rest of...well, of your life? Your family?”
“Oh. Of course,” Metis mused with a faint smile.
Fenris squeezed again, hoping to keep his father’s mind occupied, away from the song teasing at his consciousness. “Tell me what you remember of them.”
“Varania. Your sister,” Metis began quietly. “Three, I think she was, the last time I saw her. All grown up now, isn’t she? If you are, of course she is. And you’ve seen her. Maybe you should be telling me about her.”
“My mother, then,” Fenris hurried to change the subject.
“Mara,” Metis sighed. “Prettiest girl in the village. Her father was a merchant. I didn’t think I had a chance with her, not with the swarms of boys hovering around her like flies.”
“What did you do?”
“Kept my distance, mostly. Well, I thought I did. I let the others hover. Too crowded for me. She came to my father’s farm sometimes to trade, and I smiled and tried to say clever things which, in retrospect, were the very opposite of clever.”
A smile tugged at Fenris’ mouth. “Won her over in the end, did you?”
“Hardly!” Metis laughed, his eyes turning to Fenris with a gleam breaking through the glazed look of the lyrium’s song. “Well, maybe I did. But she sought me out first. Found me in the orchard where I always worked, dragged me behind a tree and demanded that I kiss her.”
“So...did you?” Fenris grinned back at him.
“Well,” Metis raised his eyebrows, “here we are, aren’t we?”
Fenris laughed and they resumed walking in silence for a few steps before Metis murmured, “I asked her once, after that, why she chose me, when there were handsomer and wealthier men falling over themselves to court her.”
“And she said?”
“Because I’d been kind to her,” he said with a wistful smile. “The others, they demanded her attention. Me, I gave her apples and listened to her complain about her suitors. No one else had ever been so kind, she said.”
“You are kind, father,” Fenris said. “Please. Never forget that.”
While writing Metis' reminiscences about Mara at the end of this chapter, Googling for images of Varania led me to stumble upon this gem of a picture, depicting Leto and Varnia with their parents, exactly as I imagine them. http://rannadylin.tumblr.com/post/136638145831/metis-and-mara-if-never-separated
Sadly I couldn't determine for sure who the artist is, but I was so excited to see such a perfect picture of a young Mara and Metis...as they might have been if the raiders had never separated them before Leto was even born. :-(
Chapter 17: Wherein Fenris gets his sword back
Reunions! Thayer gets the team back together and Caligo discovers someone she hadn't expected to see again.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein Fenris gets his sword back
“Well, Shiny,” chuckled Varric as they stepped out of the dungeons, “looks like we can check another objective off that list.”
At the far end of the hall, that objective glanced up from where he was nudging a fallen Venatori with his toe, scowling as he reached for the long axe pinned beneath the body. Fenris’ ears perked up at the dwarf’s voice and his eyes widened at the sight of the Inquisitor and Varric at the dungeon door.
Behind him, Metis, leaning against the wall, brightened and said, “Inquisitor. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“No less are you two,” Thayer replied, bursting into a grin and hurrying forward to pull Fenris into an impetuous hug, at which the elf stiffened only slightly. Then he looked over the Inquisitor’s shoulder and arched an eyebrow.
“Thayer,” Fenris asked, “since when do you carry a greatsword?”
“Since we came this way looking for you and found only your weapon,” Thayer grinned. “It’s about time you showed up to claim it. Probably would’ve overbalanced me if I’d had to fight my way to you.” He withdrew the sword from its temporary sheath at his back and handed it over to Fenris with a flourish. “Honestly, it’s a wonder anyone can walk straight carrying a weapon like that.”
While Fenris reverently received the weapon and returned it to his own back, Thayer turned to greet Metis with a hug as well, but the older elf sucked in a pained breath at the pressure to his arm. Thayer stepped back, chagrined at the sight of the bandages. “What happened to you?” he asked.
The elves exchanged a glance before Fenris answered, his voice carefully restrained, “He was subjected to lyrium markings.”
Metis was already unwrapping the bandages as Thayer and Varric turned to him with exclamations of dismay. “Maker’s breath,” the Inquisitor gasped at the sight, “so you’re the reason they didn’t finish the ritual on that Fog Warrior.”
“Licinius was too eager to find out how the markings would work on a mage,” Metis confirmed, slowly rewrapping the bandages after everyone had seen the purpling veins of lyrium now fused with his skin.
“Metis,” Fenris murmured, “I don’t like how red the skin around the lyrium still looks. The ritual should fix the lyrium into its channels, but…”
“I expect it’s just recovering from the burns,” Metis frowned. “The skin’s still warm to the touch. Perhaps...I know we’re in a hurry to get out of this fortress and stop Licinius, but if we might find more of that salve they used on me after the ritual, it did help a bit.”
Fenris straightened, reaching to support his father again as he turned back the way they had come. “The laboratory. There’s likely to be some there.” He glanced over his shoulder at Thayer. “Inquisitor?”
“We’re staying with you,” Thayer nodded, moving to follow the elves. “Besides, we’ve only one objective left now, isn’t that right, Varric?”
“Stop the magister,” Varric nodded, ticking the imaginary list off on his fingers as he fell into step beside the Inquisitor, “since we have already successfully found our friends, who already freed the prisoners, thus saving us the trouble of tackling that objective.”
“And we could run all over this place looking for the magister,” Thayer continued, “but I’ll bet he’ll come looking for you two sooner or later.” He turned to Fenris. “You’re all right, though? Licinius seemed to have...plans for you the last we saw him.”
“He only planned to copy my markings,” Fenris nodded.
“And dissect you, if copying didn’t work,” Metis reminded him under his breath.
“It was an empty threat,” Fenris insisted.
Metis shook his head. “He wouldn’t have hesitated, if he thought he really could learn anything from your insides.”
“Regardless, he won’t have the chance now.” Fenris inclined his head to the Inquisitor. “Your arrival interrupted his plans before he could take the ritual any further on Metis, but…”
Metis looked up, blinking slowly. “On the bright side,” he murmured, “I suppose this provides a certain knowledge of our foes which we lacked before.”
Fenris’ eyes narrowed. “The knowledge that the red lyrium maddens them? That was clear enough without risking madness yourself.”
“Ah, but who knows what we may yet learn?”
Fenris sighed. “Do you make a habit of experimenting upon yourself?”
“This is a first, actually,” Metis smiled. “But I’m determined to be useful. And I’m determined to resist its call.”
“Its call?” Thayer echoed.
“Varric,” Fenris said, glancing back at the dwarf. “The red lyrium in Kirkwall. Meredith…”
“Bartrand,” Varric said darkly.
“Metis spoke of the markings...singing to him.” Fenris explained, his face drawn with worry.
“Shit,” the dwarf groaned. “That is a tale that has yet to end well.”
“The sooner we are finished here,” Fenris said, picking up his pace as much as possible with Metis still leaning on his arm, “the likelier we can change that.”
A cheer went up from the Fog Warriors when the red-marked warrior finally fell. It had been a man, once, Caligo thought, its small ears and hulking shoulders obscured now by the red glow coming from its tattoos. It fought like a beast, growling and swinging out with an enormous club. The red lyrium seemed to give it remarkable strength, and the swordfighters in her party were hard pressed to stand against its raging blows. Caligo and her archers stood back, their arrows slipping past the lyrium light until finally the tattooed warrior slowed, roaring in pain, and slumped to the ground.
And then, from behind him came a slow clapping sound. Caligo looked up to see a man with pale hair in short curls, draped in the elaborate robes of a Tevinter magister, a staff at his back.
“Oh, bravo,” the magister drawled. “Fearsome indeed, a dozen of you against my one pet.”
Caligo’s vision darkened with fury as she brought her bow to bear on the magister. “It killed five of my men first,” she pointed out, keeping her voice cool of the anger the Tevinter drew from her.
“Yes, that was impressive too,” the magister acknowledged. “And it makes this slightly easier.” Suddenly there was a knife in his hand, a flash of red as blood dripped from a cut in his palm. Caligo took a step back, loosing her arrow (a wave of the magister’s hand; it flamed to ash), reaching to her quiver for another, but --
Agony. Fire in the blood. Excruciating pain washed through her veins as the magister’s bloody palm clenched to a fist. She cried out, fought against the instinct to crumple like a tent folding in on itself when the poles went bad and warped. From the corner of her eye she caught glimpses of her team, the remnants of it, twisted in torment equal to hers. And then Imber, patient, loyal Imber, suddenly lurched to his feet with his sword in his hand and ran it through Hemis’ guts. His sister Hemis. Caligo choked with rage, gritting her teeth against the pain, and inch by inch her hand reached her quiver.
“Very good,” the magister was saying, his attention fixed on his new pet and the carnage Imber had begun to carve through the Fog Warriors. “As you can see, I have your men at my mercy. Now you will tell me what I want to know.” Imber punctuated the magister’s words with his sword at Grandin’s throat, the threat at odds with the look of dismay and horror in Imber’s own eyes.
“I. Will. Tell you. Nothing,” Caligo grunted. Her fingers brushed against fletching, fumbled. Grandin whimpered as a trickle of red marked his throat.
“Where is the Inquisitor?” the magister demanded. “I presume he is behind this annoyance, after he departed so suddenly from our meeting last night. Rather an inconvenient time for him to return, I hope you know; I was in the middle of an experiment.” He glanced at Imber and flicked a finger. “Kill him.”
“No!” Caligo shouted, gripping the arrow shaft now yet unable to bring her arm back to her bow with it. Imber froze, grimacing against the magister’s control.
The magister quirked an eyebrow. “Something you’d like to share, rabbit?”
“The Inquisitor…” she gasped, “from the north. We...came from the south. Don’t know where he is. Don’t know if he even made it in.”
“You’ll have to do better than that,” the magister frowned. “I don’t have time for this. You there, kill --”
There was a faint whistle, a sound Caligo recognized, and with it came the strength to finally pull the arrow free of her quiver and launch it in the magister’s direction in the two seconds before the whistle became a fwuff and the fog rolled in from someone’s grenade. Her arrow flying through the fog struck true; or at least she hoped the sudden cry of surprise and pain was the magister’s and not one of her own men’s, but she was suddenly free of the grip of his magic, slumping in relief as the pain faded away. She could hear her team moving under their own volition again, free of the magister’s control. They would use the fog to scatter, find safety. Caligo had no intention of scattering. She reached for another arrow, peering into the fog to discern if the magister was still where her last shot had found him.
And then her arm was gripped in strong fingers from behind her, and she jerked against the hold for a moment until a voice even more familiar than the sound of a fog grenade hissed, “Stop it, you idiot. This is a rescue!”
Caligo let herself be pulled back down the hallway, but not without hissing back, “Aeris!”
She could hear his grin through the fog. “Thought you’d seen the last of me?”
“How are you still alive?” she snapped. “You got yourself caught months ago.”
“You know why,” he said as they reached the edge of the fog, moving quickly enough to keep ahead of its slow spread now. “But I’m honored you’ve finally come to rescue me.” She could see the grin now. She scowled back.
“This isn’t about you,” she insisted. “The Inquisitor’s determined to stop the Venatori doing what they do here. The Fog Dancer agreed to help him. This is our chance to end their preying on us. No one else going missing like Nubis did.”
Aeris’ sudden smile, teeth glinting, seemed out of place here. “Speaking of that…” he said, and winked at her, and pulled her aside into what seemed to be a bedchamber, dusty with disuse.
And from one dusty chair, looking up at her, his grey eyes rimmed with red, his chest bare and gleaming with red lines, like the magister’s beast…
Nubis saw her and, slowly, just barely, he smiled. He knew her. Caligo gasped, looked at Aeris, gripping his hand while he just grinned at her. She let go, bent to kneel at Nubis’ side, reaching for him…
Thunder sounded: or something more than thunder, far beyond the fortress’ interior. All three of them, even Nubis, looked up at the sound.
“The ships,” Caligo realized after a moment. “That’s our cover. Come on, Nubis, we’re getting you out.”
Licinius was struggling to find his way out of the fog when the explosions began, like thunder beyond his walls but with a force mere weather usually lacked. The elf’s arrow in his side slowed his progress, but the blood it had drawn served to fuel a spell to keep himself going.
The Fog Warriors were nowhere to be found by the time the air had cleared enough that he could see again. He cursed their memory and stumbled on. There were two groups infiltrating the fortress, then -- he had learned no more from the elf. And from the sound of things, they had reinforcements outside his gates.
Two fronts to defend, then. The Fog Warriors who had escaped him when that archer broke his hold on them were the least of his concerns; the Inquisitor’s reputation preceded him, and now the gates of Ath Velanis seemed to be under attack as well. Licinius staggered on until he found a patrol of his Venatori, heading for the gates. They hesitated when they saw their leader wounded, but he waved them on to defend the gates, except for two mages that he pulled from their numbers to join him in confronting the Inquisitor.
Which left only the matter of finding him.
Licinius’ Tranquil assistant, whom they found still at his post in the laboratory, quietly arranging the flasks and other implements set out for the next phase of the ritual, was entirely unimpressed by Fenris’ grip on his throat.
“Wait,” Metis said quietly, before Fenris could attempt to intimidate a man who knew neither fear nor any other emotion. “Let me.” Fenris met his father’s eyes and, after a moment, nodded, shifting to grip the Tranquil’s shoulder as Metis stepped forward, raising his bandaged arm. With it, the song in his head seemed to rise, demanding his attention, his adoration. He thrust his way through the fog of thoughts crowding in on his own, fixing his eyes on the Tranquil and schooling his face to match the man’s blank expression.
“You gave me a salve,” Metis reminded the man, “to help this heal.”
“Yes,” the Tranquil acknowledged.
“Might you have any more of it? I think it’s wearing off.”
“The burns will take time to heal regardless,” the Tranquil stated.
“Even so,” Metis shrugged. “Perhaps a bottle for the road?”
“Licinius prefers that I administer the salve,” he said.
“Licinius,” Fenris growled, “has done things his way long enough.”
The Tranquil looked at him. Metis coughed. “Yes. But I’m perfectly capable of treating this myself, if you don’t mind. I can see that you’re very busy here and I’m sure you have better things to do than looking after a patient.”
A nod, finally, from the Tranquil. He gestured to a rack near the door, crammed full of every size and sort of container. “There is enough of it on the third shelf. Take what you need.”
“Well. Thank you,” Metis said, wandering over to the shelves while Fenris released the man to return to his organizing. Varric, standing guard at the door along with Thayer, leaned in to ask if he needed any help, but Metis waved him away, fighting against the urge to hum as he searched.
Few of the jars and bottles and flasks were labeled, he soon discovered. Lyrium potions (red and blue) were recognizable enough even without a label and made up the vast majority of the items stored on the shelves. Then there was a motley assortment of concoctions in a variety of colors and consistencies. Metis started opening those that looked most similar to the drab, viscous ointment that had been used to treat his markings, sniffing at their contents in the hopes that he would recognize the smell. At a guess, there’d been embrium involved, and perhaps a hint of lavender for the burns. He swiftly ruled out the first three jars he tried.
The fourth one took him by surprise, enough to make the lilting whispers go silent for a moment. Recoiling from a sharp and sour smell, he glanced down at the bottle he’d opened to see a gooey substance, red as blood and rife with the scent of magebane.
“Fenris,” he said, beckoning his son over. “Have a look at this.”
Fenris gave the Tranquil one more cautionary glare before approaching. His eyes widened as he reached to take the bottle.
“This is not what they used on you,” he frowned.
“No, not after the ritual,” Metis said. “I think it’s Licinius’ lyrium-quieting potion. Smells of magebane. And the places where he’d smeared it on the floor as traps for us, it looked like blood, didn’t it?”
Fenris held the bottle at arm’s length with a dubious frown. “It could be anything.”
“Well, whatever it is, I’d swear magebane is involved. It could come in handy against a magister.”
Fenris nodded and handed it back to him. “It does smell of magebane, at least. Just be very careful.”
“Of what? The markings already choke my magic. What more can magebane do?”
“Even so,” Fenris said. “Keep it somewhere safe.”
Metis corked the supposed quieting potion and wrapped it carefully in a scrap of bandages identical to those sheathing his arm. Tucking it away in a belt pouch, he paused and frowned at the resurgence of the song at the back of his mind.
A polite voice at his shoulder startled him out of the impending lyrium reverie. Metis jumped and turned to find the Tranquil speaking softly to him. “I’m sorry, what was that?” he asked.
“This is the salve you were looking for,” the man repeated, selecting a small green jar from the shelf. “If I left you to look for it any longer I would have to reorganize everything. You may take this one.”
“Oh,” Metis said with a shaky smile, closing his good hand around the little jar and willing the chill of the glass to keep him focused on the present. “Thank you.”
As he and Fenris stepped away from the shelves to rejoin their comrades at the door, suddenly from far above there came a noise like thunder, but faint, softened around the edges by its passage deep into the fortress. Thayer looked up at the sound, then turned to his companions, eyes gleaming. “Sounds like reinforcements have arrived.”
“I hope they don’t intend to collapse the fortress with us in it,” remarked Fenris dryly.
“We’ll be out sooner than that,” Thayer assured them. “Can’t leave without seeing to our final objective, though, can we, Varric?”
“Yes, Shiny, we still have to put a stop to this tattooing business like we set out to in the first place,” Varric confirmed.
“Which means finding the magister,” Thayer continued. “Although…” He glanced around the laboratory. “A bit of a setback to his equipment here wouldn’t hurt, just in case. You still have any of those Antivan Fire grenades, Varric?”
Five minutes later, the roar of flames pursued them down the hallway while the thunder of the ships’ attack continued far above.
“He’ll run straight to the magister, you know,” Fenris said, gesturing to the Tranquil, whom they had with great difficulty convinced to evacuate the laboratory before they set it on fire. Run was perhaps an exaggeration: apparently a sense of urgency was among the emotions from which the man was cut off, and for all his insistence that Licinius would disapprove of his leaving his post despite the inferno scheduled to consume it, he seemed to be making no hurry as he walked down the hallway towards a narrow stair.
“I’m counting on it,” said the Inquisitor. “We need to confront Licinius anyway. Let him come find us, I say. And in the meantime we can find someplace more defensible than this hallway to catch him in. Or to be caught in.”
“I thought we’d done our share of being caught in traps already,” Varric objected.
“Yes, but what he doesn’t know is, this time we are the trap,” Thayer grinned. “Or was it the bait? Anyway, we’ll be prepared.”
“It would be simpler just to kill him,” Fenris pointed out.
“Fair enough. If it comes to that, he’s earned it,” the Inquisitor said. “But there are too many things we still don’t know about this operation. We can burn the laboratory and kill the magister, but where are they getting so much red lyrium? And the slaves they tested it on? Not everyone you freed from the dungeons was a captured Fog Warrior. And if Danarius destroyed all his research after the ritual on you, Fenris, where did Licinius even begin? Did he seriously base all this on mere glimpses of your abilities, years ago? If he found something -- some tome or treatise that set him on this path -- I would love to destroy every copy of it, so this can never happen again.”
“So many questions,” Metis smiled. “I suppose it’s fitting for the Inquisitor to be so inquisitive.”
“I blame Varric,” Thayer said, nudging the dwarf with an elbow as they turned a corner. “Always prying for his books. I’ve learned to question villains properly before they die, given the least opportunity.”
Chapter 18: Wherein we depart Ath Velanis
Thayer and team take the fight to the magister at last! And Hawke finally hears back from her Fenris.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein we depart Ath Velanis
Thayer came up with a plan as they hurried back to the dungeons, where they found the Fog Warriors who had entered the fortress with them still searching through the prisoners’ belongings in the antechamber, though they informed the Inquisitor that Aeris had departed with Nubis. By the time they all returned to the hallway near Licinius’ laboratory, the flames from the grenade had died down. “Wonder if the Tranquil’s told him anything yet,” Varric mused. “Or if he’ll notice the smoke billowing from his beloved lyrium stash.”
“He’ll believe what he wants to believe,” Thayer insisted. “As long as we make it believable. Now, what shall we do with these -- ugh, Fenris, did you have to snatch their hearts out through the armor? What a mess.”
“Might want to mop up some of that blood first,” Varric chuckled. “After all, Inquisitor, it’s all about making it believable.”
The laboratory was in disarray. Either the brazier had overturned and the Tranquil had let the fire get out of hand (odd, Licinius thought, that the man was not there; he left his post only to eat and sleep and those only at times dictated by his routine), or the intruders had sought to sabotage his work. Licinius fumed inwardly as he summoned ice to put out the lingering flames, then hurried with his entourage down the hall in search of the room where his test subjects had been stored after the interruption to the ritual.
To his relief, the two Venatori guards that he had left in charge of the elves were still at their posts. “The subjects must be relocated, quickly,” Licinius announced as he approached. “Intruders are loose in the fortress, and before I deal with them, we must be sure these two are secure.” He motioned to the mages accompanying him, and the five Venatori and three of his red-marked warriors they had gathered en route, to wait outside the room.
The guards at the door nodded, inclining their helmeted heads only briefly before one guard turned to the door and unlocked it. Within, Licinius saw the two bedraggled elves, slumped against a wall with their hands still bound behind their backs, lift their heads. Danarius’ pet tensed as if preparing to cause trouble, but his expression changed to one of worry when the guards pulled the older elf to his feet. The gardener cried out as his marked arm was jostled, but looked at the younger elf with a shake of his head, warning him off from interfering. Glancing from helmet to helmet of the guards who now held both subjects in firm grips, and noting as well the red warriors and mages waiting with Licinius in the hallway, the little wolf finally nodded back. The guards guided their charges from the room without incident.
“They’ll be safest in my chambers,” Licinius informed the guard bearing a greatsword on his back, the one who had unlocked the door. “The wards will not easily be broken. Come along.”
He turned on his heel to march towards his tower, failing to notice the look the two guards exchanged.
Varric leaned around the corner, noting which way Licinius was taking his prisoners, and then looked back to the Fog Warriors stationed with him. “All right, it’s plan B. Fall in behind, and don’t let them hear you or see you. Quiet as the fog, right?”
“We can be quiet,” the nearest warrior said, cocking an eyebrow. “What about you?”
“I’ll have you know dwarves can move very silently when we have a mind to,” Varric huffed. “It’s a center of gravity thing.”
The Fog Warrior gave him a dubious but otherwise blessedly silent look before leading his teammates around the corner, their white war paint blending into the stone of the fortress nearly as well as it did in their spooky fog. Varric followed last, keeping an eye out for Venatori behind them and muttering to Bianca, “You just had to go with plan B, Thayer. Shoving the magister into the storage room himself would have been so much quicker, even if he did bring backup.”
Fenris glanced around the tower room as they followed Licinius in. Surprisingly sparse, for a mage of Licinius’ standing and supposed wealth, but his markings tingled in response to magic in the air. Wards on the floor, he saw, and implements of blood magic. A slave chained to the far wall looked up at their entry and paled. Several more sets of chains lined the same wall, and Licinius waved the guards toward these.
“Now,” the magister was saying, “as soon as they’re secure, I’ll set the wards and then we can deal with the intruders.”
Even as Licinius spoke, Fenris felt the cold press of a knife at his wrists, bare of armor, as the guard leading him cut his ropes. At a glance, he saw Metis’ guard doing likewise. His father met his eyes and winked, slowly reaching for his belt pouch.
Licinius seemed to realize something was wrong even as Thayer reached up to remove the bucket-like Venatori helmet concealing his face. “Why haven’t you chained them yet?” the magister was saying. “Hurry up and --” His eyes went wide as the Inquisitor emerged from disguise and grinned, tossing the helmet his way before drawing Fenris’ greatsword from his back and handing it over to the elf.
“Or you could deal with us now,” Thayer shrugged, sliding his daggers from the gauntlets of his Venatori armor. “We’d hate to inconvenience you any longer than necessary.”
“You!” Licinius bellowed, then took three steps toward the door, yelling, “Venatori! To me! The intruders --” But even as one of his mages and a lone Venatori Marksman made it through the door, a wall of red light sprang up on the threshold, cutting off the rest who were running to the magister’s aid.
“Turns out,” said Thayer, “the Fog Warriors have mages who know something about wards, too.” He nodded to the other supposed guard, now setting his helmet aside and shaking out dark hair. “Well done, Algor.” He turned back to Licinius. “Our friends will deal with your backup out there, and we can have a nice chat.”
“Fool,” Licinius spat, beginning to move his staff in arcane patterns. “Do not think you have rendered me helpless. Target the Inquisitor,” he shouted to his mage and marksman, “but by no means kill the elves. I’m not finished with them.”
“You will be,” Fenris growled, rushing forward to deal with the spare Venatori mage even as Thayer ducked an arrow and Algor raised his hands to cast a spell.
Then with a roar not unlike the sound of the laboratory going up in flames, Licinius was joined by a trio of demons boiling up from the floor. Fenris willed his lyrium to light, darting forward to engage the new threat.
Outside the freshly warded doorway, the remaining Venatori and red warriors watched the mage caught on their side summon mana to bring down the ward. He raised his staff, gestured to the door, and --
Fell to the floor with a thump as a crossbow bolt sprouted from his back.
They turned to see a dwarf at the top of the stairs leading up to the tower rooms, gesturing to the Fog Warriors who now came quickly up behind him.
“That’s our cue, Whitey,” the dwarf said, hoisting his crossbow again as he addressed none of the Fog Warriors in particular as far as the Venatori could tell. “Oh, and no more need to be quiet.”
Metis, meanwhile, pressed himself against the wall, watching and gritting his teeth against a feeling of uselessness. Thinking of all the ways he could be helping right now, if the red lyrium weren’t drowning out his magic, didn’t help. A bolt of ice would do wonders against that rage demon; and his vines could have kept Licinius from casting in the first place; and when the Inquisitor finally failed to dodge that archer’s shots, as it was looking more and more likely he would, it would be awfully nice if Metis could send some healing his way. Fenris’ lack of his armor, left in the storage room where they had found it when they were first locked in there, lest his wearing it should alert Licinius that the elves were no longer the prisoners they seemed to be, made Metis itch to throw up a barrier around him. He watched Algor’s spells with envy but also a measure of professional assessment: the lad’s fire spells were dazzling if not terribly hard-hitting, but he did have some skill with wards, locking two of the demons in place long enough for the Inquisitor and Fenris to deal with the Venatori mage and marksman. Metis strained to feel his own magic, but the lyrium sang as plaintively as ever, demanding his attention. Gripping the flask in his good hand tighter, he edged along the wall, trying to draw nearer to Licinius without being noticed. If this was the only way left for him to help, he wasn’t about to waste it on a poor throw from too far away. Fenris needed the use of his markings, and it was best to keep Algor in control of his magic too. The potion had to target Licinius alone.
Then one of the demons reared up before him. Metis gasped and backed away, still clutching his potion tight even as he glanced around for any sort of weapon. Fighting in the magister’s chambers proved fortuitous; a rack across the room held a variety of staves, none quite like the one the Venatori had confiscated from him before subjecting him to their ritual, but without his magic he just needed something to hit with and any staff would do.
He feinted toward the demon and then made a dash for it on the other side, clutching his marked arm to his chest and grimacing against the pain. He could feel the wrongness of the creature, pursuing him all the way to the rack, where he fumbled for the staff nearest to hand, almost dropping the potion when he forgot he was carrying it, shifting it to his bandaged hand as well as he could before grasping at the staff again even as demon claws grasped at his shoulder --
And then with a roar the thing fell away from him, blue lyrium light gleaming through a hole in what passed for its chest. The demon slumped and finally melted away into the floor as Fenris stood there panting, eyes wide and wild as he reached out to Metis.
“You’re all right?”
“Excellent timing,” Metis said, summoning the weakest of smiles while gasping for breath; he was in no condition for such sprinting, especially after the day’s events.
Fenris looked around at the battle. “One of them left,” he nodded at the remaining demon. Metis saw fabric puddled on the floor that he took to be Licinius’ assistant mage, and a bow cast aside suggested that the marksman had been dealt with as well. “We will see to the demon.” He gripped Metis’ shoulder before he turned away. “Don’t let him summon any more.”
Which was, presumably, what Licinius had in mind as he again started moving his staff through its patterns. The magister’s eyes were on Thayer as the Inquisitor played tag with the last demon, darting in to slash at it from one side, then the other, while Algor stood nearby flinging ice at it. Suddenly the demon broke away from the Inquisitor to charge at Algor, knocking the mage aside to slam into a wall while Fenris ran up from behind, ready to slice the demon in two.
And while that drama played out, Metis crept up as near Licinius as he dared, uncorked the bottle, and hurled it. The magister saw it coming just in time and turned, bringing up a hand to bat it away, but the open bottle spun and splattered him with its contents before sailing away to shatter against the wall.
Metis, feeling an odd shock to his marked arm, looked down at his bandages. Drops of red stained the white fabric. Blood? He frowned as he raised his hand, recognizing the scent of magebane. The spray of the potion had reached all the way back to him, then, a tiny trace of it splattering his left arm even as most of it landed on Licinius.
The magister stood fuming, waving his hands, shaking his staff, trying to bring his magic forth again, but enough magebane had reached him to nullify every attempt. At that moment, Fenris ran the demon through even while Thayer ran a blade along its throat, and the thing shriveled back into the Fade. Licinius snarled and turned his staff around, advancing on Metis with the bladed end.
“No!” Fenris shouted as Metis slowly backed away from the magister, nearly tripping over the marksman’s corpse before Fenris interposed himself and his sword between the mages. Licinius hissed in frustration, swinging his staff against the elf’s blade. Reinforced with metal along the shaft, it met the blow with only the slightest shudder, and then the magister was wielding its blade like a polearm against Fenris with surprising skill.
Metis took note of Thayer just before the Inquisitor vanished into the shadows again, looking, he supposed, for an angle from which to creep up on the magister and -- well, not slit his throat, Metis guessed; he had been so determined to take the man alive, but surely if Fenris was in danger…
There was a tingling in his left arm. Metis looked at it in wonder, unwinding the bandages. The skin revealed was still red and tender, but there were patches, he thought, where the lyrium lines themselves had grown darker. Quieter. Quieter. The lyrium-quieting potion. He realized in that moment, the song in the back of his mind was quieting too. Still there, but no longer demanding his attention, not drowning everything else out as it had before. So little of the potion had actually reached him, he realized: enough to quiet the lyrium’s song, but what effect would the same potion have on his magic now that he wasn’t distracted by the lyrium? Frowning, he raised the staff he had snatched from the rack, adding his left hand carefully to his grip on it, and began to weave a familiar pattern in the air. It seemed to take an eternity, and all the while Fenris and the magister wove a pattern of their own, blade to blade, and what Thayer was up to was yet to be seen.
And then the vines came. Slowly at first; his magic was there, but not entirely unaffected by the magebane, and he was a bit rusty after hours sundered from his mana, but finally the vines came. He called them from the ceiling, above where Licinius stood, or had been standing before his duel with Fenris carried them halfway across the tower chamber. Metis bit at his lip, coaxing, encouraging, convincing the vines to twine further that way, no, then back this way again, keep growing, reach for it, reach for the wrists, he needs his hands to cast…
At last, with a shriek of outrage, Licinius was hauled up into the air by strong vines binding each wrist and shrinking back to stretch them over his head, leaving the magister dangling from the ceiling, kicking out at Fenris as his staff fell from his hands.
Fenris dodged the kick easily and swung back around to face the magister. With a fierce smile he lit his lyrium and plunged his bare hand in to grasp the magister’s beating heart.
For half a minute, they stood eye to eye, or nearly so, since the magister had a few extra inches on Fenris with his feet swinging above the floor. But the swinging had become barely a tremble as Licinius went as still as possible, eyes bulging as Fenris squeezed.
Thayer, emerging from the shadows at last, approached with a polite cough. Fenris narrowed his eyes as they met the magister’s, fire in the elf’s matching fear in the mage’s, and finally he nodded, easing his grip on Licinius’ heart.
“You took my father away from me once, before I was even born,” Fenris growled at last, stretching up on his toes to glare more directly into the magister’s eyes. “You very nearly took him away from me again today. Be glad the Inquisitor came when he did, for if Metis had died here there would be no mercy.”
It is done. With joy I write to tell you that we are finished with this place. Thayer has the magister who was behind these experiments in custody on the ship. The rest of the Venatori and their red warriors are dead or in the Fog Warriors’ hands, which they may find the less desirable fate.
The fight has taken its toll on us all, but we are alive. Thayer and Varric are well. Metis...well, I shall write more in the morning, perhaps, before the ships bear us away from this cursed shore, but for now he and I both need rest. But we live, and you will see him soon enough, for he must return with us to Skyhold.
I see the ravens have brought your letters while I was within Ath Velanis. Their scent, your scent, consoles me but I wait till morning to read them, as well, for I am truly wearier than I can remember being in years, and that includes the nights Malcolm kept us both up with his demands.
I will read your news and send you more of mine tomorrow, but for now the raven bears you this promise: tomorrow the ships bring us home.
Chapter 19: Wherein the ship sails
Our heroes depart from Seheron, but there is still the matter of certain red lyrium tattoos to be dealt with.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein the ship sails
“You know, Varric,” Thayer Trevelyan said, gazing at Ath Velanis looming in the distance as the sun rose over the jungle, “that fortress looks a pleasanter place already.”
“No, Shiny,” the dwarf disagreed, shaking his head as he climbed to the Inquisitor’s vantage point on a pile of rocks at the edge of their camp. “Not possible. Not even if you redecorated and put in a bar and dancing girls. Ath Velanis will never be pleasant.”
“Slightly less menacing, though?” Thayer suggested. “No longer a haunt of Venatori desperate to relive their dead master’s glory days by building him an invincible army running on red lyrium.”
“That did contribute a lot to the menacing air,” Varric admitted.
“Might as well go ahead and put that bar in, now that we have the architect of their dastardly plan in custody.”
“For all the good he’s likely to do you,” Varric grunted. “Elias, on the other hand, might be more reasonable.”
“Elias?” Thayer frowned, then his eyes widened. “Oh. Do you mean you found the Tranquil? And learned his name?”
Varric nodded. “He was fairly receptive to the job offer, once he saw the rest of the Venatori being marched off by the Fog Warriors. I’d wager it’s been a lot for him to swallow, the last few months, going on with their world domination plans even with Corypheus dead. Not much point in it, but would Licinius listen if he explained why?”
“So he’s content to change sides?”
“I think all he wants is purpose and protection, and the Venatori can’t give him that anymore. So yes, Inquisitor, agent acquired.”
Thayer smiled. “And hopefully he can do what we need of him?”
“Oh, he knows the formula, all right. He whipped up a batch of it on the spot to prove it to me, even if he did have a lot to say about how we could have saved him the trouble by not destroying all the potions along with the laboratory in the first place.” Varric shrugged. “Either way, Metis will have what he needs.”
“That’s a relief, I’m sure.”
“One more thing, Inquisitor,” Varric said, drawing a tightly rolled scroll out of his jacket. Thayer raised an eyebrow as he carefully unrolled the parchment and peered at words in a language he did not recognize.
Varric explained, “I found him in the magister’s chambers, going through a stash of things he apparently considered worth saving. Talked him into donating that one to the cause once I realized what it was.”
“Just a few hundred words in what’s apparently an old dialect of Tevene,” Varric smirked. “Unroll it the rest of the way though. Check out the pictures.”
Thayer narrowed his eyes at the dwarf, weighing his words for a trick, before complying. He unrolled, at last, a series of diagrams at the very end of the document, distorted where the pages had crumpled from much rerolling, but there was no mistaking what they depicted. Thayer gasped and nearly dropped the scroll.
“So they’re a bit rough,” Varric continued, “and apparently nowhere near the detail of Fenris’ markings, which would be why Licinius thought he’d use him as a live template. But yeah, looks like these are the few hundred words that started it all. Some sort of ancient treatise on how to fuse lyrium to a man’s skin and give him magical fisting powers.”
“Magical -- what?” Thayer stuttered, side-eying the dwarf.
“Never mind. Thought you might be interested in the scroll, that’s all. Crack the code, maybe someone can learn something useful from it about...well, about what to do for a guy who’s been put through an arm’s worth of this stuff, right? Or at the least, you can destroy it and hope it’s the last of its kind in the world, so no one gets ideas like this again.”
“Maker bless you, Varric,” Thayer breathed. “Ath Velanis looks much pleasanter with this in hand.”
Hawke, long desired and dreamed of, soon to be seen,
I am up with the sun to read your letters and write to you again before the ship sails. Though that will not be terribly early today, since Thayer has sent Varric with the Fog Warriors back into the fortress to take care of some things left undone in our haste.
...And even now a scout brings me a third letter. You must have sent this one before receiving my note last night, for I do not think the ravens could have already borne that to you and back again with this. I suppose I would not be surprised if there were yet more of your letters winging their way to us now. But we sail today, so by the time you receive this letter there will be no more camp to send your replies to. Save your words up, sweet Hawke, that I may listen the longer to them when I hold you again. Happily I will pass the voyage imagining what you are preparing to say to me, so much so that when I see you I shall be speechless myself, having prepared no words of my own.
All the more important, then, to fill this letter with my answers to your letters while I still can.
Your concern about my sudden influx of family is kind of you, Hawke. You will meet Metis soon and judge for yourself what manner of man my father is, but suffice it to say that I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that you are not the only mage in the world on whom I can rely. He offered himself for the Venatori’s ritual to stop the magister from killing me, Hawke, and I...in that moment I knew I could not bear to lose him again. It was a foolish thing for him to do, but he bore the process bravely. The Inquisitor intervened and so the ritual was not completed, but he received the markings on one arm.
You write of Merrill’s success curing Emmen of the red lyrium. Do you think her methods can be extended to the markings created by the Venatori here? Please, ask her, earnestly on my behalf, to prepare for such an attempt. We are bringing Metis with us back to Skyhold in hopes that the lyrium in his markings can be cleansed. Markings such as mine can be borne and controlled, despite the trouble they have brought me, but the red lyrium in Metis’ markings threatens to overwhelm him. For now it has not spread beyond the channels created for it, yet even so he hears it calling to him the way we have seen it do with others before it broke their minds.
I cannot have this man’s mind broken, Hawke. I make it my task, till we reach Skyhold again, to keep him in the present, keep him from slipping away into its clutches, but I do not think anyone can forever resist that corruption. We must find a way to cleanse his lyrium as soon as possible.
But that is only one reason I am eager to return to Skyhold, dear wife. May the ships sail swiftly this time! If the winds are favorable, we will be home in time for Malcolm’s birthday after all. He will, I hope, not have forgotten me. And yes, his chatter (as you write of it) does make his Da smile. Has he truly not yet decided what to call you? If he can say “Da” and “Po” and “Boo” and all of that, surely it is not beyond infant capabilities to pronounce “Hawke”. I shall make a point of practicing that with him if he has not learned to say it (or “Ma” or whatever other ridiculous combination you have been needlessly trying to teach him) by the time I return.
Be well, my Hawke. I hope you have recovered, or soon will, from whatever ailed you in your recent letters. I wish you all health and safety and happiness, and I will hurry back to you in case Skyhold alone cannot supply the latter.
“What will you do with Ath Velanis?” Caligo asked the Inquisitor, as the soldiers began ferrying the Inquisition’s equipment out to the ships anchored near Ath Velanis’ broken gates.
“I was thinking of asking you that, as a matter of fact,” Thayer replied.
“What?” the Fog Warrior turned to squint at him.
“I don’t intend to establish an Inquisition stronghold in Seheron,” he explained. “Too far away to maintain, and we really have no need to involve ourselves in northern politics. Also, I can attest that everyone on this island except for your people would be tripping over themselves to drive us out.”
“I can attest to that, too,” Caligo grinned.
“The Fog Warriors, however, have proven fine allies,” he said, sketching a bow that drew a huff of amusement from her. “Also, I’d rather see your people take this island back than either the Qunari or Vints overrun it. Plus you’ve suffered a great deal from the Venatori in this fortress yourselves; you bore the brunt of captives to fuel their experiments.” He glanced over towards a cluster of Fog Warriors further back from the shore, where one dark-haired elf was crouched down, animatedly drawing something in the sand while another stood shaking his head. “Your friends,” he said, nodding towards Aeris and Nubis, “were quite brave.”
“They were idiots to come here,” Caligo said, but the warmth in her voice was more fond than angry. “I am relieved we found them alive.”
“As am I, having met them,” Thayer smiled. “So I have two proposals for you, lady of the Fog Warriors.”
She glanced up at him, eyes narrowing. “I’m listening, Inquisitor.”
“I’d like to bring Nubis back to Skyhold with us. We’ve heard from those who remained behind that they’ve had some success there with a process to cleanse red lyrium from a boy who was infected with it.”
Caligo’s eyes widened and she glanced from the Inquisitor back to her friends. “You could...fix him?”
“We could help him, I hope.”
She frowned. “It would be very far from home. He...we missed him. His family back at the camp…”
“I cannot promise that he will not lose his mind to the red lyrium the same as those who were completely marked with it did, if something is not done for him. And I cannot truly promise that my people at Skyhold will succeed in curing him. But I would not ask you to send him alone. You’d be welcome to come along. Aeris too. Anyone you think should go with him, in fact. It would surely be easier for him to heal with friends nearby.”
She nodded slowly. “I...will think on it, Inquisitor. And I will ask Nubis what he wishes.”
“You said,” she reminded, jutting her chin up at him, “two proposals?”
“Ah, yes,” Thayer smiled. “I propose that the Fog Warriors take charge of Ath Velanis. Occupy it and make a stronghold from which to take back the island, if you like. Or burn it down, if you prefer. I would be satisfied knowing its fate is in your hands, either way, and no longer in the Venatori’s.”
Her hand flew to her mouth. “You would give us the fortress?”
“A going-away present?” he grinned. “It’s not exactly a nice place, either. Just ask Varric. I don’t think he’d let me keep it if I wanted to. But you could make use of it.”
“I cannot accept for the clan,” she shook her head. “It is not my place. But I will send word to the Fog Dancer of your proposal. And I think she will be happy, at least, to decide its fate. I would not mind if she ordered it burnt to the ground.”
“Well, tell her Happy Satinalia from me, then,” Thayer shrugged. “A token of an alliance of mutual benefit, and a friendship I hope to see continue between our people.”
The ships sailed from Seheron as the sun began to set, turning the sea to fire. Metis stood at the railing, watching the fortress recede, running through a long-ago memorized list of herbs in his mind to keep from listening to lyrium-song. ...Felandaris, the demon weed, grows where the Veil is thin. Amrita Vein, strong roots in sand, bears water deep within. Wood from a tree of Dragonthorn crafts bow whose shafts fly true. Its gentle leaves add fortitude to many a mage’s brew. Honey-sweet, the Vandal Aria thrives in arid climes. Bells of blue on Crystal Grace: do spirits hear them chime?...
“You are not wearing the bandages,” Fenris’ voice broke him out of his mental recitation. Metis glanced back to see his son eying the red lines of his hand with a frown as he joined him at the railing.
“They get itchy after a while,” Metis explained.
“You’re not scratching at them, I hope.”
“No, just enjoying a little fresh air before wrapping it up again.” Metis grinned, narrowing his eyes at Fenris. “I do believe you’re mothering me now. Are sons allowed to do that?”
“How would I know?” he huffed, but smiled back. “I am only ensuring that you last long enough to have the markings cleansed.”
Metis stared at him, his eyes crinkling with a frown of realization. “You’re worried,” he said finally. “That...you’ll lose me.”
Fenris bowed his head. “You should not have taken the markings.”
“Yet I did, and there’s no changing it now. The time for that argument is past, truly,” said Metis, raising his unmarked hand to Fenris’ shoulder. “I’m not leaving, son. Not unless you want me to.”
Fenris looked up, eyes wide in shock. “Why would I wish that?”
“You’ve managed without me all these years. Maker, I wish I’d been there to see you grow up, but you became a fine man all the same. You are no child, Fenris. You don’t need me hovering.”
“I -- no. Perhaps not. But perhaps...I would not mind. Having you near.” He shook his head. “No, that is ridiculous. Metis, you are my family. I have lost too much of that to not hold fast to you now.”
“Then consider me held,” Metis grinned.
“So long as my grip is stronger than the lyrium’s.” Fenris frowned, leaning on the rail and looking down into the water.
“It will be,” Metis said, confidence buoying him up as lightly as the ship in the waves. He dropped his gaze to the markings on his hand, eyes dancing from line to line, studying their patterns. With Fenris near -- ironically inclined to hovering himself -- it was easier to divert the lyrium-song to the back of his mind, dam it up behind years’ worth of conversations they would have to catch up on. Including one that, before yesterday, he would never have expected to have with anyone, let alone his long-lost son. “Fenris,” he asked, “you’ll show me how to use them, won’t you?”
Fenris gaped at him, starting to speak at least twice before thinking better of it, his brow furrowing as he considered his words. “You...want to use them?”
“As you do?”
“Forgive me if I find the image of you pulling hearts from chests a little difficult to swallow.”
“I wasn’t thinking of the chest thing specifically. There are surely other applications.”
“Oh, surely.” Fenris rolled his eyes. “I could show you a card trick that quite impressed some of the Inquisitor’s people once.”
“I’m serious,” Metis said. “I mean, it’s unlikely your people at Skyhold have a way to completely remove the markings, even if they manage to cleanse them. If I’m stuck with them, they may as well make themselves useful.”
“Especially if they’re going to continue to stifle my magic,” he said, all trace of jest vanishing from his voice.
Fenris glanced at him, eyebrows knit with concern. “It’s gone again? You summoned vines against the magister.”
Metis nodded. “It seems the bit of potion that splattered me nullified the lyrium enough that I could reach my mana for a time.”
“But there’s magebane in the potion.”
“I reached it. It wasn’t easy. But it was just enough of the potion to quiet the lyrium without being enough magebane to completely shut off my magic.” He pulled a small flask from a pouch at his belt. “Varric convinced Licinius’ assistant to make a new batch.” He uncorked the flask, showing Fenris the blood-red liquid within. “So that’s an option, if I need to access my magic.”
“You cannot always be keeping yourself drugged with that,” Fenris pointed out.
“I’m hoping the red can be cleansed at Skyhold and the lyrium left behind will be...like yours,” Metis shrugged. “But in the meantime, I need to learn to use it.”
“Even with the potion rendering them useless?”
Metis shook his head. “Saving the potion for emergencies. The lyrium’s still singing up a storm, but I’m getting better at ignoring it. I think it’s time I...started fighting back.”
“By using the markings? Metis, what if using them before they are cleansed only opens you up to their song?"
Metis frowned in thought, nodding slowly. “You have a point. Here -- take this.” He handed over the potion flask. “Surely quieting the lyrium would loose its hold on me, should that come to pass. I will not train with the markings without you present, and I will trust you to use this if I come near to losing myself.”
Fenris hesitated, then nodded, taking the flask and tucking it away in his own pouch.
Metis smiled, then reached for Fenris’ hand, bringing his son’s long fingers up to meet his own, palm to palm, crimson brands to white. “You have control of your markings. Right now, mine are trying to control me. I need to know how to do what you do. I will master this, lest I fall to it.”
Fenris stared down at their hands, then nodded, reaching with his free hand to clasp Metis’ marked wrist in a gentle grip. “I will do what I can.”
And so, gentle readers, we leave Seheron behind...
Are you as relieved as I am? :-)
Are you as relieved as Hawke will be when she gets those letters, though?
Chapter 20: Wherein Hawke provides the hero’s welcome
Hawke and Malcolm rush to Jader to meet Fenris straight off the ship.
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein Hawke provides the hero’s welcome
Jader’s docks buzzed with life. Lisbet Hawke clutched her son tighter to her chest as she walked the wharves, watching the horizon. Malcolm struggled in her arms, muttering, “Go,” and then, louder, “Go!”
“Uh-uh, little mister,” Hawke muttered back. “Not after the last time. You stay put. No more exploring Jader without me.” She shifted her hold on him, aiming for more secure with less constricting, and resumed her march from pier to pier while Malcolm babbled to himself.
“Bo,” Malcolm said very solemnly after several minutes, twisting to look out to sea.
“I know a pirate who’d send you off the plank for calling that a boat and not a ship, dumpling,” she chuckled, but she followed the boy’s gaze to peer at the incoming ship he’d spotted. It was barely a dot on the horizon as yet, but as the first ship into the harbor this morning it held her attention as well as her son’s.
Then the growing dot resolved itself into two dots, a second closely following the first, and her heart seized. The flags. What flags were they flying? She quickened her pace towards the furthest pier, straining to see, and nearly jumped out of her skin when she bumped into a passerby in her hurry. “Sorry,” she said, breathless, glancing aside to see the grizzled old man she’d jostled smile and wave a dismissal of her apology. As she turned to move on, she noticed the spyglass clipped to his belt.
“Wait,” she said, thinking of one like it that Isabela had once shown her as they traveled along the Wounded Coast. “Is that -- I mean, your spyglass -- could I -- Oh, this must sound horribly odd, but would you mind if I borrowed it for a moment? The ships coming in...I’m waiting for my husband, you see.”
You’re babbling, Lisbet. She frowned and clapped her mouth shut, but the stranger chuckled and held the spyglass up to her. “Be my guest, lady.”
She thanked him in all sincerity, shifting Malcolm to her side so she could extend the spyglass with a gentle flick of her wrist and bring it up to one eye. Malcolm’s tiny hands, surprisingly strong and quick, made a grab for the new toy, but she twisted him out of reach, focusing on the image in the lens, scanning the distant waters until one of the ships filled her view. Even with the spyglass’s aid it was small, and time seemed to stretch on as she watched it draw closer, trying to see what flag flew from its mast.
“Bo?” Malcolm asked, grabbing for the spyglass again even as Lisbet gasped in sudden relief.
“All right then, Mal,” she said, grinning as she held the lens up for him to take a turn peering into. “Have a look at that boat. See the flags? That’s Uncle Thayer’s boat. That’s your Da coming home.”
As the sailors lowered the gangplank into place, Metis adjusted the staff at his back and tugged at the glove now concealing his left hand. Weeks of fresh sea air had done much to heal the burned flesh and ease the fresh pain of the markings, but weeks of instruction and practice had barely begun to acclimate him to the sensation of sharing with the lyrium the space that had been all his own for all his years. Its song persisted, but grew no stronger over the days, and he had grown confident in his ability to guard his thoughts from its siren call. Under Fenris’ watchful eye, he had managed at last to bring the markings to life without succumbing to the sudden frenzy into which their activation threw their song. Solid objects, primarily the spare sails and wheels of cheese into which he had attempted to plunge his fingers, continued to resist such intrusions, but Fenris said with solemn nods after each attempt that the phasing would come in time and that his progress was satisfactory.
And his magic, beneath the lyrium’s song, called to him as well, its familiar presence persisting despite the distraction. They had experimented with Licinius’ potion on a few occasions, quieting the lyrium just enough that Metis could cast a chill over Thayer’s drink, or direct a healing pulse at Varric when the dwarf was gripped with seasickness, or otherwise make himself useful and keep in practice. Nothing came as easily as it should, between the whisper still coming from the lyrium and the strain of the magebane upon his mana, but it was a relief just to know he still could cast. There came a day, nearly at the end of their voyage, when he even managed to summon leaves and a single blossom from an oar without first applying the potion, though the effort required to focus past the lyrium-song left him nearly passed out on the deck and earned him no end of scolding from Fenris. He kept the blossom, nonetheless, pressed into a book where he could look at it, and smile, and hope.
Hope filled him now, as Fenris hefted both their packs despite Metis’ objections that he was fully capable of carrying his own. An arched eyebrow was his son’s only response as he led the way down the gangplank. Metis sighed and followed, gawking up at Jader’s dark roofs and narrow streets. For the first Orlesian city he had ever seen, it seemed surprisingly ordinary from here.
Fenris, glancing around and opening his mouth as if to speak, froze suddenly when a shout of “Malcolm!” pierced through the crowd at the docks. Metis saw his eyes go wide as he twisted in search of the sound. Then Fenris gasped, and Metis followed his gaze to see a dark-haired woman scrambling to catch a child toddling away from her. Squirming in her grasp, the child pointed tiny fingers in Fenris’ direction before jamming them into his mouth and looking back up at the woman.
She looked their way. The smile that lit her face when she saw Fenris explained everything. When Fenris took a step forward and then suddenly looked back at Metis, hesitating, Metis nudged him, stifling a grin of his own, and said, “Go on. I won’t disappear.”
Fenris squeezed his arm and took off, swallowing the distance in fewer steps than seemed physically possible and sweeping the lady and child together up in an embrace. No longer stifling his grin, Metis followed at a more leisurely pace, allowing their reunion the space that months apart would crave. Between the two of them, the child’s curly head peeked up over Fenris’ shoulder, eying Metis with a familiar green gaze.
“Hawke,” he heard Fenris say as he caught up, “what are you doing here?”
“Welcoming you home, obviously,” she laughed, pressing a kiss against his jaw.
“This isn’t home,” Fenris teased. “This is Jader.”
“Fenris,” she said, drawing back to meet his gaze, “you’re my home.”
“Ah,” he smiled. “Then perhaps I should be the one welcoming you, Hawke.” Suiting actions to words, he leaned in for a kiss while Metis winked at the child now pulling himself up Fenris’ arm, the better to stare over his shoulder at the mage in his parents’ shadow.
“I feel very welcomed indeed,” Hawke smiled as the kiss ended.
“And I,” Fenris said, “am glad to be home. Though I was expecting no such welcome before we reached Skyhold.”
“The Inquisition sent a caravan to bring everyone back there,” she explained, glancing around at the soldiers and scouts in Inquisition livery now disembarking. “So Mal and I tagged along. We’ve been here two days and I was beginning to worry something had happened to you at sea.” Just then, she caught sight of Metis waiting three steps away. Fenris followed her gaze and turned with an embarrassed cough to say, “Metis. This...this is Hawke.”
“So I gathered,” he grinned, stepping forward.
“And Hawke,” Fenris said, his voice lowering, “this is my father.”
Hawke fixed him with a gaze that put him in mind of her namesake predator. Metis stared back, studying the face of the woman who had claimed his son’s heart as thoroughly, he judged, as Mara had ever claimed his own. Somehow, for all Varric’s tales of the Champion and all the times Fenris had spoken of her in Seheron, it had not occurred to Metis that she would be human. Nearly as tall as Fenris, perhaps even the tiniest bit taller than Metis himself, she wore her dark hair in a long braid over one shoulder, tied with a red ribbon like the one Fenris had been so relieved to find among the pieces of his armor in the storage room in Ath Velanis. Hawke met his stare with narrowed eyes, human irises small but a deeper green than that which ran in his family. Freckles dusted the small nose now wrinkling at him as her coral-pink lips thinned. Maker, he thought, I’ve somehow offended her already.
Then Hawke appeared to come to a decision. Disentangling herself from Fenris’ arms, she stepped back, leaving the boy Malcolm clinging to his shoulder, and reached for one of the packs Fenris had dropped in his haste to hold her.
“Hawke,” Fenris objected, turning to grab the second before she had further ideas. “You don’t need to --”
“I’m going to,” Hawke insisted. “They don’t squirm like Malcolm --” she leaned up suddenly to kiss the boy’s cheek, making him giggle and wriggle away, burying his face in Fenris’ shoulder, “and he’s going to insist on being carried by Da today. Meanwhile,” she turned suddenly, the pack slung over one shoulder, and wrapped an arm around Metis’ elbow, “I want to talk to you,” she finished, pulling him along in her wake with a grin that turned his stomach. He glanced back at Fenris, but his son was now caught up in an odd sort of one-sided conversation with the baby.
“Bo?” Malcolm asked before launching into a string of less discernible babble that ended again with, “Bo!”
“Ah…” Fenris hesitated, until Hawke glanced over her shoulder and stage-whispered, “Boat.”
“Ah, yes,” he said, nose to nose with the boy. “Yes, Malcolm. We were on the boat.”
“Er, no. We will not go on the boat again.”
“No, son. No more going away. I am going with you, back to Skyhold.”
Their conversation faded as Hawke drew Metis farther ahead, leading the way back to wherever the Inquisition’s caravan was stationed, he assumed. “So,” she said at last, with a glance to the staff at his back, “you’re a mage.”
“As are you, I’m told,” he nodded at her staff in turn.
“But you’re not a magister? I have been informed by reliable sources that the two are not always the same thing in Tevinter.”
He laughed in surprise. “The last time an elf actually entered the Magisterium was...well, to be honest, if it ever has happened, they don’t bother to teach that quirk of history in the Circles. I was curious about it myself once and tried to find some record of such a person, but it seems they don’t like to remember it in books much either.”
“Hm,” she said. “But you’ve been trained, nonetheless. I take it that’s not common?”
“I was fortunate,” he explained. “I saved a magister’s life and earned her patronage -- and my freedom. I suppose I was especially fortunate to gain the favor of one of the few decent mages in the Magisterium.”
“That’s the thing,” Hawke nodded. “Fenris was…”
“Hawke,” came Fenris’ voice, and both of them stopped and turned to look at him. But it was not Hawke herself he was speaking to. His mouth quirked up at the side in a half smile as he repeated: “Hawke. That is your mother’s name, Malcolm. Can you say ‘Hawke’?”
Malcolm regarded his father thoughtfully, chewing on his fist.
“Hawke?” Fenris repeated. “Come now, try it. Hawke.”
“Hah!” Malcolm shouted gleefully.
Hawke snorted with laughter. “Oh, he thinks you’re so funny, Fenris,” she teased, turning back to the path and once again dragging Metis ahead with her.
A minute passed before she spoke again, while behind them Malcolm continued shouting “Hah!” at his father’s encouragement. “I may have to change my name,” she said, shaking her head. “Speaking of which, you’re welcome to call me Lisbet if you prefer. No one much does, except Fenris on occasions, and my brother calls me Liz. But it does seem odd for family to call me Hawke, doesn’t it?”
He almost stumbled. “You consider me family, then.”
“Aren’t you?” she grinned, and then looked away, tightening her grip on his arm. “Ah, but then I jump right in with the questions. I’m sorry if I seem suspicious. It’s just that Fenris has had the worst luck with two things: mages, and family, and here you pop up out of nowhere as both.”
“If I may,” he smiled, “aren’t you also both of those things?”
She blinked at him and then laughed. “Fair enough. You and me, founding members of the Mages Fenris Can Trust Club.”
“Welcome to the family, then, Metis.”
He glanced over to see her beaming at him, all trace of suspicion gone. So he grinned and said, “As your father-in-law, shouldn’t that be my line?”
She laughed, delighted. “I suppose it would have, but I got here first!”
“I didn’t even know,” he told her, solemnity sweeping in again. “For most of the years of his life, I didn’t know he existed. Mara was pregnant when the slavers parted us. I only learned a few years ago, when I finally managed to track her and Varania to Danarius’ household, that there was a son. All these years…”
“It’s still not too late,” she said, leaning into his arm. “I can tell from his letters that he likes you. Even if you are both family and a mage.”
“Then I am overjoyed to be a part of this family, Hawke. Lisbet,” he corrected, and she smiled.
“Does it...bother you,” she asked after a moment, “that I’m human? That he didn’t marry an elf?”
“What?” Metis stared at her wide-eyed. “No. I saw how he longed for you, Lisbet, how he came alive when he saw you here. There is a magic between you that sets my heart at ease.” Metis reached to cover her hand on his arm with his free hand, which happened to be the gloved hand; Hawke had apparently known better than to grab him by his marked arm.
She looked down at the glove, pursing her lips. “Is this…?”
She glanced up again, brows furrowed. “Would you mind if I...that is...can I see them? Feel free to say no, if that’s too impertinent of me. But Merrill and Dagna have been making plans ever since we got Fenris’ last letter, and…”
He was already reaching to pull the glove free. He held out his left hand ahead of them, letting the bruise-red of the markings catch the rising sun’s light. She stretched out a finger, hesitating to look to him for his nod of permission before she ran it gently over one line, frowning.
“Looks awful,” she finally decided. “They still hurt, I’m sure?”
“It’s getting better,” he assured her. “It was certainly not a pleasant experience.”
“You did this to save his life.”
“I suspect you’d have done no less.”
“Probably,” she nodded, and then pulled closer to brush a kiss to his cheek. “Thank you, Metis.”
It was late by the time the travelers returned to Skyhold. As far as Fenris was concerned, the welcome Josephine had prepared for the group paled in comparison to Hawke’s welcome on the docks. Yet the privilege of slowly enjoying a dinner not prepared over a campfire, seated at the common table with Metis to his left and Hawke to his right, Malcolm on his lap, made him smile like a giddy fool no matter how relentlessly Malcolm squirmed and tried to bat away the turnips his father fed him. Fenris sighed, and kissed the boy’s curly head, and offered him baked apples instead, for life is short and turnips are by no means one of the better parts of it.
He slept peacefully in Hawke’s arms for the first time in weeks -- actually, months now. The sun woke him early but only long enough to see that she was still there, curled beneath his arm to fill a spot too long empty. He shifted and, with a sigh, drifted off to sleep again.
It was the sound of retching that woke him next.
Disoriented from oversleeping, he looked around their chamber groggily, squinting at Malcolm still sprawled in his crib, finally spotting Hawke out of bed, bent over the chamberpot in obvious distress. In a moment he was kneeling at her side, holding her hair back as she heaved the last of Josephine’s celebratory dinner into the pot.
“Hawke,” he murmured, holding her gently as the heaves subsided. “Your letters...you mentioned you were not feeling well, but...you seemed fine yesterday.”
A low chuckle. “Oh. I’d forgot I wrote anything about that.”
“This is some new illness then? You didn’t drink too much last night, did you? I did not notice…”
“I mostly drank tea last night,” she laughed. “I...um...Maker, Fenris, this was not how I intended to break the news, and I wanted to tell you in person, not in a letter, but yesterday was just so busy and I didn’t really want to say anything until we were alone, at which point we were both asleep within seconds, but…”
“Hawke. What is it? What’s wrong?”
She looked up at him with eyes shining. “Absolutely nothing. It’s morning sickness, and it’s nearly run its course by now, I think.”
“Morning…” His eyes grew wide as he looked at her and took in her meaning.
“We’re having another baby, Fenris!” she beamed at him.
He blinked and stammered, “How…? When…? How long…?”
“I’m sure you’ve worked out the how,” she teased, leaning into his arm. “As to the timing: Well, it appears this was a sort of going-away present the last time I saw you.”
“So you’ve been…” He frowned and took her face in his hands. “Hawke, I’m so sorry.”
Her eyes narrowed and chin tilted up at him as her hands came to rest on his knees. “Sorry? About having a baby?”
“Oh, no. Not at all. But that I left you here to bear this alone…”
“Ah.” She leaned up to kiss his nose. “Don’t be sorry about that, love. You couldn’t have known, and I’ve managed just fine, thank you.”
“Ever capable,” he smiled at her. But the next thought tore at his smile: “If something had happened to me, though…”
“Well, it didn’t,” she said, driving away the what-ifs with her fingers running through his hair. “And if it had, I’d still have been glad of both our children. As I think your mother was glad for both of hers.”
He nodded finally, holding her close as a smile crept over his face. “Do you know...er, does Cole know yet...boy or girl?”
“Apparently it’s too soon. And don’t think I haven’t asked him every single day since I realized.”
“Does...anyone else know? I mean, not about that. Does Skyhold know you’re pregnant?”
“Besides Cole? You’re the first, although Josie may have guessed.”
“And did you intend to keep this secret longer?”
“Or can you tell your father right away,” she smirked, “is that what I’m hearing?”
“It...may have crossed my mind,” he blushed.
“Now that you’ve caught me in the act of pregnancy, Fenris, I’ve no more secrets to keep,” she smiled, leaning in to wrap her arms around his neck. “Tell the world today, if you wish.”
So there's more of this epilogue-like bit to come, but these scenes with Hawke made for a good chapter on their own. So we'll have at least one more chapter before my work here is done!
And rest assured there will be more to Hawkquisition after Warriors Such As is finished, too. I have ideas for a Part 5 to start working on after FenHawke Week 2 is over...
Chapter 21: Wherein Merrill works a miracle
This is it. The final chapter. Lyrium cleansing and birthday cake!
Hawkquisition Part 4: Warriors Such As
Wherein Merrill works a miracle
The Champion of Kirkwall was certainly free with her affections. Her claim on Fenris’ heart was evident from the never-broken flow of touches, Metis thought as he watched them approach where he sat in the garden the morning after their return to Skyhold. She walked at his side, close enough to brush shoulders, and he leaned over to brush a kiss to her hair. She took his hand, while he balanced Malcolm against his hip with the other, and he twined his fingers with hers. When her arm slipped around his waist, his went to her shoulder, drawing her in closer. To say that they could not keep their hands off each other would imply the desperation of a younger relationship, still working out the details. This seemed a union whose details were worked out to the point that they fit so neatly into one another’s space as to seem incomplete without those touches of reassurance: You’re still here? Good. So am I.
Hawke’s presence brought smiles to Fenris’ face more regularly than at any time since Metis had met him. He lit up at her touch; sometimes, even literally, his markings giving off a faint glow. Metis sighed as he looked down at his own markings. They hurt, still; their song was an ever present danger; they might just kill him, if they could not be cleansed soon. But to see his son smile like this, he regretted none of it.
“Good morning!” he greeted them, as they joined him on his bench. Malcolm slipped from his father’s lap to the ground but kept a hand on Fenris’ knee, the other fist in his mouth as he stood there, staring up at Metis. He winked at the child, and Malcolm pulled back slightly, pressing himself against Fenris’ leg, but a smile tugged at the boy’s face behind his fist.
“Sleep well?” Lisbet asked, brushing her fingers through Malcolm’s curly hair from Fenris’ other side.
“As well as may be expected,” Metis answered. “It is...more difficult, at night, ignoring the lyrium.”
Fenris looked aghast. “But you’ve been able to resist it so far.”
“Yes, but that’s easier to do in the daylight, with plenty of distractions. Oh, don’t look at me like that, Fenris. I’ve managed; but I will be glad if this friend of yours really can cleanse the lyrium and tame its song.”
“She can,” Lisbet beamed. “I’m sure of it. Reasonably sure. Emmen’s made a full recovery.”
“Metis’ markings are different from the red lyrium that infected Emmen,” Fenris cautioned.
“It will still work, darling,” Lisbet insisted. “You know how Dagna is when a project challenges her. And Merrill is...well, she’s practically giddy at the chance to help. They’re ready to begin today, Metis, if you wish.”
“No time like the present,” he smiled. “I am eager to see what miracles they have prepared.”
The Undercroft was crowded already that morning when Metis arrived with his family. The three of them (plus one toddler) emerged from the stairway to find three elves already conferring with Dagna. Without their usual white paint, it took Metis a moment to recognize the tiny woman, her arms crossed over her chest instead of drawing a bow, peppering the cheerful dwarf Arcanist with questions.
“Caligo!” he blurted, upon recalling the name of the archer who had shown them the entrance to Ath Velanis. The Fog Warrior looked up, smiling when she saw him. “I...did not expect to see you here,” Metis said.
“We came on the second ship,” she explained, nodding to her companions. “These are my…” she glanced between them. “This is Aeris. And this is Nubis. He...The Inquisitor offered help at Skyhold, so we decided to come.”
“Nubis,” Metis repeated, taking in the elf standing quietly at Caligo’s side, with his dark hair and pale eyes. And the faint red lines, just showing above the collar of his shirt. “Oh. Oh. You’re the one…”
“They tell me you,” said Nubis, nodding to Metis’ left hand with its matching lines, “are the reason I didn’t have to go through more of…”
“Yes,” Metis quickly interposed. “We’re here for the same purpose, then, I take it?”
“If,” Caligo said, turning the full force of her stare back on Dagna again, “you really can cure him?”
“It’s not a cure,” Dagna said, with the air of one launching into an oft-repeated speech. “It’s more of a cleansing process. Based on Fenris’ markings, we think the lyrium is a symbiote and to remove it entirely would probably cause more problems than it would solve. But we should be able to cleanse it and leave you with just the pure lyrium, stable enough to maintain the symbiotic relationship for…”
“Oh hello!” said a voice bursting brightly in on them from the stairs. They all turned to see Merrill scurrying in, fists full of leaves. “I’m late, aren’t I? I’m so sorry. I know we meant to begin this morning but I nearly forgot about the embrium. Oh, Malcolm! Hello, da’len,” she said, bending down as the boy reached for her neck, chanting, “Up! Up, Mimi!”
“‘Mimi’?” Fenris arched an eyebrow wryly at the Dalish mage as she somehow managed to heft the boy up in her arms without dropping any of her fistfuls of embrium.
“He can’t say ‘Merrill’ yet,” Lisbet explained. “Considering that he doesn’t say ‘Mum’ yet either, I’m a bit jealous that Merrill gets a baby name.”
“He calls you Hawke,” Fenris smirked.
“Hah?” said Malcolm, glancing around at the sound of her name.
Lisbet sighed. “Come here, dumpling, and let Aunt Mimi get to work, hm?”
It was not, by far, the work of a single morning. The procedure that Merrill and Dagna had devised between them was slow and painstaking, working at the red lyrium bit by bit to remove its taint and leave behind the pure white lines. Avoiding blood magic, Merrill went through vast amounts of lyrium to maintain the power required to banish the corruption. Most days, Fenris stood a grim watch over the whole process, while Hawke kept Malcolm busy far away from the Undercroft so as not to disturb Aunt Mimi’s work. Carver was a constant visitor as well, bringing lyrium from the storerooms when Merrill’s supply ran low and coaxing her to take a break when the empty lyrium bottles piled up. Wary of the danger to a mage consuming so many lyrium potions in a short time, they took the work slowly, a few cautious hours a day.
A month went by while Metis and Nubis took their turns under Merrill’s ministrations, the red gradually fading from their brands, until one day, as Metis sat down to dinner in the great hall alongside his son, small fingers tugged at his left wrist and he looked down to see Malcolm’s curious green eyes on him.
“Da?” the boy said, looking between the faded, nearly-all-white markings on Metis’ hand and the similar patterns adorning Fenris beside him.
“Ah...no, little one,” Metis chuckled, opening his palm so that Malcolm could trace the white lines on it. “I am your Da’s Da, though.”
Lisbet, across the table, giggled. “Malcolm, Metis is your grandfather. He looks a little like your Da, see? Even apart from the markings.”
“And the markings are in no way a part of the family resemblance,” Fenris rolled his eyes.
“Absolutely not,” nodded Lisbet, “so don’t go getting ideas about running off to get a tattoo when you’re a few years older, pup.”
“Da!” Malcolm insisted, looking up at Metis again.
“He doesn’t know what to call you,” Lisbet chuckled.
“‘Grandfather’ is a burden for such a small tongue,” Metis nodded solemnly down at the boy.
“Can you say ‘Grandpa’, Malcolm?” Lisbet asked.
“He can barely say ‘Hawke’,” Fenris pointed out.
“Not for lack of trying.” Lisbet wrinkled her nose at him and then turned back to the boy. “Metis is your Grandpa, love. Grand. Pa.”
Malcolm considered this for a long moment, squeezing at his grandfather’s arm and pursing his lips, before he finally said, “Pa?”
“Close enough,” Fenris grinned.
“Pa!” Malcolm said again, reaching up with determination in his eyes. “Pa, up!”
So Metis swung his grandson up to his lap and spent the rest of dinner making polite if somewhat nonsensical conversation in reply to Malcolm’s constant half-comprehensible chatter, resting his chin on the boy’s head with a smile.
Malcolm sat before the fireplace in Josephine’s office, surrounded by friends and family and brightly wrapped packages, but the cake took priority over all else. Metis chuckled as the boy crumbled a honey-drenched wafer in his hands before cramming it all at once into his mouth. Then he took a bite of his own cake and his eyes widened at the taste of anise beneath all the honey.
Fenris, beside him, froze at the taste himself and turned to Hawke in wonder. “You remembered.”
“Of course I did,” said a very smug Lisbet, eyes closed in delight as she polished off the last of her portion. “And I wrote to Orana to see if she could provide her recipe to Skyhold’s cook. It seemed an appropriate tradition to continue with Malcolm.”
“Indeed it is,” Fenris smiled slightly, savoring the next bite of his cake. He glanced over at Metis and explained, “My mother used to make a cake like this on my birthdays. I...remember little else from my childhood, but Hawke’s…” he hesitated, glancing at his wife.
“Housekeeper,” Lisbet suggested, helping herself to another of the little cakes. “And miracle-worker, where kitchens are concerned.”
“Housekeeper,” Fenris nodded, “Orana, the first time I tried her anise cakes, I remembered that much.”
Metis took another bite, licking honey from his lyrium-lined fingertips. They were quiet now, at last, every last trace of crimson finally cleansed from the channels, leaving behind only the pale white lines, stark and delicate against his skin. “A birthday tradition, was it?”
“As often as she could find the spices for it, at least,” Fenris said.
“We used to trade plums for the anise on Seheron,” Metis recalled. “There was a merchant who would travel through town every few months with the best spices and a weakness for my plums. Maker, I haven’t had anything like Mara’s anise cake in years.” He followed Lisbet’s lead, reaching for another. “She put nuts in, sometimes. I never had as much success with nut trees as with fruit, but one year we had pecans that ended up in everything she baked.” He chuckled. “I may have stopped trying to grow nut trees after that year.” He sighed with contentment. “It’s a good memory, Fenris, your anise cakes?”
“Yes,” Fenris said without hesitation or elaboration, intent upon the cake in his hand as he continued to slowly nibble at it as if to commit it to memory anew.
“Good,” Metis said. “I’m glad you have some such.”
“Speaking of which,” said Lisbet, brushing crumbs from the newly barely-visible swell of her belly and scooting closer to her father-in-law on the rug, “we’ve something to ask of you, Metis.”
“Oh?” he raised an eyebrow, but did not withhold his grin as Lisbet leaned into his shoulder, wrapping her arms around his elbow.
“Cole,” she announced, as Fenris, on his other side, looked up with a sly smile, “has determined that baby number two is to be a girl.”
“We want,” said Fenris quietly, “to name her Mara. After my mother.”
“Oh,” said Metis, dumbstruck as the last of his cake crumbled in his fingers. “Oh, child.” He brushed a kiss, sticky with honey, first to Lisbet’s head (she giggled) and then to Fenris’ (he scowled, not without warmth, and squeezed his father’s hand, only making it stickier). “Are you asking my permission?” Metis wondered, glancing between them.
“Your opinion, perhaps?” Fenris glanced away.
“In my opinion, then,” said Metis, “you honor her. I would be delighted to call my granddaughter by your mother’s name.”
“Presents!” went up a shout from across the room. “Enough cake. Let the kid open his presents!” They looked up to see Varric picking one of the packages out of the piles surrounding the birthday boy.
“Varric,” said Hawke, eyeing the shape of the package with suspicion, “if you’re giving my one-year-old son a weapon…”
“What?” Varric shrugged as Malcolm toddled up to him to poke at the yellow fabric wrapping the gift. “It’s just a toy, Hawke. And he’s got to start learning sooner or later. He’s a Hawke, after all.”
“Hah!” Malcolm confirmed, pulling at the fabric to reveal a tiny bow and arrows.
“He can barely even stand at this point, Varric!” Hawke laughed.
“Then learning to shoot will be motivation to learn to walk, won’t it?”
Hawke scoffed, but Malcolm, waving the bow around in one chubby fist, seemed pleased enough with the gift. Varric tried to show him how to pull the string, until the child, still preferring to wave the whole bow around, whacked the dwarf in the ear with it. Conceding defeat, Varric distracted the boy with another package.
The celebration continued until Malcolm, losing interest in the remaining gifts, suddenly crawled over to climb up in Hawke’s lap. “Oh, hello there, dumpling!” she cooed. “I thought you’d forgotten all about your Mum since Da got home.”
“Haaaaah,” he objected, cuddling up against her chest with his thumb in his mouth, looking out through half-lidded eyes at the friends gathered there.
“Don’t wear that name out,” she said, tucking her chin to his head. “Someday, it’ll be yours.”
Malcolm had nearly drifted off to sleep when, a few minutes later, Varric came to sit beside her. “So, Hawke,” he said, “I thought you should know. I’m heading back to Kirkwall in a few days.”
“What, really?” Hawke glanced up. “Finally got enough material for your Inquisitor Trevelyan story, have you?”
Varric chuckled. “Things are quieting down around here. Thayer can manage without me at this point. But I left Kirkwall a mess, and it’s high time I did something about that.”
“From what I saw, you were one of the few people doing anything about the mess.”
“And then I got dragged away to the Conclave,” he reminded her, “leaving a lot of things undone.”
“And now it’s two years’ worth of things.”
“Aveline’s a force to be reckoned with, Hawke, but we’ve all left her holding down the fort for too long. It’s time I went back.”
Hawke nodded, lips pressed thin in thought for a minute. Finally she spoke, “You’re right about Thayer, I think. He can manage things here without us.”
“Us?” Varric’s eyebrows rose, as Hawke glanced over at Fenris.
Arms crossed over his knees, Fenris shrugged and gave her his half-smile. “I am with you, Hawke.”
“You’re sure you don’t have your heart set on a full time Inquisition career, my brave hero?” she asked.
“Seheron,” he answered, “was enough of that for a lifetime.”
Hawke looked back at Varric. “It’d be nice to give birth in my own home this time. Provided there are proper midwives in Kirkwall? Can you guarantee that?”
“Hawke,” Varric laughed, “if I have to I’ll put out a Merchant’s Guild contract and have the finest midwives brought in from wherever you want.”
“That’s settled, then,” she smiled. “Fenris, let’s go home. I think Orana’s been missing us.”
“I have missed her cooking,” Fenris smirked. Then he turned to his father. “Metis, if you...We would...Kirkwall is far from your Circle, I know, but…”
“What he means,” Hawke came to his rescue, “is, will you come with us? There’s room for you in the estate. For Malcolm and Mara to grow up with their grandfather near....”
“It would mean the world to us,” Fenris murmured. “But if you must return to Tevinter...You were acting on your magister’s behalf, after all, and…”
“And Mae will understand,” Metis chuckled. “She is my patron, not my master.”
“She’s also my cousin-in-law,” Varric reminded them, “and if I know her, she’ll jump at the chance to have this agent of hers keeping an eye on me.”
“Furthermore,” said Metis, “she can as easily ask my aid with a letter to Kirkwall as to the Circle. After all these years, Fenris, nothing would keep me from you.”
“Then it’s settled,” Fenris smiled.
“Paaaaa,” Malcolm agreed, suddenly leaning from Hawke’s lap to lie half across Metis’ as well.
“That’s right, my dove,” said Hawke, brushing the boy’s hair out of his eyes, “Pa is coming home with us.”
Barring a possible epilogue scene (I thought about including a "Judgment at Skyhold" scene for Licinius but couldn't decide what Thayer's judgment of him should be...someday I may write it up as an epilogue, if I do decide), Warriors Such As is now complete! But the adventures of the Fenhawke family continue as they return to Kirkwall...I'm taking some time off to ponder the plot of the next part, but there will certainly be a next part!