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By the Petty Crown

Chapter Text

"Port of Hercinia!" Isabela shouted across the deck, as the ship was towed into the docks and bound. "If you're heading for Wycome, Ostwick, Ansburg, or Markham, this is your stop! If you're tired of the sea, go have some stew in the port -- we set out again at dawn!"

The port town was definitely much smaller than Kirkwall, but most things were -- Anders had heard that even Starkhaven didn't have the population or the spread of the City of Chains. But, Hercinia seemed smaller and more comfortable. Not quite small enough that everyone knew everyone else's business, but definitely small enough that the people were probably heard when they spoke. He kept an arm around Cormac, who was dizzy and sweaty, still, as they stepped off the ship and crossed to the pier.

Cormac knelt and rested his head against the pier, patting the wood affectionately. "Anders, Anders, it's not moving. Andraste's blessing is upon us." His hair rose from the back of his head in tight curls, bound back with a cloth that looked almost like a Chantry altarcloth -- red with gold sunburst trim -- and after pressing a kiss to the ground, he raised his beardless face to take in the rest of the town. "We don't have to be back until morning," he enthused as he stood. "I can eat and sleep!"

"Hopefully not right on the pier." Anders tried not to look too amused, not when Cormac looked so wrung out. Really, they should have learned their lesson the last time they'd put Cormac on a boat. "I doubt that would please the pirates. No, wait, that would probably delight the pirates, after they've stolen your gold and, knowing Isabela, likely your pants." He sighed, helping Cormac back to his unsteady feet. "I've known cats with better sea-legs than you, you know."

"If your cats have better sea-legs than me, why am I here, while they're still in Kirkwall?" Cormac teased, wrapping an arm around Anders's waist and trying to remember how to walk. After a bit of a stumbling start, they made it to where the inns and taverns started, a long stretch of booze and vomit stench to face off the smell of the fish market on the sea-side.

He squinted down the road, considering the options. "I think we go into town and see what we can find. Dockside taverns are great, when you haven't just gotten off a boat."

"You just want to get as far away from the water as you can while you can," Anders replied, resting a scruffy -- scruffier than usual, that is -- cheek against Cormac's head. He didn't point out that they'd only been on the boat for a couple of days and that they had a longer trip than that ahead of them. If the Maker had any mercy, Cormac would find his sea-legs eventually. "But that sounds like a plan. At the risk of sounding like Fenris, I wouldn't mind getting away from the stink of fish."

Anders steered them down what passed for a main road, eyeing shops and windows as they went, checking reflective surfaces for templars he knew wouldn't be there. He suspected they looked like a pair of drunken idiots, the stares lingering on Anders's staff and on Cormac's sunburst robes that marked them as a different set of idiots than the town was used to.

A guardsman stepped out from the shade of a shop, approaching the two of them. "Pardon me, messeres, but with the trouble in Kirkwall, we've got to be careful who comes into town. Maker, you could see that as far as Wildervale, I've heard. Who are you, where are you heading, and where have you come from?"

"Cumberland," Cormac managed, still clinging to Anders. "From Cumberland -- meeting of the College of Enchanters."

"Forgive my friend," Anders offered, with a heavy Tevinter accent. "He gets very sick, at sea. We are headed for Rivain to see the traditional festivities at Ayesleigh. I am Biggus Dickus of Carastes, and I have come to tour the magical centres of Southern Thedas, to bring our two cultures closer together."

The guard choked, but recovered quickly. "I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you correctly. Could you say your name again, messere?"

"Biggus Dickus, of the Dickus family of Carastes. One of the few, proud families to make it through the Transfiguration, to see Tevinter rise again in the Maker's name." Anders tipped his chin up, proudly.

"Er... yes. Of course. A pleasure to have you visit us, here in Hercinia, Messere Dickus." The guard's eyes were wide and his lips tense, as he tried to hold off a laugh. "And your friend?"

"Brother Malkin Galore, of Hasmal," Cormac muttered, dizzily, eyes on the suspiciously unmoving cobbles of the road. "I'm with the Southern Outreach programme that works the border. Escorting, ah, Messere Dickus on his journey through the Marches to smooth any ... cultural misunderstandings."

Anders nodded sagely. "After what happened to my uncle, Tinius Dickus, we thought it wise."

The guard was holding his breath, face turning every shade of red as he fought not to laugh or sputter. "I see," he said, voice strained. "And where were you two... distinguished personages heading just now?"

"To an inn that doesn't smell so much like ocean so Brother Galore can remember what solid ground feels like." Anders squeezed Cormac against his side, careful not to rattle him too much. He could do without more puke on his boots. "I don't suppose you could point us to such an establishment?"

The guard eyed Cormac, the fine sheen of sweat on his brow, the dazed way he stared at the ground. The guard shifted subtly to the side, just out of Cormac's line of fire, should he lose his lunch. Again. He tipped his head, indicating farther down the street. "That way, take a left at the tailor's. There's a place called the Mermaid's Tail, with the most garish sign you've ever seen. Watch out for the mermaid's tail. It swings, and Bessy didn't hang it properly. Almost took my eye out a few times."

"Sounds great," Cormac panted, as his stomach rolled again. "Sitting down on something that doesn't move. Maker's blessings, serah."

Anders shrugged at the guard with an apologetic smile. "He'll be all right in the morning. Just in time to get back on the boat."

Cormac groaned, loudly, at the thought of getting back on a boat ever again, never mind in only half a day, but he let Anders lead him down the street, and the guardsman shook his head at their passing.

"Chantry boy. Bad at boats," the guard said to a local who was also watching, curiously. "Poor bastard."

The sight of visitors stumbling in from the docks, wobbling and gagging, was a common one in most coastal settlements, and no one else gave them any trouble, as they passed, though a few were quick to dart out of their way, after a single glance at Cormac's face.

"Ah! The Mermaid's Tail! Just like the man said!" Anders gestured to the loosely-blowing sign with his staff, as they crossed the road.

Cormac reached for the door just in time to get clipped across the nose, as the sign swung back down. "Andraste's..." he paused, trying not to swear. "... eternal forgiveness!"

Anders fended off the sign, with his staff, and got Cormac inside with no further incidents. "A damp rag for my friend's bloody nose?" Anders asked, as they passed the bar, aiming for a table in a dim corner. "And two pints of ale and a shot of whiskey. He's had a go with the mermaid, and she won."

Cormac muttered something involving 'a public hazard', as he dropped into a seat and leaned back against the wall. Finally. Nothing was moving, unless he closed his eyes. And then everything was rolling like the ship he'd just got off. This was his punishment for leaving his family behind. Had to be it.

A barmaid hurried over with the wet rag, muttering swears under her breath. "Every night," she said to herself as she pressed the rag to Cormac's face. Anders took it from her with a grateful smile and started cleaning up the blood. "Every night someone bumps into that thing. Some professional advice, messeres. Don't let a dwarf hang your signs."

"It's good luck!" the barkeep called out from across the room, setting their drinks on the counter and snapping his fingers for the women. "Brandon got smacked by the sign last week. Next day he was engaged!"

The barmaid rolled her eyes so hard it looked painful. "I don't think the mermaid had anything to do with that," she muttered, heading back to the counter for their drinks.

"Hear that?" Anders said, nudging Cormac. "Getting smacked in the face is lucky, here. Is that a Free Marches thing? It might have deterred Carver all those times he tried to punch you."

The barmaid slid their pints and their whiskey onto the table, checked to make sure Cormac wasn't bleeding on anything, and let them be.

Cormac reached for the whiskey first, tipping his head back and tossing it down his throat, which, in retrospect, might not have been the best idea he'd ever had. His stomach gurgled threateningly. "Carver couldn't land a hit. Never really mattered."

"Speaking of landing hits...?" Anders trailed off, leaving the rest of the dangerous question implied.

"It's like adding a river to the ocean. I just wanted it to stop for a while." Cormac sighed and rested his head on the table. "It'll come back as soon as I fall asleep. Always does."

"And that's why you sleep on the outside of the bunk," Anders said, with a too-cheerful smile. "I had wondered why it was worse when you were sleeping. I'd give you a potion to help with that, but I don't think you could keep it down."

Cormac muttered something about 'Tevinter rubbish', before he picked his head up. "What've you got that's mostly bread?" he called toward the bar.

"Landlubber special," the barmaid called back. "Whole loaf with a side of sweet gruel and a half pound of roast. Don't suggest getting into the roast until you keep the loaf down."

"That," Cormac decided. "I'd like that, please."

"And for me, your heaviest assortment of meats and cheeses," Anders said, with a smile. "Unlike my poor friend, I love the sea!"

"Fuck you," Cormac muttered, head coming to rest on the edge of the table, again.

Chapter Text

They'd been stopping every few days, taking a tour of the ports on the Amaranthine coast, but once they got into northern Rivaini waters, that was going to be a bit more difficult. The last stop had been Llomerryn, and Cormac had been wildly amazed by the sights and the relatively free use of magic and oracular talents, amid the stalls of the market. Even dizzily stumbling through the port, he'd been more interested in the place than in anywhere they'd stopped, so far.

But, back on the boat, that joy had fallen away, quickly. The markets had been full of people who looked like his family, from certain angles -- less common in Kirkwall, and extremely uncommon in southern Ferelden -- and he couldn't shake the sense that he'd made a mistake.

"I have to go home. I have to go home right now." Cormac sat on the edge of the bunk, knee bouncing so his heel drummed at the floor, with Anders curled up behind him. "I left my brother behind and I can hear my dad rolling over in his grave. Not that he had a grave. We're not stupid. I have to go back. I'm supposed to be taking care of him. The city's -- Kirkwall, for the Maker's sake. I can't be here. I have to go back. I have to go back now." He sounded hysterical, the words getting less and less clear, as he went on.

"Hey, hey." Anders sat up, sleep forgotten as he reached for Cormac. The blanket bunched under him as he scooted around Cormac to sit next to him, to get a look at his face, his hand rubbing circles into Cormac's back. "Your brother's fine. He's got the cats and Fenris to keep him out of too much trouble. Andraste's ass, he has the whole rest of your family!" 

Anders couldn't blame Cormac. He was surprised by how much he missed their band of idiots, and he wondered if this was what it was like to belong to a family.

Anders squeezed Cormac against him. "What is it you always say? Don't let them get you down, or they'll slow you down and catch you?"

Cormac wiped tears and snot off his face with one hand, realising that this and a few other things were going to be a bit easier, now that he didn't have a beard. "I'm on a fucking boat, Anders," he drawled, looking up over his shoulder. "It's not like I can make us go any faster if I'm paying attention."

On a boat -- and almost as soon as the thought hit him, his stomach caught up. He dragged the weighted block that held their chamberpot out from under the bed and put his head between his knees. Better than the trip to Kirkwall, if a whole lot longer. At least he didn't have to hide it from Artie, when he got sick. Artie who should have been... Not here. He should have never left Kirkwall. The vomiting stopped and the sobbing started again, and this wasn't the first night of it.


The next day, Anders coaxed Cormac into joining him on the deck, so that Cormac could get some fresh air and sun... and puke over the railing instead of into a bucket. Anders wished he could say it was a refreshing change of pace. Between orders to her men, Izzy shot them both a pitying look and shook her head.

"Is... your friend okay?" one of the other mages, a boy with red hair and sunburnt, freckled skin, asked Anders. He watched Cormac heave and curse the sky, and Anders wondered if the worry in his wide eyes was for Cormac or for himself.

Anders shrugged. "Well... despite what he may tell you, he is not, in fact, actually dying."

The sobbing and heaving trailed off into coughing, as Cormac suddenly pointed to a shape that was increasingly clearly not part of the jetty they were approaching. "Ship," he wheezed, before coughing something unspeakable over the rail and trying again. "Izzy? Is there a port over there?"

That was the most coherent Cormac had been since they left Llomerryn, and Isabela followed the line of his arm to the spot where sails and masts were becoming distinct from the trees along the coast. "Ah, shit," she swore, tossing her hair back from where it had fallen forward over her shoulder. "So, you remember how this used to be Castillon's ship? No, there's not a port there. And this is why merchants sail around the other side of Llomerryn."

"What are the chances they think we're Castillon, and--" Cormac retched violently, following with a ragged roar of frustration, before he finished the sentence. "And we can put them off by proving we're not Castillon?"

"If we're not Castillon, they're still pirates. And not being Castillon makes us easy." Isabela shook her head, as she looked around the deck, considering their options.

"Can we avoid them?" Anders asked, though he knew it was never that easy, not for them.

"No," Izzy said distractedly, returning to the helm and turning the wheel a few degrees clockwise, squinting into the wind. "The wind's in their favour, and they're too close. We're fast, but we're not that fast."

"They may have the wind, but you have mages," Anders pointed out, wiggling his fingers in the air. "And if it's wind in your sails that you need..."

"Offering to fill my sails, Sparklefingers?" Isabela said, her inflection making it sound like the filthiest proposition even though she was all business a moment later. "Can you do that, wind all in one direction, without stirring up the water?"

"Ah... well..." Anders watched the boat's distant shape, watched it grow bigger. "I can't say I've tried before." He looked around at the other mages gathered on the deck, but none of them offered up any sailing experience of their own. Not that he expected any different, really.

Cormac sank to his knees, pressing his face against the decorative holes in the rail, for a few breaths. He needed the balance that sitting brought him, if he was going to think this through. "Where are the stormbringers?" he asked. "Stormbringers and force mages. How many of you could hit me, without hitting the captain?" Isabela was a decent distance out. It wasn't a tiny ship. "I need people who aren't going to hit the water or snap the masts."

"Mages on deck!" Isabela shouted. "If you can stand or crawl, get up here!"

"Fire," Cormac suggested, after a moment. "We can set fire to their sails and outrun them."

"You pick this shit up quick for a man who hates boats!" Isabela joked. "But, you're right. Need something more than just fire, though. Fire's not going to be fast enough, alone."

"Grease and lightning. I don't really want to, but they're going to have much bigger problems than you, after that." Cormac rested his head on the rail, gagging and choking miserably. "Still think running's a very good answer, especially if we do just enough damage to let them know they got off easy. If I burn that ship into the sea, we might have bigger problems than Castillon."

More mages poured onto the deck, some of them bleary-eyed, all of them confused. "Captain?" one asked Isabela, brows furrowed as he noted the crewmen scurrying back and forth.

"Pirates," Anders answered. After a pause, he added, "Not her. Other pirates." He tipped his head in the direction of the approaching ship. He could make out more details from this distance, the decorative woodwork along the sides, and he could almost count the number of people on board, all of them, it seemed, armed to the teeth. "Any of you who can control force or wind, over here, by me. The goal is to get away from the bad pirates without accidentally tearing our own ship apart."

"This is a good goal," said the red-haired mage he'd been talking to earlier.

"Fire and lightning by me. If you can do wind and lightning, go to him. We need wind more than we need lightning." Cormac dragged himself to his feet and heaved over the rail again.

"Now, they've got Antivan fire," Isabela said, pointing to the launchers on the other ship. "And they can throw it pretty far, and they will start throwing it once they figure out what we're doing."

"Who's got the longest reach with fire?" Cormac asked, trying to make out the distance between the two ships. "Good aim, too."

A group of mages pushed an elf forward. "Go on, Arielle," one of them said, and she huffed, straightening her robes, and crossed to where Cormac waited.

"Anders? Eyes on the sails," Cormac said, before pointing to the gleam beside the launchers on the other ship. "Arielle, is it? Pleased. I'll shake your hand the next time we're on dry land, but right now I'm going to keep hanging on to the rail. You see that glint over there? Next to the ballista? That's very likely a rack of ammunition, and that ammunition is flammable."

"It's also probably in clay or glass," Isabela added. "You want to catch that, you're going to have to break it."

"You heat anything enough and it'll crack," Arielle replied, eyeing her target.

"Don't I know it," Cormac muttered. "Get us moving, Anders... They're closing!"

Anders nodded curtly and turned to his charges. "Wind straight forward, into the sails. Let the crew do the steering. Ready?" The mages started to cast, holding onto their spells as they waited for Anders's signal. "Now!"

The ocean breeze turned into a howling gale, whipping Anders's coat around his legs and his hair into his face, and the sails swelled, ropes pulling taut, as Isabela shouted commands to her crew. Anders watched the mast, holding his breath, and when he heard the creak of wood, he picked out two of the wind-summoning mages and told them to stop casting. There was such a thing as too much wind, and it was best to have a few mages as back-up if the others ran through their reserves too quickly.

The wind carried them forward, but the enemy ship was still gaining, changing course to intercept their new trajectory. Isabela gauged the distance, pushing her wind-wild hair back from her face. "Looks like we're going to need that firepower, Cormac," she shouted. "Are your mages in range?"

"I have no idea!" Cormac called back, cheerfully, before the next wave of retching hit. "Hit their ammunition first! I want the first three waves low. Take out the ballistae, and then try to get the Antivan fire to catch. Once we've disarmed them, we can burn the sails off."

But, the ballistae were good for much longer distances than most of the mages, and years in Kirkwall hadn't done much for their reach. The first ball of clay exploded across the deck, dropping its wick into a spreading pool of thinned pitch. Cormac slapped a wall of ice across it, before the fire could spread.

"And that's what we're trying to avoid!" He squinted at the other ship, watching one ballista catch fire, finally, as another fired on them again. This time, he caught the grenade in a barrier and dropped the flaming oil into the sea. "I'll keep them off us as best I can. Just get them to stop throwing fire at us!"

"By throwing fire at them first." Arielle sounded a little hysterical as she lobbed another fireball.

Anders focused on the sails, on keeping them moving, face turning grey at the mention of fire. Cormac knew what he was doing. Or at least, Cormac was good at improvising. 

All the wind made Arielle's job more difficult than it already was, but her technique shifted to compensate as she aimed for a ballista that looked like it was aimed directly at her. Its last shot would have caught her in the chest, she was sure, if not for Cormac's barrier. "I didn't survive Meredith to be killed by some pirates!" she shouted, throwing another fireball, one that hit just to the side of the ballista... and caught. She couldn't hear the enemy shouting, but she imagined it as their crew fluttered across the deck. Arielle grit her teeth and threw another fireball, aimed for the same spot, for that glint of metal Cormac had pointed out.

Her mage fellows cheered as the flames rose higher. "It's on fire," she informed them over her shoulder.

"Somebody give the lady a potion!" Cormac cheered, clapping Arielle on the back, before he sank to the deck, trying to wait out the next wave of nausea and dizziness. "And then get the sails. Now that they can't fire on us, we just have to make sure they can't follow us."

"Are they all going to die?" A young mage asked, squinting between the carvings on the rail.

"Probably not," Isabela admitted. "Most ships have little boats on them, in case something like this happens. They'll just row back to shore, if they have to. But, they're also on the sea, so the ship's probably not a loss. Probably. Of course, after that much Antivan fire, the deck might be, no matter how much water you can get on it. Ooh, I hope it doesn't get into the hold. That's a really nice ship."

"I like her. She's got her priorities in order," Arielle laughed, finishing a potion and handing the bottle back.

"I like her too," Cormac offered, from where he was curled into a ball. "Quite a bit. Sometimes several times a week."

Arielle blinked and glanced at Anders, mouth opening in a question she eventually decided not to ask. Fire at the sails. That was something she could do.

One of the wind mages started to flag, and Anders switched him out with one of the reserve mages. "Take a breather," he said, squeezing the older man's shoulder and pressing a potion into his palm. There was a joke in there somewhere, about breath and wind, but Anders was too tightly wound to think of one. Out of the corner of his eye, Anders could see orange flames, but the spray of salty air reminded him how far away they were.

The corner of their mainsail had caught ablaze by then, and Arielle sagged against the rail as her friends clapped her on the back.

"It's working!" said one. "They're not gaining on us any more!"

"I imagine putting out a fire is bigger priority than steering right now," another drawled.

"I'd say we should skip Seere and get out of the Eastern Seas as quickly as we can, but I'm not sure Cormac would like me ever again, if I did that." Isabela grinned down at Cormac. "And I do like the way he likes me."

Cormac laughed, weakly, and Anders shot Isabela a disgruntled look. "I just hope you've been content with what's on this ship, because I don't want to get to Tallo only to discover all your mutual liking has given him a rash. If we're already in Tallo, I'm not going to be able to throw you overboard," Anders complained.

"Oh, but why would I even need to consider dockside taverns, when I'm surrounded by all these charming mages?" Isabela purred. "It's a pity you and glowy-you won't join us."

Cormac rolled over to watch the flaming ship retreat from beside them, as they pressed on, and he missed Anders pointing at his back. 

"The more I like him, the less he retches." Anders grinned. "It's a public service."

"The more you like him, the louder he gets," Isabela shot back. "Which is still a public service."

"Not if you're sleeping next door," one mage said out of the side of his mouth. "Or trying to sleep, as the case may be."

Arielle nudged him with her elbow. "Oh please, Gregson," she teased, her smile still this side of manic as she glanced back at the burning ship. "This is the first time I've heard you complain about it!"

Gregson's chin tilted up, even as a flush spread across his cheeks. "Silence does not mean approval." Arielle's answering hum was unconvinced.

Anders cleared his throat and pretended to still be watching the sails. "Right. Wind. Let's keep it coming until the other boat's out of sight, shall we? Just in case." The wind mages nodded and returned to their posts, casting in shifts, while Anders divvied up lyrium potions.

Sauntering over to Arielle, Izzy slung an arm around her shoulders, and together they watched the plume of smoke rising in the distance. "So, Arielle, was it?" Isabela said, sizing her up out of the corner of her eye. "Have you ever thought about being a pirate?"

Arielle's wide eyes and sputtering were answer enough.

Chapter Text

"Well, boys, now's the time when you get off my boat. As shapely as it is, it is mine, and I'd like to spend a few weeks without the ever-present smell of vomit." Isabela grinned at Cormac and kissed his cheek. "I'll come to visit in a couple of years. Probably by accident. If you promise not to reek of days-old whatever that was you ate in Carastes, I'll give you a kiss to remember."

"Such a charmer," Cormac drawled, squeezing Isabela's bottom, as he waited for the last of their luggage to be unloaded. "I promise not to reek of something I ate in Carastes, if only because I'd have to have gone to Carastes to get it. Once was enough. If we ever come south, again -- and I'm sure we will, for something -- I'll ride a horse into a port town to meet you. I'm not getting back on this very shapely ship, nor any other ocean-going disaster waiting to happen."

"I hope you're not including me in that assessment," Isabela teased.

"Never." Cormac clapped a hand to his chest in horror, before stepping down onto the gangplank. "Land! Land at last! Almost. Soon."

"We'll be off again in the morning, if you change your mind." Isabela lingered by the rail, watching Anders lead Cormac down to the pier. "You better not die on me. Either of you. I'll be so pissed."

"So will I," Anders called back. "Extremely pissed. And then I'll wonder whose bright idea this was!" Anders's laugh came out a touch more manic than he'd meant. "Try not to get into too much trouble without us, Izzy."

Izzy scoffed, waving them aside with an affectionate smile, and disappeared back into her ship.

Anders's feet met the pier, and he was home. Sort of. Mostly. He was back in his homeland, at least, for the first time since the templars dragged him away a lifetime ago. But it hadn't hit him yet, not really. This pier wasn't much different from all the other piers they'd stopped in on the way, and for the moment his priority was Cormac.

"Welcome to the Anderfels!" he said, an arm around Cormac. "Do you want to kiss the ground here too or would you rather wait until we're off the pier?"

"Let me know when we reach actual ground that isn't suspended above the water," Cormac muttered, mostly watching his feet. "Always said I'd take you home, didn't I? Just didn't expect it to be quite like this..."

He finally looked up as he set his feet on cobblestones, taking in the rich browns of the buildings around them, and the way some towered over them, like giant steeples of mud, with logs, tile, and intricate metalwork jutting from the sides. The usual smells of every seaport were undercut with something else, here -- a sweet and spicy scent like some expensive Orlesian chocolate dipped in that red sauce that Orana liked. His stomach couldn't make up its mind, rumbling even as it rolled, for good measure.

"We'll get something simple," Anders promised, glancing around. "Somewhere around here, there should be a shop that does steamed rolls. I'll get you one with fig paste, and after your stomach settles, we can get some real food."

"Food is an amazing idea. So is sitting down. Also, sleeping," Cormac agreed, amiably, watching people who looked like they knew what they were doing wander past them. "How do you know there's a shop? I thought you hadn't been here in twenty something years."

"Never been here, actually. But there's a shop that has rolls. There's always a shop that has rolls." Anders grinned. "Welcome to the Anderfels."

That time Cormac did drop to the ground, worshipfully pressing his forehead against the stones in the road. "I never thought I'd be so glad to see a fish-guts spattered seaside street."

"I'm just glad to see an end to the puking," Anders said, and then hoped he wasn't speaking too soon. "And speaking of, food and sleep are definitely things we can do, but we should also see about getting some clothes. As sexy as you look in vomit-stained Chantry robes, the material is heavier than you need. The heat's not so bad by the ocean, but it won't be your friend farther inland." That, and blending in was always a good idea, especially when one was wanted in another country for inciting rebellion.

Anders waited for Cormac to stop lavishing the ground with affection and helped him back to his feet, leading him down what looked like the main thoroughfare, following his nose and the press of people. Around them, colorful tile-work caught the light, and Anders nearly stepped on a stranger's toes following the intricate patterns they made.

"Here," Anders eventually called out, indicating a door with a sign and with smells pouring out that made his mouth water. "You request food and sitting, and this looks like it has both. Come on."

Cormac smiled, dimly as he followed Anders into the shop, where the air was somewhat cooler, and the breeze blew through little windows, high in the wall, that weren't visible under the edges of the roof, from outside. People shouted at each other in a language he didn't understand, and then broke up laughing and slapping each other on the back. A low counter divided the room from the kitchen, where a tall, blond man waved them in, saying something cheerful but incomprehensible, and next to him, Cormac could feel Anders relax. The next words might as well have been Rivaini, for all that he understood them, but he recognised the tone -- Anders was making some terrible pun. The man at the counter laughed, and the process of ordering food appeared to begin.

Slipping out from under Anders's arm, Cormac found a table in a tight corner of the room and poured himself into the chair, resting his head on the table. Everything had stopped moving, and this time, it wouldn't start again. Isabela was wonderful, but it would take demonic possession to get him back on a seagoing ship. He let the sound of the words pass over him, as he relaxed. Just had to stay awake until he'd eaten something. Just had to eat real, fresh food, and then he could sleep...

When Anders poked him awake, it was to a plate of those steamed rolls he'd promised and to a mug of watered down beer. "The plan is to eat at a shop and sleep in a bed," he teased, even as he looked Cormac over, this light highlighting the haggard lines of his face. "Though I suppose we could try to reverse that. Sleep here and eat in a bed?" Anders settled into the chair next to Cormac, picking up a roll from the plate. "Though I warn you the food might not be as good."

Anders's teasing ended in a bite of roll. The taste reminded him of the last Summerday he'd spent with his mum, when she'd taken him into town for the festivities. They'd eaten steamed rolls and watched the procession from the window, boys and girls about to become men and women, all in white. Next year, mama had told him, that would be him.

Well. So much for that. "They're not bad," he said, halfway through his second bite. He washed it down with a drink of beer.

"Putting anything in my mouth that doesn't come back up sounds glamorous and exciting," Cormac mumbled around a mouthful of steamed bread and fig paste. "This is good. Should see if it's still good, tomorrow, or if that's just because I'm starving and exhausted."

"Little of both," Anders assured him. "But, I'll take you to the tavern, when we get to town. With any luck, they'll still make these, there."

Cormac groaned. "Right. Boat. More boat."

"River boat," Anders reminded him. "You were fine on our holiday on the Minanter."

"Mmm. Just going to sleep until we get there." Cormac leaned to the side and rubbed his cheek on Anders's shoulder. "Clean clothes. Boat that isn't made of demons. Ridiculously gorgeous revolutionary with a silly beard -- I looked better in that beard, by the by."

"Well, it was nice of you to let me borrow it," Anders said, resting his cheek against the top of Cormac's head. Or his hair, at least. "I'm liking the hair, by the way. Makes for a nice pillow." He shoved the last of his roll into his mouth and licked his fingers, cheeks bulging as he chewed and spoke with his mouth full. "But we're almost there. The demon boat is behind you, which is probably good for both you and the boat. Certainly good for the fish."

And they'd managed to avoid any trouble with the templars so far. They'd had some close calls with local guards and that one pirate ship, but no templars. He hoped the other mages were as lucky, wherever each of them had ended up.

"So, after this, you're going to dress me up in the wild and wonderful local garb of your youth?" Cormac asked, stuffing more food in his mouth. Food. The very concept of it seemed extravagant. "Which is ... what, by the way? We're in a port, so I can't tell."

"Wild and wonderful?" Anders scoffed. "It's not that exciting. Big robes. Lots of draping. Cloth to wrap around your head so the sand doesn't peel your face off."

"Is that a thing I need to be concerned about? I rather like my face." Cormac nearly poked himself in the eye, patting at his own cheek. Maybe a little tired for all this eating and shopping business, but he'd make it through. They meant to be in Kassel by the next day, so they could get a room and start looking for whatever was left of Anders's family.

"Well, not if you dress like the locals," Anders pointed out. "And remind me I want to get a sungold melon, before we get on the boat. It's a little far for Yothandi traders, but this is the biggest sea-facing port in the Anderfels. If there's no sungold, here, I'm going to be so sad. I haven't had one in years."

"Dare I ask?" Cormac devoured the last roll and washed it down with weak beer. "Maybe not. You'll show me when we find one."

Anders grinned. "You know me. Always a fan of melons. And I would be a poor tourguide if I didn't introduce you to Ander melons." Anders drank his own beer, head tipping back, back until he'd drained the mug. Maybe it was his imagination, but Cormac looked better, less drawn, but then eating without puking tended to work wonders. "So, shall we get you that 'wild and wonderful garb' or would you rather eat and drink some more until you fall asleep at the table?"

"Not sleeping at the table," Cormac grumbled. "Tables are not for sleeping." He was tired, but still relatively certain of that point. The last thing he wanted was to make his first impression in a new place memorable and offensive, especially when they were trying to blend in. Of course, the more he looked around, the surer he was that 'blend in' was not something he was going to do well, here, once they got away from the port. "Clean clothes sound like a good plan. Can we have the washing done, once we get to town? I mean, yes, get something now, but get a laundress, later."

"Depends. How many people do you want knowing what you've got in your luggage?" Anders asked. "Besides, you're good at washing things. One of the first things you did for me."

"Yes, but I'm tired and lazy, and everything I own smells like vomit," Cormac complained, using Anders's shoulder to lever himself out of his chair.

"So, we'll buy you something now, and we'll deal with the rest when we get to Kassel. I just don't want templars knocking at our door because we dress funny." Anders stood and waved to the man at the counter, saying something presumably pleasant, given the smiling response.

"Fine. I'll do the washing when the room isn't spinning," Cormac conceded, after a few moments' thought. The last thing they needed was templars. Especially now.

"Sounds like a plan," Anders agreed, slipping an arm around Cormac again. He wasn't tilting as terribly any more, but it was better to be safe.

Chapter Text

More wandering down the main road brought them to a clothing shop, which they'd nearly passed before Anders had seen the sign. He was used to being the tallest man in the room -- or the road, in this case -- unless there were Qunari involved, but he found himself walking behind a group of draped figures he assumed were locals and realised he couldn't see over their heads. The Ander people had always seemed to tower in his memories, but he'd assumed that was because he was still a child in them.

Anders greeted the shopkeep with a wave and his most charming smile, offering a polite greeting in Ander he'd almost forgotten how to say. After so many years without speaking it, his native language was coming back to him in fits and starts. If he didn't think about it, it flowed, but some words stuck on his tongue before slipping out.

The shopkeep, at least, didn't hear anything remiss and welcomed them both inside, beckoning them in with great sweeps of her arm.

The shop was full of cloth. Cormac was quite accustomed to clothing shops -- he bought enough dresses for Bethany and questionable underthings for Artemis -- but this was ... he couldn't quite figure out what he was seeing. It all looked like loose drapes. At first, he'd thought of robes, but robes had somewhat more definite shape.

"That's the ladies' section you're looking at," Anders said, nudging him toward the other side of the shop.

"I'm going to take your word for that." Cormac nodded and looked the other way. Oh. Those were definitely robes, this time.

"Men's clothes have detached sleeves," Anders pointed out with a smile. "Although, given what you usually wear, I don't know if you'd look so bad in bunched sleeves."

Cormac made a rude noise and studied the assortment of hooded robes. "Stripes are popular," he noted. "And is that a sunburst? Oh, good, I'll still look like me."

This time Anders made a rude noise. "As you as you look without a beard," he teased, gripping Cormac's chin as though to grab him by the beard that wasn't there. "But let's see..." Anders picked up the robe Cormac had been eyeing and held it up, its shoulders even with Cormac's. The fabric ran long, and Cormac's feet disappeared under the striped cloth. "Hmm. The design suits you, but you'd be swimming in this." Anders pictured Cormac trying to navigate the steppes without tripping over the fabric and chewed his lip in amusement.

Over his shoulder, Anders called out to the shopkeep, who looked up from where she was mending another set of robes. Before he could even ask, she smiled and pointed a little off to the side, where another similar robe hung. The colours of the stripes were slightly different, but there wasn't quite so much fabric to lose Cormac in. Anders grinned and thanked her and picked up that robe instead.

"Oh, thank the Maker, there are smaller people in this land of giants." Cormac held up the smaller robe, which was still quite loose, but looked shorter, at least.

"Yes, there are. We call them children." Anders smirked as Cormac looked at him in horror.

"You're kidding me. This -- there's no way, that is absurd," Cormac protested, even as he drifted further into the hanging racks in that part of the shop, looking for other things that might fit.

"I was wearing that size when they took me to the tower." Anders laughed easily, as he noticed Cormac didn't appear to actually be offended.

"Ridiculous!" Cormac insisted, picking out another in red and gold, to go with the red and black he was already holding. "We're not poor yet, are we? I can afford to get more than one?" It was a stupid question, since he was the one keeping accounts, since they left Kirkwall. They'd have to change the money, soon, though, or they'd stand out every time they bought something. But, the Carta was nearly omnipresent, according to Anders, and that meant there'd be banks and money-changers, somewhere.

Anders shot him an amused look, wandering back over to the adult racks. "Wouldn't hurt to have a spare," he said, pushing fabric aside and assessing his options. "Not that you will need one on this boat, I am sure." He hoped he sounded like he believed that, even if Cormac had been... relatively fine, the last time they'd taken a boat down a river. The red and gold, at least, might better stand up to vomit stains.

Picking up a simple tan and beige striped robe, Anders held it up, assessing the length. The colours reminded him of his old coat, understated and simple. As much as he loved the new coat Cormac had given him, the feathers were just asking for trouble.

"What do you think?" he asked, batting his eyelashes at Cormac. "Or should I go for one in your size and show some leg?"

"I thought we were trying to avoid stopping traffic," Cormac teased, looking Anders over. "Tan? You think? Ah, you're probably right. Less exciting and we know you look good in it." He patted at his pouches, looking for coin. "Oh, you've got all the money. Right. So I don't get my pockets picked falling down in the road."

"I'd look good in a burlap sack, thank you, and I know that for reasons I will not discuss in public." Anders smirked and lowered his voice. "I'm also carrying it because you don't speak the language, and while I'm sure the locals speak Common, I don't feel like paying the stupid foreigner tax."

"Wise man. I knew I--" Cormac blinked. "Ah, turn it down, Justice. You're getting a little glowy around the eyes."

Anders pressed his fingers into his closed eyelids, as though that would banish his eyes' blue glow, but it was enough to remind Justice that this was not the place or time. "Knock it off," he muttered to himself, and he felt Justice pull away, almost sheepishly. "Sorry," he told Cormac, opening gold eyes. "You know how he gets."

With a resigned shrug, Anders pulled out the coin pouch. "Do we have everything? There's still time for you to check out that saucy number in the women's section."

"I thought we didn't want the locals looking at us funny!" Cormac put a hand on his hip.

"Who'd know? Have you seen ladies' coats, around here? They cover your whole body to the waist and then hang down in back. Of course, they'd be terrible for showing off that amazing and legendary ass of yours." Anders grinned and turned back to the shopkeeper to negotiate a price. They were still close enough to the docks that it would be a negotiation, rather than a solid price, but he looked like he belonged there and spoke the language, so he expected to start from a better point.

Cormac gazed out the shop windows, while Anders haggled, watching people pass with their purchases or their goods. And then something else walked by on a lead. And that wasn't a horse. Or a bronto. In fact, he'd never seen one of those before. It looked like a small mountain with long legs and a longer neck, with ... was that a picture of Andraste shaved into its fur? He tipped his head, but the change in angle wasn't helping him make sense of the creature.

Anders sidled up next to Cormac, their newly paid for robes tucked over his arm, and followed his line of sight. "Camel," he supplied without being asked. "The word you're looking for is 'camel'. Think of them as Ander horses that spit." The rueful look he gave Cormac said he knew this last part all too well.

"Spitting horses bearing the image of Our Lady? I... I favour not getting spit upon by horses or anything else. Camels included. Are those common, here?" Cormac asked, still eyeing the creature suspiciously.

"They're everywhere. Horses don't do quite as well, once you move away from the river." Anders grinned and handed Cormac one of the new robes. "This nice lady says we can change in the back, if you'd rather avoid walking back out there looking like you've been trampled by goats."

"I'd always rather avoid looking like I've been trampled by goats or anything else," Cormac replied, heading off in the direction indicated.

A few moments later, he returned, checking the display garments to be sure he'd put it on correctly and hadn't missed some culturally relevant buttons or knots. He carried his previous robes bound into a bag and slung over his shoulder. "Do I look less like I've been lying in goat pastures?"

Anders made a show of looking Cormac over, brows knit low over his eyes as he walked around Cormac, pausing to adjust the fall of the robes across his shoulders. "You look much better," he said. "Less like you've been trampled by goats. Now you only look like you've been trampled by the one goat." And they both knew what that looked like, after that unfortunate incident involving the cats and Goatilda.

"Oh, only one goat." Cormac's smile was brittle. "I'm sure that's a great improvement. Don't we have a boat to catch?"

The pinched look around Anders's eyes was apologetic. "In fairness, I probably look like a goat at this point." He ran a hand over the scruff on his chin that was doing impressions of a beard. "And we do." With any luck, Cormac would be able to sleep through this boat trip.

Chapter Text

The most surprising thing about Kassel was not the enormous, gleaming Chantry spire that rose above every point in the city, but the astonishing number of dwarves in the street. Surprising to Cormac, anyway. Anders explained that the dwarves were essential to the Ander economy -- agents, bankers, and merchants. The area inland from Tallo -- and it got worse, the further from the river or the coast one got -- was painfully poor. Primarily an agricultural economy, based on trading food for the neighbours' food, which was a state of affairs Cormac was fairly familiar with. But, in Lothering, they'd been on a major trade route. Everything in Ferelden passed through, eventually, along with things from Orlais or the north. Lothering had been the last stop -- the 'please buy this so I haven't got to cart it home' stop, for most of the merchants working that stretch. But, nearly no one came into the Anderfels from the south -- except the dwarves. So, all the international trade that didn't happen through Tallo, happened by way of dwarven agents. And Cormac could see from the prices on the few things being sold locally that the dwarves were taking everyone for a ride.

"I swear I've seen that guy's work, before. In Kirkwall. And it was going for like ten times that rate," Cormac muttered to Anders, coming back to the inn from the table of carved stone and ivory figures of Andrastian legend, outside.

Anders gave Cormac a weary look. "And if you asked, I'm sure the merchant who was selling it would go on and on about travel fees and transport and all the ways in which Kirkwall was lucky to have such rare and fine examples of Ander craftsmanship, since the journey was so treacherous." He didn't need Cormac to tell him his eyes were turning blue this time. Holding a hand in front of his eyes, Anders could see the Fade glow against his skin. "Which is rather shitty, yes, and potentially unjust, but we can't do anything about it right now." The words were more for Justice than for Cormac, and slowly Justice slunk back, disgruntled but resigned.

One thing at a time, Anders reminded his head's roommate. Right now, Anders needed to find his bearings. The Chantry made for a helpful landmark, but the town had changed so much since he'd last been through here. A few of the aged faces they passed prodded at memories, but none of those faces brightened in recognition when they saw him.

Not for the first time, Cormac wondered if he'd chosen wisely in bringing this enormous amount of crap with them. Admittedly, a great deal of it was rare books, including Danarius's journals, but hauling the trunks up to their room was a bloody nightmare, without a force mage. He'd gotten so spoilt, he realised, living with Artemis -- or even near Artemis. But, the books would stay packed, locked in their trunks, until they had somewhere they could call their own. Not the sort of thing you wanted someone to see when they came to clean the room. The clothes could be unpacked, though. Unpacked and washed. Hung up to air out a bit.

Anders said something about food, but Cormac was already filling the bath, and waved him off. "You get food. I'm going to stop smelling like a decomposing goat. We'll eat when I can smell things that aren't the stench of seasickness."

Anders's stomach grumbled its protest at the prospect of waiting, but Anders smiled and bade him luck in his endeavour, toeing his shoes back on and heading out the door.

Outside, the sun was high in the sky, bigger and brighter than it ever was in Kirkwall... or at least it seemed that way in the late morning heat. It wasn't yet the hottest hours of the day so the stalls would still be open, and Anders pulled up his hood against the sun and followed the road leading to the Chantry. He remembered a market here, somewhere in this direction, and the shouts of vendors soon told him he was right. And it was the right choice, Anders decided, when the first stall he visited had the most beautiful gold melons he'd ever seen.

Anders returned to the inn soon after, carrying the biggest of those melons like a prize, the rest of his purchases tucked in his arms. "I come bearing melons!" he announced. "Or... well, one melon!"

"You know, I usually expect melons from Izzy, more than you," Cormac joked, as he dried his hair with a clean towel. After a moment, he got the towel out of his face and started working on drying the rest of himself. "Oh. Actual melons. Fruity melons of a non-bouncy variety, with no excitable pirate attached. Shame on me."

He dropped the towel on the floor, with a brief flash of guilt, and padded across the room to sort through the goods Anders was carrying, setting each bag or box on the table after a moment's examination. "Something that smells good. Something that smells spicy. Something that smells sweet..." Finally, Anders's arms were emptied of food, and Cormac pulled him close, burying his nose in Anders's robes. "Something that smells salty and sweaty and better than anything on that table..."

"Mm, and you no longer smell like vomit," Anders teased gently, his nose in Cormac's hair, which was still damp and smelled like oranges. It was a smell he associated with Cormac, especially a clean Cormac, and he almost didn't mind that Cormac's damp hair was wetting the side of his beard. Anders pulled his naked body close against him, taking a moment to squeeze that taut ass before he whispered in Cormac's ear, "But you know what I'm really in the mood for?" He paused for dramatic effect. "Melons."

And Anders pulled back, returning to the spread of food.

"I feel like I should in some way be offended by this, but after a month of throwing up, I'm... just not. Food is a wonderful idea, and I should eat more of it." Cormac picked up a clean underrobe from the foot of the bed and pulled it on. "You know you're going to have to tell me what most of this is and how to eat it, if it's more complicated than 'use a spoon'," he said, pulling a chair out with his foot and dropping into it.

"It's good," Anders reassured him, picking through their luggage. "You should probably use a spoon. Maybe a knife for that one, but mostly a spoon should work. If we eat out anywhere, just watch me. Some things you can eat with your hands, and people will look at you like you're Orlesian, if you don't."

"Orlesian? Do I look Orlesian to you?" Cormac scoffed.

"Well, you will if you eat aubergine salad with a spoon, in public. There's bread around here somewhere. It's in paper and it's probably under something. Use that if anyone's looking." Anders finally managed to find a knife and made a bit of a show of carving open the enormous melon, to reveal the juicy, golden fruit under the thick rind. "This, you definitely want a spoon for."

Cormac shuffled boxes of food and paper wraps until he found the roll of bone spoons. "That looks like a lot of melon."

"Is that what you said to Izzy the first time you slept with her?" Anders grinned and reached across Cormac to grab a spoon for himself. "She's probably heard worse."

Nudging a chair out with his foot, Anders sat at the table next to Cormac, shifting aside the food and wrappings to make room for his half of the melon. He took a moment to admire its juicy sun-lit colour before diving into it with his spoon. Now that was a melon, he thought as he took a bite, its sweetness hitting the back of his tongue as its juice dribbled down his chin.

"Oh fuck, this is good," he sighed, digging out another spoonful. "Have a bite. Of that half. This one's my half."

"That is... a rather ... you're going to eat that entire half a melon?" Cormac blinked a few times and then laughed. "Well, good. I've been after you to eat more for years. Maybe now we'll have a chance to do more eating and sleeping, and your gorgeously glowy other half can take a break and enjoy it."

He dug the spoon into his own half of the melon and took a drippy bite. "That... what does that even taste like. That doesn't taste like anything I've ever put in my mouth. It's good, but... I think I just discovered a whole new flavour." Several more spoons of melon vanished into Cormac's mouth as he continued to look confused and contemplative.

Anders grinned around his thumb, licking the juice before it could drip down his wrist. "Of all the things you've put in your mouth, a melon hasn't been one of them? Actual melons, that is. We both know of your experience with metaphorical melons." Though Anders supposed he shouldn't be surprised. He'd only encountered the one merchant claiming to sell sungold melon in Kirkwall, and those had actually been tomatoes. To this day, Anders wasn't sure if something had gotten lost in translation or if the merchant was trying to scam him.

"I've eaten plenty of melons. Just not this kind. Muskmelon, wintermelon... you couldn't grow them locally, it was too cold, but you could get them from the Orlesian traders, or even from the northern coast." Cormac hummed delightedly around another few bites and then reached for one of the paper boxes from the market. "What's this? It looks like it's about to leak."

"Lamb in yogurt and sesame sauce. If you're getting into that, you should probably open...this one, too." Anders shuffled containers and pushed another box across the table. "Groats and round beans. It's pretty spicy, so you'll want to put the yogurt sauce on it. Or dip in it. Or I should've bought plates while I was standing in the market, but I didn't really get further than hungry enough to eat everything there."

Cormac got up and opened one of the trunks. "Didn't bring dishes, but we did bring your potions brewing equipment. Where's the... Ah!" He pulled out a stone grinding bowl and a wide-mouthed measuring flask. "So, we won't eat in style, but it'll be better than eating off the table."

"Very classy," Anders said, a laugh breaking up the words. "But you know, I've eaten off of worse things." Anders inspected the glass and bowl. He was always meticulous when it came to cleaning his instruments, even by Artie standards, but it was best to be careful. If he recalled correctly, he'd last used them to make a lyrium potion, and the last thing Anders needed was Justice getting squirmy over lyrium-laced lamb. Once they'd passed his inspection, he put down his melon long enough to spoon out the rest of the food.

Cormac had a few bites of everything, while Anders was trying to serve it, which meant he got a few bites of extremely spicy sauces that were not meant to be eaten alone. Finally, he returned to something simple and squishy to get the eye-watering burn to stop. "I don't know what this is, but it's really good."

"Crushed aubergine salad," Anders said, looking amused. "And don't eat what's in that box. Your head will explode. It's chicken and barley with Yothandi murder peppers."

"Wait, you mean I haven't already eaten murder peppers?" Horror flashed across Cormac's face, as he turned the plate to get some of the lamb and yogurt. "And you'll eat this, but you won't drink blaand? Seriously?" he asked around a mouthful.

"That's because blaand is disgusting," Anders said primly, balancing his melon next to his makeshift plate. "This, however, is perfectly delicious and perfectly reasonable food." Anders went back and forth between the items on the plate, pausing now and then to savour a few bites of melon. This, more than anything, more than the heat, more than the robes and the language, reminded him that he was home. "You know, one of the hardest adjustments to Kinloch Hold was the food. You'd think the templars were allergic to spices."

"That's not a Circle thing," Cormac pointed out. "Half of Ferelden is apparently allergic to spice or putting more than three bland root vegetables in a single dish. It's why so much stuff has fruit in it -- so at least it tastes like something other than muddy water with a hint of fermentation. Oh, and then there's pickles." And he actually rather liked a lot of Fereldan food. "The Dalish can cook -- or at least Theron's clan has a grip on the idea of flavour. And the Chasind make some incredible and ridiculous things. But, yeah, 'there's mustard on it' seems to be the Fereldan definition of 'spicy'."

"You understand my pain," Anders said, gesturing with his spoon. "Though I might have to disagree with you on the Dalish. They use spices, sure, but in horrifying ways. The fact that Theron liked blaand says it all." He shuddered, cringing around a bite of lamb.

"And lard pudding, which you still haven't tried," Cormac scoffed. "And bag rolls, which you like." He worked his way through his half of the bowl, tasting anything Anders didn't bat his spoon away from. "This is really good stuff. You grew up eating this stuff? Shit, Ferelden would've been traumatic even without the templars. I guess you were pretty close to the Imperial Highway, up there, though. Right out of Orlais. Must've gotten at least some of that, not that I have much favour for most of what comes out of Orlais that isn't dessert food."

"Fuck Orlais," Anders grumbled. He paused to consider that. "Well, all right, their desserts are good, but fuck most of Orlais." He was rather partial to Orlesian chocolate, but that just put him in mind of Fenris and Tevinter sausage.

Eventually Anders cleared his plate, then cleared it again after grabbing seconds. When his stomach started to reach that pleasant sort of full, he sat back, the melon braced against his chest as he scraped up more spoonfuls of the drippy fruit.

"So, besides lying about like hibernating magical bears, what are we doing with the rest of the afternoon? You said something about banking, which honestly might be a good idea, since we've been spending large-denomination foreign coins, and that door doesn't look like it'd hold up to Bethy, never mind an actual thief." Cormac continued to pick at the remains of the food, but just a few bites. He'd never been able to eat like Anders could, but he put up a good show of trying.

"Banking would probably be a good idea," Anders agreed, frowning when his spoon started scraping only rind. "Then again, it was my idea, so it's definitely a good idea. I, uh. I might also want to start asking around about my parents. Make sure they're where I left them." His heart wasn't in the smile he gave Cormac. "Best to make sure they didn't somehow end up in Nevarra while I was gone." Terribly unlikely, but that would be his luck.

"What is the name of that town we're going to, anyway?" Cormac asked, around another nibble of some sort of meat. "You never told me. Just said it was near Kassel."

"It doesn't really have a name. It's called By the Petty Crown, the Petty Crown being the local tavern that somehow caught a village around it. It's not even a town. It's a village. If it's a village. I used to think you could sneeze and blow it all away." Anders shook his head. "Maker, I hope nobody has. Wouldn't that be a tale to tell. Misplaced my parents because someone sneezed."

"We should definitely find your parents. It's amazing to me that you might still have parents, really." Cormac nudged his half-finished melon-bowl across the table. "I think it would be awesome to finally get to meet your mum. I mean, you met mine, when I still had one. I'd feel bad leaving her in Kirkwall, when Dad's ashes got set in Lothering, but Kirkwall was always her place more than his."

Anders finally set down his melon rind after a few more optimistic scrapes. "I think I would like you to meet her, you know. Assuming she's still alive." Narrowing his eyes at Cormac, he teased, "And assuming you behave yourself."

"Yes, pretty thing. I promise not to flirt with your mother." Cormac smirked and got up to clear the table, so he could write a letter to his brother. Artie needed to know they'd arrived safely.

Chapter Text

Anders pulled the rope on the bell, with one hand, tugging the veil higher on his face, against the dust that blew down from the hills. The arch that once stood at the gate was gone, now -- years gone -- and he hoped that didn't mean his family was, as well, but the townspeople insisted they were right where he'd left them. Cormac stood by his side, robed and veiled as he was, still studying the land.

After some time, a figure appeared at the door of the house, beckoning them closer. The house, itself, was shaped with a covered patio cut into the front of it -- some shelter from the storms, and the wind fell away, to a hollow whistle behind them, as they stepped into that space.

"Mama?" Anders asked, tugging the veil away from his face.

"Jannik?" The figure at the door resolved into a broad-shouldered old woman, and a smile lit her face, as she took a deep breath, as if to ask a thousand questions.

His brother. His brother who had a name. "No, mama." Anders stared down into the space between them, the tops of his cheeks reddening, where they weren't scabbed.

Cormac couldn't follow the rest of the conversation -- the words were much too fast, and a lot of them, he suspected, weren't covered by the basic merchant's guide to speaking Ander. The woman -- Anders's mother, apparently -- seemed both delighted and terrified, in equal measure, to judge by the look on her face.

"Mama, my friend doesn't speak Ander," Anders said, finally. "Common?"

"Of course!" She beamed with pride, looking at the two of them. "Your friend," she scolded. "Is this your wife? Did you take a wife, in that tower?"

Cormac nearly choked on his tongue, still veiled, and looked up at Anders, who nodded. He started to untie the knots that would reveal his face.

"No. No, I -- he's not my wife. Just a good man and a very good friend." Anders smiled awkwardly, and took Cormac's hand. "Cormac, this... this is my mum. Please don't give her any goats."

"Aww! Ruining all the fun up front, like that?" Cormac laughed and held out his other hand. "Cormac Hawke, of the Kirkwall Hawkes. Amells, really. Probably nobody you've heard of, up here."

"A Marcher. My other son went to the Marches, too." She nodded and shook his hand with a surprisingly strong grip. "Ulla Astridsdottr. Definitely no one you'd have heard of down there."

"Not really a Marcher. Fereldan. We just lived in Kirkwall after..." Cormac shrugged, raising his eyebrows.

"Ferelden. Where the Archdemon came." Ulla nodded, barely needing to look up to look Cormac in the eyes.

"His cousin's the Hero of Ferelden," Anders pointed out, with a grin.

"Can you not tell that story?" Cormac took his hand back and used it to cover his face. "I don't even know her. I only even met her husband once, and you were there for that."

"Whatever I may think of your cousin, her husband..." Anders grinned and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, and his mother belted him in the arm.

"Ket!"

Anders went pale and rigid, eyes landing on Cormac as he inhaled shakily.

"Oh, you must have a new name now! I'm so sorry. When they took you just before..." Ulla shook her head. "Come inside and have something to drink. You both look so tired from the road. Forgive an old woman her folly."

"A new name?" Cormac looked confused, squeezing Anders's hand, as he followed Ulla into the house. "You mean he had a name, before?"

"Well, of course! Don't they have men's names in Ferelden?" Ulla smiled in equal confusion. "We called him Ket, for his first name. Always curious and troublesome and loud."

"Well, he's still curious and troublesome." Cormac squinted up at Anders. "But, loud? You were loud?"

"I wasn't even a year old, Cormac. I grew out of the squalling." Anders blushed harder and stared at a fascinating knot in the floorboards.

"Well, they called me Emmer, first, because I was always crying," Ulla said, with a smile at Cormac, as she flitted around the small room, batting dust turned to mud out of the window-cloths. "Ulla is my ladies' name."

"So, you get a name, and then you get another name, later? Huh. We just get one name, in Ferelden. One name, and you're stuck with it." Cormac looked curiously at Anders. "But, the whole time I've known your son, he's never told me his name. I don't think he's told anyone his name -- any of his names. Everyone just calls him 'Anders'."

"Now, that's foolish! There can't be so few of us in the south!" Ulla chuckled. "I'm sorry I called you by your first name. Tell me your right name, and we'll pretend it never happened."

Anders pulled out a chair and sat, slowly, struggling to find words, as he set down his bag. "They don't have men's names in Ferelden."

"Well, they must have called you something!" Ulla insisted. "The Chantry would never let a child grow into a man with no name!"

"They just called me Anders. I was the only one." Anders shrugged and studied the floor, as if something fascinating would come of it.

"I thought I was kidding when I said you didn't have a name," Cormac said, the horror of it sinking into him.

"No, that was completely accurate. I don't have one. I have an ethnic descriptor. Obvious only in that I was the only one in Kinloch Hold." Anders continued to stare at the floor, fingers flicking nervously. "I'm sorry, Mama. I just wanted to see that you were okay. We should go back to our room in town. Maybe head for Weisshaupt. I just had to be sure..."

"Don't let him fool you. He still has that pillow," Cormac said over the top of Anders's head. "Thought he was going to die, and tried to give it to a friend of ours, but what are friends for, if not to stop you from doing stupid things."

"Do you really?" Ulla finally sat, putting a tray with a jug and cups on the table. "Drink," she told Cormac. "You'll need it."

"Maker's blessings," Cormac replied, nodding thankfully as he poured a cup for himself, and then, after a moment, another cup for Anders.

Anders didn't take the cup until Cormac wrapped his fingers around it.

"We've had a long trip," Cormac apologised, sipping what seemed to be some sort of sweet, herbal tea. "I'm afraid it's been harder on him than it's been on me." And leaving Artemis had been the hardest thing Cormac had ever done. "We'd have written, but he wasn't sure you were still here. Wanted to see with his own eyes."

"Of course we're still here, Ket!" Ulla reached over the corner of the table and squeezed Anders's arm. "Where else would we go?"

Anders finally looked up, somewhere between furious and terrified. "Papa?"

Ulla nodded. "I lost both you boys, that year..."

Anders understood immediately. Whatever her opinion on the situation had been, without her sons, there was no way to manage the farm without him. Still, he stood. "We have to go. Please don't tell him I was here. Please."

"Anders?" Cormac set his cup on the table, and a spell leapt to his fingertips. "What do I not know about what's going on here?"

Ulla's eyes lit on Cormac's fingers and stopped. "Magic."

"A gift from the Maker, and a terrible sorrow He chose not to give it to everyone." Cormac held out his hands. "It's just for protection. No different than any soldier's shield, except that it's bigger and less heavy. Everyone should have one. Less people would die."

"Don't, Cormac. Not here." Anders tugged nervously at Cormac's sleeve, looking around the room. "He's the one. He called them to take me away."

Ulla said a few things that Cormac couldn't make out, most likely because they weren't in Common.

"To get help? He wanted them to help me?" Flickers of blue darted across Anders's face and hands, as he pulled at his robes. "I'll show you how they helped me!"

"Anders, Anders -- No no no no. This-- Don't--" Cormac wrapped around him, making soothing sounds. "Justice. Don't do this in front of your mum, sweet thing. Not now."

Anders finally put his arms around Cormac and just sobbed, like twenty-five years of everything being wrong would just pour out of him. "I didn't have a name, and they wouldn't let me come home," he finally choked out. "I kept trying, Mama. I kept trying to come home."

Cormac didn't have to see her to know that Ulla was crying, too. He'd had a mother. He knew.

Ulla finally cleared her throat and tried to smile. "Better than your brother, even if he does send letters. Always, 'no, mama, I can't come home this year'. It's good he's successful, but even a thought to his old mother would be welcome. At least you made an effort!"

Anders just kept crying, holding so tight to Cormac that his elbows ached and his knuckles turned white.

"He'd have come home years ago," Cormac said, stroking and patting Anders's back, "but he had to be a hero to our people, first. Almost a martyr, but I wouldn't stand for it. What do you remember about his magic?"

"The poor thing got so scared, and things would just catch fire. It's so hot and dry that we never really thought of it, until the barn went up." Ulla shook her head. "It seemed like the sort of thing that could be useful, if he could just control it."

"He learned that. And so much more. He's a healer, now -- one of the best, maybe the best." Cormac smiled over his shoulder. "He spent eight years, almost, running a clinic for the poor, after the Blight. I was so afraid he'd work himself to death, the way he threw himself into it. The Maker's first children guide his hands."

"Cormac, don't..." Anders choked out, burying his face in the dusty top of Cormac's hood.

"What, don't tell your mother that she raised you right? Don't tell her that you're the kindest, bravest man I've ever had the pleasure to share a meal with? Don't tell her that one day there will be statues of you all across Thedas?" Cormac drawled. "Modest to a fault."

"I gave everything, and none of it mattered in the end." Anders choked up and returned to incoherent sobbing.

"Everything mattered. You saved people's lives. Everything you did struck against a system of corrupt indifference, one of the major parties in which was sadistic and lyrium-mad. And now we just have to wait for the smoke to clear, and everything to level out. It's going to be different, because you were loud enough to be heard, when no one wanted to listen." Cormac held Anders close against him. "You're a hero, Anders."

"It's wrong. I shouldn't be. Not for that." Anders took a few shaky breaths. "There were better ways. There had to be."

"You tried all of those, before it got this far. We did this together, and in the end, you saved people -- not just their lives but the fact that they are people. Not just for them, either." Cormac glanced over his shoulder at Ulla. "He fought for the rights of refugees and slaves. I know they say there are no slaves in the South, but they're lying." Now wasn't the time to get into the finer points of Chantry politics -- not in a place like this. Not as a stranger. 'Slaves' would suffice, for now.

"But, how many people did I kill to do it?"

"People who weren't actively trying to hunt you down and kill you? Not that many. And if they didn't take the advice in the Gazette, or the guards running through town rushing people to safety, I'm not sure anything could have been done for them. I don't know how much Fereldan history you read, but forty years ago? Do you think Maric bloodlessly displaced the Orlesians from Gwaren and Denerim? You have done far more good than harm."

"I don't know that," Anders sighed, grimly, face still colourlessly pale, beneath the smattering of scabbed abrasions on his cheeks.

"You have become so much more than I ever could have hoped, if even half of what your friend says is true. You were always such a gentle child." Ulla reached up, past Cormac, to pat Anders's cheek. "The way you fought those men, when they came to take you away, I told myself I'd be happy if I even learned you made it to the tower alive. Where did they take you?"

"Kinloch Hold. It's in Ferelden," Anders answered, looking down at the wet spots on the top of Cormac's head.

"And you? You said you were also from Ferelden. Is that where you met?" Ulla asked Cormac.

"He's--"

"My family--"

"Kirkwall," Anders said, finally. "We met in Kirkwall."

Cormac nodded. "It's a little complicated. You know he's a Grey Warden, too?"

"Oh, what are you telling an old woman, now," Ulla scoffed. "A Grey Warden."

"You just had to bring that up," Anders sighed. "Yes, I'm a Warden. I served in Amaranthine, under Commander Solona Amell -- his cousin. That was before Kirkwall."

Ulla stepped back, looking from one to the other. "Okay, where is the rest of the joke?"

Cormac laughed. "In the bottom of his bag. He's dragged that armour all the way from Amaranthine. He's the real thing. I've seen him do that creepy Warden thing where he feels them before any of us can see them. We were in the Deep Roads, at the time. And the other time. And the other other time..."

"Can we just not end up in the Deep Roads, again? I hate the Deep Roads," Anders complained, still a little shaky, as he let go of Cormac and picked up the drink he hadn't yet tasted.

"The only thing I mind about the Deep Roads is the darkspawn. And maybe the giant spiders. I could probably do without the golems, too. Golems are scary." Cormac looked a little strained.

"The undead, too," Anders reminded him.

"The undead are a Tevinter problem, more than a Deep Roads problem. You just associate them with the Deep Roads because of the mine." Cormac sat back down and smiled at Ulla. "If there's one thing I can say about Kirkwall, it's never boring... I mean, I could have spent the rest of my life picking apples, and been fairly content with that, but then there was an Archdemon. Points to your god, I guess, for bringing us together, Anders."

"Points to Varric," Anders reminded him. "I should punch that dwarf in the mouth."

"Is that regret I hear? After all these years?" Cormac sounded shocked.

"Who was he, giving out my clinic to some fools looking for adventure?"

"Hey, now, we were Fereldan refugees, and so was your client population!"

"You are certain he's not your wife?" Ulla joked, catching her son's eye.

Anders fingered the amulet he wore, smiling at the floor. "Mage rights before marriage. Breakfast before mage rights."

Cormac laughed and tipped his chair back to press a kiss to the side of Anders's hip. "He's lived as part of my family for six years. Might as well be my fourth brother."

"Large family," Ulla remarked.

"Five of us kids plus this nerd." Cormac wrapped an arm around Anders, without getting up.

"We should still go, before my father gets home," Anders muttered, eyeing the other exit to the room.

"No, no," Ulla said, with a firm smile. "I couldn't see you weren't Jannik, and neither will he."

Cormac choked on his tea, as he remembered Artemis pretending to be Anton, down by the docks. 

"You want me to pretend I'm Jannik? Isn't he... going to notice? I'm not coming back with stories of farming apples in Tantervale or ... wherever it was he went. I mean, I kind of joined the Wardens and started a revolution. It's a whole other thing." Anders stared at his mother in confusion.

"Your father doesn't read the letters. The first few, he saw them on the table and threw them in the fire." Ulla laughed. "He'll never know."

Anders still looked uncertain, one hand on the back of his chair, his foot pointed towards the door. He would be content to never see his father again for as long as he lived, but this was his mother, and she was looking at him with such heartbreak and hope in her eyes. "We... I suppose we could stay for a few more minutes," he said. "But we should start head back before the... wind gets too bad." 

"Back?" Ulla asked.

"To town. We're staying over the river." Anders still hadn't sat back down.

"Like foreign merchants," Ulla scoffed. "How long are you staying?"

"We're thinking about moving up here," Cormac said, finishing his tea and setting the cup aside. "Just getting away from all the madness in the south for a while."

"And you are going to stay in Kassel the whole time? No." Ulla shook her head and patted Anders's cheek. "You don't have that kind of money. You come here. You stay at home, where you belong. Don't pay any attention to your father. He's an old bag of wind."

"I thought we'd buy a house," Anders said, weakly.

"Buy a house?" Ulla repeated, eyes sharp. "Do you have one in mind?"

"I..."

"Then you will stay here until you've gotten it all straightened out." There was no room for argument, and Anders tired 'but' went unheeded. "This is your home, Ket. If you want to pay for your keep, we're in the middle of the harvest, and we could use a pair of strong young men. Your mother would so appreciate the help."

Anders knew that 'if' was less flexible than it sounded, and that pleading look was cheating. He floundered for an argument, for a reason to politely refuse. They had the money, certainly -- at least, for now -- but what if they couldn't reach Kirkwall? What if what they had on them was all they would have? Shoulders sagging in defeat, Anders glanced at Cormac and mumbled, "Yes, mama."

"We've paid the room to the end of the week," Cormac pointed out, tactfully. "So, we can give you time to figure out where to put us. And he can teach me how to harvest whatever it is you grow, here." He cleared his throat. "I used to work orchards in the Bannorn, so I'm not completely useless."

"Yes, of course. We'll come back first thing in the morning to help. I'll help you move the furniture and make space, and Cormac can go out in the fields." Anders nodded like his head was going to fall off.

"We'll bring breakfast," Cormac offered, thinking he might be able to offset some of the expected trouble with Anders's father if they showed up with food. "We'd hate to impose."

Chapter Text

Anders's father had barely said two words to them since they'd arrived. From anyone else, he would have considered it a snub, but, no, this was just the way he was, older and more grizzled than Anders remembered but just as gruff, and he assured Cormac as much. A silent papa was a good papa, and he had no intention of upsetting that.

But papa wasn't exactly silent today as he led them through the fields, the sunrise a red line across the horizon and sleep still heavy on Anders's eyelids. "Now I don't want any of that lazy bullshit like the last time you were home," his father said without looking at him. "If you're going to stay in my house and eat my food, you'll earn your keep or I'll send you out on your ear."

Anders's eyes flashed -- barely shy of blue, but Cormac squeezed his hand. "Yes, papa."

Really, for all he knew, maybe Jan had been lazy. He hadn't thought so, but papa always had. On the other hand, papa had also always thought he was useless and insolent, which, to be fair, he probably had been. Especially when it came to the barn cats.

"I don't think I've ever seen Jannik do a lazy thing in all the years I've known him," Cormac remarked, jovially. "Why, I've got to chase him to bed, so he doesn't work himself to death."

The old man just grunted, as if to say he'd believe it when he saw it.



After a few days, Anders's father came to them again, as they sat by the well, taking water after a long day in the fields. "The city made you soft," he accused. "Still not as useless as your brother."

"Wasn't your other son only twelve, when he went away?" Cormac asked, between sips.

"You mean when the Maker cursed him for his laziness and he turned into a freak? When he burned down my barn just before the harvest, and we had to call the templars so he wouldn't kill us all?" the old man shot back, fear and anger in his eyes. "I didn't raise my son to be cursed for his heresy. I didn't raise a heretic child!"

Anders turned away, one hand shielding his eyes, ostensibly from the sun, but even through shut eyelids Anders could see the blue glow starting. Not worth it, he reminded Justice. It wouldn't help. Justice wasn't so easy to soothe this time, but Anders was firm, even with Justice's outrage bleeding into his.

"Ket was just a boy," Anders said, relieved when it was only his own voice he heard. "And that's not how magic works. It's not a punishment. Maker."

"Don't talk back, boy," his father snapped, and Anders flinched despite himself. He'd been a boy then, but he wasn't a boy now. This man was -- should be -- no threat to him. "I see the city's made you insolent too. Is this what I should expect the whole harvest season? More disappointment?"

"If getting the harvest in in a quarter of the time is your definition of 'disappointment', you must be leading a real sad life, Messere Ewald," Cormac drawled, hanging his cup on the side of the well. "Does it matter what we have to say, if we're clearing that many rows?"

"I don't pay my fieldhands to sass me," Anders's father replied, looking like he might be winding up to start a tirade.

"And you don't pay these boys at all," Ulla reminded him, stepping out to draw water for supper. "I've got groats and lemon with some mustard greens and preserved dates. The chicken should be done soon, too," she said, patting Cormac's arm. "You boys need to eat, if you're going to be out here all day. Don't mind him. He's just mad he's not still young enough to do this all, himself."

Anders could see a muscle in his father's jaw twitch as he clenched his teeth, but all that followed was a grunt. It was a dissatisfied grunt, but Anders could live with that.


For all that Ulla tried, family meals were anything but cheerful. The table was small enough that Anders had to tuck in his elbows to keep from bumping anyone, and his father loomed at its head. And that was an odd coincidence, Anders thought, that the words 'loom' and 'gloom' sounded so similar, and that both applied to his father. Ewald loomed gloomily. A small smile tugged at Anders's lips. He wished the rhyming made his presence easier to deal with.

The promise of food helped, and so did the hopeful smile Ulla gave him as she handed him his plate, piled with enough food to make Ewald's eyes narrow. After a long day's work, the green wheat and roasted lamb smelled delicious, but somehow Anders managed not to shovel the whole thing into his mouth.

"This looks good!" Cormac said, smiling at Ulla. He nudged Anders, under the table. "Why'd you leave home, again? Maker, if my mum cooked like this..."

"You lived with your mum until she died, Mack," Anders reminded him. "It's not really a valid comparison."

"Ah, you know how it was, though. Sandwiches and puddings." Cormac took a bite and as soon as his mouth was full, Ewald started in.

"Yes, Jan, remind me why you left home. Family and farming not good enough for you, any more? Had to go to the big city, where you could marry some foreign woman and live among heretics and elves?" Ewald slammed his cup on the table hard enough to make the spoons jump. "Where's that wife of yours now, hm?"

There were any numbers of answers Anders could have given -- that he hadn't married, that he'd left her behind, that she'd moved on -- but he settled on the closest thing to the truth he could manage. "She died, papa. She died and I couldn't save her."

Another grunt from Ewald, this one almost darkly pleased. "So the Maker took your heretic woman," he muttered into his drink, "and you come crawling back with your tail between your legs? Let me guess. You lost the job too? Whatever it was you were doing amid all that filth."

Anders poked at the food in his plate, a bitter laugh punching out of him. "Good to know what passes for sympathy around here," he said with fake cheer.

"So that's a yes."

Anders stuffed more food into his mouth to keep from snapping at him. His father was like a dog with a bone, now, and it was better to not let it escalate. Eyes down on the plate, mouth shut. Anders remembered how this worked.

"So, you're a loser and your brother's probably dead. That's great. Maker, I sacrificed half my life, and this is what I get. A pair of ungrateful ignoramuses. At least I'm not still supporting your brother, too." Ewald snorted. "Knowing him, the templars probably drowned him in the river, before they even got as far as Hossberg. The mouth on that kid..."

"Ewald!" Ulla snapped, grabbing a serving spoon and gesturing with it like a weapon.

Anders leapt up from the table, getting caught against the table and on the chair until he kicked the chair out of the way and stormed out of the house, eyes squeezed shut, but somehow not tripping or walking into anything on his way.

"I'd have slit my wrist before I spoke to a child of mine like that," Cormac said, quietly, setting down his spoon.

"And where are your children now? Did your wife leave you, too?"

"He wasn't even mine, but I raised him like he was, and now he's happily married with two cats and a noble estate in the Marches. Kills me to leave him, but Jan needs me more. He's had a rough time." Cormac's lips were pale and every word was stiff. "But, you understand me when I say this. As one father to another, I will turn you over my knee and slap the manners back into you if you ever speak to him like that again. He's a good man, and he's worked hard, all the years I've known him. And his ..." He hesitated, here, but continued to uphold Anders's decision to refer to Karl as his 'wife'. "... wife didn't just die. They were Chantry reformers, and she was tortured. When we found her, there was nothing any man or mage could have done to save her. He came back here to be with the people who loved him, and this is what you give him? Is this what he left behind? It's Andraste's own work he still thinks enough of you to come home."

He caught his breath and Ewald opened his mouth, but Cormac wasn't done.

"And you're not supporting him. Ask your wife." Cormac looked grim. "I am."

Ewald closed his mouth, then opened it again, turning a hard look on Ulla. She didn't flinch the way Anders did at that look, but she did straighten in her seat. "It's true, Ewald," she said. "This young man has been very generous. More generous than you realise and certainly more patient."

"Patient?" Ewald snapped, rising to his feet, shoulders apart and chest out to accentuate his size, the way some threatened birds did. "He comes into my house, sleeps under my roof, and talks to me like this, and that's what you have to say?" As he spoke, he stood over Cormac, close enough to make him aware of their difference in height.

Cormac took another sip of his tea. "Look, see, you're halfway there already. You're already standing. I know it's hard, but you're doing the right thing. Don't let me distract you. Go on out there and apologise to Jan. You can do it."

Ewald sputtered and huffed.

"I know how hard it is to admit you're wrong, especially when you're supposed to be right. When you're supposed to be the good influence. But, what's this going to get you? A son who leaves you in the middle of the harvest, again." Cormac smiled up, grimly, at Ewald. "If you can't admit it to yourself, at least admit that apologising to your son is the more profitable decision you can make, right now."

Ewald raised his hand and it slowly curled into a fist, before he turned and stormed out the back door, toward the fields -- the opposite direction Anders had gone.

Chapter Text

Outside, the air smelled like rain, and Anders could see storm clouds in the distance, hovering over the horizon. They were miles away still, and from this far away they looked like dyed cotton hanging from the sky. Anders was still watching those clouds when he heard the door open and shut behind him. Likely Cormac, come to check on him.

"Ket." But the voice was Ulla's. She came to stand next to him, and Anders offered her a weak smile. 

"It looks just like the old one," he said, tipping his head to indicate the building next to him. "The barn. Like nothing had ever happened." His throat was tight, and Anders wondered if he was the only one who smelled smoke.

"Oh, you know, we just got Juste and Antje's boys to help us. They brought their friends and by the end of the month it was all new. Nothing lost but the wood and straw, a few tools. Your father got most of it out before the fire got so bad. Couldn't put it out, but he saved most of what was in there." Ulla reassured him. "But, you don't remember, do you? Poor thing, you were so scared."

"Still scared," Anders admitted, quietly. "Still happens, sometimes. Never like that again -- well, not quite. I did a number on a friend's wedding, at one point, but the magister started it. He'd have done much worse to the place than I did." He kept the other magister to himself, for the time being.

"And what is this about your wife, hm? Or are you just trying not to have him asking questions you don't have answers to?" Ulla asked, putting an arm around Anders's waist. She didn't discourage his fears. They both knew he was right to be afraid of Ewald.

Anders's lips tipped in the ghost of a smile. "I wasn't married," he said. "It... wasn't really an option in the Circle, among mages. Which was probably for the best, in Kinloch Hold. All of my Fereldan friends proposed to each other with goats."

Ulla chuckled companionably, but she didn't let up. "But there was someone, wasn't there? The look in your eyes when you said it. The look in Mack's. That wasn't all a lie."

And there was the tightness in Anders's throat again, the phantom ache in his chest. At least that's what it had faded to: an ache, a distant pain he anticipated more than he felt. "There was someone. We were in the Circle together, back when there was a Circle. Well. Back before I ran away from the Circle, really. All seven times."

"Do you want to tell me about her?" Ulla asked.

"Ah..." Anders tipped his head back and stared into the sun. "Him."

"I'm not surprised. I see the way you look at Mack." Ulla bumped her hip against Anders and smiled.

"Karl. His name was Karl, and we... He was so smart, mama. And he had this terrible beard -- I swear he grew it out just to annoy me. But, he was sweet and soft and quiet. And he'd write whole volumes on the philosophies of magic and the Circle and why the Circle was good but the implementation sucked. And he was kind of right. It did suck, but I disagree that it was ever a good idea. You know he pushed me out of bed for that, one night?" Anders laughed, weakly. "I was going to save him. I was going to take him away and run off to Tevinter or something. I wanted to go south. He wanted to go north. But... I was too late. Templars didn't like his politics, after they sent him to Kirkwall."

"So, they killed him? For that?" Ulla looked disgusted and more than a little horrified.

"Worse." Anders's thumb drummed incessantly against his thigh as he tried to catch his breath and still make words. "They used him to try to kill me. Mack was with me, helping me, and when we found him... it was too late. What they did to him... I'm a healer, mama. I'm a healer, and even I couldn't help him. I couldn't make it right."

"Oh, my poor boy," Ulla said, heartbreak in her voice as she laid a hand on his back, rubbing circles between his shoulder blades.

Anders's breath hitched, and he leaned into her as she wrapped her arms around him, as tight as she used to when he was a child. She still smelled the same, like oven smoke and the sauces she'd been cooking, with something earthier underneath that reminded him of sage. 

"It was years ago," he said, his hand bunched in her robes. "I've had time, and it's... not easier, exactly, but I don't think about it as much. About him." And a part of him felt guilty for that, for going whole days, weeks without thinking about Karl. It was getting harder just to picture his face, when Anders had once known it better than his own.

"I am sorry, Ket," Ulla murmured, one hand still rubbing soothing circles. "You know, it was much easier to hug you when you were smaller. Make an old woman reach."

Anders laughed, despite himself, tears still running down his face as he knelt, not to tower over his mother any longer. "Sorry, mama. How's this?"

"When did you get such big shoulders?" Ulla asked, putting her arms around him, again. "You could carry pretty girls on those shoulders, you know that?"

"It's Mack's fault. I was ... sick, when he found me. Sick and poor, and he came and made me eat. Said he wanted to see me with 'shoulders like buttresses', and I will never forget that. Silliest thing." Anders chuckled self-consciously. "Carried a lot of things on my shoulders, too. Dwarves, wardens, pirates... Mack..."

Ulla chuckled, smoothing back his hair now that she could reach. "Seems to me like you've done a fair share of carrying each other, not just on your shoulders." She pressed a kiss to the crown of his head, squeezing him this side of too tight before easing her grip. "He seems a good sort, you know. Cares about you, wants to take care of you. And it's nice to have a young man offer to clear the table for me." 

She sighed, pulling back enough to wipe away the tears on Anders's cheeks with her sleeve. "Your father on the other hand," she said with fond exasperation. "You know how he is."

"How do you stand him?" Anders asked.

"I have a wooden spoon, and complete control of the kitchen. I don't think that man could get the pits out of dates left to himself, but he farms barley, and that's good enough. I can't do everything, myself." Ulla smiled tiredly. "You might want to put your shoe in the door, tonight, when you go to bed. Your young man's gone and stood up to your father more than anyone has since that dwarf who threatened to burn down the house."

"Andraste wept," Anders sighed. "What's he done, this time?"

"Told him if he ever spoke to you like that again, he'd get a spanking." Ulla's voice cracked with laughter. "I thought your father was going to punch his teeth in!"

"He's still got a chance. It's not like he'd have succeeded," Anders choked out. "Nobody actually hits Mack. He's... you know what he is. That's part of what he does. Papa's broken knuckles would have been worth it, but maybe not in the middle of the harvest."

Ulla's eyebrows lifted. "Then I'll be less concerned for your friend. But yes, please don't let your father break his knuckles on anything until after the harvest."

"I'll do my best," Anders drawled. "But that depends on what he's trying to punch and what comes out of his mouth."

Ulla gave the back of his head a teasing swat. "You do still have a smart mouth," she said, but Anders didn't mind the way she said it. She almost sounded proud.

"That's the way you raised me." Anders shot a glance back toward the house, shaking his head. "I should probably go put Cormac's teeth back in, before we have to work, tomorrow. He really said that to papa? In the house?"


Cormac stood alone in the kitchen, when Anders and Ulla returned, carefully weighing sacks of grain and beans in his hands. "Is it a bad time of year for millet?" he asked, hearing the door. "You're almost out."

"Millet grows in the rainy season, when the floods come. Barley goes in after, and then the long beans, when it's dry." Ulla said, coming up behind him. "Turn around and let us see your face. You must have such a bruise."

"He hasn't come in yet." Cormac shrugged and put back the bags. "So, I haven't misjudged? I should have a black eye?"

"You might yet," Anders muttered looking toward the back door.

"Of course, dear." Ulla patted Cormac's shoulder. "He'll come back in and knock you flat -- don't stand too close to the table or the cupboards -- and then you'll be back out in the field, come morning. And hopefully he'll think twice before talking about his son like that, for once."

"I don't think demonic possession could make him think twice about that," Anders grumbled.

"Well, I think I've made my opinion on the subject about as clear as it's going to get," Cormac said, rubbing a hand over his face, and watching Anders flit nervously around the room. "Should I be sorry? Is that something I shouldn't have done? I'm sorry anyway. I didn't think of what this would do to you, if I was wrong."

"Don't be sorry, Cormac," Anders said. "It's done. Not much you can do, now." 

As much as he would have liked to have seen the look on his father's face, Anders wished Cormac had just let it go. Or at least the sensible part of him wished. The other part of him wished he'd talked back himself. But that would have just made things worse. And things were bad enough, Anders decided, when he finally saw the look on his father's face. 

Ewald came in from the fields looking grim and calm, his jaw tight. Calm. Calm wasn't good.

"Papa..." Anders started, only for words to die on his tongue when Ewald pinned him with a look.

"What are you two still doing here?" Ewald said between his teeth. "In my house, after what that Marcher said to me?" He pointed at Cormac without addressing him directly.

"Ewald!" Ulla started, moving forward to step in front of the boys, but Anders held her back, shaking his head.

"Saying goodbye to my mother, apparently," Anders breathed, suddenly dizzy with the reality of doing this all again. "And somehow you have the nerve to act like this is a change? Like I've ever been welcome here? Don't worry, oudje, you have no sons, and no one will ever think different. Get the trunks, Mack."

"Where--?" Cormac started.

"Get what is ours, so we can leave these decent people in peace." The air around Anders smelled faintly of the Fade, as he gently squeezed his mother's wrist. Two quick taps -- talk when he's not looking -- and Anders hoped she remembered.

"Here, let me fetch your cart, from the barn," Ulla said quietly, twisting her wrist out of Anders's grip, with a pat on his hand, before she slipped toward the door, as Cormac headed to the room he'd shared with Anders.

That left Anders and Ewald in the kitchen with only the table between them, alone except for the raging spirit shouting between Anders's ears. Anders's fists stayed clenched at his sides, knuckles white with the force of holding Justice back. Ewald saw those fists, saw how tightly they were clenched, and misinterpreted them, his chin tipping up defiantly.

"You couldn't have tried?" Anders asked, throat strangely tight. Talking back didn't matter now, not with Cormac packing their life away again. "Not even for her? I know you didn't want me here, but did you once stop to think about her?"

"You have some gall, invoking your mother, after the way you left her. I could have thrown you both out on your asses the moment I saw you. I should have."

"Would have saved us all time," Anders snapped. Blue flashed across his eyes, quick enough to be a trick of the light.

"Would've saved us all time and effort if I'd just thrown you in the river in a sack, when you were born, but your mother wouldn't have it," Ewald snarled. "Spoilt that woman, but at least I kept her alive. You couldn't even manage that, could you?"

Anders went straight over the table, fast and smooth, like he'd done so many times in the tunnels under the Vigil, and the force of him slammed his father back into the cupboards. "May you never know what I went through in the Maker's name. May you never lose what I have lost."

"And that's just it. You just couldn't live a decent life, go to services, plant and harvest and tithe, like a man should. You just had to go out and make things difficult, and now you've got someone killed for it," Ewald huffed, struggling for breath, in the wake of the impact. "Nothing was ever good enough for you, and I won't have you bring that curse down on this family again!"

"IT WAS NOT JUST!" Justice roared, electric blue flickers blazing across their face, but in the space of a few breaths, the glow was some dim halo that could've just been spotty vision. "What about Andraste? Did she buckle down and just work as she was instructed? Did she turn her eyes away from the suffering around her?"

"And now you're comparing yourself to Andraste?" Ewald scoffed. "The arrogance..."

"I don't see you doing anything about what's going on, out there! I don't see you fighting the dwarven stranglehold on our money or the way the land suffers from the Tevinter influence in the east or the Orlesians pushing up from the south! I don't see you fighting for the half-sack of your own flesh and blood that got dragged off to some Maker-forsaken Chantry prison. Have you seen the inside of a Circle Tower? Go down to Hossberg and ask. Let them show you. Maybe they still have him, there, and you can see what they've done." Anders grew steadily louder, voice echoing off the thick mud-brick walls. It wasn't like him to get angry, he reflected. He hadn't been actually enraged in more years than he could quite recall. "And what about the Blight? Where were you, then? Did they even come down this far into the valley, here?"

"The Blight. We named those things, boy, and you were nowhere near them, either. The Archdemon came out of southern Ferelden, and you were in some airy Marcher town, sipping tea and getting your wife killed for your blasphemy against the Maker," Ewald spat.

"I was in the Keep at Amaranthine when they came up through the cellar and slaughtered almost every Warden in the fortress." Anders didn't feel his lips move, almost didn't recognise his own voice, which was suddenly much lower, much colder.

That gave Ewald pause but only for a moment. "And now you were in Amaranthine?" he said, lip curling in distrust.

"I was," Anders said, still in that low, cold voice as he pushed his father back against the cupboards. "I was in Amaranthine with the Wardens, because I was a Warden." Still was, he supposed. That wasn't something he could seem to run away from. "I killed darkspawn, papa. I saved lives. But that's still not good enough for you, is it? Even if I had stayed, it wouldn't have been good enough. Even if I had tended the fields and tithed and done all that Makerforsaken shit, it wouldn't have been good enough."

"Get off me," Ewald said, words pushed through bared teeth. He shoved Anders back with a hand on his chest. "Still whining after all these years? How many days have you slept under my roof and eaten my food? And still only complaints!" Anders wondered if the man heard a word he'd said. "Get out, before I drag you and your new wife out."

Anders squinted at his father, dumbstruck by the last sentence. "Mack's... not my wife. That's... what?" The statement was masterfully absurd, really. It wasn't that he and Cormac hadn't made a hundred jokes about it, over the years, but the old man almost sounded serious.

"Take that shaggy Marcher whore you stare at like the sun's shaken the sense from you, and get out of my house. You can leave with or without your teeth, but you're leaving!" Ewald roared, stepping closer.

"Hey, Mack, you've got to hear this! Papa thinks you look like--" The words cut off suddenly as Ewald's fist slammed into the side of Anders's face. Anders staggered back, bumping into the table, as a hysterical giggle started low in his chest. "Really? Is that all you've got? Is that it? Is that what I've been so afraid of?"

The laugh became more hysterical, swelling into whooping and cackling, as Anders's eyes lit up in feral amusement. He held a hand to his cheek, trying to stop pulling at where he'd split the inside against his teeth, but every whooping breath spattered blood across his lips.

Cormac paused at the kitchen door, taking in the set of Anders's shoulders and the unmindful cockiness in the cant of Ewald's chin. "Sweet thing? Come away. You can't fix this. Come away, before you break something." Like your father's jaw. "Your ma, she's worried about you. Come out and see her, sweet thing."

Mama. The thought of her kept Justice in check, even if Fade-blue cracks kept trying to open up along his skin. Prodding his cheek, Anders paused long enough to spit blood at his father's feet, making a note to apologize to mama for the mess later, if he had the chance.

"Don't worry, papa, I won't darken your doorway again," he said, letting Cormac pull him away, out of the kitchen, out of the house, out of the childhood home he'd been trying to get back to all these years. All the while, he laughed through bloodied teeth at the absurdity of it all.

Chapter Text

They lay in the same large bed in Kassel that they'd vacated, when they moved across the river. The tourist season tended to focus on the festivals, and between those, the city moved at an entirely other pace, slower and more subtle. But, that meant they'd been able to get the very same room, once again, which looked mostly like they'd left it.

Anders had healed his face, the night before, while they waited for the boat. There was no one to see the brief flash, and they wouldn't leave questions when they returned to the inn. But, now, he stared at the ceiling, wrapped as tightly around Cormac as he could manage without rolling over. "We shouldn't have gone back. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Cormac muttered into Anders's armpit. "Your mum's great. I told her she'd be welcome in our house, but your old man would be eating outside with the camel."

"You want to get a camel?" Anders asked. "I thought you were terrified of camels."

"I'm not terrified of camels. I'm just ... coming to terms with them, conceptually. They look like blightwork." Cormac chuffed in amusement. "Also, I gave your mum a couple pieces of gold. Told her to take care of herself."

"Gold? Cormac, that's years' worth of coin." Anders finally rolled over, untangling himself from Cormac to stare down at the fluffy, darling idiot smiling up at him.

"Nobility with good investments? We're worth easily ten times that, in a year, depending on what Anton's willing to pass on?" Cormac laughed. "She's your mother, and she should have nice things."

"She should," Anders agreed, his tone not quite matching his smile. "She certainly deserves better than she has." Unsaid but understood was the reference to his father. "And you're worthy only ten times that, hm? You are easily worth your weight in gold, Cormac Hawke, or at least the weight of your knob."

And that was, he thought, the upside to being kicked out of his parents' house, the discussion and possible misuse of knobs, or at least it would be if they hadn't been so... enthusiastic the last time they had stayed here. The innkeeper had banged his fist against the door and yelled something about noise and scaring passers-by, and after his insistence that they pay for any damage to the bed, Anders had thought it best to cut their amorous activities short. If 'amorous' was really the word for what they got up to.

The stare the innkeeper had pinned on them when they arrived said he remembered them. Pushing their luck was, Anders supposed, not the best plan.

"Do you even remember the weight of my knob?" Cormac teased, grinding that very thing against Anders's thigh. "I don't think you've weighed it, recently. Certainly not since the last time we were... Oh, right." He groaned and twisted around, staring mournfully at the ceiling. "This wonderful nation of delectable foods and fine artistry has no appreciation for us -- for the ecstatic joy of... something something, what is it they always say about the Orlesian theatre?"

"And now you're never getting laid again," Anders scoffed, shoving Cormac precipitously close to the edge of the bed. "Orlesian theatre? Orlesian anything? Not in this bed."

"Are you sure? This place is supposedly pretty full during the tourist season." Cormac grinned, as Anders shoved him that last inch, and he dropped heavily to the floor, taking the sheets with him. "So, what do you want to do? I mean, this place is nice, but we can't stay here forever. And we especially can't stay here forever if I'm not allowed to indulge in the distinctly non-Orlesian delights of your gorgeous body."

Anders tugged at the sheets, pulling just enough off of and out from under Cormac to cover his legs and ass. "Well... I suppose we should start on getting a house, if we're to be inviting my mother over. Likely with a place to put our theoretical camel as well. And if my father is going to spending time with that camel, we are investing in a trip to a camel barber finding out how much it costs to shave something insulting and obscene into its fur."

A house. They'd discussed it in the past, but that meant they were staying, if Cormac agreed, at least for the near future. He was starting to ease into life in the Anderfels, into working the harvest. The heat and the grit of sand in his clothes felt like home again, even if his childhood home did not.

"Of course, we're probably going to have to build it," Anders went on. "Consult the Chantry, buy a plot of land that won't get washed away when the rains come."

"What's the Chantry got to do with it?" Cormac looked a little confused. "When we built our house in Lothering... well, I guess we bought a house in Lothering and then built on it, but it was all about talking to the neighbours and figuring out where the property lines were. The Chantry didn't have anything to say about property allocations or even blessing the new construction."

He paused and blinked. "We're building a house. Like, you and me. A house. For us. However we want it to be." Sitting up, he grinned over the edge of the bed. "I want a big library and a nice kitchen, and I know that means we're going to spend a couple months living in a shed, but it's not going to be the first time I've done that. We're rich, right? We can have a nice house. And we can pay people an awful lot to build it for us, too."

"I wouldn't mind a library and a nice kitchen," Anders said, grinning at Cormac across the sheets. "And a sturdy bed. You Hawkes have spoiled me terribly these past few years, you know?" He'd gotten so used to all these little comforts before they'd left Kirkwall. "But, yes, we have to ask the Chantry first, if we're looking for a plot on the other side of the river." He pointed over his shoulder in the appointed direction. "We're not in Ferelden or the Free Marches, any more. The local Chantry is really the closest thing the lake towns have to a system of government."

At least he had fond memories of that particular Chantry. The Revered Mother had had gentle hands and a gentle voice, and he remembered the services being peaceful, if a bit dull. 

"So, we talk to the Sisters, and then we have to hire builders. Is there a guild for that? Should I be taking it up with the dwarves?" Cormac asked, glancing around for where he'd thrown his robes, the night before. Sleeping nude had been such an appealing idea, after all this time, that he'd just... thrown clothing and dived into bed. Artie would've throttled him awake, in the middle of the night, but Artie wasn't here. And that was not a happy thought at all. For a moment, he missed being woken up by a bed full of gravel or a dirty sock to the face. "Who builds, and who have I got to bribe?"

Anders caught Cormac's attention with a snap of his fingers and pointed his thumb at the room's opposite corner, where Cormac's robes lay in a mess of fabric. It seemed he wasn't the only one who had been spoiled these last few years. "You, Messere Hawke, have spent too much time in Kirkwall. 'Who builds' are whatever able-bodied men aren't in the fields working the harvest."

Cormac smiled gratefully. "Should I be offended at how willing you were to tell me where I left my clothes?" he teased, pulling them on. "So... huh. Right. Like Lothering, again. I guess I just figured with all the dwarven merchants that they'd have established some kind of stranglehold on traditionally dwarfy parts of the economy. You'd think Varric would've cured me of that."

Another moment, and he'd found his boots under the table and sat down on the end of the bed to pull them on. "So, ah... What do you know about building houses? I mean, besides the 'cut some wood and nail it into a box shape' part? Wood. That's... Not a lot of things are made of wood, here, are they? How do you...?" He stared at the wall, contemplatively. "What is that made of? Stone and plaster?"

"Mud-brick," Anders answered, pressing his cheek into his pillow. While Cormac was finishing his quest for clothing, Anders stretched diagonally across the bed, enjoying the warmth Cormac had left behind. He knew where his clothing was, and after a minute more of savouring this horizontal state, Anders stretched like a cat and finally pushed himself up and off the bed. "Cheap, light, durable. Anyone can make it." Those memories were gathering cobwebs by this point, but if he brushed them aside, he could remember the process, could remember Jan -- the real Jan -- prodding his hands and helping him shape the brick. "As for the building, uh. I suppose it would be too much to hope that you have a hidden talent for designing buildings? Preferably buildings that won't fall on us?"

"Can't say that was ever on my list. Maker, I almost wish Carver was here. After all the work he did on the alienage, he'd have at least sort of a clue." Cormac laughed nervously. "I know not on that side of the river, but over here, is there ... I don't know, a city planning office? Records? Something? I mean, somebody probably built something about the size we need at some point and left the drawings for it, right? And people who actually grew up here -- I mean, longer than you -- would've done this kind of thing before, right?"

"That's the assumption," Anders replied. "Another possibility is that these buildings sprang out of the ground, fully formed, like massive sandcastles." That made him think of the day Izzy had dragged him and Artie to sun themselves on the beach. He didn't give himself long enough to consider that memory or that he might miss his life in Kirkwall. "I don't know about a city planning office, but we do have a library. There's a chance that someone who knew what they were doing left something there." Anders pulled his robes towards him with his toes.

"Right. That sounds almost like a plan, you know. We go get a clue, then we get land, then we get builders. We can do that, right? Of course we can. We're heroes." Cormac laughed, as he took a moment to adjust his hair in the mirror. "We've killed and eaten dragons. This can't be that hard."

Chapter Text

The lower levels of the library were cool and dry, and the archives of contracts and city meetings stretched in all directions from the long table piled with bound architectural proposals -- one year to the volume. Anders lay sprawled across the table, one eye closed, as he squinted at something that was, presumably, the plans for a building of some sort, and Cormac dropped another book onto the pile on his chest.

"For the record, I liked dragons better. Things that run around roaring and breathing fire are apparently much more my thing," Cormac groaned, opening another volume and trying to decipher the headings on the next set of plans. Some of them were written in Ander, some in Common, and a not ignorable amount in Tevene. But, there had to be something in here, somewhere. Still, he'd sort of gotten the idea of how corners worked, at least.

Anders refrained from making comparisons between himself and anything fire-breathing. "I might prefer the dragons, myself." He tucked in his chin and tried to read the spine of the book Cormac had placed on his chest. "But, here. Take a look at this." Holding the book open to the page he was on, he placed it flat on the table, sliding it in Cormac's direction. Cormac wouldn't be able to read the labels, but the drawings were, he thought, reasonably clear. "The design is fairly simple when you break it down. We start with the large room in the middle and camp out in there while we build outwards."

Anders shrugged. He'd seen similar structures go up when he was a child, and it seemed something not even he and Cormac could screw up.

"If we do it right, we can even cook inside, while we're waiting for the kitchen. Of course, I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing, cooking inside. It's a bit warm for that." Cormac laughed. "I have to stop thinking I'm in Ferelden. I haven't been there in years, but it's still... I don't know, I keep thinking things still work like they did, before -- the last time I had to do something like this."

Cormac pulled the book a little closer, studying the finer details. "So, the roof is ... basically reeds, straw mats, and pitch? That doesn't seem too bad. I mean, as long as we haven't got to melt any magisters. It might become bad, at that point. But, the walls won't burn, so I think we're probably all right. And this will stand up to the rains? I don't doubt it, if you say it's true, but I've never really seen things built out of mud, before."

"If it's made right, it should," Anders assured him. "This stuff's more durable than it looks, as long as you're not right by the water. Rains, yes. Floods, no. Still, we'll need enough wood to reinforce the walls and roof, which should be... less easy to find than down south but certainly doable. We plaster the walls... set up the backyard for the camel... Do you have any names in mind for this potential camel?"

Considering how much they spit, Anders's first thought was Oghren, but he doubted that would be as funny to Cormac, no matter how many Oghren stories he'd been subjected to.

"I thought I'd worry about naming it after we actually had it," Cormac admitted, still uncertain about coming into regular contact with a mutant spitting horse. "Let's get through the house part, first, then we can worry about the camel part. Unless we need the camel for the house. We do, don't we. We need to be able to move the materials to... wherever we end up building. I mean, unless they're local materials. You know, I'm going to leave that to you, since you actually grew up here, and I'm still getting used to the idea that everything is made of mud." He paused and considered the images again. "It's nothing about your parents, but I don't think we should build in the village. We're ... a little unusual, and my brother's probably going to visit, eventually. I'd rather not get caught by the templars for breaking the neighbours' dishes."


With the designs for their future house tucked under Anders's arm, they made for the Chantry. Again, Anders would have preferred facing a dragon. Two dragons, even, and he'd almost liked this Chantry growing up. He'd liked it as much as any twelve-year-old boy was bound to like a place his parents dragged him to.

Still, climbing the familiar steps, seeing the way time had aged the paint on the Chantry's walls, Anders hadn't quite been prepared for the tightness in his chest. He remembered the last time he'd walked these steps, or rather the last time he was supposed to walk them, but he shook off the memories before they led to fire and templars and the cold look on his father's face. That last image was still fresh in his mind.

Cormac squinted at the edges of the windows and the way the tile was set around the bottom of the building. How did these things go together? He wondered if there was some deeper religious meaning to the choice of tiles, in particular, and if that was something they could have in a less-religious design on their own home. Would it be appropriate? Would it be difficult to maintain? Would magic make it easier to care for?

The inside of the building reminded him of the Chantry in Lothering -- the same shape, the same scenes from the life of Andraste. The art was different, here, though, and he started to understand the price paid for Ander works, in the south. Even in the most magical moments, there was a sense of looking through a window, that even the most unreal things gained a certain weight. Hessarian's guilt needed no label, nor did Maferath's uncertainty. Knowing the stories made the statuary immediately recognisable in a way the stylised images so common in the south weren't.

While Cormac took his time admiring the art, Anders approached the statue of Andraste and the Mother praying in front of it. The heavy drape of her clothing made it difficult to make out her shape or even her age until she lifted her head and rose creakily to her feet. Joint pain in her hips. He could read it in her posture, and it would be an easy fix, if he were still the Kirkwall healer.

"Excuse me, Mother, but do you have a moment?" Anders asked, and she turned at the sound of his voice. He pulled up short, recognising her. She had the same gold eyes and round face, but her hair had greyed, the lines around her eyes and mouth deeper than he remembered, joined by a dozen new lines when she smiled. "Ah. Revered Mother, I should say."

"Of course, my son," she said in that gentle voice he remembered. "I have as many moments as you need."

He struggled for a minute to -- Yotte. That was her name. Revered Mother Yotte.

"I've been away for many years, Mother Yotte. I came back to build a home. Maybe settle down here." Anders took a few long breaths, trying to quell the dizziness that seized him and quiet the memories and fears battering at his consciousness like a swarm of Fen'Din's infernal bees.

"Oh, I do know you, don't I?" Yotte smiled warmly, reaching up to turn his face into the light from the window high above Andraste. "You're one of Ewald's sons. The handsome one, obviously."

Anders chuckled and looked away. "Jan," he said. "The one who could come back. Do you know what happened to Ket? Is that even still his name? I heard ridiculous things, that the templars came and took him down to Hossberg."

"Your brother was touched by the Maker's hand, Jan. For good or ill, I do not know." Yotte's eyes were sad, for a moment, but her smile never faltered. "But, you've come for land, haven't you? Let's get you something nice." She called for a young lay sister, working in the office to the side of the altar. "Ingill! Come help this nice young man find a place to build a home!"

"Young," Anders scoffed, rubbing at the dark hollow under one eye.

"Don't you start, Jan Ewaldsson!" Yotte scolded. "I'm as old as your mother."

"Kasselmann," Anders corrected, reflexively, then tried to explain. "I needed a name that said something people understood."

Yotte opened her mouth as though to respond, only to close it again with another smile, this one a little more puzzled. She was a bit like Cormac that way, always smiling, even -- especially -- when she had no reason to. "Kasselmann, then. But my point still stands, young man."

"Of course," Anders said. Distantly, a part of him knew this was where he was supposed to say something charmingly cheeky, but the words didn't come. He kept seeing a younger Mother Yotte in her smile, and that put him in mind of the white robes his mother had bought him that had never been worn. He was almost relieved when Ingill called him into the office. Andraste's sculpture didn't loom here, with her red robes and piercing eyes, and the paperwork Ingill placed in front of him was real and solid and in no way directly relevant to those memories.

If Yotte was all smiles, Ingill was humourless as she pulled out a map of the town and its surrounding lands. "We have some plots available here, here, and here." She gestured accordingly with her quill. "All out of the floodplain and reasonably close to town. Do you have a preference?"

It wasn't labelled, but Anders found the bit of map showing where his parents' land was. He brushed that thought aside and chose the land farthest from the town. Ingill named a price and Anders counted out the coins -- some Marcher gold, some Fereldan, but none of them locally minted. Ingill looked surprised, at first, which settled into a sort of tired exasperation, as Anders signed the papers. He knew what she thought -- just another foreigner who would starve himself out in a year. He hoped she was wrong.

As he left the office, map in hand, he smiled at Mother Yotte, before making his way over to where Cormac seemed completely absorbed in a painting of the Battle of Valerian Fields. Letting a faint charge precede him, Anders wrapped his arms around Cormac from behind, resting his chin on Cormac's head. "You bought me a home," he mumbled, almost contentedly. "Now, all we need is a house."

Chapter Text

The first bricks took a day, by themselves, and then the inner wall started to go up, as more bricks were ready. A seemingly endless progression of filling and then moving the brick rack, under the reed and straw canopy that shaded part of the site, filled the first few days easily.

Cormac examined the earth, as he paced out the edges of the first wall and drove spikes into the ground. "Andraste's flaming unmentionables," he sighed. "Are you sure we can grow anything in this?"

"I grew up here. My parents have been growing barley since before I was born. It's not the best thing to plant in, but it's not too terrible, after the first season or two." Anders shrugged and looked around. "What do you think of beans and squash? I think we could manage that."

"Buy hulls and leavings, if anyone will sell," one of the workers suggested, passing with another tray of bricks. "Break up the ground and add it in right after the harvest, and you might be able to live off of what comes up, if you plant in the spring."

Anders cocked a thumb after the woman. "She's right. The same as making bricks, oddly, but with less straw. The more plant bits we can't eat that go back in, the less trouble we're going to have later. The worst's just making sure the ground doesn't..." He gestured at the beginnings of the wall.

"We can cheat it, I think," Cormac said, with an inquisitive look, rubbing his fingers together in the way that had come to mean magic, when they couldn't say as much.

"Probably." Anders nodded. "I didn't... I don't have any of those techniques, but you do, don't you?"

"Some. Better for trees, though. I can do trees without even thinking. It'll be a little harder without my brother, of course, but I'm sure we can manage something." The spikes went in easily, for Cormac, in a way they wouldn't have for most people. He still made a point of stomping on them, so it wouldn't look too easy, but he could play with the water in the ground, using it to change the density of where he was trying to put a spike. It was difficult and really precise, especially with people all around him who'd be happy to hand him in as a mage, but it was still easier than trying to drive the damnable things in with a mallet, without cracking himself in the hand.


Soon, the inner wall was shoulder-high for Cormac, and it was possible to drape a cloth over it at night, tied to yet more of those spikes, and sleep in the corner of their not quite a house. It would be small -- at least compared to the estate in Kirkwall -- but larger than the wagon Cormac had spent half his childhood living in, which was a little smaller than the room Anders had shared in the tower. But, it would be theirs, and they would finally be free to wind around each other in as little as they liked, which really hadn't been an option, these last months.

And the first night they slept on the hard ground beneath the cloth that kept the dust from skinning them when the wind blew, Cormac was insatiable, lips and hands on any skin Anders would bare for him. "Please, please, please," he begged. "I missed the feel of you, even with you in my arms."

This had been, as it turned out, the longest Cormac had gone without sex in his entire adult life, and he was rather displeased with the situation. And while Anders had gone longer, it wasn't really something he enjoyed, however much Justice preferred the lack of interruptions.

"When the walls are finished, no one will hear you scream," Anders promised, a faint smile flickering across his face. "But, we're out here in half a tent, and knowing you, the whole village will hear, even if the nearest house is a mile away. There aren't trees and stone to break the sound, here."

"Then what about just you? You're quiet. Let me taste you. Let me touch you. Let me give you as much as I can," Cormac pleaded, hands clenched tight in the outer robe Anders wore, so common in this place.

Anders could see so much more, when Cormac's eyes opened again. "Not just overcome by my dashing good looks, are you?" he asked, pulling Cormac closer. "You--"

"Don't. Don't say it. Don't remind me." Cormac had also never been this long without Artemis beside him. It had hurt terribly when they weren't sharing a bed any more, worse when Artie had moved in with Fenris, but he'd still been there. He'd been just the next road over. And by then, things were different between them. Every touch meant more and lasted so much longer. But, he'd been months without the man he'd devoted his entire life to, months without even a lay, months lying awake half the night beside Anders in the room Anders used to share with his own brother and then in an inn they were much too loud for.

"We'll build this house, and then we'll send a letter. It's going to be all right." Anders kissed Cormac's forehead.

"That's my line," Cormac complained, wondering how far he'd slipped that Anders was comforting him, instead of the other way around.

"I thought I'd try it on for size. See if it looked as good on me as it did on you," Anders teased, hands wandering Cormac's still-clothed body.

"And? What do you think? I still think you'd look better in nothing at all. Even with that ridiculous beard."

"It is ridiculous, isn't it? I'm half as handsome with no chin. It's terrible." Anders sighed dramatically, both hands kneading Cormac's ass. "But, I think the line looks better on you. Might borrow it, now and again, when you're not using it, but it's not something I see happening regularly."

"I don't care how ridiculous the beard is. I know just how devastatingly gorgeous you really are, and I want you. I want you so much." Cormac's hands skimmed stiffly over Anders's body.

"Say it again," Anders breathed.

"I want you. I want to fuck." Cormac's fingers put off just enough of a spark to feel like static in Anders's robe. "I want to smell like your sweat. I want to feel you come."

"Yes. Maker, yes," Anders panted, pulling Cormac tight against him. "I want you to make me come until I can't."

Everything Cormac thought of that suggestion was contained in the raw noise that tore out of him, before he could manage words.

"You're not going to be able to manage quiet, are you?" Anders smiled against Cormac's forehead.

"I'm about to find out how much of this robe I can fit in my mouth." Cormac's voice was high and breathy.

"Thought you didn't like gags," Anders teased.

"I like not having you shoved so deep I can feel you when I swallow even less." Cormac tore at his clothes, unwilling to become quite naked -- they had no door to close, yet -- but certainly willing to remove what he had on under his outer robe. After an awful lot of twisting and pulling, he wore only a single layer of cloth.

"I don't know if I've said it, but I'm pretty sure I've never been with anyone who wanted me quite the way you do." Smiling again, Anders loosened his own trousers and writhed out of them, kicking them off. "You don't just want a fuck, you actually want me."

"Of course I want you. You're gorgeous, and listening to you talk politics turns me on. When I was young, I thought I wanted to be you, when I grew up. Now, I get the privilege of doing you, which is even better, because it means there's two of us." Cormac said it like he said so many strange things -- like his crude sentiments were the most obvious thing in the world.

"Yet another thing I like about you," Anders teased, nibbling under Cormac's beardless chin, "that hopeless sentimentality."

Cormac laughed and pulled himself into Anders's lap, pulling what felt like acres of cloth from between them, until he could feel skin on skin. "Yeah, that's me. Sentimental, romantic, a genuine sap. I'm hopelessly in love with your knob, and all the things you can do to me with it. Bunch of things you can do to me without it, too." He squirmed closer, crossing his ankles behind Anders's back, as he rolled his hips demandingly.

"And yet, you always step in front of your brother, and not me..." Anders cut himself off. That had passed pretty far into not funny, and they both knew it as soon as the words left his mouth. Even the rest of the thought wouldn't have dragged it back out.

Reaching up, Cormac grabbed Anders's ridiculous plaited beard and pulled until their foreheads touched. "I've seen your scars. I trust you to survive without my help. I have faith that you can look after yourself, and if you need me, you'll tell me." He left the rest implied. No good would come of questioning Artemis's survival skills, especially while he was too far north to do anything about the situation they'd left behind. "You will live, with or without me. I just like the part where if it's 'with', we both have a lot more sex."

"I can't find it in me to argue against that benefit." Anders's voice was a little too light, but he leaned back against the wall and lifted Cormac, with both hands on that amazing ass, casting as he kneaded it. "I know you think you'd rather I didn't, but it's been months. Live with it."

"No, I... you're probably right, this time." Cormac laughed as he reached between them, caressing Anders's knob as if it were some sacred artefact, before he tucked it under him, grinding the tip against his hole, where Anders held him spread.

"Take it," Anders breathed. "Take me."

Chapter Text

Cormac saw stars as Anders slowly started to bring him down. Anders was huge, and intellectually, Cormac realised that, but what he hadn't realised was what several months out of practise would do to him. It wouldn't fit. He knew it would fit. He'd done this a couple hundred times, in the preceding years, but he had to actually get it in, first, which was suddenly a lot more difficult than he recalled it being. He took a few deep breaths and tried to relax, bringing up memories of why he wanted this and how good it had felt, as he rubbed another grease spell along Anders's length.

Finally, he started to slide down, his every breath ending in a choked off sound of pain, for the first three inches. And then he clamped down, arching back with one hand clinging to Anders's shoulder, and a long, low, liquid moan poured out of him.

"Miss me?" Anders panted, as speckles danced before his eyes.

"So much," Cormac groaned, rolling his hips around what little of Anders he'd taken in, before he started to work his way down again. His body ached wonderfully, even as Anders's healing trickled through him, to keep the damage from getting serious. The pain crawled up his bones, and he thought his hips might split apart from the pressure inside him, and as he settled at last into Anders's lap, he buried his face against Anders's neck and wept.

"Fawning or fucking?" Anders asked, moving his hands to wrap his arms around Cormac's back.

"Both," Cormac choked out. "So good... Missed you so much. Just relief. Thought I might never fuck again."

A breathy laugh slipped out of Anders. "Terrible feeling, isn't it?"

"Let's never do that again," Cormac suggested, as his breathing levelled and the tears slowed.

"There's no joy in it." Anders nipped the top of Cormac's ear. "Justice missed you, too, even if he doesn't like me saying it. I swear he gets a little more human, every year."

"He doesn't miss me," Cormac scoffed. "He misses this." A few deep breaths, and Cormac's hands settled on Anders's shoulder blades, before the indigo light crept in along his fingers and into his palms.

Anders's breathing quickened at the touch of the Fade against his back. "It's your hands that give us this. He misses you."

Cormac rolled his hips again, grinding down onto Anders. "When we have a home that won't glow in the dark, I'll make it up to both of you. Like that night by the docks, but just the three of us."

"Shit, don't. If you do it wrong..." Anders shook his head and rocked his hips, colliding with Cormac in a way that set a rhythm with a bit of a bounce in it, Cormac jerking up a sudden inch at the end of every little thrust.

"I won't do it wrong. I'm better at it, now. All those nights back in Kirkwall you left me alone with myself, I had to do something..." Cormac gave up words and mouthed at the side of Anders's neck, feeling the pounding of Anders's pulse against his lips. "Harder," he demanded, driving his hips down and leaning back, to give himself more room to move. "Talk later. Fuck now."

Anders took advantage of the shift in balance and leaned into it, laying Cormac back onto the floor and stretching out over him. "Like this?" he asked, slamming down and in as Cormac's ankles crossed behind him.

Cormac gasped and arched as Anders cast another grease spell into him, to ease the way a bit. They were out of practise, after all. It had taken months for Cormac to convince him to stop using pints of grease, the first time, and he was sure it would be much the same, this time. Cormac writhed, near-constant moans interrupted only by the occasional gasp for air and Anders knocking the breath out of him with every slow, bone-jarringly hard thrust. 

"Please," Cormac begged. "Oh, please. Hurt me. Hurt me like you mean it."

"No," Anders breathed, eyes squeezing shut as he curled forward to rest his forehead against Cormac's, one hand moving to cup the back of Cormac's neck, fingers flickering with electricity and healing. "Not tonight. Wait until we have a door. Until it's just you and me. Until I'm used to touching you, again." He moved his hand, dragging his fingertips along Cormac's neck and shoulder, down onto Cormac's chest. "Wait until winter, and I'll turn you into raw meat."

Cormac arched under him, eyes wild, desperately trying to contain the screams and pleas building in his chest. Anders kept a merciless pace, but grabbed a layer of Cormac's robe, from where most of it lay in a heap beside them, and tucked a fold of cloth into Cormac's mouth. Even with his teeth clenched around a plum-sized wad of cloth, Cormac was loud. But the sounds were good, and Anders was happy to go for more, slowing down every time Cormac started to get a little too loud.

"I missed you," Anders forced out, barely a whisper. "Missed your body wrapped around me, missed the way you squeeze me, missed the way you want me. Missed how tight and hot you feel inside. You keep me warm. You always keep me warm." His breathing slowed, perfectly timed, ragged breaths nearly soundless, even in the emptiness around them. The time for words was over, and there was nothing more he could say, however much he might have wanted to, as the old habits stole his voice. Cormac filled his senses, the air thickening with the scent of him, every desperate sound lashing along Anders's nerves, as Cormac's thick, hot body writhed beneath him. So close, everything almost right again, after so long.

As Cormac bucked, intently pounding himself against Anders's hips, heels digging in just above Anders's tailbone, Anders stretched, slow and lazy, hands sliding up along the dirt floor, hips tilting up, face pressed to Cormac's shoulder. Lips pressed to Cormac's neck, Anders came, and parts of his body flicked through his awareness like a flipbook, a different sensation in each, never quite fitting together, and the throaty tones of Cormac's desire underlying it all. He'd forgotten how unsettling it was to want this badly, and to be wanted and welcomed after so long without. And just like the last time, here was Cormac, still, just as mad, but hardly as stupid as Anders had first thought.

Still voiceless, still listening for the sound of footsteps, for anything out of place, Anders rolled his hips and picked up a brutal pace. There was no time to be lazy and sweet -- the construction would start again at daybreak, and however much he could rely on Justice to keep him awake, Cormac couldn't. 



In the morning, Cormac was not wearing trousers under his robes. It didn't seem like a very trousery sort of day, and he avoided them whenever possible anyway. The whole point of robes, he thought, was to avoid wearing trousers. Local fashion seemed to disagree, in some cases, but he hadn't yet figured out which. It was fine -- he was obviously the dumb foreigner, and people tended to take his quirks as stupidity rather than malice.

Today, in particular, he was very glad he'd chosen not to wear trousers, as he had second, third, and fourth thoughts about the amount of grease Anders had used, the night before. Apparently, it had taken a few hours to catch up with him, which meant not only that Anders had used too much, but that his aim had been off. Or he'd been expecting that to take a lot longer than it did. Either way, Cormac had spent a bit of time trying not to let this affect his work, before giving up and sprinting for the reed-screened latrine trench, by the edge of the property. This was the third time, since the builders arrived, and he noticed a few concerned and amused looks as he bolted past them again.

One of the builders called out to Anders, a hand shielding his eyes from the sun. "Hey, Jan!" He spoke in Ander, likely in case Cormac could hear them. "Is your friend all right?"

Anders considered the path Cormac had blazed on his way to the trench, considered the number of builders who had turned an ear to the conversation. He could guess why Cormac kept taking off running but neglected to feel sorry. "Food poisoning," he assured them. "He'll be fine." He waved them back to work and wondered how loudly Cormac was going to be cursing him later.

After a while, and some discreet use of magic, Cormac made his way back to where Anders was spreading mortar. "This is entirely your fault," he hissed, jabbing a finger into the middle of Anders's chest. "Maker, how much oil-- Even my brother doesn't need that much! What were you thinking!" He stared pleadingly up at Anders, expecting ... something, anything. The man was a healer, which was probably the only reason Cormac was standing at all, this morning, and there had to be something for this.

Off to the side, the workers started joking about what they imagined he'd eaten, which devolved pretty quickly into jokes about Jan's nether regions. Fortunately, Cormac's grasp of the Ander language was still fairly limited, and consisted mostly of the names of foods and coins -- things he'd need to know in the market -- and for the most part, the workers could have been discussing lunch, for all the words he couldn't make out.

"I was thinking 'better to be careful'," Anders replied, trying to look more sympathetic than amused. Over Cormac's shoulder, Anders caught one of the builders illustrating his commentary with a gesture that transcended language barriers, and he glared hard at said worker until the gesture turned into a wave and the man went back to work. 

Anders lowered his voice. "Stop giving me that face. I can fix this, but it's not going to be pretty." His eyebrows tipped up, and Anders trusted Cormac to understand what he meant.

Cormac's eyes squeezed shut and he groaned at the thought. "Fine. Just... make it stop. I'm going to go back over there, and try to get my robes out of harm's way. Give me a few minutes and then... do whatever it is you do, preferably not in front of these cads. I'd rather not have to execute a siege on the Hossberg Circle to get you back."

Anders looked a bit ill at the thought of another Circle. Here, in this place, in this village, and the threat of templars always looming... He shook it off to find Cormac watching him, clearly concerned. "Hm? Go, go. I'll take care of it. Just looking for the right one. There's a few answers."

"Oh, Maker. A few. That's less encouraging than you make it sound." Cormac offered a sickly smile and made his way across the field, again, to vanish behind the screen.

Anders kept track of Cormac out of the corner of his eye, adjusting his grip on his trowel and counting the minutes as they passed. The motion of the tool as he spread the mortar, hid the abbreviated gesture that charged the spell, and Anders angled his body so as not to let any spark or glow show. Trowel still moving evenly, Anders held his breath, waiting, expecting for someone to accuse him of magery, but the workers simply kept on with their work.

Anders listened for sounds by the latrine. There were no sounds of someone falling to the ground, which he took as a good sign. "Cormac?" he called out over his shoulder after sufficient time had passed. "Are you dead?"

"Why, were you trying?" Cormac called back, sounding a little aggrieved after a few small ice spells that didn't go quite the way he'd intended. These things were so much simpler to deal with indoors, with proper sanitary measures. "'Cause if you were, I think you missed!"

The workers along the wall cackled and whooped, and Cormac remembered he wasn't just outside, he was in the middle of a construction site.

"Oh, yeah, laugh it up!" he scoffed, adjusting his robes as he made his way back around the screen. "Just be careful what you let him put in your guts!" There were a couple of obvious ways that could be taken, of course, and Cormac was counting on it. Of course, he rather meant it the one way they wouldn't have considered -- magic.

Head ducked against a smirk and reddening cheeks, Anders kept working.

Chapter Text

It was Makersday, and as with every Makersday, the village was at the Chantry, including their builders. But, Anders didn't go. He hadn't gone since ... well, since they bought the land. Instead, he spent the time in a sheltered corner of their almost-a-house, brewing potions for the builders. He was, he told them, an herbalist -- he'd learnt it in the cities of the coast. And they asked no questions, once they saw the effect of his potions and salves -- wounds closing, bruising disappearing. Not as good as a real healer, he said, but good enough for now. Definitely better than nothing at all.

"You should take some of that back salve to the Mother, after services," Cormac suggested, wandering over, half dressed and freshly awakened. "I saw her in the market, last week, and she looks a little stiff. And Hankyn says his son's sick. Probably nothing you couldn't fix with a quick spell, but better if you hide it behind a potion. Maybe give them something that'll actually help the kid, if he gets sick again, so it's not this bad, but ... the way he's talking, the boy needs a healer. And this village doesn't need another funeral."

"That bad?" Anders asked, concern in his voice even as he was distracted, mixing. This, at least was familiar. He missed his rooms at the Amell Estate, missed his clinic and his stock of reagents, missed the patients who knew who and what he was and never gave him up. But he still had his healing and his potions and the ability to help.

"You're not just trying to kick me out, are you?" he teased, stoppering his latest potion and setting it aside. General healing, a good place to start, and it should take off the edges of whatever was ailing Hankyn's kid. Next to it, Anders set a salve and a second potion, both for arthritis. Anders had been itching to heal her joints since he came back.

"Now, why would I do a thing like that?" Cormac purred, wrapping his arms around Anders, from behind. "If I were to give in to my astonishingly base urges, right now, I wouldn't be putting you out. I'd be stripping you down to figure out how many holes I've got that I can put you in. I might've forgotten in all those months we had to be quiet and still."

He laughed, sliding his hands over Anders's body, squeezing and teasing wherever his fingers passed. "But, no, I really am just worried about Hankyn's boy. And if you're out that side of the village anyway, it's a good opportunity to get a hand in the Chantry. If the Mother likes you, which this nearly guarantees, she'll be a lot more likely to blow off harmless rumours about us. And I'm sure there are rumours, since no one ever sees us at services. They're going to start saying we're Tevinter witch-demons or something."

"Tevinter witch-demons, you say?" Anders said with a fake gasp. "Why, that is worse than any regular witch-demon! We can't have that." He swatted aside Cormac's wandering hands. "Save it for later, or no one's getting any potions. Except maybe you, for when I'm done with you." He bit the air in front of Cormac's nose, teeth clicking together.


Services were over by the time Anders made it to the Chantry, a satchel slung over his shoulder with one hand steadying it against his hip. Inside, the bottles were padded so as not to clink, but he held the satchel tight just in case.

Inside, the Chantry's colourful tiles glittered in the sun, and this time Anders could take a moment to appreciate their beauty. There was still that tightness in his chest, but it wasn't as suffocating as the last time. Maybe, after weeks, months, years, that tightness wouldn't be there at all.

Anders found Ingill and Yotte dousing the candles from the last service.

"You've missed the service," Ingill called out, as she heard the footsteps on the tile. As she snuffed the last candle in the set, she looked over her shoulder and recognised the man in the aisle. "As you have every week. Have you come to plead forgiveness for your oversight?"

"Ingill," Yotte scolded, "there's no need to be rude. I've known him since he was a child. Jan's a good man, and I'm sure he has a good reason, like going to the Chantry in Kassel. It's much larger and more like what a man expects after a life in the city." She shuffled up and smiled at Anders. "What can we do for you, Jan?"

"Actually, Mother, I..." Anders cleared his throat and intently rifled through his bag. "It's not about what you can do for me, this time. I've been an herbalist, by trade, for many years, and when I saw the way you walk..." He shrugged and handed Yotte a bottle, eyes still on his hands. "I thought it was the least I could do."

Astonished, Yotte turned the bottle over in her hands, the red liquid inside refracting the morning sunlight and adding another splash of colour to the Chantry's floor. "What's this?"

"A simple potion," Anders said. "It's mainly elfroot, and it should ease some of the discomfort in your joints and back. If it works, I also have some salve to be used regularly to help with the swelling." Rifling through his bag again, this time Anders came up with a smaller canister.

Yotte's surprise into something grateful. "May I?" she asked, and Anders nodded, motioning for her to try the potion. Ingill helped her uncork the bottle, and then she drained it in one draught. Neither woman noticed the subtle movement of Anders's fingers, and the blue glow they blamed on the shifting sunlight and the coloured tiles.

As Yotte lowered the bottle, her whole body seemed to ease with the motion. The lines on her forehead smoothed over while the line of her back straightened. She looked at Anders with wonder in her eyes. "That is marvellous!" she said. She twisted one way, then another. "I feel twenty years younger. Ingill, do I look twenty years younger?"

Yotte's smile was impish, and Ingill snorted.

"Well, you definitely stand twenty years younger!" Anders grinned. "If it works that well, I'll make sure you don't run out. If it starts hurting again, just send a runner, and I'll come see what I can do for you. Sometimes it takes a body a little while to get used to the change. Might need some stretches to help you, as your bones settle. Just let me know, and I'll do my best to get you right."

"I definitely appreciate it, but..." Yotte paused, brow pinching as she tried to find a tactful way to make the point. "What about the rest of the village? It doesn't seem right that I should be the only recipient of your excellent skills."

Anders's smile grew even wider. "You're not. Didn't Andraste teach that the Maker's light would shine upon all creation, if we were strong enough to carry it? Well, that's what I do, Mother. I keep the people strong, in body. This place would do so much better with a real healer, but I do what I can. In fact, I'm on my way to see about Hankyn's son. I wish someone had told me, sooner..."

Yotte's eyes lit up at that. "Oh, that poor boy. You think you could help him?" Her touch was feather-light on his shoulder.

"I haven't seen him yet, so I do not know, Mother," Anders admitted, "but that is my hope."

"I hope so. The Maker has given you a lovely gift, Jan. I am glad that you are choosing to use it so selflessly."

She wouldn't approve of him missing services, Anders knew. She couldn't approve of that. But this was, at least, reassurance that he still had her approval even when he didn't attend.

"Thank you, Mother," he said with a respectful bow of his head as he pressed the canister into her hands. He bid the women goodbye before making for Hankyn's.



Finally, the roof went on, but the construction didn't stop. The second wall -- the one that would provide the rest of the rooms -- was next on the list. But, for now, they had a room with shelves in the walls and a fire in the centre, large enough to heat the room and properly ventilated through the roof. The sounds of construction were muffled, when they weren't taking part, which Cormac nearly always was. Anders, though, spent most of his time brewing potions. They'd left most of the ready stock he'd brought with Isabela, and they were long overdue to replace what should always be in the house. It was the lyrium he had the greatest concern about, but that would be the most difficult to replace. There was no reason to have lyrium without runes, mages, or templars, but he might be able to set something up with the dwarves over the river. Later. When they'd gotten a few payments from Anton in the bank, and the dwarves recognised them as notable potential investors.

"Jannik?" Cormac's voice cut through Anders's reverie. "Get the door!"

"Get it yourself!" Anders called back, adjusting the flame and knowing he was going to end up doing it. But, no one had knocked, yet, so he had a moment or two.

"I'm not getting camel-shit mud on the latch!" Cormac laughed, audible through the open side door, where their bedroom would soon take shape. "It's someone from town coming up the walk! Maybe that Sister who hates you? I can't tell."

With an amused snort, Anders snuffed the flame and set down his tools and ingredients in such a way that he'd be able to pick up where he left off later. "Now, be fair, Mack," he chided. "Sister Ingill hates everyone, not just me." He wiped his hands on a rag and unlatched the door, squinting into the sunlight until the dark shape coming towards them turned into a person. He didn't realise at first what -- or who -- he was looking at, but his blood went cold anyway.

Gold and red. Sisters and Mothers wore gold and red. But these robes, with the sunburst symbol at the bottom, were black and red, a sword's hilt poking out of the fabric near the man's hip.

"Mack," he called over his shoulder, swallowing the first half of Cormac's name. Distantly, he heard himself speak and marvelled at how calm he sounded. "That's a templar, not a sister."

"Well, shit!" Cormac sounded extraordinarily calm as layers of mud slipped easily and suddenly off his hands, and he made his way around the side of the building, still holding his trowel. "My mistake! I wonder what a templar's doing all the way out here!"

"Ho!" the templar called across the space between them. "I am Ser Peryn of Hossberg, and I seek aid!"

"The fuck's he doing here, then," Cormac muttered, under his breath.

As the templar drew nearer, it became obvious that his hand lingered by his sword not because he meant to draw it, but because there was something wrong with his arm. "I have heard of an excellent foreign herbalist past the edge of the village. Are you that man, or need I go on?" His grasp on Common was a bit stiff, but serviceable.

"No, ser, you've come to the right place," Anders said, and that wasn't something he ever thought he'd say to a templar. He could feel the telltale crawl of his skin that meant Justice was holding just far enough back to keep from turning them blue. "Come on out of the sun."

Anders held the door open for Peryn, who ducked his head politely before entering. "You have my thanks, herbalist," he said, still with that accented Common. "I sought to end a fight at the tavern and found myself in its midst instead. My arm bends a way it should not."

Anders agreed as he eyed the way Peryn held his injured arm. The injury was, at least, something to focus on other than the fact that there was a templar in his home, an Ander templar.

"It looks broken," Anders said, gently taking Peryn's wrist and examining the shape of the arm. "I can set it for you and give you something for the pain and swelling."

"I give you my thanks, again, and coins, when I can reach them. My hand does not obey me, now." Peryn looked apologetic.

"Ser, please sit," Cormac interrupted, pushing over a trunk of about the right height. "What my friend means to say is that this is going to hurt a great deal more, before it hurts less, and we'd rather not have another accident."

"You are kind." Peryn smiled weakly and gingerly took the seat. "What name is yours?"

"I'm Mack, and this is Jannik." Cormac tapped his chest. "Eyes on me. He's going to fix your arm, and you probably don't want to watch that happen. It's going to hurt, but it'll be over in a minute, and then we'll get you something to make it stop hurting and heal faster."

Peryn nodded slowly in a way that said he understood most of what Cormac said. The important parts, at least, judging from the intent way he stared at Cormac. Anders turned over the arm in his hands, prodding at the break and steadying his grip. Despite a wince, the templar was loose and trusting. "One… two…"

With a wet sound, the bone twisted back into place, amid garbled swears in the back of Peryn's throat. Anders could feel the seam of the break, knew how to seal it over as though it had never existed, but instead he set down Peryn's arm and offered him a potion off the shelf.

"It should smart for a bit," he told the templar with his most reassuring smile, "but at least you'll be able to feel your fingers again."

"You have my thanks, again, herbalist," Peryn said after draining the potion.

"Do we have bandages?" Cormac asked, digging through a trunk. "Tell me we have bandages, Jan."

"We don't," Anders assured him. "I keep meaning to do something about that, but with the construction and the potions..." He threw a hand out in frustration. "Cut that tacky bedsheet we wrapped the glass in."

Cormac nodded and dug out the sheet. He'd rolled enough bandages at the clinic to know the size Anders wanted, and his work was quick. "Sorry they're orange," he joked to Peryn, bringing the long strips of cloth back.

"The Maker is generous with his golden light," Peryn replied, getting enough of what had happened.

"Maker's generous with his golden something," Anders muttered under his breath as he started wrapping. "Go get two reeds from the builders, Mack. Like this." He held up a finger.

In a few moments, the templar's arm was braced and bound, and he pushed himself to his feet, with the other arm. "It is good. The village is so small and the people so poor. I watch all the sickness and the breakings, and I always wonder why no one will come to fix it. Andraste had to borrow you from somewhere else, and I hope they do not sicken with your loss."

"Oh, I'm sure they're making do without me," Anders said with a wry shrug. A templar saying he was sent by Andraste... He would have a good laugh about that later. "I am glad you knew to come to me. I had not realised my glowing reputation had spread so far."

"Mother Yotte says good things of you," Peryn said. "I trust her words, and so I trust you."

Anders ushered him to the door, with a few parting words on how long to keep the brace on and what he should watch for. He assured the templar he would be here, if needed. Peryn left with one more sunny smile thrown over his shoulder, and it was only after his back was turned that Anders sagged against the door-frame and allowed himself to breathe. Blue light flickered across his skin before going out.

Cormac's arms were around him at once, the Fade gentle on the tips of his fingers. "I think that went well," he said, as he stroked the back of Anders's hand, knowing the hint of his magic would distract Justice. "A little surprised you didn't take the opportunity to tack the bone a bit. I made sure he'd be expecting something excruciating, so you could hide a bit of healing in it. But... a templar, still. I know."

"Hey, when you lovebirds are done chirping at each other, we could use the extra hands again!" One of the builders called out, having spotted Ser Peryn leaving again.

"Who says our hands aren't already busy?" Anders called out, earning him an answering cackle. Still, he squeezed Cormac's hand and ducked out from under his arms and back into the sun.

Chapter Text

Anders picked up his quill and eyed the page in front of him. He was packaging up the first volume of things he'd learnt about magical farming, to send them to Solona. The Commander would see that the information ended up in the right hands.

Amell:

You smell.

*coughcough* I guess we're not young assholes trapped in the tower of despair, any more. I should probably stop opening all my letters with the same fistful of unflattering rhymes, but hey, that's what you like about me, isn't it? It certainly wasn't any of my better features.

But, I'm not here to talk about me, or the 'good old days'. I'm sending, as you may have noticed, a manuscript I think you'll find of some use. When the revolution comes, I'm counting on you to make sure our people are safe.

And don't worry about me. I'm about as safe as I'm going to get, from your headlocks and from templars. It turns out it's much easier being anonymous when you don't have Oghren's smell giving you away. I'm sure there's a poem in there somewhere, about Solona Amell and Oghren's smell...

As for the manuscript, it also serves as some lovely padding for the figurine I'm sending you. A figurine which is no doubt in your hands already as you're reading this. I couldn't resist when I spotted one at the market the other day. Well, I suppose I could have resisted, but I didn't. You will no doubt recognise your own likeness? Is it like looking into a tiny, better-endowed mirror? There are no little heroic figures of me or Nate. Just those crazies you went after the Archdemon with. Which means that yes, there is a Wynne, but I'm keeping that one. I miss her, sometimes.

Anyway, things are... working out, let's say. A slow beginning, but at least it's a beginning at all, which is more than we've gotten in nine hundred years. And let me know, would you, if Creepy and Creepier ever figure out how to make the Calling suck less blazing bronto shit through a wide reed. I had some interesting experiences with it. I'm sure Nate filled you in. It's not something I really want to repeat, and it bothers me that the very thing that makes us effective can be used as a weapon, like that.

Slap Zevran's ass for me, and tell Nate to stop moping, before his face sticks like that. XOXO to Sigrun. Please don't burn down the keep on any drunken escapades, Amell. Keeps are expensive.

Yours in eternal toxicity,

Warden Buttz



"It's... is it really? Is that the last wall?" Cormac asked, smoothing over a spot where the plaster had shifted in the night with mud and magic for a seamless fix. The house had been nearly the whole of their lives, since they started building, and the very idea of having that time to spend on something else just seemed extravagant. In the back, the date saplings were doing well, and they'd marked off a space inside the courtyard for Anders to put an herb garden. But, the hard part was over -- the walls were up and the roof had been laid in the day before. Aside from a few minor touch-ups, they were done. They'd built a house. And not just any house, but a house for themselves. A house just the way they wanted it. Cormac still had trouble wrapping his mind around the idea, some mornings.

He glanced over his shoulder at Anders, eyes gleaming gleefully. "So, does this mean we can buy a bed, now, and stop sleeping on piles of straw? Can we get a featherbed? Can we get a bed big enough that I'm not going to roll over and knock my brother out of it?"

"I suspect it would be more likely he'd knock you out of it," Anders teased. A feather bed, large enough and then some for his long limbs? That sounded decadent. "But we could do that. We could make the entire room one big bed, if we wanted to. It's our house."

It was hard not to smile at that declaration. They'd made this. This was theirs in a way the estate back in the Kirkwall never could be.

"I want to pass it down the generations. Leave it to our... uh... cats, I guess." Cormac paused. "That's really only a concern for me, isn't it. You're going to live forever. To the Void with our small, furry descendants, I suppose. It should be what you want." Turning, he shook the mud off his hand and wrapped the other arm around Anders. "Let's just enjoy it, today. Get a giant bed and some of those cheese wraps from the Yothandi place over the river. A big bottle of that pink wine you like. And we can just stay in our fluffy new bed until I have to get up and water the dates in the morning."

Anders wrapped an arm around Cormac's shoulders. "Just you, me, and our clowder of cats? We are going to need a giant bed. I guarantee you the cats will take up the whole of it anyway." A bed, pink wine, and cheese wraps sounded delightful. He patted Cormac's rump. "Why don't we get cleaned up and head into town? Careful where you put those muddy fingers," he added with a wink.


Cormac bound the slats of the new bed and its outrageously thick feather mattress to the camel they'd rented for the day. Bed first, they'd decided, and everything else after -- there was no sense in buying food and then carrying it through the market, trying not to spill it.

The side of the Chantry was shaded by the stalls of the usual crafts vendors, and he checked, when he passed, to see if anyone he knew showed up as a statuette. This time, he'd picked up a little Zevran to go with Solona and that Enchanter whose name he never remembered, on the bookshelf beside the bedroom door. That elf was recognisable anywhere, and the ridiculous 'Crow helm' made it instantly obvious who it was supposed to be, even if the rest of his face looked a bit like a potato. That he'd tucked into the pocket of his sleeve, to be sure it made it back across the river, safely.

"Since we're on this side of the river, do you want to go check the post box? Maker only knows what we've got waiting -- a little something from Anton, perhaps, or maybe one of my other siblings has decided to take up writing letters. I have to wonder what Bethy's been up to. I wonder if I can get a copy of her last publication sent up." Cormac climbed down from the small steps beside the camel and brushed the camel's nose appreciatively.

"Wouldn't be a bad idea," Anders said. He grinned as the camel turned after Cormac, snorting and trying to grab a piece of his robes. Anders playfully swatted its face away. "And you know, now that we have a house of our own..." He loved being able to say that. "...we could write another letter, one to your charming and wholesome family, and ask if anyone fancies a vacation in the Anderfels. Well. Not Anton. As much as I'm sure he wants a vacation by now, the viscount needs to stay put." With one hand up to shield his eyes from the sun, Anders gave Cormac a rueful smile. "I know you miss him." 

He didn't mean Anton.

"Every single day," Cormac agreed, squinting up at the sun. They had plenty of time. "Are we in a position to deal with the dwarves, yet? I know you need some ... rare ingredients for your work." One didn't say 'lyrium' in the middle of the market, here. "Might be something to investigate, soon. Your other half's been getting a bit short, lately."

He crossed the market, leading the way to the messages office. The huge building kept letters and packages for every resident of Kassel and the surrounding villages. It was possible to pay a copper and leave a message for anyone in the area, or a few copper to send letters elsewhere. Transit out of the Lattenfluss River Valley was dangerous and expensive, particularly out toward Weisshaupt or south to Orlais, but someone would always be crazed enough to do it for money, and the messages office paid well.

Anders greeted the postmaster when they entered, and the elderly man responded with a smile and a wave. They were on a first name basis by now -- Jannik's first name anyway -- and Anders didn't even need to ask Klaus if they had any mail.

"Ah, one moment, Jannik," Klaus said. "I know I saw something with your name on it just this morning. Let me fetch it for you."

The 'something' turned out to be a letter, written in handwriting he knew. He'd tried to copy off of enough of her tests to recognise the angry swirl of Solona's s's. He never thought he'd be so relieved to see them.

"Family?" Klaus asked, noting Anders's smile.

"An old friend," he said. "Well. Technically family, too, I suppose. Possibly to her dismay."

"If I marry you, she'll never forgive me that insult, I'm sure," Cormac joked, slightly saddened that there was nothing for him. Easy enough to fix, he supposed, fishing out a few copper pieces to pay for postage and a folded note. 'Lord Hawke, whose lips are sweet with lemon, and whose smile shames the sun,' he began, playing the part of an utterly entranced Antivan lover, as he tended to, when writing to Artemis. No one would ever connect these letters to him. The very idea would be outrageous.

After a few small paragraphs of flattery and praise, he glanced up to where Anders was smirking at Solona's letter. "So... we have a house. We have some very dear people in need of a holiday, I'm sure. I'm... I'm going to do it," he decided, terrified the answer would be that his brother was too busy to visit. 'Our holiday in the Anderfels has run overlong, but if you'd like to meet us in Kassel, we'd be ever so pleased to show you the sights and introduce you to the delights of the far north. I look forward to introducing you to the new bed we've purchased. Perhaps you'd like to help us try it out.'

Anders chanced a peek at what Cormac was writing over his shoulder. He wondered what terrible rumours Cormac's letters might have started and was disappointed that Izzy wouldn't be around to exploit them.

"I'm sure Messere Hawke will be pleased to hear from you," Anders said as he folded up Solona's letter and stashed it inside his robes for safekeeping. She had been particularly droll in her insults and in her summation of recent events, and the letter would bear several repeat readings. The news about Nate had been surprising. Anders had assumed the idiot had gone back to the Wardens, but a part of him was grateful that he was keeping an eye on Sebastian. The other part worried for his sanity. "He always is."

Anders considered sending her a Zevran figurine in retaliation, but that would likely get him assassinated, once Zev got a good look at it. Anders wouldn't blame him either. The transition from stud to spud really was tragic.

"I'm sure Messere Hawke is going to shred this letter and burn it in the garden," Cormac laughed, taking a disc of sealing wax from the dispenser on the counter and trying to walk it across his knuckles, while he waited for the ink to dry. Trying being the operative word -- Anton had always been much better at it. After dropping the thing on the floor a few times, he folded the note along the lines and affixed the seal. He'd gotten a lovely Antivan-style drake stamp, specifically for the purpose.

"So, the real question is whether we can assemble that bed before the food gets cold," he said, with a smile at Anders, passing the note and the coins to Klaus. "We bought one of those Tevinter-style ones. I hope they go together as easily as the merchant said..."

Klaus chuckled. "I hope you have a craft hammer."

"Why, that doesn't sound ominous at all," Anders said, looking askance at the postmaster. "We just built a house. I think we can handle building one bed."

Chapter Text

"Why can't we handle building one fucking bed?" Anders groaned, one hand fisting in his hair as the other flipped through the instructions. It didn't help that they were written in Ander bad enough to make Peryn's Common sound eloquent. The paper had already implied he do something shameful and possibly illegal to one of the long pieces.

"This shouldn't be that difficult. Legs. Beams. Slats." Cormac shrugged eloquently. "But, we had to get the fancy Tevinter one, because it was the only one big enough for four of us -- probably five even -- and there's all this... decorative crap. I think the perched dragons are supposed to brace the long beams? I can tell they've got peg holes on one side and not the other, so I think they go over the ends and then the pegs go through them and the beams. And then the short beams don't go all the way through, so what am I missing? What holds those-- oh, the slats. I think. The slats? Okay, sure. Yes, the slats get pegged in... There's holes in the long beams for that. And if the slats are pegged in, then the short beams aren't going anywhere. And... then... where the fuck do these other dragons go?" He held up a pair of small dragons with pegs jutting from them.

Anders groaned and folded the instructions over his head. "Pictures," he said. "Pictures would be so much more useful than bad Ander. Drawings with arrows even a child could understand." Crossing his legs, Anders gave the instructions another flip through. "Ah, hang on. It's written in Tevene on the back. Good Tevene, thank the Maker, though I'm not sure what a 'paxillus' is, and an 'assiculus' just sounds dirty... Het is worst voor mij.  I'm afraid my Tevene vocabulary has some holes in the area of furniture assembly. I blame Kinloch Hold's woeful educational standards."

He squinted between the instructions in both languages and the mess of materials laid out around them. "I think you have that all set up exactly backwards."



The next week, Klaus had a package for them. Anders turned it over in his hands and looked quizzically at Cormac. "Were you expecting something?"

"Not unless it's Bethy's latest book..." Cormac plucked the package from Anders's hands and studied it. "It's from my -- from Lord Hawke, and it's the right shape. I wonder if he did... He would."

He tore open the edges of the parcel wrapping and slid out the book -- Death Cults in Kirkwall, by Lady Amell. "Yep. Bethy's new book. This is great. I'm so proud."

Anders tilted his head to read the title. "About time someone wrote a book about that," he said. "She could probably turn it into a series. '101 Reasons Why Kirkwall is Fucked Up' by Lady Amell. Has a nice ring to it." He paused, taking a closer look at the pages from the side. "Hold on. I think there's something in the book."

"Shit--" Cormac held out a hand, and a hydrangea blossom drifted down and landed in his palm. He blinked at it. "What!? No! I am not, and I object to being so characterised!"

Frigid and heartless, by itself.

"Open it to the rest. Are there more in there? There have to be more. He wouldn't--" He looked a bit grey around the edges.

"Breathe," Anders reminded him. "I'm sure there's more. Unless you wrote something extra terrible in that last letter that I missed..." He cupped his hands under the book, catching petals as Cormac looked through it. "See? Look, a few more. This one looks like lavender, which... could go either way, and this other one is a carnation." A purple one. Oh dear.

"An untrustworthy dick. I'm an untrustworthy dick." Cormac froze in the middle of the messages office, staring at the pressed flowers in his hands. "What did I say? What did I do? Did I do something? All I did was invite him for a visit! Did I say it wrong? Did ... this... " He looked like he'd been kicked. How could Artie... no. No, there was something else in here. The carnation could have brought it around, but not in that colour. Carnation, lavender, hydrangea... it rattled in the back of his head. This was familiar, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He could see the bouquet... when was that? Where was that?

"Cormac?" Anders stepped in front of him and waved a hand in front of his eyes. "I'm sure he didn't mean it literally." He kept his voice light and calm and tried not to look as concerned as he felt. "Maybe it was for his, uh, Antivan friend?"

"No, there's something..." Cormac's eyes shot wide, suddenly. "Fenris. It was Fenris." He paused and looked up at Anders, who looked even more confused. "Okay, you weren't there for that. I'm still not sure about why, but I do know what. When we were... I don't think you were talking to me at the time, but I went to see him, and he got some flowers, while I was there -- these flowers. And he got pretty upset for all the obvious reasons, but Fenris had missed the subtleties and picked purple because it would look better with the rest. Something about 'untrustworthy dick flowers' and putting them on the mantel, after that. It was rather humorous, after the fact. But, I still don't know why I'm holding the untrustworthy dick flowers, now."

Anders pursed his lips against a laugh. That was terribly sweet of Fenris, in the same way that getting Leandra a goat had been terribly sweet. And hilarious. "Little brothers are assholes," Anders said with a shrug. "This is a fact. He's probably teasing you and expecting you to remember that. If he were actually upset, I doubt he would make such an obvious reference to something funny. Would you like to send back something just as affectionately rude?"

"I think I'll just lick him, when he shows up." Cormac grinned wickedly. "We're Fereldan. Arf arf."

Chapter Text

"Cormac?" Anders's voice was thin and quiet, as he rubbed his cheek against Cormac's ever-so-fluffy chest. "How in the void are you so loud?"

"Is that a complaint? You've never complained about that!" Twisting his head to get a clearer look at Anders, Cormac wound his fingers in Anders's hair. "We don't even have neighbours any more!"

"What? No, no... It's a real question." Anders nibbled along the thickening lines of Cormac's chest. "I don't remember how. I don't know if I ever knew. I want to be able to do it if I want to -- it's just one more thing mages didn't get to have."

"You want me to teach you to get loud?" Cormac made a tiny sound of amusement.

"Not that loud. I don't need to deafen the camel," Anders scoffed. "Just remind me I have a voice, when I get quiet."

"If I help you with this, will you teach me to be qu--"

"No." The word was sudden, hard, and hollow. "No, I won't. The only way -- I don't know how-- All I know is things that shouldn't be done again."

"Anders, I'm teasing. Everyone knows you're quiet and I'm loud. It just sounded funny the other way. Nothing more than that." Cormac ran his fingers through Anders's hair, gently. "Bad joke. C'mere and I'll make it up to you."

"I'm already pretty here." Anders's eyes gleamed as he raised himself up on his elbows. "How much more coming do you think I need to do?"

"All of it," Cormac replied, laughing, as he tried to half-sit and kiss Anders. It sort of worked, if not quite in the way he meant, and he landed a firm smooch on the top of Anders's head. "Are your feet sticking off the bed?"

"Not as far as you'd think. This bed is great," Anders declared, crawling up until he knocked Cormac flat and stealing a warm, slow kiss.

"I think we surprised that merchant, though. Not really where he expected to sell the largest bed in his inventory, from the look of it." Cormac's hands gently kneaded Anders's back.

"Tevinter," Anders reminded him. "It wasn't about the size, just the origin. There's not a lot of Tevinter goods that sell here, excepting some essentials that are cheaper not to ship in from the south. No one would have something that looked like this in their house, except for us."

"We're rich," Cormac muttered. "We're allowed to be eccentric."

"People like us, so we're allowed to be eccentric," Anders corrected, slipping a hand between them to tuck it between Cormac's thighs, balls rolling against his palm. "We're not in the Marches, any more."

"Mmm, none of them like us enough to get eccentric with us." Cormac ground against Anders's palm, tipping his head back so Anders could nip at his neck. "Almost miss that."

"You do miss that," Anders mumbled around the flesh in his teeth, biting hard enough to bruise. "You miss watching me fuck your brother -- helping me fuck your brother. Maker, I love those little noises he makes."

Cormac gasped and writhed, as Anders squeezed harder. "How about you roll over and we see what kind of sexy little noises you can make?"

"Yeah? You want to start that now?" Anders flipped himself onto his back, and the bed squeaked sharply. "Are you sure we put this together right?"

Cormac froze, eyes wide, before shifting his weight and waiting for any more unusual noises from the bed. "Those instructions were in exactly no languages I could read. I have no idea."

Anders laughed and pulled Cormac toward him. "If we're going to die in a bed collapse, at least I'll die a happy man."

"Not as happy as I'm about to make you," Cormac chuckled, kissing between the scars on Anders's chest as he made his way down to nuzzle Anders's unscarred hip. "First lesson, just talk to me. Tell me what you like--"

"You know what I like," Anders huffed, nudging Cormac with his knee.

"Yeah, but so do you. You've got less trouble with words. I've only heard you make noise twice, but you whisper sometimes. And you say the filthiest things when you're trying to wind me up." Cormac grinned up along the long line of Anders's body, and then pressed a kiss to the tip of Anders's knob, which was just starting to take an interest. "So, tell me what you like, tell me what you want, tell me if I've done something you don't like."

"That last one isn't going to happen. You know that. Slapping your hands is hard enough." Anders laughed and shook his head, hair tangling against the pillow. "But, what I want? Maker, Cormac, I want you to suck me."

"Mmm, keep going. Tell me how it feels." Cormac wrapped his lips around the very tip of Anders's knob and lapped at it.

"You're a fucking tease!" Anders groaned, fingers clutching at Cormac's thick hair, but Cormac simply made a smugly inquisitive sound. "Your mouth's warm and wet, and I want more of it on me." He was doing all right. It was still easy; he hadn't gotten lost, yet.

Cormac's lips slid down, his tongue caressing the thickening flesh that passed over it, and Anders tried for another sentence. "I want you. I want ... that. Keep doing that. I want ... You know what I really want? I really want some good words for what I want, because all I have right now are words for something else entirely, and it's only vaguely related."

Cormac pulled back, a hollow pop punctuating the gesture. "What, the fact that I set a joint in the bed with nothing but my tongue and a spell?"

"That was impressive, but... no." Anders huffed and dragged his hands over his face. "Your brother," he said finally.

"Okay? I'm not seeing the problem, there." Cormac paused, turning a concerned eye on Anders's chin, where it jutted between his palms. "Assuming, of course, that you're talking about Artie."

"No, I've secretly been boning the obnoxious templar in the family," Anders drawled, hands unmoving. "Of course I mean Artie."

"Yes...? You do that. I like that. He likes that in reverse, last I checked." Cormac shrugged and nuzzled Anders's hip. "It's words. It's sexy. It still counts."

"The way he rolls his eyes at me, when he's got his mouth full, and I ask if he's sure..." Anders laughed, kneading Cormac's increasingly plush rump with his toes. "You know what I mean. Right before he starts pulling. I'm always so afraid he's going to actually choke, one of these days... That's not sexy." He laughed again, hands still covering his face. "I've never had anyone take me that deep, and he's so demanding about it, dragging me down his throat while he dribbles thick spit onto the ground between us. He's so clean and perfect, but not when he's polishing my knob. Andraste's knickers, he's just raw. It's incredible."

"And this is the reminder that I'm not half as adventurous as my brother when it comes to choking on the massive chorizo." Cormac cleared his throat and squinted up at Anders, hands still stroking the sausage in question.

"What, no, see? I said it was only tangentially relevant. I don't mean you. If I meant to get you all raw and ragged, I'd dice you like an export ham, and you'd still taste better." Anders tossed his hands to the side, letting them thump against the bed.

"Yes, because I don't usually taste of despair, when you're doing that." Cormac kissed the tip of Anders's knob and took it back into his mouth.

"Do you remember the time I taught Artie to cut you? How he looked shuddering, in your lap, covered in your blood? I wanted it painted for the wall between the bedroom doors. I got to feel his hands get steadier after every slice. And your face, as you watched him do it... I could've bludgeoned someone with my knob and done more damage to them than it. I tell you you're not beautiful, because you're not, but you're a thousand other things I could spend my entire life looking at and never get tired of it." Anders could feel Cormac squirm against the bed, pressing up against his foot. "And like this -- I don't have to look, because I know exactly what you look like -- I can tell from the way you hold your lips against me. We've done this so many times, and I'm not sure there will ever be a day I don't look forward to your mouth on me. You, yours. I would follow you to the ends of Thedas for this, I just want you to know that."

Cormac laughed with his mouth full, and Anders made a tiny choked sound. The words didn't start again, but Cormac kept going. As Anders had pointed out, Cormac knew what he liked, and Cormac proceeded to deliver quite a bit of that, in rapid succession.

The first one never took as long as the fourth, and after a few faint, hissing breaths, Anders's body went loose, except his hands, which clutched at the sheets as he spilled down Cormac's throat. For a long moment, Anders lay still, panting quietly. "Schijten op de hond," he hissed, sitting up, suddenly, and untangling himself from Cormac. "I'm sorry. It's... I don't think this is going to work."

"Doesn't have to work all at once." Cormac shrugged, the movement enhanced by how he was propped up on his elbows. "Doesn't have to work at all. We're doing this because you wanted to try, and whatever you decide is fine. I don't mind being the loud one. And I don't mind listening to you remind me that my brother's amazing in bed, either."

"Gives me chills. It doesn't feel right, and then I can't do it at all." Anders shook his head and wrapped his arms around his knees.

"We have a very large, very warm blanket folded at the foot of the bed," Cormac pointed out, reaching back to pull it up and untangle it from his legs. "And I wouldn't mind spending a few hours under it, with you. Keeping you warm. There won't be room in there for chills. I'll start a fight with any that try to get in. Preserve the sanctity of your hot body." Somehow he managed to get through it all with a straight face.

"Maker, Cormac," Anders wheezed out on a breathy laugh, as he pulled the blanket over himself as well, still sitting. "You're an idiot."

"Maybe, but I'm your favourite idiot, and I'm charming when I'm dumb." Cormac inched up until his feet weren't sticking out the bottom and bit Anders's toe.

Anders blinked into the semi-darkness beneath the thick quilt and then grabbed Cormac's nose with his toes. They nearly rolled off the bed twice, whooping and flailing at each other, laughing like fools, before Cormac came to rest under Anders's chin, gently nibbling at his collarbone.

"So... you want to do that again, but warmer and quieter?" Cormac asked, nuzzling the fluff on Anders's neck.

"Might take a bit of effort, but I could probably be convinced."

"Maybe some other things, too?"

"Definitely some other things, too."

Chapter Text

"We made it!" Artemis assured Fenris as though that fact weren't obvious to the elf. The boat was still pulling into port, but Artie was so eager that Fenris half expected him to swim the rest of the way. But, then again, the water was too filthy this close to town.

"Finally," Fenris grumbled. At a nudge from Artemis's elbow, he scowled and added, "I will share your enthusiasm when I've forgotten what fish smell like. I suspect that will take many years."

Fenris wondered whose bright idea it was to meet in the fish market. It was close to the docks, sure, and easy to get to, but Fenris suspected it had more to do with Anders spiting him than anything else.

"At least we're not dead," Artemis reminded him cheerfully. "I held my breath a bit back when we were rounding Rivain." And Seheron, but for other reasons he didn't mention. "But we're not dead. With any luck, we will stay not dead at least from here until the fish market."

"I make no promises," Fenris drawled. But once off the boat, it was, he admitted, a relief to walk on steady ground again.

In the streets, Artie looked around, distracted, while Fenris kept an eye on the crowds, and occasionally Artie would tug on Fenris's hand and point out a landmark he recognised from Cormac's letters Fenris stayed close by Artemis's side, walking half a step ahead of him and clearing a path with his scowl alone.

Cormac turned around, gourd-bottle full of some local fruit and yoghurt concoction raised to his lips, when suddenly he spotted them, and nearly dribbled the stuff down his chin. "Jan, Jan, there they are!" He tugged at Anders's sleeve and waved to his brother before slowly realising he might be completely unrecognisable. He wasn't the wall of meat with neat plaits and a well-kept beard any longer. Well, no, he was still a wall of meat. And at least his taste in fashion hadn't changed colour.

Anders finished selling a potion to a tired-looking sailor, before he looked where Cormac was pointing. He whistled loudly, before calling out, "How's my favourite chocolate-covered Vint?"

The reaction was immediate. The crowd in front of him cleared, shoving and laughing among themselves. He'd made a spectacle of all of them, but he'd also misdirected the local expectations of their visitors. Tevinter wasn't the best thing to be, around here, but in the river towns, they were most often tourists, like any others.

Fenris's stare, when it landed on Anders, was murderous, but it was Artemis who got to them first, darting past his husband and any staring locals to grab Cormac's robes and pull him into a bone-crushing hug. "Your hair is ridiculous," Artie said in his brother's ear. But it still smelled like oranges, like family and home.

Anders shook his head fondly at the two of them and turned, arms open wide, to Fenris.

Fenris eyed those arms distrustfully. "No."

"I missed you too, Fenris."

"I'll have you know my hair looks just like dad's and that was good enough for mum," Cormac protested, sweeping Artie off his feet with one hand on each buttock. "Jan, be a dear and make sure I haven't just grabbed a demon by the ass, would you?"

Anders glanced over and choked out a laugh. "I'm pretty sure that's your brother and this is the very same grumpy elf we left on the docks down south." He turned and tossed an arm around Fenris's shoulders only to have it land on nothing as the elf sidestepped. "And on that note, last boat of the day is the ferry across the river. Down the stairs, a moment or five, and it'll stop smelling like fish."

Cormac breathed in that same lemon and lye scent his brother always carried and purred warmly against his neck. "I already did the shopping. Supper will be delicious. And then you can enjoy the many rooms of our brand-new house."

"I'm sure I'll find a way to enjoy all of those rooms," Artie purred, rubbing a scruffy cheek against Cormac's. "I have more beard than you do. Anders has more beard than you do. I'm not sure how I feel about this." Pressing a kiss to the corner of Cormac's jaw, Artie finally managed to get his feet back under him and pulled back from the hug, still standing closer to Cormac than strictly necessary.

"Supper, you say?" Fenris asked. "Just please tell me it's not fish."



The ferry ride was pleasant, as was the walk through the town, despite the curious glances cast their way. Maybe it was still too far in the distance, but Artie thought that their house looked smaller than he'd expected. Which was silly, really, since Anders and Cormac had built the thing by hand, but Artie had gotten spoiled these last years in Kirkwall. Still, it was standing and looked solid, and it was certainly bound to be more spacious than their cabin on the boat.

"I thought you said it was made of brick?" Artemis asked, arm in arm with Cormac, as they drew near.

"It is," Cormac replied. "Mud bricks, covered in mud. There's not a lot of things to build with, out here, and the dwarves control most of the stone, I gather. So, it's huge blocks of mud with some straw mixed in, like everything else in town."

"The Chantry's made of the same things, but with more tile. Actually, most things have more tile. We haven't really indulged the local fetish for complicated flooring and Andraste on every wall. Lots of room for books though, and a whole room with a real window in it, for me to brew potions. I'd almost forgotten what proper ventilation felt like." Anders rambled on as they came up the walk, and then into the vestibule at the start of the wall around the property. "There's two doors to get inside, but they're further up. This is just here to keep the wind off. Impolite to let your neighbours get caught in a sandstorm at your door."

In front of him, Cormac opened the first door, leading into a small coat room, and then the second door, leading into the large main room, with the raised fireplace in the centre. "Welcome to the joys of northern living."

Artemis still hadn't quite wrapped his head around mud and dirt being used as a building material -- how did he clean it? -- but he marvelled at what the two of them built. "An intriguing layout," he said, circling the fireplace. "Is this a common design up here?"

"Common enough for us to find the plans for it," Anders answered with a shrug. "And easy enough to build that we managed to do it without anything falling on us."

"He has been all but redesigning the city," Fenris said of Artemis, equal parts proud and exasperated. "Amatus, you are not redesigning the Anderfels."

Artie huffed, folding his arms across his chest. "I'm getting ideas, in the general sense. Not getting ideas. It's different. I'm curious."

"Are you sure you're not getting... ideas...?" Cormac asked, barring the door, behind them. It was a bit much, but he felt better about a templar knowing where they lived with the door barred. "I mean, we could always start early and get to supper after."

"Yes, Mack, except you have to cook supper, so that would make it even later." Anders groaned, ducking into the pantry for some things he'd set aside earlier.

"I'll go stoke the fire in the oven again. It should be almost done. The rest is in the cold chest. It's already done." Cormac grinned and rubbed his cheek against Artemis's shoulder. "So, redesigning the city, hmm? Come tell me all about that while I check on the meat. Give these two some time to settle their differences over some date wine and melon."

"Checking on the meat, you say?" Artie teased as he followed Cormac almost close enough to step on his heels. "I can see why you'd want me with you."

"They're bonding over meat," Anders sighed, "and we're bonding over melon? I suppose that seems about right."

"And wine," Fenris reminded him as though Anders weren't already in the process of pouring him a cup. "I feel like that is an important distinction." Anders's lips twisted in a smirk, and Fenris wasn't used to watching the way his chin fluff moved with the motion. "And... all has been well here? Cormac's letters were understandably brief." That, and he suspected that Cormac would have simply lied to Artie if anything had gone terribly wrong.

"We're alive, we have a home, and I haven't blown up any Chantries, if that's what you're asking," Anders replied cheerfully. "So, reasonably well, I'd say." As long as he skipped over that episode with his father. Just the thought of him made Anders's stomach turn.

Fenris spotted the flicker of tension in the corners of Anders's eyes. "Reasonably well, aside from the thing you're not talking about. As usual." He took a sip of the wine and flinched. "What... is this? I thought you said it was wine!"

"It is wine. It's date wine, not grape wine. Stop thinking of wine, and it's actually very good. It's just not fine Orlesian frou-frou in a bottle. Or that Tevinter stuff you like. There aren't really grapes, here. Not worth the field space, even this close to the river." Anders set a half melon on a low table that faced the fire and poured himself down onto a deep cushion, beside it, before drawing his knife and slicing the melon inside the rind. "This, on the other hand, is not going to be like anything-- well, you're from Tevinter. Maybe you can get them, there. Sungold. You like apples? I like melons." He speared a bit of melon on the knife and offered it.

With a sceptical look, Fenris helped himself to the melon. "I know these. They come in pink, too. Sometimes I would be granted an unfinished piece of one."

"The Yothandi grow them on the mountain. The yellow ones only come from one place, I guess, but there are a lot of them. Enough that they're not too hard to buy, even if they are a little expensive." Anders sipped his own wine. "So, you? He's been redesigning Kirkwall and you've been... playing with the cats? Tripping Carver on the stairs?"

"It's the cats that have been tripping Carver," Fenris replied, "when they are not using me as a playground." He hazarded another sip of his date wine, prepared this time for unexpected taste. His nose scrunched, but he didn't complain again. "Purrcy is very good at helping me mark my place in my reading when I am finished, which he decides."

Anders chuckled, cutting out another piece of melon. Company meant using the knife to slice up the melon instead of just taking a spoon to it until he hit rind. "Oh, I remember. At least he doesn't chew the book corners like Assbiter. Drove me nuts. And yet here I am, missing it."

"I could chew on your books while I'm here, if you like."

"So sweet of you to offer," Anders replied, consonants disappearing around a bite of melon. He paused to swallow. "But, that's telling me what the cats have been up to. What about you?"

"I've been cleaning up the Wounded Coast. Hunting slavers. Beating Varric at Wicked Grace. My hobbies have not changed." Fenris grinned. "I am... also still working my way through the Hawke's extensive library, a task made more difficult by the furry obstacles we've already mentioned."

"Tiny, stealthy, fluff-terrors. Fur-demons." Anders agreed. "But, so very cuddly and loveable. Kind of like your husband."

"And what about yours?" Fenris asked, making the assumption in the most half-assed possible way.

"Haven't got one. If you mean the delightfully trouser-free magical bear I live with, however, he's also very cuddly." Anders grinned around another slice of melon.

"I meant what has he been doing, besides you," Fenris huffed, ears askew, trying to rinse the thought out of his mind with more of that thing that pretended to be wine, but was actually quite tasty, once he stopped expecting it to be wine.

"An awful lot of theory involving groundwater and magical irrigation, actually. But, mostly shopping and cooking and reminding me I've forgotten things. You'd think there would be enough wit and sense with Justice and me, but you'd be wrong."

"I'd never have imagined that to be the case."

"Ha. Of course not." Anders flung the next bit of melon at Fenris's face, which the elf stretched up to catch in his teeth. "And I hear Anton has been made viscount. Is that true, or is Artie having us on?"

"He made it by one vote," Fenris assured him. "Considering Varric was the runner-up, I am unsure which was the better option, but... Anton has been getting things done. All while pissing off the Orlesians."

Laughter drifted in from the other room, and Fenris shook his head with a small smile. Artemis had been getting twitchy before they decided to visit -- twitchier than usual, that is -- and it was good to see him more at ease.

"Pissing off the Orlesians. It's the national pastime of Kirkwall, isn't it?" Anders laughed, shaking his hand against a flicker of blue light that crept across it. "Justice missed you. I mean, I missed you too, but he'd very much like me to express his affections by climbing into your lap and rubbing our face all over you. I keep telling him we're much too large to be kitteny."

"I appreciate your, ah, lack of cattitude. As opposed to your cattiness, which is right where I left it, and apparently currently aimed at Orlais." Fenris raised an eyebrow.

"Does this mean I don't get to curl up in your lap, after supper?" Anders teased, helping himself to more melon, before slicing the next layer down.

"After supper you can apologise to me at length for the whole of that fish-foul journey from Kirkwall," Fenris grumbled into his glass, "in whatever ways you feel best express the depths of your contrition."

"Ah, that is a relief, as I am so very contrite," Anders said with a lazy grin. "Shall I beg for your forgiveness on my knees, then, like any good penitent?"

The nonchalant way Fenris sipped his wine didn't hide the twitch of one ear. "I have heard worse suggestions." He drained his glass. "Is there any more of that not-wine?"

Chapter Text

In the kitchen, Artemis was more distracting than helpful, pressed to Cormac's back and stealing bites of still-hot food. He sucked in a breath to cool the bite still in his mouth. "That's hot," he informed Cormac, as though his brother couldn't tell from the look on his face. "But good," he decided once he could actually taste anything. "And different. I take it this is a local recipe? I've never seen you cook anything like this before."

"That's because you've seen me try to make Fereldan food with what's available in Kirkwall." Cormac laughed and twisted around to steal a quick kiss, licking a tiny smear of sauce off Artemis's lip. "This is... I stopped trying to make Fereldan food in the first week we were here. It's not happening. But there's yoghurt and mint in almost everything, and it's delicious. And if Anders says something's spicy, don't eat it. Your face will melt off. There was something with mutton and aubergine, and I tried to steal a bite, and then there was nothing but pain. If I'm cooking, it's probably food. If he's cooking, it's either edible or it's just for him, and that's not something you want to try to figure out on your own."

"You know I might just take that as a challenge," Artie said with a teasing bite to Cormac's ear. He was used to his husband's pointier, twitchier ears and half-expected a swat across the nose in return. "Yoghurt and mint, hm? Not at the same time?" That seemed like an odd combination to him, but then Cormac always had a better grasp of cooking than he did. "And I take it you're my dessert?" He reached for another bite.

"I was thinking of maybe candied tamarind, but you know I never object to you tasting me." Cormac grinned over his shoulder, as he sprinkled minced tomato over the top of the last dish. "And now you get to help me carry all this back out there. But, first... in case I haven't said it, in case I haven't said it enough, I've missed you so much. Can't even talk about you without getting choked up. I didn't ... every day I ask myself if I did the right thing, leaving you in Kirkwall. But, I must have. You'd hate it up here. By the time you're headed home, you'll be ready."

Artemis pressed a kiss to Cormac's hair, arms tight around his waist. "I've missed you too. I never really learned how to live without you, and you being so far away is... strange. But you did the right thing. Anders needed you, and I was needed in Kirkwall. And really, between Fenris, Orana, and the cats, I am well cared for." He smiled sadly and unwound himself from his brother to help carry the plates. "It is quite a bit harder to send you flowers when you are this far away, though. I'm not sure how Evie's coping without our business."

Fenris perked up at the sight of Hawkes bearing food, and he saluted them with his drink. "Come to save me from this melon-headed mage? Or is it melon-stomached by now?"

"How odd, I thought I'd be saving this Warden-stomached mage from you!" Cormac laughed, setting out platters and bowls, as he unstacked things from his arm and his brother. "Really, though, I cook for four, when there's no one but us to eat it. I'm pretty sure his mouth is a direct route to the Void."

"Better the Void than the Fade, in this instance," Anders joked, spooning a heap of food onto his own plate, first. "I'd hate to see what the spirits thought of my slightly-used sustenance. Justice would like you to know your cooking is very good on its first use, not that we've had the opportunity to appreciate it in reverse."

"That is... really quite disgusting when you think about it," Artemis said as he settled onto the cushion next to his husband, "which I'd really rather not. But thank you."

Anders poured date wine for each Hawke as plates were passed around, looking anything but apologetic. "No, I suppose food spirits aren't something we want to run into, especially partly digested food spirits."

"And there you go, making me think about it despite my wishes." Artemis took a drink from his mug for effect, only to pause and take a second look at the mug's contents. "That is not wine. Or, that is not the wine I expected."

"Date wine," Fenris informed him. "It is rather good once you get used to it." He prodded at the food on his plate and nodded in satisfaction when he found no trace of fish.

Cormac offered a bowl to his brother. "Aubergine salad? You should take some before I eat the entire bowl. It's exceptional, even if they do still make it better at the tavern."

"I am hearing something about a vegetable in a salad that Cormac likes. This isn't going to be a repeat of the cabbage salad, is it?" Fenris asked, drily, helping himself to a heap of what looked like some kind of grain and minced vegetables.

"That problem seems to be confined to the cabbage salad of Kirkwall." Anders shrugged and laughed, swiping a shred of meat from Cormac's plate, before serving himself a bit of it. "Trust me, if it was going to be that kind of problem, it wouldn't be on the table, tonight, and he'd be sleeping in the courtyard more often."

"Oh, that's a relief," Artie laughed, taking the bowl from Cormac and heaping some aubergine salad onto his plate. "And I lived with him for most of my life. It's not just the cabbage salad of Kirkwall." He shared an aggrieved look with Anders and passed the bowl onto Fenris, who was already stealing a spoonful. "I like the beard, by the way, Anders."

"Oh good!" Anders cheerfully replied. "I don't!"

"I don't either," Fenris grunted. "He looks less like a magical bear and more like a magical goat."

Artemis tried not to laugh around his bite of food. "Okay, I was just being polite. You have a nice jawline, and the beard hides it."

"I just keep getting food in it. It's quite annoying."

Fenris shook his head and bent over his food, the huffy comment on humans and mages implied.

"That's the point of the beard -- not getting food in it, but that it hides his very nice and rather memorable jawline," Cormac pointed out. "Also why I... look a little different. Not much for the tattoos, though, but I'm sure I could convince people they're traditional barbarian decorations, and I look like two hundred other Fereldans from down by the Wilds. You start talking about Fereldans and people will just believe anything."

"Like that poor woman at the market that you managed to convince mabari were essential to Fereldan romance, and that courtships could be initiated by barking appropriately at someone." Anders rubbed a hand over his face and gave Artemis a pained look. "He does this, sometimes. Has he always been like this, and I just didn't notice?"

"Yes," Cormac answered. "Pass me the mint sauce?"

Artemis passed him the dish. "Woof," he said as seductively as he could manage.

"No," Fenris replied without inflection.

"Do you prefer catcalling?" Artie teased.

"No," Fenris said again in the same tone. "No dog, cat, or dragon noises at the table, please. Or anywhere else." He reached for more aubergine salad but fumbled the plate with a soft curse. Artemis was righting the dish before he even realised he'd dropped it, heaping the spilled salad onto Cormac's plate.

Fenris met Anders's frown with a tight smile. "Perhaps I should not have started on the second glass of that wine-that-is-not-wine before dinner."

"Were you getting my husband drunk over melon?" Artie asked. "Naughty."

"If I was getting him drunk, it's because he's suddenly turned into a lightweight. I turn my back on the two of you for a year, and what happens?" Anders chuckled and rolled lamb slivers, a bit of the spilled salad, and mint sauce in bread. "It's probably just because you spent weeks on a boat. That'll make you forget which way is down for a couple of days."

"The only sense of direction I had on that boat was which end the chamber pot went on, this time," Cormac grumbled, around a large mouthful of salad. "I'm sure neither of you had this problem. Lucky gits." He paused and studied Artemis, for a moment, before deciding what he saw was acceptable.

"No, thankfully, we did not. This doesn't change the fact that the entire journey stank of fish, fish guts, and deep-fried fish. Also, seaweed-wrapped raw fish." Fenris shuddered and successfully helped himself to more aubergine salad, this time. "I thank you again for the distinct lack of fish in this meal."

"I only wish we could have gotten apples, but it's a little early." Cormac shrugged. "They're not like the apples in the south. Mostly small, hard, and a little sour. There's a local dish that's pretty good though. You pickle them, and they suddenly become edible."

"Pickled apples?" Fenris replied with the quirk of one eyebrow. "I had never thought to do such a thing. Honestly, that sounds like something Theron would do." His face twisted as he considered Dalish food and whether or not he would prefer it to fish of any kind.

"Theron's taste in food is questionable at best, and sometimes so is my brother's," Artie said. "But, this is good. It tastes kind of fantastic, actually, though again that might just be the weeks on a boat. Ah, but, speaking of Theron, did I tell you the Dalish set down roots? Metaphorically speaking. I mean, we know Merrill could do that literally too."

"Finally stopped pining after their lost halla?" Anders asked with a mouth full of food.

Fenris coughed into his fist and bit back a comment about Theron and pining after halla. Artemis caught the look on his face and elbowed him in the ribs. "Don't say it."

Cormac looked at one and then the other of them. "Did somebody start that shit again? About the halla? Theron's friend, what was his name? He was such a shit about it, every time the two of you wandered off into the woods on another of your ... adventures."

"Wait, what about the halla?" Anders asked, looking first at Cormac and then Artemis. "What did I miss about halla?"

"Nothing. Elves being elfy." Cormac snorted and shook his head. "Not everyone there liked us. And some of them had some... interesting ways of expressing it."

"What my husband means to say, of course, is that he and Merrill and Master Brosca, as they're calling Natia, these days, have built the beginnings of a city on Sundermount," Fenris cut in, to divert the conversation from the halla question.

Artie opened his mouth, ready to ask Cormac how long he had known about the 'halla-fucker' nickname, only to close it. He didn't want to know, and he didn't want to think about it. "I... yes. A small city. A small elfy city. It's got some of the nobles all puffed up, especially after all the construction going on in the Alienage, but it's coming along. Some of the force mages have been helping with the construction. Not... me so much for obvious reasons, but I think you would have liked to see it. Dwarves, elves, and mages all working on creating something together. It's... it's kind of fantastic, really."

Something in Anders eased at that, some tension he hadn't realised he was still carrying. Artemis had kept them reasonably up-to-date, but with each letter, he'd expected to hear of some disaster. He wondered still if Artie were only telling them the good that had happened, but for the moment, over this meal, he was okay with that.

"Hey, Artie? You know how I used to tell you to loosen up a bit, because you'd be amazing one day?" Cormac asked, pinching his brother's knee, under the table. "Yeah, it just happened. I hope you were paying attention, so you can tell Carver's kids about it, some day."

"He's always been amazing," Fenris argued.

"Yeah, but not in public," Cormac shot back. "Now, everybody knows my brother is amazing, and he can freely be amazing in public places. There are people who aren't just you or me telling him he's amazing."

"Is it just me, or did that sound a lot kinkier than you meant it to?" Anders asked.

"It's... I don't know how much credit I can take for that," Artie said, eyes a shade too wide. "I helped. Natia helped more. The mages who can move things without breaking them helped more."

Mid-word, Fenris stoppered his mouth with a piece of bread and kissed his cheek before Artemis would look offended. "Take the compliment, Amatus. It is deserved. But you can remind us all the other ways in which you are amazing after dinner, if you like." 

Artie grumbled something around the bread before he chewed it properly. Fenris wasn't fazed by his husband's scowl, not when Artemis shifted to lean against him the next moment.

"You really are that excellent, you little shit. Just so you know." Cormac grinned over the top of his mug. "I wish dad had lived to see it."

"Better your dad than mine," Anders breathed, reaching for another roll of bread.

"Your dad lived to see you become a hero, and he's still bloviating that fine fart-wind about you and your brother both being useless and ungrateful. I don't know your brother, but I know you're about as useless as a full box of tools with twenty sovereigns tucked down the side, and I cordially invite him to take a flying fuck at the next Archdemon." Cormac didn't raise his voice at all, but just punctuated the sentence with a few gestures with a meat-filled fork. "Your mum's great, though. I love these chairs she made us. They're so... the opposite of chair, and so comfortable."

Fenris peered down at his not-chair and wriggled his rump against what wasn't a cushion as he understood the word. Comfortable, yes, but odd. "Are they full of... tiny rocks?"

Artemis frowned across the table, first at his brother, then at Anders. "I hadn't wanted to ask," he said. "Cormac spoke very highly of your mother in his letters, but all I knew about your father was that he existed." He paused to take another bite of sauce-soaked bread and noted the grimacing smile Anders gave the table. "I'm sorry. Does he need a gentle nudge into the stinky part of the river?"

"Let's not punish the poor fish," Anders replied. His plate had his full attention.

"He's... let's just say I wouldn't be too terribly upset if some accidents befell him, but we're not producing enough food, yet, to support Ulla, if anything happened to him. We're really kind of in the equivalent of the Bannorn, if you can believe it. With the river and the lakes, this is as wet as it gets. Best place to grow food, but full of tiny villages just making it by. There's more food being sold than eaten around here -- someone has to produce the food for the artisans, the templars, the wardens... The Chantry takes its tithe, and the tithe is kind of huge, here, because there's so much more to take." Cormac shook his head. "I'm not explaining it properly. The economy here is weird. We're in the absolutely best place to grow food, surrounded by people who are hungry, and the dwarves control all the money. I don't understand any of it, but it's traditional, and Justice is offended."

"I'm offended," Fenris muttered.

"Point is, as much as I'd like to see him get thrown through a tree, now is not the time." Cormac shrugged. "Or maybe even the place."

"That is... disappointing," Artie said. "Not being able to throw him through a tree, that is. The general economic system is not disappointing. It's appalling."

"Tell me about it," Anders grumbled. "Or maybe don't. Justice is starting to get huffy, and I think the blue light would ruin the ambiance."

"On the contrary," Artie replied with a wink at Fenris, "I like a little Fade light in the evening. But... not if it's because Justice is agitated." His own plate cleared, Artemis stole the last bit of Fenris's bread, which he had left, unfinished, and stacked their plates, one over the other. Anders was still wolfing down his second helping.

"Agreed," Fenris grumbled before finishing his wine. And then Artemis's, when it was left unattended. Artie huffed and stole Cormac's in turn.

Cormac reached for the bottle only to find it empty. "Well. So much for that idea." He stretched a hand out to Anders, finger glowing dimly. "Shall I see to our glowy blue companion?"

"Our glowy blue companion has his own thoughts on what he'd like to be doing, this evening." Anders pressed the heel of his palm against his forehead. "Most of them involve overthrowing the dwarven stranglehold on the national economy, but I think he can be convinced to settle for the company of old friends."

"We'll get there, Justice," Cormac sighed, running his glowing hand through Anders's hair. "Men's troubles in men's time. You can't go charging in to fix everything at once. You know that."

"He's just frustrated." Anders sighed, scraping the last bit of sauce out of one of the serving dishes and licking his fork clean.

"I believe we are all frustrated, at this point," Fenris noted.

"I really hope we designed that bed big enough," Cormac laughed. "And if we didn't, there's the floor. And the guest room."

"I'm sure we'll make do," Artemis said with a slow smile, while Fenris debated whether he should mention that wasn't what he meant at all. "The question is whether the place is earthquake-proof." Looking around at mud-brick walls, Artemis wasn't too sure.

"I'm not really sure, but we built them the traditional way, and there are traditional buildings that have been standing for centuries." Cormac shrugged. "For what it's worth, I doubt you'll do any damage that can't be fixed with a bucket of mud and a trowel. The walls are nearly a cubit thick. I'm ... reasonably sure you're not going to drop them on us. And if you do, that's why I have barrier spells."

A bucket of mud. Artie cringed at that image. "That is... not the most reassuring thing you've ever said to me, but I suppose we'll find out one way or another." He grinned at his brother, his foot prodding Cormac's leg under the table.

Chapter Text

As they spoke, Anders gathered up the rest of the plates. "Shall I take care of dessert," he asked, noting some sort of movement under the table, "or have you two already started?"

"I can be dessert. That works." Cormac grinned lazily up at Anders. "But you might want to get something anyway, because if I'm dessert I don't think Fenris wants any."

"That would be correct, yes. I have no desire to lick the magical bear. In fact, that sounds like a completely disgusting idea." Fenris squeezed Artemis's shoulder. "If you have any somewhat less beary desserts, I might be willing to consider them." He paused, making no move to get up, yet. "Amatus, would you mind terribly if I went to explore other dessert options? I trust the two of you can keep from accidentally murdering each other for a bit longer?"

Artemis chuckled. "Afraid I'll be mauled by the magical bear? I might not mind." He squeezed the hand on his shoulder and turned it over to kiss Fenris's palm. "By all means. I'm sure you and Anders will decide on something delicious." His grin was mischievous as he let Fenris's hand slip out of his.

"Do not give the other magical bear ideas, Amatus. The magical goat, rather. He already has them." He climbed to his feet and grabbed a few plates to help Anders carry back into the kitchen. Before Fenris and Anders even made it out the doorway, Artemis was curling up in Cormac's lap.

"I missed you. Every day, I woke up without you, and you weren't just in the other room or across the village." Cormac's hands were hesitant as he smoothed them over Artie's rumpled clothes. "Tell me what you want, beloved. Anything." He buried his face in Artie's neck, breathing in that same scent of fresh cleaning solutions that Artie always smelled of. "All I want is you. Tonight, I'm yours. Well, I'm yours whenever you want me, but I think glowy and glowier are keeping each other occupied in the kitchen, right now, so it's just us."

A blue glow lit the kitchen doorway from somewhere further into the room.

"And that's Justice," Cormac joked.

Artie breathed a laugh across Cormac's cheek. "I guess they've settled on a dessert option," he said. One hand traced Cormac's jawline, thumb pausing at his chin, where his beard should be, and he tipped Cormac's face up into his. For a moment, Artemis let himself luxuriate in the kiss, in the knowledge that this was Cormac, his Cormac, and that they were together again after all those long months. "And I'm yours for the taking, love."

Artemis was fresh off the boat, unshaven, smelling of sweat and brine, in a house built out of mud, but all that mattered in the moment was Cormac. Mostly.

"Want to show me this new bed of yours or do you plan to test the durability of Ulla's not-chairs?" Artie purred, hands mapping out his brother's body through his robes.

"Considering that I'm going to have to have supper with Ulla sitting in one of these chairs in the near future, I think the bed is the better option." Cormac laughed and swept Artemis into his arms as he stood, cracking both of them soundly on the table as he stood up. "I might be a bit out of practice at this carrying you off thing. Clearly, I'll have to get back into practice." Pathetic trickles of healing crept from his fingertips toward the parts of Artie he thought might have hit the table.

Artie clung to Cormac more tightly than usual. "Ow," he drawled. "Is this vengeance for all the times I threw you through a wall?"

Cormac laughed again, carefully making his way into the bedroom. "Sorry," he said, laying Artemis on the bed and kneeling beside it, "you're just so much lighter than Anders, I leaned back too much and much too fast." He made his way down to the end of the bed, without standing, and worked Artemis's boots off, before gently kneading Artie's bare feet. "It's been a long day for you, hasn't it?"

"A long few weeks," Artie replied, humming at the feel of soft hands on his skin, "and I don't hate boats as much as you do. Or I suppose they don't hate me as much. Worth it, though. We can change and rebuild as much of Kirkwall as we like, but it still doesn't feel right without you." Artemis pushed himself up onto his elbows to better see Cormac at the foot of the bed. "Maker, that was sappy. See what happens? You move to the Anderfels, and I turn into a sylvan too."

"Well, someone's got to do it," Cormac teased, stretching up over the bed to unfasten Artie's trousers. Trousers that opened -- there was something Cormac missed from the south. "Where would Kirkwall be without a Hawke dribbling sap on everything?" He hooked his fingers into the top of the trousers, lifted, and pulled, spilling Artemis's legs out of them. Folding the trousers, he tossed them onto a pile of books that sat on what should have been a vanity, and kissed his way up the inside of one of Artemis's legs.

"Dribbling 'sap'," Artie replied, hooking that leg over Cormac's shoulder. "Is that what we're calling it now?" He sank his fingers into Cormac's hair. It was fluffier than he was used to, but that made it easier to grab. As much as he teased Cormac for it, he could see the appeal. "Maker, I've missed you. Have I said that yet? I don't care. I've missed you."

"Say it again. Tell me what you want. I just want to hear your voice," Cormac breathed deeply, burying his face against his brother's crotch, which, in retrospect, might not have been the best idea. There was definitely the distinct scent of having spent a day dressed improperly in the deadly heat of the Anderfels. But, he pushed that thought aside and tugged at Artie's tunic, eventually untangling it from his brother and tangling them together even more closely. "How much water have you had, today?" he asked, patting at Artie's forehead and chest. "I just want to make sure I'm not going to accidentally kill you."

"I can think of worse ways to go," Artie huffed, the skin around his eyes crinkling in a smile. "Stop worrying about me, brother-dear. I know you think it's your job, but I'm all right, aren't I?" He kneaded his fingers in Cormac's hair, fingertips massaging his scalp. "And I've been drinking plenty of water, mum." 

Freeing his fingers from Cormac's hair, Artie pulled at Cormac's robe, rucking up the fabric until he could get his hands under the cloth and pull it up over Cormac's head, folding it as best he could from this angle with all that fabric. His hands returned to skin after, mapping out all the little changes in Cormac's once-familiar body. His brother was softer than he remembered, especially around the middle, but he was still a warm and welcome weight after all this time.

"I haven't seen you in nearly a year. Yes, I'm sure you're all right, but all of that worrying that I've been doing for a year just caught up with me. With you." Cormac's hands squeezed and kneaded the taut lines of his brother's body, and he nuzzled and nipped at Artie's neck. "Can't believe you're here. Can't believe you still want me like this."

He lost himself in a kiss, in the feel of Artemis pressed against his body, in every little squeak and stuttered breath against his lips. "Have Fenris and Theron been taking good care of you?" he asked, fingers slipping into the crack of Artie's ass, to toy with the edge of his hole. Just a tease, never quite enough pressure. "Have they seen to your pleasure? I wonder, what could you possibly want, still, from your loving brother, with these two elves already bent on satisfying you?"

A shaky breath stuttered out of Artemis at that touch, at those words. He arched back against Cormac's fingers, remembering even a year later how they felt inside. "You know me, always greedy," he murmured, tracing Cormac's back muscles, dragging fingernails along the dips between his ribs. "Fenris is Fenris, Theron is Theron, and you're you." He said the one word as though it should convey everything he meant. "How about you, hmm? With an insatiable Warden in your bed?" He pulled Cormac's lip between his teeth, his legs wrapping more firmly around Cormac's waist.

"I like my bed much better when it has you and an insatiable Warden in it. Maybe that makes me greedy, too, but my bed is always better with you in it. Always has been." Cormac's voice cracked at the last, and he tried to cover it with a grease spell, sliding his fingers in, hoping the sudden slick rush would get Artie thinking of something else. "And no, I didn't actually just do what you think I did. I cheated. But, you love it when I cheat."

He stretched up for another kiss, fingers stroking and massaging Artemis's insides. "Tell me what you want me to do to you, beloved. Tell me how I should use your beautiful body. Beg for me. The walls are thick, and we don't have neighbours. Only Fenris and Anders will hear you."

Artemis groaned against Cormac's lips, breathed in Cormac's words. He was distracted for a long moment by the wet slide of those fingers, squarer and rougher than Fenris's or Theron's but touching him just as he remembered. "I want you in me," Artie breathed, heels digging into the small of Cormac's back. "I need it. I need you to fuck me until I can't remember what it's like to not have you in me. I need you to fuck me until Anders and Fenris can feel it in the other room." He hoped their construction was up to the task.

Cormac's breath caught, and he fumbled his own knob, the first time he tried to push it in. Stupid, he was sure, but this was supposed to be perfect and impressive, something out of one of those horrible Fereldan romances about being ravished by barbarians. But, here he was, with the brother he loved like a god begging to be fucked stupid -- which wasn't a new idea -- and he was shaking. Finally, he got himself lined up and eased in, slowly, shivering.

"I love you," he breathed, when he could push no further, taking a moment to cup his brother's cheek, to study those pretty blue eyes. He ground in deep and hard, before picking up a rough, jarring pace, ramming himself in savagely, again and again, as he licked at Artemis's lips.

Artemis panted against Cormac's lips, every other jarring thrust punching a shaky sound out of him. He held on tight and just felt, nails biting into Cormac's back and shoulders as he tried to meet each shove of Cormac's hips. "Cormac," he breathed. "Cormac." His smell, his name, the hot weight of him inside assured Artie that this was real, that this was his brother with him, in this moment.

One hand reached over his head to tangle in the sheets, knuckles white. "Please," he panted, unsure what he was begging for. "Please."

Cormac chewed his own lip, not to just give in to this sensation -- the feel of Artemis wrapped around him, again, pleading for more. It was something he'd honestly wondered if he'd ever have again, and here they were, like nothing had changed at all. "Please what?" he purred against Artie's ear, slipping a hand between them. "Please hurry and make you come?" His hand wrapped around Artie's knob, offering a firm squeeze and a few quick strokes. "Please make this last until you're aching for release?" His fingers tightened around the base of Artie's knob. "I almost like that second one. Satisfy myself inside you, tease you while you beg for more, maybe call for Fenris and Anders. I'm sure Anders could make good use of you for a long time, before we let Fenris finish you off. And then maybe I'll lick you clean. Do you want that? Do you want my tongue in the mess the three of us could make of your hole?"

Artemis let out a long, anguished sound at that. "Maker, yes!" He'd missed this. He'd missed the absolute filth his brother could pour in his ear and the lovely images that came with it. But he wasn't going to last, not with Cormac pounding the breath out of him, not with that hand tight on his knob, and not with those words in his ear.

The sheets didn't give him enough purchase under his fingers, and Artemis reached up without thinking, reached for a headboard that wasn't there. He scrabbled against the wall for a moment, its texture distracting, only to remember suddenly that he was groping mud in brick form. Artie went back to clutching Cormac instead, but that feeling of filth, real or not, stayed on his skin.

"Come for me, brother-dear," he panted instead, returning to the moment. "Fill me up."

Cormac whimpered at the thought, trying to hold out just a little longer, but the sound of those words rattled against every nerve in his body. His beautiful, holy, little brother wanted just one thing. Asked for it. Commanded it. There was nothing to resist -- Artemis wanted.

His body tensed as he spilled deep inside that tight warmth, little sounds of pleasure and relief slipping from his lips. But, his hips didn't slow at all; even as he shivered and shuddered with pleasure, he still slammed himself into that slickness, listened to every little gasp from Artie's lips. His hand slid slowly along Artemis's knob, until he could wring the head in his fist, sliding the foreskin with the base of his thumb.

"I'm yours. Always."

Artemis shivered, magic bubbling under his skin, stoked to a roiling boil as he wound tighter still around his brother. The sight of his brother coming apart was everything he needed and more, and his toes curled, muscles tightening as he spilled into his brother's hand. He felt the spillover of magic, as always, but not the shaking of the ground. Maybe it was because he was shaking hard enough on his own, panting for breath and trying to see through the glittering spots in front of his eyes.

"Cormac," Artie panted as he slowly unwound, limbs loose as he sank back into the bed, still wrapped around his brother. "Fuck."

"Think we just did," Cormac teased, rolling onto his side and pulling Artie with him. He was still shaking and by now, he knew it would be useless to try to pass off his wet face as sweat, so he ducked under Artie's chin, cuddling closer, as he slipped out, knob sliding down the warm curve of Artie's buttock. He was going to have to apologise for that, he was sure. Messy.

Chapter Text

"I missed you," Cormac choked out, making a mess of his brother's chest, too. Tears, snot -- he was going to owe Artie a nice hot bath, after this, but fortunately, that was something he could provide, and the bath had been built large enough to fit Anders. "I missed you, and I was so afraid I was never going to see you again -- there would be an Exalted March or we'd get killed by templars for being Tevinter witch-demons, and I'd never see your face. I'd never see you become all the great things I always said you'd be, not because you couldn't be them, but because we'd be dead." He buried his face against Artie's neck and sobbed with relief. "I'm sorry. Making a mess."

Artemis hushed him gently, stroking back his hair and pulling him as close as their bodies would allow without magical intervention. He buried his face in Cormac's hair, his own tears falling silently.

"It's all right," he said. "I'm here. You're here. Everything's all right, right now." He'd been so afraid of all the same things, had laid awake some nights thinking too much until Fenris would soothe him with a touch or a word. The building and rebuilding had been a needed distraction. "And don't worry about the mess. I'm too tired and relieved to care. I'll care in the morning, and then you could either draw me a bath or I will push you through a wall."

"Mmm, definitely draw you a bath. I'll even take that bath with you. And then we can dirty up the bathwater and just... get out of it, like smart people." Cormac managed a raspy chuckle, throat still a bit thick. "I still can't believe you're--"

A long ragged moan echoed in from another room. "Oh, Fenris, yes please!"

Cormac twisted around to glance at the doorway, something light and amusing on the tip of his tongue, and then he saw the gleam of light off the wall, from the lamp by the vanity. "What...?" He dropped back down, not to have to get an arm out from under Artie, and reached for the wall behind them, which was fantastically smooth.

Artemis was more focused on the sound. "Who was that? Process of eliminations says it's Anders, but Anders is not that loud. Is there someone else in here to whom my husband is doing wicked things?" And then Artemis noted the confused look on Cormac's face and the movement of his arm, which Artie followed to the wall. The gleaming, waxed-smooth wall. Artie's face turned red, the flush spreading from his neck to his ears. "I... that... Was your wall like that when we came in?"

"That's definitely Anders. He's been trying to work himself out of the quiet thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it sounds like it's working now!" Cormac grinned wickedly and snuck a quick kiss. "The wall, though... The wall was not shiny. It was like every other wall in the house. Kind of gritty. Like dried mud." He paused. "You know, speaking of working out of things, I'm noticing a lack of earthquakes in this room. Did you stop doing that for some reason? I always liked it."

"Oh. Well, not exactly..." Artie ran a hand through his hair, twisting the ends around his fingers, and settled back down against the pillow. "I spoke with some of the force mages from the Gallows about controlling my magic in general. They had some pointers, and I've been practising. Using magic to make sculptures. Ha. Turns out I'm a terrible artist, but you know what? It helps. It helps with more delicate spellwork, and now my aim is... slightly less shitty. The earthquakes still happen, usually, but I've been able to manipulate the magic a bit more. I think, subconsciously, I was worried about bringing the house down, and your walls are made of mud?" He shrugged helplessly. "Either way, this is a new one."

"Well, I'd ravish you outside, next time, but that's hideously unsafe. Sandstorms, darkspawn, wandering merchants..." Cormac made a few small strangled noises before giving up and cackling. "Really? I fucked you until you waxed the floor? And ... the walls, apparently. I wonder if it was just this room..." He squeezed Artie's bottom, as another desperate sound of delight poured in from the other room. "So, we both know how long Anders can keep going. You want to go sit in the kitchen doorway and lick fig paste off our fingers while we watch?"

Artemis purred, nuzzling under Cormac's chin. "Just our fingers?" he teased. And now he hoped the mage-walls had been confined to the bedroom. The earthquakes were so much less embarrassing. After leaning in for another long, lazy kiss, Artemis rolled to his feet, pausing when he felt the effects of gravity.

"How bad is it?" Cormac asked, peering over the edge of the bed, like the cats used to do. "Should I put down the blanket so we can avoid falling on our asses between here and the door? Why am I even asking that? Yes, I should put down the blanket. Here." He untangled the blanket and leaned over the foot of the bed to waft it onto the floor, mostly straight, in a way that covered a majority of the space between the corner of the bed and the door of the room. Carefully, he eased himself onto it, hoping the rough weave would provide some traction. At the least, he didn't go sliding across the floor, which had to be worth something.

Catching himself reaching for a nightrobe he glanced at Artemis. "Did... you just offer to have fig paste licked off you? Or were you meaning to do the licking of things other than fingers? In which case, should I or should I not put something on, to spare your husband's eyes?"

"I mostly just wanted to see your eyes cross," Artie teased, padding across the blanket. He considered pants, only to decide against it. It was ungodly hot, and no one in this house had objected to his ass yet. "Please do not put any paste on my person, no matter how tasty. I do recall you promising some other licking, however." Artie grinned, walking backwards out the door and turning the step into a glide when he hit more waxed floors. "And put on the robe. Fenris will thank you, but I can still get to you just as easily."

"Oh, are we going to have that sort of tasty licking things party? I might just forego the fig paste entirely." Cormac grabbed his nightrobe, an unexciting but enormous quantity of jade-green cloth. It wasn't that he thought he looked good in the green, but it was the least offensive shade and it ... reminded him of Artemis, if he was honest, and how good Artie looked in green. Tugging it on, he followed Artemis through the door and promptly fell back, catching himself on a bookcase. After a moment's deliberation, he dragged the blanket out and used it again, covering not nearly enough of the distance to the kitchen door. This was, he thought, ridiculous. He could walk on solid bubbles of magic, but he couldn't walk on a waxed floor?

Chapter Text

Somehow, he made it across the room, taking the last bit on his knees, which made it much easier not to fall, and gazed into the profoundly-glowing kitchen from beside his brother. Anders lay sprawled across the centre island, one foot up on the cupboards and the other wrapped around Fenris's shoulder, as Fenris pushed something into him, over and over, with one hand and traced glowing fingers across his scars, with the other.

"I can't see," Cormac whispered. "Can you tell which one that is?"

Artemis leaned to the side, peering around moving limbs, and promptly coughed into his fist, fighting not to smirk. "The... black and white marbled one. The smaller one, obviously." He met Cormac's look with a pointed one of his own. Fenris was already intimately familiar with that particular toy, and Artie wondered if he'd picked it up by coincidence.

Fenris looked up at the sound of voices, his hands never slowing as he wrung a few aching sounds out of Anders. He looked his naked husband up and down and didn't ask why Cormac was kneeling. "No earthquakes? Or did I not feel them?"

"Oh, magic happened. In more than one sense." Artie offered him a shrug and a crooked grin. "But don't let us interrupt. Pretend we're not here. Unless you want us to be." He winked at Anders.

Anders opened his mouth to say something potentially relevant, but Fenris's fingers dipped below the skin of the ragged scar in the curve of his hip and anything he might have meant to say was lost in a raw howl of delight. His eyes lit blue, before they squeezed shut.

"Justice," Cormac pointed out to Artemis. "Justice is loud, all the time."

"You and your magical bear are welcome to watch," Fenris said, with a small smile, as Anders panted and writhed at the feel of fingers beneath his skin. This was only the second time, in the years they'd been... doing whatever this was, that he'd been invited to touch Anders, and the reactions fascinated him. He knew he was also pleasuring the spirit -- he'd intended that, since it seemed Justice had such an attachment to the lyrium lines, and Anders seemed willing to play along, to keep things from getting out of hand. But, he'd never expected quite... this -- for Anders to get loud like he had in the Deep Roads. Fenris had thought that was some special talent of Messere Howe. He considered saying something about it, later. After. A comment now might make it stop.

"You are too kind," Artemis replied, his smile wide as he watched Anders's face, mouth open as he panted for breath between shouts. Artie knew how those fingers felt under his skin, and just the thought made him shiver. He wondered if it felt the same for Anders, for Justice. Leaning back against the wax-smooth wall, Artie addressed Cormac without turning his head. "You said something about fig paste?"

Anders's knuckles were white where he clutched the island counter-top, toes curling into the cabinet door for purchase. Fenris's fingers teased around the knot of scar at his hip, fingertips stroking under the skin, edging closer and closer until finally they traced the full line of it, down his thigh. Anders's hips jerked, but Fenris held him down, grinning at the ragged noises Anders didn't even know he was making.

"Oh Fenris, yes!"

Fenris couldn't tell if that was Anders or Justice speaking -- possibly both, the way their voices wove together around the words.

Anders writhed, blue light flickering across his skin, as Fenris's fingers tugged at the scar that wound around his leg, caressing it inside and out. His toes tugged at Fenris's hair, encouraging a repeat of one particular motion.

"You're watching this and you actually care about fig paste?" Cormac asked, watching Anders arch, knob twitching and throbbing, under Fenris's touch. "Pantry. Third shelf on the left wall. It's got a label. You and your magical not falling down can go get it if you still want some."

As Anders started gasping out little desperate sounds, Cormac realised that Fenris had stumbled into one of those fantastic Warden talents he loved to exploit. He could see Justice pushing forward as Anders lost himself in the waves of pleasure, clotting spend from earlier still sliding across his skin. "MORE!" Justice demanded. "AGAIN!"

"You are demanding, spirit," Fenris said, tone only playing at chastising. He twisted the toy in deep and traced one glowing finger along Anders's still pulsing knob, just to turn Justice's next response into garbled nonsense.

"You are no fun," Artemis said, distractedly, never taking his eyes off the entwined pair. "I just wanted you to waddle around the kitchen floor on your knees." He nudged Cormac's thigh with the side of his foot and flashed him a smile.

Artie knew Anders was tireless once he got going, but Fenris was making a good show of it himself, if only with the toy and his fingers. Behind the smug grin, Fenris had the determined look of someone intent on completing a task, and that task seemed to involve wringing Anders dry. It was an... inspiring sight, even if Artie could still feel the shape of his brother's knob inside of him.

A small flicker of motion beside him caught Cormac's eye. "Really? After all that? I guess I'm getting old after all," he joked, nudging Artemis a little further into the kitchen so they'd both still be able to watch as he closed his mouth around Artie's knob, just letting the soft flesh settle against his tongue as he sucked at it gently.

Anders had likely lost any concept of the fact he was being watched or anything else outside the sensations that had him squalling and wailing, writhing as Fenris continued to engage with his scars. His head tipped back over the edge of the island -- he didn't quite fit on it, even from shoulders to hips -- and one hand rose from its death-grip on the countertop to tangle in his hair, which hung much, much longer than it ever had in Kirkwall. Justice's presence through it all was unquestionable, the blue light progressing from bursts of slithering lines of light to a full-body glow that seemed bluer as Anders's voice caught that peculiar echo.

This close, the blue glow was blinding, and Fenris closed one eye and looked to the side until the Justice-shaped afterimage had faded. "All this at my touch, spirit?" Fenris rumbled once his eyes had adjusted. "I'm flattered." 

Fenris's hand moved from one scar to another, moving its way up Anders's torso, to his chest, rising and failing with each rapid breath. Fenris remembered the one scar in the middle, the one over Anders's heart, and the reaction he'd gotten the first time he'd touched it. Fenris traced its edge first with skin on skin, feeling the body under him shudder, and then he pressed one Fade-blue finger into it. The deeper that finger sank, the louder Anders -- Justice -- yowled until, body coiled, he throbbed once more.

Artemis let out a shaky breath at the sight, one hand bracing himself against the wall and the other tight in Cormac's hair. He tried not to obscure Cormac's view, not when the view was that, and tried to keep still no matter how... distracting Cormac's mouth and talented tongue were.

Cormac's eyes kept drifting back to the fingers plunged into that scar. The angle wasn't the best, but Fenris seemed to be caressing Anders's breastbone through the scar. And as far as Cormac could recall, Anders hated having that scar touched. But, then, Artemis was also very much enraptured with the glowy fade-fingers, so maybe... Of course, Cormac realised, he also had the glowy fade-fingers, and he'd been putting them all over Justice for a long time, but never there. That was something to hang on to, for later.

His tongue stroked Artemis's knob, trying to tease it back to interest, as he watched. Fenris eyed him and raised the hand from Anders's chest, flashing a full hand and then a thumb and a horrified look. Cormac looked as smug as it was possible to be with his brother's knob in his mouth.

Anders's foot slid off the cupboard and slammed into the counter beneath. The blue glow flashed brighter and then vanished. "Ow! Shit! New position. That's my leg cramping," he panted, shifting uncomfortably.

"Not just your leg," Fenris huffed, sliding the toy out and setting it aside so he could shake out his arm.

Anders shifted himself awkwardly onto one elbow, still catching his breath. "Sorry," he said with a grin that said he wasn't. "Can't keep up?"

Fenris's chin tilted up, ears flattening against his head. "I didn't say that."

Artie's fingers massaged the back of Cormac's head as he listened, amused. "If either of you need a hand," Artemis said, voice tightening when Cormac did something wicked with his tongue, "I would like to point out that there are four between the two of us. And more than just hands, besides."

Fenris snorted as he got out of the way of Anders's legs. "And here I thought you two were--" He paused and rubbed his toes against the ground. He gave his husband a pained look. "Mage floors? Really?"

"His fault," Artie said, sheepish as he pointed at his brother.

Cormac snorted and leaned back, giving Artie's foreskin a tiny nip. "It is not my fault! You didn't tell me you replaced the earthquakes with floor wax!"

"He what?" Anders asked, staring confusedly at the Hawkes, his free hand rubbing a healing spell into his thigh.

"He has learnt to stop the earthquakes," Fenris explained, offering his arm to Anders. "He just... doesn't, usually. And I have no idea where floor wax comes into this."

"Better than that time your brother greased the undead, out on the coast," Anders joked, eyes still on Artie as he took Fenris's arm. The feel of the raised lyrium lines caught his attention. "You all right?" he asked Fenris, struggling to sit up without kicking the elf. "Has it been like this, since I left?"

"What? No, no. It's just the dry air." Fenris shook his head and gave Anders a sharp look.

Finally getting his weight off the other arm, Anders raised a spark across his fingers. "A little bit of a spark to take the edge off the healing. Let me see if I can get the swelling down a little, and I'll give you a cream to put on it, to keep the skin moist." He knew Fenris was lying, and likely because he didn't want to worry Artemis, but that was something he could work with. A couple small spells and a cream that probably would help a bit, and he'd get another look in the morning, while the Hawkes were busy with the inevitable bath Artemis was going to insist upon.

Artie frowned at the exchange, but if Anders wasn't worried, then neither was he. Perhaps he should have made sure his husband was drinking enough water too. "It is ridiculously hot," he said, "and not just because I'm surrounded by such gorgeousness. Perhaps we pause for some water, and then take this to the bed? It's horizontal and cushioned, whereas the counters are horizontal but not cushioned."

"You make a compelling argument, Amatus," Fenris said, something easing in the set of his shoulders at the touch of Anders's sparking fingers. Even with the runed bracelets, he sometimes forgot what it was like to not be in pain.

Justice grumbled in the back of Anders's mind at the idea of pausing no matter how briefly, but Anders suspected it was probably a good idea, particularly the soft bed part.

"And the earthquakes do still happen," Artie muttered, toying with Cormac's hair. "I can just... divert the magic a bit. This is... not usually the result, but watch your step, Anders."

"I am watching it," Anders said, eyeing the floor balefully, "but I suspect I will still end up on my ass."

"If you really want me to do it, I can bubble-walk you back to the blanket," Cormac sighed. "Actually I should. I should at least get you down from there, before you fall and break something. Like Fenris. Don't break Fenris; you just fixed him." He stretched a hand toward Anders. "Feet on the counter. We're going out into thin air, and I'll walk you down from there. The edge of the counter's in my way."

"Mages," Fenris huffed, easing himself toward the door and his husband.

After a bit of fidgeting and magic, Anders met the floor, knees-first. "I could probably walk on this, but not right now," he admitted, grabbing his robe and trousers from where they'd landed on the other side of the room. "And I am going to be a lot more fun, if I don't have to heal my own skull fracture, before we get to bed."

"His fault," Artie reminded Anders, pointing a thumb at Cormac.

Chapter Text

Nightfall found the four of them in bed, a tangle of sweaty limbs and sweaty sheets. Justice had fallen asleep clutching Fenris like a security blanket, and the pleased rumble in the back of his throat sounded like Purrcy on those mornings he sat in the sun. On Fenris's other side, Artemis lay nestled between his brother and his husband, ensconced between the two men he loved, and he slept more soundly than he had in months.

Sunrise found them much the same, but it was Anders curled around Fenris when he woke, smothering a yawn with his palm and rolling onto his back to continue dozing. Minutes later, he felt the bed shift -- one of the Hawkes -- and opened his eyes in time to catch Artemis's ass as it was leaving the room. Anders could guess where he was headed and considered getting up to show him where the bathroom actually was, only to remember mage floors. If Artie could navigate them even half asleep, he could find the room in question unaided.

Fenris didn't quite wake up, but the lack of Artemis pressed against him registered, even in his sleep, and with a small frustrated sound, he stretched an arm across the empty space, before colliding with a hip. There. That must be Artemis. He squirmed out of Anders's grip and inched closer to the other warm body.

On the other edge of the bed, Cormac felt the hand clutching at his hip and assumed it was Artie coming back to bed. He rolled over to get closer, even as something nagged at the back of his mind, insisting there was something wrong with the sensation. But, then there were arms wrapped around him and a leg tossed over his hip, and he shrugged off the strange sensation and pulled the slim, warm body closer, rolling his hips as he drifted back off.

Anders watched all this happen, holding his breath, and he sat up as slowly, as quietly, as he could manage. That had been Artie he'd watched leave, right? It was hard to be sure, now, since he and Cormac had the same ass. But, they certainly didn't have the same hair, and that was definitely Cormac's hair Fenris had his face in. That, in turn, made it Cormac's legs Fenris had his wrapped around. 

Anders pinched his nose to hold back his snorting laughter, and when Artemis shuffled back into the room, Anders caught his eye and motioned for him to be quiet. Bleary-eyed, it took a moment for Artie to register that gesture and another moment to register why. And then he saw Fenris and Cormac, wrapped up like lovers, Fenris's cheek rubbing Cormac's hair in his sleep.

Artemis sucked his lips between his teeth, shoulders shaking with silent laughter, and turned a helpless look Anders's way.

Cormac purred, hand sliding up to meet the ass of the warm body pressed against him. He kneaded it, gently, dreaming of Artemis and how wonderful it felt to be in his brother's arms, again. As that warm body ground against him roughly, another sound of pleasure slipped between his lips, and then, "Mmm, yes..."

And that was not the voice Fenris was expecting. At all. Either of the voices Fenris might have been expecting. Untangling himself from what was suddenly very obviously Cormac, he leapt to his feet, only to encounter the mage-waxed floor. Struggling to regain his balance, he slid across the room, flailing, only to finally lose his footing, fall backward, and slide into his husband's feet. "How long were you going to let that go on?" he demanded, breathless from the impact.

Artemis wiped tears of laughter from his eyes as he bent to help up his flailing husband. "Please, it was barely a minute, and I thought it was cute! And hilarious. Don't worry. I knew one of you was going to wake up before it became a problem. Are you all right?" There was genuine concern in there under the voice shaking with suppressed laughter.

Fenris hissed and spat like an angry cat, but he let Artemis pull him to his feet and then clung to him, ears straight out and vibrating. "Damn mage floors. And your mage brother. I am never sleeping in the middle again. It is hot and sticky, and there are too many elbows. Where were you?"

"Where one generally ends up after drinking that much water," Artie drawled. He steadied Fenris with a hand under each elbow. "Which way are we going? Back to bed? I promise to get in first to act as a barrier."

On the bed, Cormac sprawled in dazed confusion, still trying to figure out what Fenris was yelling about and why his brother was all the way on the other side of the room. "What?" he murmured, hefting himself up to lean against the waxed wall that stood where the headboard he'd been too lazy to build should have been.

Beside him, Anders was still whooping with laughter, as he eased himself out of bed, lowering himself to his knees to avoid falling on Fenris. "You hold him up, and I'll make sure nothing's broken," Anders said to Artemis, as he cast a quick spell to stop the bruises before they could start.

"Wait, what?" Cormac sounded just as confused, if much more awake, this time.

"Fenris mistook you for Artie," Anders explained, pausing to take a closer look at Fenris's elbow.

"I was asleep at the time!" Fenris protested.

"I think that's obvious," Anders reassured him. "So, why don't the two of you take your matching asses to the bath, while I finish putting Messere Elf back together. It's nothing serious, but you can't fuck around with elbows."

Still chuckling, Artie feathered a kiss across the bridge of Fenris's nose just to watch his ears flutter. "I think Anders just implied I'm filthy, which I am. This way you won't have to worry about accidentally cuddling Cormac again."

The sound in the back of Fenris's throat was more whine than growl, but he let Artemis steer him to the bed, sitting on it and tucking his feet under him the first chance he got.

"Come on, my bleary-eyed brother," Artemis said, holding a hand out to Cormac and wiggling the fingers. "You and Fenris can spoon later." He helped Cormac to his feet, too, not even wobbling at the shift in weight.

"Bless you. This is definitely why you're the godly power in this relationship, just so you know. This not falling down thing is fantastic." Cormac let Artemis lead him out of the room. "Still feel like I should be carrying you, but not until the floor stops being terrifying."

Anders realised he was still on the wrong side of the room, and Artemis was no longer here to help him get to the bed. Nor was Cormac. Sighing, he crawled back across the floor, carefully, until he sat below Fenris. "Tell me what's going on, Fenris. I can't help, if I don't know."

"It hurts, again. All the time. The bracelets make a difference, but they don't change anything else, and they don't help enough." Fenris just watched his own hands, resting motionless in his lap. "I'm tired. Not all the time, but it happens so much faster." He laughed, hollowly. "I'd think I was getting old, but to Theron's clan he and I are still young. 'Young enough to be stupid,' his mother says. And getting old wouldn't make me stop feeling my hands, sometimes. Hands, thighs, feet, face... It doesn't seem to matter, and it's only one or two things at a time, but one of these days, I'm going to drop my sword when I actually need it, and then what's going to happen to Artemis?"

Anders tried not to let the concern show on his face as he reached for Fenris's hand, turning it over to inspect the lyrium lines and the swollen skin around them. Anders wondered how long it had been this bad, wondered if he could have helped if he'd still been in Kirkwall, only to toss that thought aside. It did neither of them any good.

"I think, sometimes, you and Cormac worry too much about Artie," Anders said, running a healing spell along the tattoos. "He is just as capable of protecting you as the other way around. Does this feel any better?"

Fenris's ears were low and twitching. He grimaced at the feel of magic. Healing didn't hurt, but it was never as pleasant as the sparks. But in the wake of the spell, the dull ache around the lines eased along with the swelling, and he wondered if it would be this easy. "Yes," he finally said. "It helps with the pain. All this... You don't suppose this is still from that sword wound, do you?"

"I don't know." Anders shrugged. "I've been reading the journals, looking for something that would explain this, but I'm still working on understanding the theory involved. I'm very good at what I do, but that is not what I do. And I can't tell if he did it right or by what standard I should even judge 'right'. What I can see is that you're not infected -- if that's even the word -- with the red stuff. None of what's on you looks like it's changing colour. You don't seem any crazier than usual."

"You're the one who doesn't sleep for a week at a time, and I'm crazy?" Fenris shot back, with a half-hearted scowl.

"I didn't say I wasn't; I just said you were." Anders chuckled, before looking serious, again. "There are two things that I'm considering, and they're what I'm going to focus on. One is that this is the first time you've had lyrium in your lyrium -- that is, the first time one of those lines has been split by something made of lyrium -- am I right?"

"As far as I know." Fenris shrugged and shook his head. He couldn't be sure of that, but this had definitely never happened.

"Okay, so, there's a possibility that this ... changed something in the way your magic is moving through your body. I know, I know, you don't have usable magic, but it's still in there, somewhere. And hitting it with more lyrium -- with other lyrium -- may have screwed it up, somehow." Anders ran a hand through his hair and huffed. "The other thing we have to consider is that this is a trap. That he did something to you to make sure you wouldn't survive him, just in case you did kill him. I don't know how to fix either of these things, but I do know how to repair flesh. I'm going to do my best to keep you healthy, while we figure out what this is and what to do about it."

"Thank you," Fenris said as Anders continued to cast, a light blue-green glow suffusing his skin. "I did not think you would have an answer, at least not a new one. I would be lying if I said that second option had not occurred to me." He gave Anders a tight, unhappy smile. "Danarius was just that vindictive. Yet, considering the number of his failures before me, I... wonder if I'm simply not meant to exist. Not in this fashion, at least. Perhaps it has simply taken me this long to react negatively to these markings. I do not know."

Once he had healed what he could, Anders's healing glow changed into that sparking blue that Fenris found soothing. "I would be careful of using these, for the moment," Anders said, his words followed by a dry laugh. "Advice which is... perhaps a bit laughable, considering yesterday."

Fenris shrugged. "You did not know, yesterday. And I am always careful."

"I'm sure," Anders drawled in a way that said he wasn't.

From the other room, the latest revenge of the mage floors could be heard. "Shit!" followed by a thump and several clatters.

"I'm buying rugs!" Cormac announced, loud enough to be heard in the bedroom.

Chapter Text

The market was relatively brightly coloured, amid the expanses of mud-coloured buildings in the middle of the village. Tattered banners hung from poles, and the mosaic tiles of the ground could almost be made out under the dust. On one side stood the Chantry, the towering structure providing shade to one corner of the market, and the rest of the square was lined with canopies and tents, much as in any small market in Thedas. Vendors shouted trades to each other across the square, setting aside boxes and baskets for the end of the day.

Cormac led the camel that drew their cart, as they entered the market. From time to time, it would nibble at the point of his hood, but it knew the market meant good food. "So, we need rugs. I am buying rugs. I may have to go across the river to buy rugs, but it's going to happen. Also, we're getting you some clothes. You're going to be here for a while, and mine don't fit you. I'm not even going to suggest Jan's. We should probably buy some food, and I need to drop off what's in the cart at the Chantry, and then get the camel settled, so we can shop."

Artemis was still getting used to calling Anders 'Jan' and Cormac 'Mack', but then they almost looked like different people with their long robes and their changed hair. Long robes they expected him to wear, it seemed, which was a good idea, judging by the stares he and Fenris were attracting. 

Eyeing the stalls they passed, Artie stepped on Anders's heels once or twice, but it was the stall closest to the Chantry doors that made him pause. The vendor greeted him in Ander, and Artie offered him a friendly if awkward smile in reply. "Hey, C-- Mack," he said, picking up one of the figurines and turning it over in his palm. "I remember these. Didn't we have a couple on a shelf, in Lothering?"

"I think we did. That looks like Hessarian. Jan, is that Hessarian?" Cormac glanced over his shoulder.

"Maferath after the betrayal," Anders corrected, before leaning closer to whisper in Artie's ear. "And that one, over there, is your cousin, with her mabari. The dwarf near her is Oghren. The old lady is my teacher, Wynne."

"I'm kind of sad there's no Shartan," Cormac sighed, nudging the camel away from his hood, again. "Hang on. Let me just go tie the camel on the other side, so I can unload this stuff."

"What, and none of you?" Artie whispered back as he picked up his cousin's figurine. He glanced about but didn't see any freakishly tall figures that could represent Anders.

"No, just the people who helped her with that archdemon business," Anders replied, "which is awfully silly. After that business with the Mother, I deserve my own figurine!"

"Why?" Fenris rumbled, poking at one of the figurines sceptically. "So you could get one and play with yourself whenever you wanted?"

Artemis cackled. "Justice might object. So, does this look like her? Solona? I've never met her. None of us have." He held up her figurine, wiggling it under Anders's nose. Dark-haired, like the rest of their family, but fair-skinned, which made sense on the Amell side.

"Not as faithful a representation as Oghren," Anders replied, "but maybe you should buy one and bring it back to Cullen. See what he thinks."

"Give Cullen chest pains," Cormac muttered, passing them again, this time with a large jar of dates held on his head. "That sounds like a great idea. And speaking of great ideas, can one or more of you strapping gents help me with these? They're heavy enough I can only move one at a time."

Fenris moved first, and Anders caught his eye with a questioning glance. Fenris shook his head, dismissively, almost imperceptibly, and went to help carry the huge jars. "What is all this?"

"Dates. We have an enormous orchard. I could sell them, or we could just donate them to the Chantry." Cormac reached out to heave the door open. "We have our investments. I'm not worried about whether we have enough."

"You're willing to trust the Chantry?" Fenris asked, nodding as he entered. "He's willing to trust? After what happened in Kirkwall?"

"It's different in the villages. Lothering was nothing like Kirkwall. Here, the Chantry actually helps people." Cormac turned to the side and led the way into an alcove that opened up into what looked like a storeroom. "Ah! Brother Derek! Eight jars of dates and two crates of general healing tonics, today."

"The Maker's blessings upon you, Mack," said Brother Derek. "You know where to put them. Do you need a hand with...?"

"We're fine, brother, thank you," Anders replied, appearing through the door with a jar of his own, Artie following with another. They placed their jars next to Cormac's and went back for the rest while Brother Derek jotted something down in his ledger.

"It's beautiful," Artie said, again distracted as he walked through the Chantry.

"Colourful, isn't it?" Anders grinned. "Mack and I have talked about putting tile down in select places, back home. I rather like the way the blues and greens catch the light." He waited for Fenris to set down his jar before placing his next to it.

"Just tile?" Fenris drawled. "A statue of Andraste might also look nice in your vestibule." He tipped his head at the looming statue at the end of the nave, paint making it no less colourful than the tiled walls, complete with fiery red robes.

"Where would you fit a statue of Andraste in our vestibule?" Anders asked, with a laugh, heading out for another jar.

Fenris followed. "You could use her to hold coats," he teased.

Cormac wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders. "This place is incredible. And in a little village, like this. You should see the Chantry in Kassel. We had nothing like this, in Ferelden. I don't think even Denerim was this bright. But, the Disciples are in everything, here. The tiles, the camels, little shrines -- Orlais has the Grand Cathedral, but I wonder if it's got a tenth of the shits to give."

"It's nothing like the Chantry in Kirkwall, and -- hold on, camels?" Artie squinted at his brother. "Is that why your camel has those shapes in its fur?"

"Those shapes are a picture of Hector, who leapt in front of Andraste to protect her from the Betrayer." Cormac stuck out his tongue. "But, yes, that's why Harellan has one of the Disciples shaved into his fur."

"That is bizarre and incredible, and I'm telling Anton Goatilda needs a new look."

A few more trips, and the jars and the crates were settled, among smiles and profuse thank-yous from Brother Derek. Before leaving, Anders poked his head into the office to give Sister Ingill a smile and wave. She ignored both and continued her work.

"I think she's warming up to me," Anders told Cormac, approaching the brothers from behind to wrap an arm around each set of shoulders. "So! Shopping. Rugs, clothing, and an Andrastian coathanger. Anything else on the list?"

"Did you get a number for the camel barber? Harellan's looking a little shaggy." Cormac slipped an arm around Anders's waist. "How about some lemon oil and mint extract, so my brother can stop smelling like spiced orange and purple sedge? Might have to cross the river for that. After lunch, then."

"What are we having for lunch?" Fenris asked. "And where? This place looks small to support a restaurant."

"There's a tavern," Anders pointed out. "Did he not mention it? The whole town is named for the tavern. It's called the Petty Crown, and the food is excellent. All local, though. It's not much of a tourist place, really, but it's the most important place in the village other than the Chantry."

"So, it's an Ander version of the Hanged Man," Fenris joked, as Cormac ducked out from under Anders's arm to lead the camel toward the stone edge of a niche filled with water that extended back to the river. He watched Cormac pay a man carrying a bucket, and after some nodding, the man handed back something small, and tied the camel to a post by the water. Under a large canopy, on the other side of the water, three women sat, tending a camel. Fenris thought they might be the camel barbers in question.

Cormac returned -- or half-returned anyway, before waving and gesturing to a rack of extremely complicated-looking rag rugs. They were as colourful as the Chantry interior, and Fenris wondered if all the bright decorations were there to offset the muted palette of the desert.

Artie followed, the weight of Anders's arm still around his shoulders when something caught his attention. He sniffed the air and then Anders's shoulder and turned an amused look the healer's way. "You smell like flowers," he said. "Since when do you smell like flowers?" Artie sniffed again, trying to find the smells he was used to, ground elfroot leaves... and lemon oil, after Artemis had taught him a modified version of the mage floors spell.

"It's the beard," Anders said, faking serious rather convincingly. "It lets off its own flowery scent. The darkspawn could smell it for miles away. It's why I used to shave it."

Artemis shoved his bearded face away.

"If you think he smells flowery," Fenris grunted, "you should try smelling more magisters." His face twisted, either at the memory or the smell. Possibly both.

"Do you want me to?" Artie drawled, finally ducking out from under Anders's arm to inspect the rugs, running his hand over the fabric.

Fenris tilted his head, considering. "Allow me to kill them first, Amatus. Then you may smell them."

"Sounds romantic."

"So, what do you think, Jan? The rose one for the entry, this blue and green one for the bedroom... Maybe something in soft mint for the main room?" Cormac asked, lifting rugs out of the way of other rugs on one rack.

"Get a few in mint and rose for the main room. You're not going to manage with just one, in there. The room's shaped wrong and it's too big. And don't... blue in the bedroom, please. Please, please no blue in the bedroom." Anders shuddered. "How about this nice sunburst one? You like red. I like gold. It goes with the walls."

"Everything here goes with the walls. It has to. Every wall in the entire village is the same colour, except where they're tiled." Cormac shook his head and laughed.

"Yours will be a darker shade as the wax sets in," Fenris pointed out. "No blue, or just no blue in the bedroom?" he asked, holding up the edge of a blue and gold rug. "I was thinking of the kitchen."

"We're probably going to buy most of your stock," Cormac apologised to the rug merchant. "My brother decided to wax the floors, like they do in the south, and ... now we need rugs."

"In my defence, the floors look great," Artie said, ears reddening. "It's not my fault you have the sense of balance of a tailless fish." He plucked at the mint green rug Cormac had pulled out. He could guess why his brother had gone with that colour. "Mint is a lovely colour. Warm colours would go well in the bedroom, with the morning sunlight, but cooler colours might work better in other rooms you're more likely to use during the day." He shrugged and grinned. "Trick your brain into thinking it's cooler than it is? I could also be making that up. I just like the green."

Anders laughed and rested the end of the sunburst rug on Artie's head so it blocked his face. "Mint and rose for the main room," he assured Cormac. To the vendor, he pointed at the sunburst rug and said, "We'll take this one. And those two over there. And, Fenris, as much of a smartass as you're being, I actually rather like those colours for the kitchen. Something to remember you by?" His smile was sharp.

Artemis said something agreeable under the rug.

Cormac counted out coins, as the merchant called out prices, coming to the same total a moment afterward. "A pleasure doing business with you."

Anders translated, and the merchant smiled and nodded, amazed at having done quite so much business, all at once, but since that asshole Ewald's son had come back to town, everyone had been selling much more than usual. She figured the man had to furnish his house somehow.

Chapter Text

Cormac folded the rugs and piled them onto Anders, before handing him a carved section of reed. "Go put those in the cart. Here's the number to prove it's ours. We'll be over at Helewyse's, checking out her oils."

"Make sure you get the oils and not the salves. I make better salves!" Anders called back, over his shoulder.

"Helewyse disputes that!" Cormac laughed. "Come on, I'll take you to meet the lady who'll keep your skin attached. You'd think a place this small wouldn't have a perfumer, and you'd be wrong. It's a whole other thing, up here. It's not as much about smelling good -- I mean, you will smell good -- but these will keep your skin from drying out. Pick three or four things you think would go together, and we'll have Jan mix something tonight, so you can stop smelling like us in the morning." He paused and leaned closer to Fenris. "Actually, you don't smell like either of us. What did he put on you?"

"It's for my skin," Fenris said, before realising that much was obvious. "A disinfectant and something for the swelling. Travel has been oddly unkind to me. Perhaps I am getting old." He smiled teasingly at Artemis. "Or spoilt. Terribly spoilt by the noble life."

"Do I indulge you too much, dear husband?" Artie tweaked one pointed ear. "And if you are getting old, then I am getting old, so clearly that can't be it." He eyed what he could see of Fenris's tattoos, relieved to see the swelling had gone down. He'd forgotten how nice it had been, living so close to a healer.

"Clearly," Fenris agreed, wrapping an arm around Artie's waist. His smile froze, his expression twisting to something more quizzical as he sniffed the air around his husband. "And you smell like your brother," he sighed.

"I don't mind, but I'm surprised you do, considering how cosy you two were this morning."

Fenris gave Artemis a flat look. "I don't know what you're talking about. That did not happen."

"Oh, it happened," Anders singsonged, gesturing for them to follow Cormac. Fenris shot each of them a look of betrayal.

"Lemon?" Cormac asked, offering a sliver of reed soaked in it to Artemis. "I know you like lemon, but maybe with something other than lye, this time."

"Lemon and mint are very nice together," Helewyse noted, looking the two obvious foreigners over. "You going to introduce me to your guests, Mack?"

"Ah! How dreadful of me. Helewyse, dear, this is my brother..." Cormac paused for a nearly undetectable breath, and made a decision. "Arthur. Artie's an architect, if you like puns, from Kirkwall, out in the Marches. And this is his husband--"

"Leto," Fenris cut in, the name tight in his teeth. "A mercenary, also from Kirkwall."

Helewyse looked between Fenris and Artemis in surprise, but she didn't say what Fenris knew she was thinking: he was married to an elf? "Ah, Kirkwall," she said instead. "That is a long way! All to visit your brother?"

"And to make sure he's staying out of trouble," Artemis replied, leaning in conspiratorially. "Has he been behaving?"

Helewyse cackled. "Around me, he has," she said. "Him, on the other hand." She pointed a reed at Anders, who smiled innocently.

"I have no idea what this charming and gorgeous woman could possibly mean."

"Sorry, I can't help you with him," Artie replied, waving a hand at Anders. "He's a lost cause. Lemon and mint, you say? I never thought to put those two together."

"Lemon and mint is even better in food, but I bet it would smell good on you. Maybe some almond to hold it together?" Cormac eyed the bottles, speculatively.

"Lard or olive?" Helewyse asked Anders, with a knowing look.

"If he picks almond, it'll be that, lard, and wax," Anders said, obviously looking for a particular scent. "Without the almond, probably still lard. Stability. It's skin salve, not perfume."

"Ah, good. Definitely lard, then, for that delicate southern skin." Helewyse held a hand out to Artie, obviously wanting a closer look at his hand.

"Cedar and sweet rush," Anders said to Fenris, holding out the reeds. "Maybe some myrrh to tack it down."

"Myrrh and not musk?" Cormac asked.

"Right. You two try not to smell each other." Anders laughed. "Trust me, it's myrrh."

Fenris took the reeds and gave them a whiff before shrugging and making a generally agreeable sound. As long as he didn't smell like oranges, he was amenable to their suggestions.

Artemis leaned in for a sniff. "It suits you," he said around a smile, and that was all the convincing Fenris needed.

In the end, after some debating and some half-hearted flirting with Helewyse, Anders found himself again laden with everyone's purchases. At least the bottles weren't as heavy as the rugs, though stacking them proved more of a challenge. They joined the rugs in the cart.

"It's like having a second camel," Fenris teased before frowning and pointing a finger Cormac's way. "I know there's a joke in there about camel humps. Don't make it." That finger moved to point at Artie as well.

"I'd insult you like that. I might even insult myself like that. But, I would not insult my brother like that, and anything I could say on the subject would apply to all three of us," Cormac pointed out.

"I think I might be more insulted than all of you!" Anders complained, getting his bearings and heading off toward a canopy decorated with bright drapes of cloth that fluttered in the wind. "I am not a camel! I am a man!" he pronounced, before stumbling over something small in his path -- something that let out a loud yowl and a sharp hiss.

"Did you just trip on a cat?" Fenris asked, confusion clear on his face.

Anders scooped the protesting creature into his arms and soothed it with dim healing, hidden by his voluminous robes. "Sand cats. They mostly live out in the hills past the lakes, but they come into town because they know they can steal chickens." The cat made a suspicious sound, and Anders set it on his shoulder. "Isn't that right, you fuzzy little chicken-thieving bastard? Yes it is!"

"This just happens," Cormac said with a shrug. "They sneak into the house, sometimes, and I'll find them licking a frozen ham I put out to thaw or marauding all over his desk. Never my desk, always his."

Artie shook his head in amazement. "Are you sure this isn't just summoning magic?" he asked Cormac out of the corner of his mouth. "Summon cat. That sounds like something Anders would learn just for such an occasion."

The cat settled on Anders's shoulder, perched as though surveying its kingdom, its narrow eyes making it look like it was judging them and their attire. Its ears were big, bigger than what Artemis was used to between Assbiter and Purrcy, but the way they twitched in annoyance was familiar. Artie looked between the sand cat and Fenris and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from making any associations aloud.

As Anders cooed at the cat, his fingers gentle in sandy fur, Fenris risked one finger under the creature's chin before turning pointedly to take in the selection of cloth on display. He would deny missing his -- Anders's -- pair of fur-beasts. "Are these... blankets?" he asked, taking in the drape of the cloth, which hung longer than he was tall. He eyed the cat-adorned giant. "Tell me these are blankets."

"Do blankets usually have sleeves?" Anders drawled, pulling at one piece of fabric and showing Fenris where an arm was supposed to go.

"Oh, if it's got sleeves, then at least it's men's clothing!" Cormac chimed in. "I know that much!"

"And I don't summon cats. They just like me because I'm adorable," Anders teased, leading Fenris to a different rack. "You'll find things in your size instead of mine, back here."

"He means kids' sizes," Cormac filled in, rifling a rack a bit over from the one Fenris stood beside. "Apparently, I'm the average size for a grown woman or a mid-teen boy. A little wide for either, but not by that much. You're in the land of giants, now."

"That is ridiculous. I may be small for a human, average sized for an elf, but I am not the size of a child," Fenris huffed, watching Anders pull out a bright green and yellow robe.

"I think this will fit you better than anything Cormac's got," Anders said, holding it out to Fenris. With his other hand, he pulled out a plain white robe with light grey embroidery. "This would also be your size, if you'd like to come get a real name in the Summerday procession."

Fenris's smile was tight. "Will you be joining me?" The next moment, he found the white robe draped over his face.

"I don't know if I should be amused or horrified that we're shopping for my husband in the children's section," Artemis laughed, helping Fenris disentangle himself from the cloth. He smoothed out the robe and neatly put it back. "For the moment, I'm going with amused. And you should be used to shopping in the women's section, Cormac. I remember the Chantry sister robes."

Artie looked entirely too smug until Anders pressed a green robe with silver trim into his chest. "And are you used to shopping in the teenage section? Because you'll need to, while you're here."

Fenris cackled at the horrified look on Artie's face and turned back to rummaging through the clothing in his size, looking for something more subtle than the bright green and yellow robe Anders had picked out.

"What are you laughing at?" Artie huffed, ears and cheeks red. "At least I've hit puberty!"

"I am not wearing women's clothing. I am not even wearing something that could be mistaken for women's clothing." Cormac picked up his arm. "See? There's a space between my arm and the rest of the robe." He crept up behind Artie and slipped an arm around him, holding up a green women's robe, with the sleeves gathered and stitched out of the circle of the main body. "And are you sure you should be saying things like that about your husband? Someone might get the wrong idea..."

"Oooh, that's a really nice colour for you, Artie." Anders tried to hold back a smile, as the sand cat climbed onto his head and batted at the strings that held the top of the canopy on. "Isn't that the same colour as your -- as the -- Didn't I find something in that colour under my pillow?"

Fenris choked on a laugh and held up a black and silver robe. "This is very nice. Simple."

"It's also a templar initiate's robe. It's what you wear if you're going down to Hossberg to devote yourself to the Order," Anders pointed out.

The red on Artie's cheeks had filled in the rest of his face. "You both might end up with something else under your pillow, if you're not careful," he grumbled, pushing the woman's robe and his brother's arm away. "And, Fen, please don't dress like a templar. You will be sleeping with the ham-stealing cats if you dress like a templar."

"Well, no one wants that," Fenris said dryly, replacing the black and silver robe. "Least of all, the cats."

Still sulking, Artemis picked out a blue robe with gold trim. Blue was more his sister's colour, but he'd been told often enough how much they looked alike. Then again, comparisons with his sister were something he would rather avoid for the moment.

Fenris pulled out a steel grey robe with black embroidery. "Will this suffice?" he asked Anders. "Or will wearing it confer unto me the status of Knight-Commander?"

"Because we often give children Knight-Commander status," Anders deadpanned, quirking one eyebrow. 

"He means it would look great on the floor of his bedroom," Cormac teased, not even looking at what Fenris was holding. "You know Jan thinks you'd look best in nothing at all."

"That is a lie," Anders declared, his head turning so fast the sand cat slipped and tried to catch itself on his cheek, before jumping to the top of the rack, instead. "Don't talk about your brother's husband like that!" He held out his hands, trying to lure the cat back down, before it decided to nest in something.

"Well, whatever Jan likes, I usually prefer wearing clothes," Fenris muttered, examining other styles of robe.

"Get a few of those plain looking thin ones," Cormac said, pointing. "They go underneath. The hooded ones are what you wear outside, in case of sandstorms."

"Why would I wear two layers in this heat?" Fenris asked, ignoring the part where he was already wearing leather and everything available seemed to be so much lighter.

"Because the underlayer keeps you from sweating all over the outer layer. It also dries faster," Anders said, picking up the cat again and getting poked in the face a few times. "And you're wearing leather, anyway, so what do you care?"

"On the one hand, it's more fabric for me to take off him later," Artie said, head tilted as he considered Fenris's garment choices. "On the other hand, robes. Won't need to take them off."

"I might want them off," Fenris muttered. "It still just seems... heavy." He wouldn't admit that Anders had a point about the leather. Heat and sweat just glued it to his skin, and peeling it on and off in this heat had been no mean feat.

When Fenris and Artie approached with their respective bundles, the vendor was as delighted as the others had been. This time, however, Anders refused to be their camel. Arms folded across his chest, Anders turned his face snootily away.

"No. Nope. It's your turn to carry. I prefer cargo of the fuzzier variety." And he went back to trying to coax the unimpressed cat down from the rack.

"See?" Artie shook his head at Fenris. "This is what happens when you insult the camel."

"Better than having it spit on me."

Chapter Text

"Let's get lunch," Cormac decided, sweeping the bundle out of Artie's arms. "If you want to wear something that's not stifling and sweaty, you can change in the bathroom at the tavern. It's closer than walking home. Still, whatever you don't mean to wear should probably go back to the camel, so nobody ends up spilling beer on it. It's not a festival day, so that's less likely, but why take chances?"

"Are you going to spend way too much on cakes and date sweets?" Anders teased, carrying the sand cat perched on one arm, like a falcon. "Because if you are, you should buy me a plate of pickles."

"Pickles?" Fenris asked, debating changing out of at least some of the leather -- what of it he could get out of without strange acrobatics.

"If it exists, you can get it in pickle form," Anders reassured Fenris, crouching down, outside the canopy, to set down the cat, which still circled him, bumping its head against him, possessively. "Salted and pickled just about anything. It keeps through the summer."

Fenris hummed in consideration, eyeing Anders with more suspicion than the cat had. "I suppose your taste in food is generally less questionable than his." He tipped his head in Cormac's direction as they all headed for the tavern. "But the last thing pickled I tried was from Theron, so I am dubious. I will, however, reserve judgement."

"You're assuming I will let you share," Anders replied, bumping Fenris with his elbow and getting an ear twitch and a growl in response.

"The camel is getting cheeky," Artie teased. Then, seeing Fenris's hesitation over the robes, he said, "Take a set with you. We'll try them on. And if you need some, ah, 'assistance', I'd be happy to help." Artemis had seen him dress and undress often enough to know the amount of effort it took to get in and out of those pants in the best circumstances.

Fenris took a subtle step forward, putting Anders between him and Artemis. "Please don't mage wax my legs."

Artie blinked as Anders guffawed. "That is... not what I meant. At all."

"Andraste's blazing ass," Cormac marvelled, "what a horrifying idea. Mage waxed legs. I'd say you wouldn't be fluffy any more, but that's not really a problem for you."

Anders pulled open the tavern door, still laughing. "Welcome to the Petty Crown, the only place to get a drink, around here, if you don't make your own."

"Suck my pickles, Jannik!" the bartender shouted, winging a rag at Anders's head, from the other side of the room.

"Well, it's true!" Cormac cut in, grinning as he led the way to an empty table. "An understatement, but no less true for it. It's the only place to get a drink, this side of the river, but it's also going to be a very good drink!"

"I take it you've settled in well, then. Friendly with the locals -- or at least as friendly as you ever get," Fenris teased Anders.

"Oh, believe me, that's not the friendliest I get," Anders said with a suggestive smile. 

"No, indeed," Fenris amended, "or I suppose he'd have asked you to 'suck his pickles' in a different tone."

"Careful what you say about the man serving your drinks, stranger!" the bartender said, shaking a finger at Fenris, but the grin on his face said he was more amused than offended. Fenris still suspected he would have ended up with a rag in his face if the man hadn't already thrown the one in his hand.

"I think he was saying more about him," Artie said, pointing a thumb at Anders and earning a bark of laughter from the bartender. He took the bundle of cloth his brother carried and held it up. "Bathroom?"

The bartender hooked a thumb over his shoulder at the bathroom door. 

"Thanks!"

"So, what should we get?" Cormac asked, leaning back in his seat as Anders pulled out the chair beside him. "I suspect we're stuck choosing. Pickles for you, of course, and date sweets for me, and bread, obviously. Figs and honey? Pork ribs? Stewed questionable meats from yesterday's leftovers?"

"Beer with a side of beer and some beer, to start," Anders called over his shoulder. "Mixed pickle, mixed sweets, and whatever meat's still hot. Spice bread and some preserved cheese."

"Only if you bring back that rag," the bartender replied.

"What, so you can throw it at me again?" Anders scoffed, pressing a hand to his chest.

"Or at the next poor sod through that door. Kind of depends on who it is." The bartender laughed and started filling a jug from one of the casks behind the bar.

Dropping the rag on the counter with a flourish, Anders tipped his head at the bathroom door. "You're welcome to throw it at the poor sods coming through that door, once they come out." He was sure Artie would protest, since it was, in fact, a dirty rag, but that's what the man got for mage waxing his floors.

Messeres Fartemis had shuffled out of the bathroom by the time the bartender had brought over the beers and food. Even in children's clothes, Fenris was swimming in fabric, or perhaps it just seemed that way compared to the tight leather he'd walked into the room wearing. Artemis had the fabric of his robes clutched in his hands, rucking up the cloth so he wouldn't step on it by accident.

"I think this is the most clothing I've ever worn at one time," Artie declared, taking the seat next to his brother and propping his feet in Cormac's lap. He reached for a bit of bread and cheese while Fenris went straight for the beer.

"Is not," Cormac retorted, grabbing half a fig with honey drizzled on it. "Don't you remember that coat dad got you, when we were staying in the Wilds, that winter? You were the one of us that looked like a bear in that thing. It was like three inches thick and went down to the ground. You kept tripping on it."

"That sounds oddly adorable," Anders said, eyeing Artie contemplatively, as he helped himself to a sliver of pickled lotus root.

Fenris hummed in agreement and eyed all the food suspiciously. Bread, at least, he could recognise easily. And... that was some kind of meat. He piled meat and a few slices of cheese onto a piece of bread and rolled it up. That looked like it might be food, as opposed to whatever it was Cormac was eating.

"Well, you know Artie -- always the adorable member of the family." Cormac shrugged and sipped his beer.

"And then I passed the bear mantle onto you," Artemis said. "I'd almost forgotten about that. Not sure how I could." He had been rather vocal in his dislike of the cold, and dad had stepped in to fix it, as always. Between dad and Cormac, Artie supposed he'd always been spoilt.

Artie considered the beer in front of him for a long moment. One drink. One drink was certainly fine.

As Fenris tried to puzzle out what Anders was eating, someone else came into the tavern, someone the bartender greeted brightly but didn't throw a rag at. Fenris first noticed the sword at the man's side and subtly shifted his new robes to make sure his own weapon would be easily accessible. He doubted the man was a threat, not with the friendly and familiar way he smiled and waved at Anders, but years as a bodyguard were difficult to shake off.

"Good to see you, Ser Peryn!" Anders greeted him, wiping his hand on the edge of his robe before offering him a wave. "How's the arm?"

A piece of bread nearly got stuck in Artie's throat. "Ser?" The man was in robes, not plate, but... that was a familiar sunburst symbol on the bottom of his robes.

"Much better! You are so kind to ask. Once I got back to Hossberg, the healers fixed the rest. They were very ... they had many goodnesses to say about your work." Peryn smiled and approached the table. "These are more friends from far places?"

"My brother, Arthur, and his husband, Leto." Cormac introduced them. "This is Ser Peryn, our occasional templar. He's only here for a few days at a time, but he's pretty good in a bar fight! What ever happened to the guy who broke your arm, by the way?"

"Oh, he paid a fine to Mother Yotte. Damaging Chantry property." The sly grin on Peryn's face suggested the last was a joke. "So, Jan, I thought I knew your name. I looked at it and you are the brother of a mage, yes? Do you know what happened to him?"

"Mama told me the templars took him away. Down to Hossberg, she thought." Anders shrugged uncomfortably. "I was gone, so... Do you know him?" 

"I looked for him. A favour for a good man, yes?" Peryn smiled and pulled over a chair from another table, putting himself between Fenris and Anders. "But, he was not so easy to find. I know that we sent him to Ferelden, but Ferelden lost him somewhere, in the Blight. He is maybe still alive, and they are still trying to find him. I hope he is well and you can send him a letter when he is found. That poor man shouldn't be alone in the world. I hope Ferelden finds him soon."

Anders knew he was supposed to say something here. As Jannik, he should say something kind and grateful. As Anders, he could say something ironic or misleading to get Peryn to stop looking. But in the end, the words didn't come. He was almost grateful when Fenris cleared his throat and drew Peryn's attention away from him.

"So, you are a templar," Fenris said, to which Peryn nodded. "You must know quite a bit about mages. What are they like? I've never met one." He supposed he deserved the kick his husband dealt him under the table, but his expression never moved from politely interested.

Anders gestured for the bartender to bring Peryn a drink.

"Oh! Yes, mages!" Cormac turned a delighted grin on Peryn, as he reached for a pickled... whatever that was. He hadn't quite figured all of them out, yet. "Tell us all about mages! Obviously, my brother and I have never met any. Our father raised us in the Chantry, and that doesn't much lend itself to consorting with apostates. Or Circle mages, really. Can they really do all those things in the legends?"

Artie kicked him too. He was going to kill them both later. He'd gotten used to the templars in Kirkwall, the ones who had stayed and helped their mage charges, but this was different. This was sitting across from a templar who didn't know them, who would turn them in if he knew. This was their old life on the run, just in a different country.

This was... a drink in his hand. At least drinking gave his fidgety hands something to do.

Chapter Text

"Ah," said Peryn with a soft smile, "that depends on what legends you mean."

"Oh, you know, the exciting ones!" Cormac laughed between swigs of beer. "The ones where they fight dragons with lightning from their fingertips or slay hordes of darkspawn with waves of flame!"

"The history of the Second Blight is filled with stories of mages fighting darkspawn," Peryn said, accepting his drink with a sage nod. "Those stories may even be true. It is said the mages who marched with Emperor Drakon formed the first Circle in Orlais, and they were allowed it because they were great heroes. I have heard that there is a contract that dates back to that time requiring all Circles to contribute mages to the Wardens in a time of Blight. They sent us a letter from Weisshaupt, and some of our mages went away. The blight was over so quick, but they never came back. There are whispers that no one ever comes back from being a Warden. That is true dedication."

"No one ever comes back from being a templar, either," Cormac muttered under his breath, thinking of Cullen and Carver.

"I wish that were true," Peryn sighed. "But, as there are good men and bad men, so there are good templars and bad templars, and the bad ones are removed from our service."

"So, is it true that mages always wear robes?" Anders asked, coughing to cover the squint, when Justice surged at the thought of 'bad templars'. "Is that really the fashion in the Circles?"

"He asks, at a table full of people wearing robes," Artemis muttered.

Peryn chuckled politely. "It is the fashion at Hossberg," he said. "But, as you say, it is the fashion here too. I cannot speak for other Circles outside the Anderfels, but I have not imagined different."

"Hear that, Leto?" Anders said. "In your new clothing, you and Artie are both dressed like mages too!"

"Amusing," Artie deadpanned. He was tempted to kick Anders too but suspected he'd accidentally hit Peryn. That would be awkward. "Though Leto here almost chose the templar initiate's robes by mistake. I suspect he'd make as terrible a mage as I would." He stared down at his drink, frowning when he saw how much he'd drunk and how fast. Still, the templar showed no signs of leaving, so Artemis ordered another. Two drinks weren't bad. It was only beer.

Cormac pointed at Peryn. "Of course, robes seem to be templar fashion, too. That's a really nice one, by the way."

"Thank you!" Peryn smiled. "It is the normal robe for a templar. We wear them for the same reason anyone wears them. The sandstorms are truly terrible. But, I have been meaning to ask, are you a brother with the Chantry?"

"It's the robe, isn't it?" Cormac sighed, apologetically. "I'm a scholar, big fan of Genitivi and Petrine. It's such a struggle to dress appropriately, in this line of work."

Artemis bit his tongue against a comment about dressing inappropriately. And another comment about Cormac's tattoos and Cormac calling himself a scholar the first time they'd met Marethari. "Back home, he dressed like a Chantry sister. I think they envied how much better the robes looked on him." 

"Maybe that's why Sister Ingill hasn't warmed to you yet," Anders teased Cormac. "Robe envy." He nudged the plate of pickles in Peryn's direction and gestured at it invitingly.

"I do not know if the robes make a difference," Peryn said with a grin. "Not unless she envies my robes as well." He reached for something on the plate that Fenris couldn't identify but hoped was a vegetable.

"The robes always make a difference," Cormac said, around a mouthful of mutton with mint sauce and spiced bread. "It's a rare individual that would want to see me without them."

Anders choked on his beer and fell to cackling like a fool. "A rare individual indeed! One enamoured of thick middles and fluffy rumps!"

"I have always thought Mack looked like a magical bear," Fenris drawled, before realising what he'd said. "What do they call those in the south? Bereskarn. I have always held that he looks like a bereskarn."

"You are not from the south?" Peryn asked, after an awkward moment.

"I'm not from anywhere," Fenris said. "Too many years travelling. I like the Marches, though. Tantervale, in particular. They have the most wonderful apples, in Tantervale."

"He doesn't like Orlesian chocolates, but Tantervale apples he loves," Artemis added, reaching for the pickle plate at the same time as Peryn and drawing his hand back a bit too fast. 

"I apologise," said Peryn, pushing the plate his way, but Artie waved him off.

"No, no, go ahead," he said with a sheepish smile. "I'm not even sure what most of this is, really, but I had the same experience with what Mack made for dinner last night. Tasty, either way. Can't say I've regretted anything I've put in my mouth yet."

Anders opened his mouth to say something only to stuff it with cheese instead.

"I'm sure," Fenris drawled, looking entirely too amused. "I am not surprised that Mack has picked up the local cuisine so adeptly. He always was a fan of Ander culture."

Even watered down beer burned when it came out through the nose, or so Artemis discovered.

Cormac choked on a fig roll. "Not as big a fan as he is of elven culture, or so I'm told." He shot a pointed look at Fenris and wiggled his eyebrows.

"You have known elves?" Peryn asked, glancing at Fenris. "Not elves of the city, like your friend, but ... how do they call themselves, the Dalish elves?"

"My brother has known a fair number of Dalish elves. They like him. He's funny and cute. Mostly harmless." Cormac winked at Artie and tossed him another napkin. "We lived near a camp, for a while, when we were young. We traded with them. Nice people."

"I had heard of them being wild and murderous! That they do not like the human people, like us!" Peryn looked back and forth between the brothers, in amazement.

"Like I said, he's cute and I'm... a scholar. We were unarmed, and we didn't make trouble." Cormac shrugged easily. "They're just people. Not so different to the human tribes in the far south, really. Insular and not particularly welcoming, but they don't make a point of going out and just killing people."

"I knew one elf who was like that," Anders said, after a moment, "but her clan threw her out for it. She never did get around to liking humans, much, but she'd admit we were useful, after a couple of months in our company."

Artie daubed at his chin and robes with Cormac's napkin. "Of course," he muttered. "New robes that I've barely worn five minutes, and they're already stained. Well done, me." He glared half-heartedly at Fenris. "Your fault."

"It is," Fenris said, more smug than apologetic. He considered his drink and Artemis's. "Shall I earn your forgiveness with another round?" He bit back the 'Amatus' that waited on the tip of his tongue. Outing himself as Tevinter would cast aspersions on his comment about not knowing mages.

"It would be a good start," Artie conceded. "A better start would involve stronger alcohol."

Fenris hesitated. Drinking heavily around a templar was not a good idea, worse when they were in a strange land using names that weren't theirs.

"Please," said Peryn, "I will get the next round. You have been generous and good company."

Anders nearly dropped his beer when he heard Peryn call out for the next round -- it wasn't beer at all. "We're surrounded by foreigners," Anders reminded him.

"And you think they cannot drink it? I think you must have more faith in your friends." Peryn clapped a hand on Anders's shoulder and laughed.

"What... are we drinking, here?" Fenris asked, after a moment, when the wide-eyed look didn't fade from Anders's face.

"Anijswater," Anders replied. "You know the drink the Orlesians call pastis? Or Nevarran ouzo? This is like that. We drink it with a bit of water, so it turns white. You should eat more before you try to drink it. It's very good, and if you don't eat, you'll be very drunk -- especially after the walk home."

Justice was already displeased with the beer, and the thought of adding strong liquor on top of it sat poorly with him. In the years they'd spent with Cormac, Anders hadn't gotten drunk -- actually drunk -- very often at all, after those few months right at the start, but Justice could feel the memories of drunkenness creeping in around the edges. Oddly fond recollections of having been too drunk to see and laughing hysterically from the bottom of a flight of stairs while someone else drawled barely comprehensible comments from above.

"Jan, the look on your face both intrigues and concerns me," Artie said. The bartender returned to their table with a tray of drinks and set the cups down one at a time. Artie peered into his cup curiously.

"Do not look so concerned, friend," Peryn said to him, laughing. "I think you will like." He picked up his cup and held it up. "A toast. You do that in the south, yes?"

"It has been known to happen," Fenris drawled, eyeing his drink askance before lifting his cup as well. "What are we toasting?"

"A toast to not being on a boat any more?" Artie suggested with a one-shouldered shrug.

"A toast to having rugs for my waxed floors?" Anders countered.

"I was thinking, a toast to friends," Peryn said, looking dreadfully amused, "but rugs. That can work too. Friends and rugs." He saluted them with his cup before taking a long drink.

Several drinks passed, with no one willing to be outdone by this templar, and by the bottom of the bottle, Anders seemed to be the most upright of any of them. Justice, really. Justice had no intention of being drunk, and resisted it on Anders's behalf, insofar as Anders could be said to have a behalf, and maybe that was the anijswater speaking, after all. Any way the table could be observed, though, Anders was not listing in any direction.

"So, Anders," Fenris slurred, jabbing a finger at Anders as he spoke. The combination of the heat and a drink that was almost entirely alcohol had caught up to him quickly.

"Which one?" Cormac asked, resting his forehead on the top of his beer mug, waiting for the sensation of having been kicked in the forehead to pass. "You're in the Anderfels, you dick. They're all Anders, here."

"The obvious one," Fenris huffed, leaning heavily on the table.

"He means you," Cormac teased, elbowing Peryn, who brayed with laughter and said something in Ander.

"Yeah, he probably means me," Anders agreed. "What do you want, Marcher?"

"Which one?" Artie asked in turn, voice muffled by the table. He lifted his head so that his chin rested on the table instead of his face and groped about for his drink, accidentally smacking Fenris's arm in the process, only to find it empty. "Got another round in you, Anders?" he asked Peryn. He smacked his lips. Was his tongue always this heavy? How had he not noticed it?

Peryn squinted back at him. "Sorry. I heard 'got' and 'Anders'. Could you... ah, which one are you? Leto?"

Artie said, "Yes," at the same time Fenris said, "No." They exchanged a look, and Artie slumped to the side to hide a snorting laugh against Fenris's shoulder. "Excuse you, Artie," said Artie. "I know my own name. M'not that drunk."

"I'm not Artie," Fenris huffed, nudging his husband with his elbow so that he slumped in the opposite direction. With an impish smile, he added, "I'm Mack."

"I'm confused," said Peryn.

"Hello, Confused!" Anders said, cackling. Justice disapproved. Anders wasn't nearly drunk enough to justify that awful joke, but Artemis seemed to find it hilarious.

"Is Confused, over there, going to be all right when we go home?" Cormac asked, after a bit, the rim of his mug still digging into his forehead. "Or are we going to have the aftermath of another bar fight?"

"I think that depends on whether Madame Elf decides to take a swing on behalf of mages everywhere," Anders joked. "What say you, Varania?"

"I am not an elf!" Fenris declared, then paused, a look of horror on his face. "No, no. I am an elf. I am an elf, not a lady mage. I am neither a lady nor a mage." He stared at the empty bottle in utter bafflement and then shot a dirty look at Anders. "Shut up, Theron."

"I am transcendent!" Anders shouted, laughing. "Don't mind us, we're drunk," he told Peryn, and then repeated himself in Ander.

"I had noticed," Peryn replied, though his brow had smoothed over in understanding. His Ander accent thickened with each drink.

This time Artie's cackling face ended up pressed against Cormac's arm. "I'm still not a halla," he said. A bit of drool dribbled out that he wiped off on Cormac's sleeve. "I'm a Fereldan parsnip. Right, dad?" The words caught up with him a moment later, and he sat up too fast, nearly swaying backwards off his chair. "Not dad. No. Sorry, Carver."

Cormac shot straight up in his chair, the ring from the rim of his mug clear on his forehead. "I do not look that much like dad, Bethany."

Artemis's mouth fell open, and he punched his brother in the arm, hard enough to be felt through the layers of robes. "Shut up, Bran!" He stole his brother's drink.

"I think you've had enough to drink, Bran," Fenris said to his husband, taking Cormac's drink from Artie.

"So have you, Bran," Artie countered, taking Cormac's drink and Fenris's.

Anders relieved Artemis of the drinks, finishing them, himself. He and Justice could handle a few more. Obviously, the rest of the table could not.

Fenris squinted across  the table at Anders for a long moment. "One Bran, two Bran," he said pointing at Anders and Peryn. "Red Bran, blue Bran," he finished, gesturing at Cormac and Artemis.

"Elf Bran has had enough," Cormac declared, after a bit of staring.

"It's funny!" Fenris insisted. "Master Brosca has been teaching me dwarven poetry! It's only not funny because you're not dwarfy enough -- and you're pretty dwarfy for a human. What is it she calls you? A tall dwarf?"

As bickering broke out over whether or not Cormac was a dwarf, Anders turned to Peryn, explaining in Ander that 'Bran' was a very common name in Ferelden, much like 'Jan' in the Anderfels.

"Oh! That is funny!" Peryn decided, loudly, patting Fenris roughly on the back. "I would say we are all Jan, but Bran is much more funny. There is real Jan at this table. There is no real Bran here."

"Well said, templar Bran," Artie agreed. He looked around and frowned. "Which of you Brans took my drinks?"

"One Bran," Fenris replied, pointing at Anders with a swaying finger. In a loud whisper, he added, "Though maybe he should have been Blue Bran."

Artie hummed in agreement, leaning towards Fenris until his head flopped against Fenris's shoulder. "Elfy Bran is less spiky than usual," he said, rubbing his cheek against Fenris's shoulder.

"Thank you, drooly Bran," Fenris replied. He blinked down at his husband. "Or sleeping Bran."

"We might need camel Bran for these idiots," Anders said. He took a second look at Cormac and added, "Including this Bran."

"A Band of Brans!" Fenris declared before slumping over the table again, Artie falling with him, lightly snoring.

"It's been lovely, but the Brans and I must be getting home," Anders explained to Peryn, repeating himself in Ander after a blank look. Farewells followed, amid a great deal of back-slapping and jovial shouting, and Anders called for paper to wrap the rest of their meal which had been a bit large even for four of them -- five. Six, if you counted Justice, which Anders did, if only to excuse the fact that he ate enough for two men by himself.

"You should fetch the camel," Cormac said to Anders, slipping a few coins into his hand. "I'll stay here and keep an eye on Bran and Bran. I promise we won't be any drunker by the time you get back."

"Please don't do anything stupider than usual," Anders implored, heading out to find their camel so they could get home.

Chapter Text

"M'not that drunk," Fenris insisted for the third time, this time addressing Anders's ass, as he tried to decide which way was up.

"Sure, Elf Bran," Anders replied, adjusting his grip and resettling Fenris's weight on his shoulder. Fenris continued to grumble things Anders either couldn't hear or couldn't understand, which Anders ignored either way. Elf Bran's husband was loud enough for the both of them, sprawled as he was across the cart and singing off-key at the top of his lungs. "He's not that drunk, either, I'm sure."

"Nah, he's shitfaced," Cormac laughed, leading the camel down the road. "And that means someone's getting laid, tonight. Hopefully the correct someone."

"I'm not sure he's going to find an incorrect someone in our house, Mack," Anders pointed out, shifting his grip on Fenris. "Look, do I need to put you in the cart with Singing Bran?"

Fenris growled something in Tevene, that was utterly incomprehensible to Cormac, but obviously tart.

"Hold the camel," Anders called, and Cormac convinced Harellan to stop.

While Anders rearranged the contents of the small cart to make room for Fenris beside Artemis, Cormac leaned over the drainage ditch beside the road and emptied his stomach into it. It took a few tries to get all the liquid out and a few shoves to keep Harellan out of the way -- the camel was as bad as a cat, some days.

"Do I need to do something about that?" Anders asked, draping a rug over the couple in the cart.

"Nah, that's just so I'll stop being drunk some time before morning. With any luck, I'll be able to carry Artie into the house, by the time we get there." Cormac stretched and made his way back around the camel, as Anders got out of the cart. "You know, it's a good thing they're wearing robes. At least we're not going to have to find any clothes they might've decided to take off on the way home."

"Making it easier for them may or may not be a good thing," Anders laughed. "Those are new rugs."

At least the horrible singing had stopped. He glanced back at the cart to see the pair curled up with and around each other, Fenris making soft purring noises against Artie's neck. Their feet poked out from under the rug and over the edge of the cart, Artie's hooked over Fenris's.

"So what do you think?" Anders asked Cormac as he coaxed Harellan forward. "Do you think they'll fall asleep or start making the Bran with two backs?"

"Oh, oh, no. You need to stop with the Bran jokes, now, because that was a little vivid, and it had nothing to do with those two and everything to do with the Seneschal." Cormac shuddered. "I mean, he's a good looking guy, but no. And no twice to two of him."

"Really? No to Seneschal Bran?" Anders recoiled in surprise. "I'd take a bit of that in a heartb-- yes, Justice. Thank you, Justice." He raised his eyebrows at Cormac. "That's an official declaration of disinterest from us, I suppose. Bran's not sexy because he's not dipped in lyrium or burning for better conditions for mages."

"The man's the civil leadership behind the city guard. He passes judgement. You could say he's a ... force for justice," Cormac pointed out.

Anders tipped his head. Justice had a few grumbling remarks, but he sounded more amenable. "It seems Justice would rather talk politics with him than climb into his bed. I've assured him we could multitask, but he seems dubious."

Out of the corner of his eye, Anders caught movement in the cart. He glanced back to make a smart comment about the couple only to realise that the movement was another sand cat, climbing aboard for a ride. Well. Some of the movement. The cat didn't seem to mind the way the rug it was sitting on moved.

Anders clicked his tongue and rubbed his fingers together, trying to summon the furry beast, but it just stared at him as though trying to puzzle out his secrets. "Looks like we've been joined by Cat Bran," Anders said, followed by an immediate, if insincere, "Sorry. I'll stop."

The cats continued to gather, as they continued down the road, and by the time they reached the camel gate in the garden wall, an abundance of fur-demons had settled around the intertwined lovers, purring contentedly. Fenris had ducked under Artie's chin, at some point in the journey, but three cats were curled around the back of his head, one with a tail twitching firmly against Artie's forehead.

"You take the cats," Cormac suggested, leading the camel around to the open shelter his food was kept in. "I'll take the camel. Meet you back here to unload the rest of the cart."

"Why do I always end up with the cats?" Anders asked, leaning over the side of the cart to pick up the one that had discovered their leftovers, and was currently helping itself to a mutton shaving. It purred loudly at him and poked him in the nose.

"Is that a serious question?" Cormac asked, unfastening the camel from the cart. "I'm pretty sure that's not a serious question. You know they'd be in your way, no matter what you meant to be doing, so why not just make it your business to attract them to something other than our rugs?"

"Like my hair?" Anders sighed as the cat in his arms climbed out of his arms and scaled him like a tree, settling in Anders's hair to lick its chops. It was a balancing act, shooing cats while one curled on his head and others bumped his leg and tried to chew on his toe.

The tail against Artie's forehead migrated, twitching against his eye instead, and Artie's face scrunched, a whine starting in the back of his throat. A whiskered face replaced a twitching tail, a sandpaper tongue scraping the tip of Artie's nose. "Purrcy," Artemis grumbled, sluggishly pushing the cat face away from his human face.

Anders scooped up that cat next as Artie's eyes blinked open. Fenris grumbled in his sleep and tightened his arms around Artemis. 

"Good morning, Drunk Bran!" Anders greeted Artie, patting his cheek, with a cat in one arm and another still on his head. Drunk Bran blinked back at him in bleary-eyed confusion and responded with syllables Anders couldn't translate.

The sounds of Cormac feeding and brushing the camel filtered across the yard, and the cats took a sudden interest in the rustling, some of them rushing off to trip someone else, instead.

Fenris squinted against the light of the setting sun, taking in only the curve of Artie's cheek, for a bit. "Drunk," he muttered, seeming almost surprised. "Potion?"

"Sorry, Elf Bran, we haven't had much need for them, so I haven't been keeping up stock. I'll make some, tonight, though. Just in case you two decide to repeat this experience." Anders set a cat aside and picked up a pile of rugs. "Think about sitting up. I'm going to go make sure nobody falls down between the door and the guest room."

The sound of Cormac cursing at great length filled the yard as he tripped on a cat and splashed a bucket of water on himself.

At the sound of his brother swearing, Artie sat up. Too fast, he realised too late, scrambling for the edge -- any edge -- of the cart and introducing the ground to the contents of his stomach. Anders sighed, finally extricating the last cat from his hair as he threw healing Artie's way. At least he didn't get anything on the rugs.

"Are we all right, Drunk Bran?" Anders asked.

"Templars are evil," Artemis groaned, still hanging over the edge of the cart as Fenris tried to find the rest of his legs under the rug. He found his legs and his ass but only as they were falling out of the cart.

Fenris stared dazedly up at the sky. The clouds were rather pretty, he decided, the way the setting sun painted them so many different colours. He was okay with lying there for a while until his stomach recognised that he'd stopped moving.

"Cormac," Anders called out, "I'm going to need a hand with Drunk Bran and Drunker Bran."

Cormac stopped poking the cats with hay and made his way back to the cart, robes still a bit discoloured from being splashed, but mostly dry. Magic was good for that. "Artie, I love you, but just keep sitting here and throwing up for a bit. I'm going to help Fenris inside, and then I'll come back for you. Anders is going to sit here with you, and try to get you a little less drunk."

"I've got a few spells that reduce the effects of poisons." Anders shrugged. "Might not be the best, but it should help."

"Okay, first things first. Fenris, are you going to throw up on me, if I move you?" Cormac asked, grabbing Fenris by the ankles and preparing to pull him close enough to pick up.

"It is unlikely," Fenris decided. "I like the likelihood of not... Like is a practical word. I like 'like'."

"Shitfaced," Cormac breathed, shaking his head at Anders, as he dragged Fenris toward him. After a small struggle with the loose-limbed elf, Cormac gathered him up and headed for the house -- two cats already watched from the door.

Artemis spent the next few minutes hanging there like a limp rag, groaning at the ground.

"I tried to warn you about the anijswater," Anders said, a glowing hand rubbing Artie's back. It had been a while since he'd had to treat this, but he supposed he should have prepared, considering their company. "You should always beware booze-bearing templars."

After a bit of wrangling and a blessedly minimal amount of vomit, they managed to get the pair of drunkards inside and into bed. Their sand cat visitors were every bit as helpful as expected, and one took up its earlier post at Fenris's head. Another decided that every rug needed inspecting. And mauling, apparently.

"And I thought Assbiter was wild," Anders said, trying to toe the cat off the nearest rug. But rug moved with cat, attached by teeth and claws, and the cat wriggled in protest, folding the rug around itself in the process.

"That's a problem I didn't anticipate," Cormac muttered, standing on one rug and attempting to unroll the cat, so he could cross the room with mugs of lime-water for the drunken couple. "Is this why you didn't have rugs downstairs?"

"Rugs just didn't occur to me," Anders admitted, after a moment. "We didn't have rugs here, either, until Messere Mage-wax over there had his way with our house."

"Actually, he had his way with me. The house was just in the way." Cormac finally got the rug unrolled, to reveal a sand cat, ears back, tail twitching, glaring up at him. He tapped his foot sharply, and it ran off, yowling, to assault the iron grates on the bookcase, while Cormac kicked the rug straight and inched across the room to set both mugs on the nightstand. 

"They're going to fall down, aren't they," he sighed. "Well, Fenris, anyway. I don't think Artie can fall down. Or at least not in a way that his feet leave the ground, which is twice as bizarre. Do we have to sit up all night and watch them?"

"Well, to be fair, I was going to sit up all night anyway." Anders shrugged. "Things to do. Apparently I need to adjust the potions I keep on hand."

"I'll keep you company for a while, after I put things away. What do you need cut?" Cormac brushed the hair out of his brother's face, and just marvelled at having Artemis within brotherly hexing distance again.

Chapter Text

Even with the new clothing better suited for the weather, Artie found the Anderfels's intense heat barely tolerable. He had never been this far north, and after a few days, he was beginning to hope he never was again.

"You know what would be wonderful right now?" Artemis asked Cormac, his face pressed to one waxed wall, which felt deliciously cool against his cheek. "Snow. Giant heaps of it. Right on my face. I will never take snow for granted again. I will never take not melting to death for granted again. If I ever complain about the cold again, remind me of this moment and punch me in the face."

"You know I would never punch your delightfully adorable face," Cormac reassured his slowly-melting brother, as he draped a damp rag from the icebox over Artie's head. It hadn't been frozen when it went in, so it was only a bit stiff with the chill, and definitely much cooler than anything else in the room. "It's ... well, it's summer. This is really pretty close to the hottest it gets, here. And in the middle of summer, they make all the kids earn their names by walking across the village in this heat, to hear a speech in front of the Chantry. So, you know, it could've been worse. We could've grown up here."

Artemis straightened at the shock of blessed cold on his head. He dragged the cold rag down over his face and groaned. "I would have stayed nameless like Anders," he said, "and I would have been fine with it. The Maker did not intend for humanity to live in these conditions." The rag went to his neck then and stayed there.

"It's the Blight, you know," Cormac said, quietly. "There's stories of what used to be up here -- not so different to Tevinter, but Tevinter didn't get blighted like... this. Almost a thousand years, and this is as far as they've come." He shook his head. "But, the Blight didn't make it hot. Just made sure there was no nature to get in the way of all the hot. Which is why we have the latest in magical dwarfy shit -- an icebox. Just like the one at home, if a whole lot smaller. Just keep a couple of rags in it and swap them, when they get warm. Or I can go ice the bathtub, if you want."

"Thank you, magical dwarfy shit," Artemis said, giving the icebox a grateful pat. "I might take you up on that in a little while. For the moment I think I'll just whine at the wall and pray for a quicker death."

"Are you still being dramatic, Amatus?" Fenris said from the doorway, bare to the waist, if slightly less melty. He grabbed another rag from the ice box and wrapped an arm around Artemis, who whined and shoved him back.

"The elf furnace is not allowed to mock me."

Anders stepped into the room, in a lightweight robe, hair twisted into a knot on the back of his head. "Is the elf furnace feeling any less dehydrated?" he asked, taking an onion down from a basket hung in the corner of the kitchen and peeling it.

"Yes, thank you." Fenris ran a hand over his arm, where nearly all of the swelling had finally subsided, and only a thin trace of red marked the edge of the lyrium lines. "I am feeling much better than I have since I got on that boat in Kirkwall. I do not like the sea."

"You and Cormac, both." Anders laughed and chopped onion, sprinkling the pieces into the layered casserole Cormac had started.

"I love the sea!" Cormac protested, mixing a bowl of groats with seasoning. "Swimming is great! I just... don't like sailing on it."

"I am eternally grateful I have never had to spend time on a boat with your brother, Amatus," Fenris mumbled, nuzzling Artie's ear.

Anders dumped the rest of the onion into the pan and wiped off the counter. "You have no idea how fortunate you are."

"May you never learn," Cormac said, shaking his head and pouring the contents of the bowl over the onions. He picked up the pan. "Just need to put this on before it gets any later. Is the tea up?"

"Tea's sitting on the garden wall," Anders told him, picking up a flat pan covered in rounds of dough. "Don't burst into flames, you two," he said, pointing at Fenris and Artemis, as he followed Cormac into the garden, where the cooking parts of the kitchen couldn't heat the rest of the house.

"So, I've been meaning to ask you something..." Cormac said, sliding his pan into the clay oven. "The other night, with Fenris. I thought you didn't like being touched, there. Was I wrong?"

Anders slid his pan in next to Cormac's and resisted the impulse to touch the scar in question. "I don't," he said. "Not normally, anyway. It's different when Fenris touches it mid-glow. I don't know if it's the lyrium or if it's because his hand is partly in the Fade, but..." He trailed off with a shrug, pausing to remind Justice that it was too hot for Fade-glowy touching just now, whether he was suddenly interested or not.

"Well, if it's the Fade..." Cormac took a deep breath and wiggled the suddenly indigo tips of his fingers at Anders. "I'd be happy to experiment. I'd hate to leave you wanting when Messere Lyrium Elf goes home." He smiled up at Anders and traced the blue glow along the line of one high cheek.

And Justice was suddenly very interested. Anders eyed Cormac, checking to make sure he was serious, before turning his head and clicking his teeth in the direction of that blue-glowing hand. "There is a very good chance that could end badly," Anders said, the 'but' left unsaid but implied. "And we are not trying it right this second." The last thing he needed was to throw up all the water he'd been drinking.

"Mmm, no, we probably shouldn't. I'm sure that's the last thing your mother needs to walk in on." Cormac grinned and tugged on Anders's beard, teasingly, stealing a quick kiss.

Inside the house, Fenris heard the sound of footsteps, as he stopped rubbing his head with an icy towel. He looked up just in time to see an elderly woman the size of a Kirkwall guardsman stop in the kitchen door, with a basket of fruit and a couple of bottles. 

"Jannik? Why is there an elf in your kitchen?" she called out, sharply, taking in the heavily tattooed elf sitting on the counter with a towel, and below him, a robed figure lying with its head in one of the cupboards, a cloud of mist billowing out around it.

Artemis banged his head on the ice box while trying to pull it out, pouring himself out onto the floor instead, a hand to his head. He looked up... and up and up at the towering woman in the kitchen. Assuming that was a woman under that mountain of fabric. "Um. Hello. You must be Ulla."

Without moving from the counter, Fenris poked his head out the window and yelled, "Jan, your mother's here!"

Anders scrambled into the kitchen moments later, and the dubious look on their visitor's face bloomed into a smile. "Mama!" he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek as he took the basket from her. "You're a bit... That is, we weren't expecting you quite so soon."

With both hands newly free, Ulla pulled her son's face down to kiss his cheek as well. "Am I too early?" she asked. "Apologies. But you need to go through no special effort for me. Please. Introduce me to your... other guests?" She eyed the unfamiliar pair, but at least the robed idiot had found his feet.

Cormac lingered by the door. "The tall one with the frozen hair is my little brother," he said, covering a smile. "I'd come in, but I'm watching the bread."

"And the brother's husband," Anders said, gesturing to Fenris. "Speaking of which, elf-husband, you might want to put on some clothes."

"Yes, the lack of magisters does discourage me from serving supper in the nude," Fenris joked, sliding down from the counter and heading for the guest room.

Ulla watched him go and then leaned closer. "Tevinter?" she asked, quietly.

Anders nodded, face twisting in a wry smile. "Formerly. It's a long story."

Artemis ran a hand through his hair, checking to see if it was actually frozen. He wished, now that his face was back out in the stifling heat. "I'm Art-- Arthur, though most everyone calls me Artie. In case you were wondering who I was beyond 'the tall one with the frozen hair'. The be-toweled elf is Leto. It's lovely to finally meet you. Your son and my brother both speak highly of you." He glanced at the ice box and debated how rude it would be to stick his head back in.

Ulla caught that glance and tried to hide her smile. "This is your first experience with an Ander summer?"

"Yes," Artie sighed. "My brother warned me, but I was not prepared. It's making me miss Ferelden."

"And in Ferelden, you wanted to move north, because it was so cold and your precious little toes were freezing," Cormac teased. "Like that story about the Nevarran princess who wanted everything just so." He laughed and ducked back out to check the bread -- as thin as it was, it only took  couple of minutes to cook. One of these years, he wanted to learn to cook it on the wall of the oven, like most people did, around here, but he hadn't gotten the consistency quite right, yet, so he was stuck using a pan.

"Mack, if your brother blacks both your eyes because you called him a princess, I'm not healing that!" Anders called out.

"Why would he punch me for calling him the dainty and delightful heir to a medium-sized nation?" Cormac called back, peeling the bread onto a dish with his knife.

"Brothers," Anders said to his mother, with a shrug. "Speaking of which, have you heard from mine? I'd hate to think of him coming back to town only to find he's already here."

Ulla huffed, waving one hand in the air. "I received a lovely letter from him before the harvest," she said, "and in it was another lovely expression of regret that he could not visit this year. The same as last year." Her smile was sad. "I do not think you need concern yourself, Ket."

Chapter Text

Fenris returned in more appropriate attire, which was to say he returned wearing attire. "Hello again," he said tipping his head in Ulla's direction. "I trust my presence was sorely missed." He padded over to Artemis, pressing himself to Artie's side just to hear him whine and mumble something else about elf furnaces.

"Your husband says your name is Leto?" Ulla asked, her expression somewhere between amused and bemused as she regarded him.

"Then it must be so," Fenris drawled.

"It's what his sister calls him, among other things I wouldn't repeat in public, never mind to my own mother." Anders cleared his throat and glanced around the room as Cormac returned with the bread.

"Casserole's going to be a bit, yet." Cormac said with a shrug. "Jannik, why are you still holding a basket?" He shook his head and edged through the crowded kitchen. "It's officially a party. Everyone is in the kitchen. And now, everyone can get out of the kitchen, and we can have some fresh bread and fruit, while we wait for supper."

"You should hear the things his sister calls him," Fenris muttered, cocking a thumb at Cormac. "Or worse, their youngest brother."

"How is Junior Templar doing, anyway?" Anders asked, leading his mother back to the main room and the low dining table.

"Still picking fights with authority figures," Fenris responded, lowering himself into one of the sack seats. "He's convinced Cullen's going to do something terrible to Merrill, for obvious reasons. I've never been sure how those obvious reasons haven't gotten her killed or possessed in the first place, but she does seem to have a handle on it."

"He should know better than anyone that Cullen isn't going to do something terrible," Artie muttered, flopping onto the sack seat next to his husband. "But he does have to do something, and I think he's being more than fair about it." He wasn't sure how much detail to give with Ulla around. She seemed understanding enough when it came to her son's magic, but blood magic tended to be a touchy subject.

"And speaking of authority figures Carver likes to pick fights with," Anders replied as he poured drinks for everyone, "how is the viscount?"

"Sick of being viscount, I think," Artie sighed. "Orlesian nobles will do that to the best of us."

"That's the benefit having a desert between us and Orlais," Anders said, earning a chuckle from his mother. "Almost makes it worth the heat."

"It's so nice of you to come visit your brother!" Ulla said, reaching across the table to pat Artie's hand. "What is it you do, when you're not travelling across half of Thedas for the sake of family? And did you come through that desert? I've never been sure how the Orlesians managed it, but they certainly made a nuisance of themselves, once they did."

"We took a boat," Fenris answered, helping himself to fruit as fast as Anders could cut it, and piling it onto a piece of bread. "I might have preferred the desert. Weeks of that... smell." He shuddered and rolled the bread, taking a large bite.

"Fenris and I don't agree on much, other than my brother and seagoing ventures," Cormac admitted, wrenching the cork out of a bottle and pouring a peculiar pink wine. "The important things, you know?"

"I didn't think the boat was so bad," Artemis said with a one-shouldered shrug, stealing a slice of fruit poking out from Fenris's bread. "But then, Leto is much more pleasant to sail with than he is." He pointed a thumb at Cormac. "As for coming here, ah... well. Someone from the family had to make sure Mack wasn't embarrassing us too much in the Anderfels." He reached for another slice of fruit from Fenris's sandwich, but Fenris swatted his hand away.

Ulla chuckled, helping herself to a bit of bread. "I would say Mack has been comporting himself well, but I can't speak to what he gets up to when I'm not around." She looked at Cormac with an impish smile. "You have a large family? It is good that you are so close, or as close as you can be at this distance."

Cormac laughed and rubbed a hand across the bridge of his nose. "You remember when your husband almost punched me in the face? This is that brother. We're... yeah. We're pretty close."

Artie paused, fruit halfway to his mouth. "Punched? Ulla, I thought you said he was behaving." He shot Cormac a questioning look.

"Just a little disagreement on the raising of sons. I take it you were the example." Ulla smiled beatifically. "Ewald had it coming, anyway, but you can't tell that man anything."

"I told him I'd sooner slam my dick in the door than talk to you like he talks to -- Jan." Cormac stumbled on the name, here, among friends. "He took offence. I was expecting to get punched in the face. Planned on it. Instead, he threw us both out of the house, and now we have a better house." He shrugged and rested his head on Artie's shoulder with a cheesy grin. "You know I love you."

Artemis stoppered that cheesy grin with a slice of fruit. "So I am the son in this equation," he said without inflection. He wasn't sure how to take that, and he wasn't going to think about it right now. To Ulla, he shrugged and said, "Back home, Mack made it a habit of getting almost punched. Mostly by our youngest brother. He has the lack of bruises to prove it."

"I see," said Ulla, eyes twinkling over her cup. "And it seems to have worked out well enough for him and Ket. The rugs are a lovely addition, by the way. That shade of green looks nice against that... rosy colour."

Anders cleared his throat and tore off a piece of bread. "The rugs are a new addition, inspired by our guests."

"By which he means that guest," Fenris said with a smirk, pointing at Artemis.

Artie flushed and pinched his thigh out of Ulla's line of sight.

"By which he means 'made requisite by this guest'," Cormac laughed. "My brother thought it was a bit too... rustic. Decided to wax the floors for us. It's still soaking in, so we've got the rugs."

"Wax...? On floors?" Ulla looked confused at the idea. "Why would you do that?"

"It's for wood, mama," Anders answered. "It's so the wood doesn't get dry and splintery."

"Oh, how interesting!" Ulla nodded and smiled at Artie. "And how is that working on the dirt floor? I know the boys oiled it to keep it stable, but wax is a new idea!"

Fenris snickered into his wine, the laughter bubbling through the liquid as he tried to drink without choking.

With luck, Artie could blame his red face on the heat. "It's... uh. Well, it's smoothed out the floors, but there have been some complaints. From them." He pointed at Cormac and Anders accusingly. "Apparently the floors are too slippery. I was inclined to disagree until I watched a sand cat try to run off with their food. Have you ever seen a cat run on a wax floor? It's..." He pantomimed a cat's flailing paws. "Incidentally, my husband looks very similar."

"I am not a cat," Fenris said primly, ears turning back against his skull.

"Of course, dear." Artie ran a hand through Fenris's hair and scratched his scalp.

"You know, I had a friend who used to insist that humans were all animals -- he was an elf, you see," Anders started, dipping a sliver of bread in his wine. "He used to say it was the fur that proved the point, until I called him a nug. Stopped that right quick."

"I am not a nug, either," Fenris growled.

"Of course you're not, Wolfy," Anders shot back.

"Goat," Fenris retorted.

"Halla-fucker," Anders scoffed, mouth full of bread.

"They're just like this," Cormac apologised to Ulla, pouring her a bit more of the wine.

"I am not a halla!" Artie protested. He considered lobbing a piece of fruit at Anders, only to remember they had a guest. "Watch it, or your floors won't be the only thing waxed."

Anders coughed, nearly choking on his bread. "You wouldn't dare."

"Watch me."

Ulla thanked Cormac for the wine and sat back as though to watch the entertainment. "Ket and Jan -- the real Jan -- were a bit like this when they were kids," she said to Cormac. "I don't know if he remembers." Her smile didn't drop, but she looked incredibly sad then, for a moment.

"Of course I remember, mama!" Anders laughed, tucking some loose strands of hair behind his ear. "I tell them all the time I used to have a brother."

"He does," Cormac agreed. "'Oh, brothers are like that,' he says. 'I know. I had a brother.'"

"I wish you could've met him before he grew up and turned into an asshole," Anders scoffed, and Ulla swatted his arm. "What? He did! I didn't visit for twenty-five years, but I was locked up for most of those! What's his excuse?"

"Oh, you know how it is. He has a family, now." Ulla gestured dismissively, with a piece of bread.

"He already had a family! We're sitting right here!" Anders shifted to lounge a bit more sideways, resting his head on Cormac's shoulder. "I just want you to know that if Karl and I had run off to Minrathous and got married, we'd have come to visit. Because I'm not an asshole."

"Says the man who comes back to town and steals his brother's name," Fenris pointed out, drily.

"It's not like he's here to use it!" Anders protested.

Cormac held up his glass to Artie. "Proving once again that he knows exactly how brothers work. Particularly the sorts of brothers who pretend to be each other and start rumours in dockside taverns."

Artemis pointed at Cormac with the bit of bread he was eating. "That was only the one time!" he protested. "And... that other time! Not like I knew he was going to end up in politics."

Anders gestured at the Hawkes. "See? Brothers. I think I am completely in line with that asshole little brother tradition."

"Try not to spread too many terrible rumours about your brother, Ket," Ulla teased, her look only mildly scolding.

"Why not? It might give him more incentive to come home, set the record straight. Might make things a bit more difficult for me, but at least I'd get to see the ass."

"An ass reunited with his brother," Fenris drawled. "Sounds like a touching moment."

"No!" Cormac was on his feet, knocking Anders to the side. "No, there will be no ass-touching moments between brothers. I'm ... going to go get the casserole." He swept out of the room, in a flutter of cloth.

"There were some problems in their family," Anders muttered, from where he'd landed face-first in Cormac's seat. "I still think your little brother spent way too much time thinking about that. Wouldn't have been any of his business anyway."

Ulla looked concerned, paused mid-bite through a piece of fruit.

"Accusations were made, fists were thrown." Fenris shrugged. "Carver never could mind his own business. Always lurking in his brothers' shadows, making trouble."

Artie considered following Cormac to make sure he was okay, but he wasn't sure that would give the right impression considering the subject matter. "Please stop talking about this, both of you," he muttered, stealing Cormac's wine. "Though I suppose it is on the subject of asshole little brothers. My littlest brother -- who isn't so little -- is the biggest asshole of us all."

"Is that how it works in large families?" Fenris asked. "The younger the brother, the bigger the pain?"

Anders finally pushed himself vertical again, brushing his hair back from his face. "I think Varania would agree that older brothers have their moments too," he said, to an agreeing nod from Artemis.

Cormac leaned around the kitchen doorway, hands busy elsewhere. "Older brothers are the worst. Youngest brothers are only second. I am the biggest pain in the ass in this family."

Fenris smiled like the cat that ate the canary and pointed at Anders. "Wouldn't that be him? I'm reasonably sure he's a much bigger ... pain in the ass."

There was a thump and some swearing as Cormac vanished from view again. "It's not blood or law! I'll fight for that title!"

Chapter Text

"All the times he said I was family, he takes it back for this," Anders chuckled into his cup, a solid blush creeping up his cheeks. "And not in front of my mother, Fenris."

"I'm sorry," Fenris apologised to Ulla. "I'm not used to the idea that he has a mother -- that he didn't spring fully-formed from some ancient Tevinter latrine pit in the cellar of some Fereldan Circle."

"Are you saying I'm shitty or that I'm full of shit?" Anders asked, finally giving in and bouncing a melon ball off Fenris's forehead.

Fenris tipped his head back and caught the melon in his teeth, as it rolled off the end of his nose. He shrugged wryly at Anders.

"You see this? Leave me alone for five years in a sewer in Kirkwall, and I end up with an elf for a brother." Anders shook his head in exasperation.

"We found him in the sewer," Fenris explained. "You can see where my presumptions about his origins arose."

"A sewer?" Ulla asked, only looking more concerned. She eyed her still blushing son. "What were you doing in a sewer?"

"His best, I'm sure," Fenris cut in.

"Do I need to remind you of your living conditions when I met you, Ser Elf?" Artie drawled. "What were the names of your, ah... 'roommates', again? Was Marcus the one in the foyer or the dining room?"

"Foyer," Anders replied. "Severus was the one in the dining room."

"Ah! Of course."

To his mother, Anders said, "I was in the sewer because that's where my clinic was. Out of sight of the templars but nearby the people who needed help most." He shrugged, picking apart the last piece of bread. "It stank something awful some days -- most days -- but it worked well enough for long enough. Until I met these idiots, anyway."

"This idiot who gave you a perfectly lovely cellar right next to that clinic, but that didn't reek of farts and death," Cormac called from the kitchen, before finally returning with two more large dishes of food, the casserole and a salad.

"No, instead it smelt of cats and drakestone," Fenris drawled, picking a preserved olive off the side of the salad.

"My cats are perfectly delightful!" Anders insisted, reaching for a spoon to serve the casserole. "Don't slander my cats!"

"And where did you live, that you could offer this... cellar?" Ulla asked, carefully.

"Oh, by the time I had room to offer, my family had moved back into our ... what would you call it, Artie? Ancestral estate? That's a good word for it, I think. Too many rooms. But, he wanted something safe, so the last level of the cellar was the best choice. Had a strong door out into the undercity and another up into the house." Cormac smiled wistfully and rubbed his cheek on Anders's shoulder.

"And the temperature was stable. Perfect for potions and books -- never too hot or too cold." Anders kissed the top of Cormac's head -- hair, really. "You really did take good care of me, you know. In case you ever doubt it. I don't know what I'd have done without you."

"Starved to death because you never remember to eat, probably," Cormac teased, glancing at Ulla. "That's really all I do around here. I make sure he eats."

"I'm sure that's not true," Ulla insisted. "But, in fairness, there is rather a lot of him to feed."

"The Warden part does not help," Anders said with a dry laugh. "Mack has his work cut out for him."

"Well, you're both still alive," said Artie as he helped dish out the salad, careful to make sure the salad didn't touch the casserole. "I'd count that as a victory. The way my brother is with boats, I wasn't sure you'd both survive."

"We had a pool going, at the Hanged Man, about how long you two would last," Fenris added. He stole an olive off Artie's plate. "That was the first time I lost a bet to Carver."

Artemis pointed at his husband. "What were you saying about older brothers and assholes?"

"He was saying things I'm not repeating in front of our honoured guest," Cormac muttered, helping himself to the salad and spooning a massive pile of casserole onto it, before drizzling dressing over the entire thing. He and his brother had always had somewhat different approaches to food.

"Clearly he's enough of an asshole to have survived this journey," Fenris remarked. "And I am enough of an asshole to have left my sister in the company of Dalesmen, at least one of whom seems to understand that if anything untoward should happen to her, in my absence, I'll be carving new assholes into all of them."

"Oh, come off it," Cormac said, around a mouthful of food. "You know Paivel wouldn't let anything happen. And it's not like Theron wouldn't step in front of a varterral, for the glory of it."

"Theron would do it for the glory and then write a song about it and teach it to every child in the clan." Anders laughed and scooped some more fruit onto the side of his plate.

"He would," Artie agreed with a pained nod. The pained nod turned into a pained look in Cormac's direction when he saw the state of his brother's food. "Sometimes I think you do that just to piss me off."

"Theron is a Dalish friend of ours," Anders explained to his mother, who looked on in polite amusement. "A bit nuts, but he tells good stories. And bad stories. He has the best and worst stories about these two." He gestured at the Hawkes.

"Oh, I'm sure by now you and I have collected better and worse stories," Fenris said with a wolfish smile. 

Fenris tried to steal another of Artie's olives, but Artie got to it first, popping it into his mouth out of spite. Artemis's face twisted, eyes bugging and shoulders scrunching. That. That was salty. And lemony. And very much not as olive-y as he'd expected. "What did you do to this olive?" he said, the olive on his tongue turning most of the sounds into vowels. "Torture it for its secrets?"

"Well, how do you keep them in the south?" Ulla asked, adding another olive pit to the small pile on the side of her plate.

"Usually pickled, not preserved," Anders said, chuckling. "Sorry, Artie, I should've warned you. They're packed in herbed salt and then rinsed in lemon."

"My -- That is D-- I knew a magister who preferred them this way. When I came south and bought the pickled kind, I was so confused that they came in jars of fluid instead of little boxes of salt. And without layers of yellow peppers between them, too." Fenris laughed and swiped another olive from Artie's plate. "Are these made here, or are they Tevinter imports?"

"They're from further up the river, by Hossberg," Cormac answered. "There's another lake, there, and I had to listen to how it made the climate 'much more similar to Val Dorma, where the best Tevinter olives are grown'."

"The best Tevinter olives are from Vyrantium," Fenris argued, shaking his head. "But, if he means to say they're not blighted, Val Dorma works just as well."

"'Not blighted' is usually a good place to start with food," Artie teased. He snatched up another olive before Fenris could steal it.

"I thought you didn't like it?" Fenris asked. "The face you made said as much."

"I just... wasn't expecting it. Now, armed as I am with this new olive knowledge, I should like to try again." Artemis brandished the olive before popping it into his mouth. His face twisted again, but he ate the olive without incident. "I am still not used to that," he said, carefully setting the olive pit aside from the rest of his food.

Fenris chuckled and kissed Artie's cheek. "Perhaps with practice."

"Assuming he doesn't steal all your olives, first," Anders said, reaching across to steal Artie's last olive before Fenris could. He grinned at the offended look on Fenris's face. "How is the casserole, mama?"

"This is good!" Ulla replied with a smile. "Not the way I grew up making it, but still good! Did you learn this from Trude, the brewer? She used to make it like this."

"No, actually, I learned it from Hans and Maty. I was over helping them fix the fence, the other week." Cormac took a bite and shrugged. "Not quite as good as they make it, but I'll learn."

"Oh, Maty's Trude's daughter! That explains everything!" Ulla nodded at Anders. "You remember Maty, don't you?"

"I see her twice a week in town?" Anders blinked in confusion, sure that wasn't what his mother meant.

"She's only a few years older than you. She's the one you said used to threaten to feed you to the crocodiles, if you didn't leave her alone." Ulla laughed and poured a bit more dressing onto her plate. "You always used to try to bring her kittens."

Fenris cackled between sips of wine. "A cat mage, even then? No wonder."

"That's Cat Enchanter to you," Anders sniffed.

"Oh, are you still trying to befriend the sand cats?" Ulla asked, reaching over to pick a bit of lint off his robes. "I swear you learned to walk trying to chase after them!"

"I think he's done more than try," Artemis said. "They follow him like he's their Cat God, descended from the heavens."

Anders waved his hand, speaking between large bites of casserole. "Nah, they're just after my food. I suspect they're actually secretly following Fenris. He's twitchy-eared and hissy. They probably think he's one of them."

"Is that why we keep ending up with cats on Fenris's pillow?" Artie asked in mock surprise. "Explains so much."

"We have been over this. I am not a cat. Cats are small and fluffy and they do not give--" Fenris cut off suddenly, with a glance at Ulla. "-- you things we should not discuss in front of company."

"You're right. That's what magical unicorns are for," Cormac said, cocking a thumb at Anders.

Anders turned red enough it was almost a glow, and Fenris wondered if it would become one. He'd never actually seen Justice embarrassed.

"Yes, yes, not in front of your mother." Cormac chuckled and shook his head. "Different embarrassing subjects, then, that don't have anything to do with whiskey, sewers, and the breakfast you should've eaten two days before I brought it to you?"

"What is it with your family and delivering inedible foodstuffs?" Fenris asked, squeezing the pits out of olives to mix them into the casserole on his plate. "Carver showed up with days-old bread pudding, trying to convince me to come out on some venture of your other idiot brother's, once."

"It wasn't inedible food. The food wasn't two days out, he just hadn't eaten in two days."

Anders cleared his throat. "I'm still not the one of us who lived with the corpses of their enemies."

"At least they deterred unwanted guests." Fenris paused. "Except for Carver with days-old bread pudding, apparently. Your family was very difficult to deter."

"Not even corpses and mushrooms growing out of the floor could keep me away," Artemis said, patting Fenris's cheek. "Which... okay, the way I said that almost makes it sound like the corpses were growing out of the floor along with the mushrooms. Which they were not."

"Thank you for clarifying," Anders said, shovelling some more casserole onto his plate.

"Um, excuse me, but," Ulla said, leaning over the table, "why in the Maker's name were you living with corpses?"

"He's Tevinter," Anders said with his mouth full.

"The corpses were my home's previous tenants," Fenris replied. "It seemed rude to kick them out."

"I kicked them out," Artemis assured Ulla. "Along with the mushrooms. We cleaned up the place and closed over the hole in the roof." He looked up at the ceiling above them with its circular opening. "The hole which... wasn't supposed to be there, unlike this one. It stopped raining in the kitchen."

Ulla patted Anders's arm, her smile bemused. "You have very interesting friends."

Chapter Text

Anders ordered, at the Yothandi restaurant in Kassel. He knew the food better than Cormac did, and how to avoid handing Fenris something with fish in it, which was a serious concern, this close to the river. As they waited for the food to be cooked, Anders introduced Artie and Fenris to drinks that would never pass, in Orlais. Cormac was a fan of the thick, white beer -- it wasn't really beer, as there was no grain in it, but there wasn't a word for it in Common, and his pronunciation of the Yothandi word was embarrassing -- but he encouraged Artemis toward a spicy chocolate drink, instead. Fenris chose a sweet drink of fermented maize and citrus rinds, and finished it quickly, before ordering another. 

The food came out about the same time as Fenris's second drink, thick piles of beans, maize, and unidentifiable vegetables and meat, doused in avocado sauce and melted cheese, and piled onto thick, fluffy rounds of fried bread. As the contents were checked and the bread passed, until each of them had the meal they ordered, Anders glanced around the tiny shop.

"It's tight in here. Let's go back out to the market. We can sit on the Chantry steps to eat. There's this shop -- we told you. The stand with the little heroes. I want to see if they've got one of Sister Nightingale or Izzy. Probably not Izzy, sadly. She didn't hang around much during the Blight." Anders laughed and nibbled at a piece of meat, drink still in his other hand.

"Probably for the best," Fenris said, trying to get his hand under the bread to fold it without spilling too much of its contents. "I'm not sure the Blight could handle her. In the unlikely but amusing event that there is a figurine of her, I am buying one for Varric." He grinned before stuffing his mouth with food.

Artie had a little more difficulty transporting his food, trying as he was not to lose so much as a shred of lettuce. "Only one? We'll buy him an army of Izzys. He can line then up on his dresser and pretend they're having naval battles." He took a tentative bite and whined when some of its contents spilled to the ground. "There is no graceful way to eat this, is there?" After a second bite, however, Artie decided that it was good enough to justify the mess.

Cormac demonstrated, folding the bread in his palm and using two fingers to hold up the back of it. It was too thick to roll up, but with large enough hands, it could be managed relatively well, with only one hand. Anders had it down to an art, but Cormac was learning.

"An army of Izzys, to go with the stallion. You know, I've heard that's still mounted on the wall, in there, decorated with Cullen's smalls." Fenris chuckled, spilling lettuce and cheese into his sleeve. "It seems no one wanted to touch the thing. It's become a facet of Kirkwall history -- remnants of the infamous pirate queen."

"That sounds just like Izzy, somehow." Anders laughed, licking a bit of sauce where it dribbled out the back of the folded bread. "No one will ever forget her. I know. I tried. Alcohol does not help."

"Why would you do something like that?" Fenris recoiled, speaking with his mouth full. "Is she so terrible you needed to drink away her presence?"

"Well, no. Not in Kirkwall. Much. But, you weren't there in Denerim." Anders laughed harder, dropping a bit of meat. "Maker, at least she paid well. But, when Justice and I... and I realised he could see... I tried to drink some things away. Didn't work. Of course, he wasn't so big on the drinking, either."

Artemis's eyebrows crept towards his hairline. "Were you embarrassed?" he teased. "I didn't know you had enough of a sense of shame to be embarrassed." As he spoke, he eyed what Anders and Cormac were doing with their food and tried to copy it. His meal was shedding lettuce and cheese as he walked, still awkwardly trying to manipulate the bread with only one hand. Fenris watched his struggles and growing frustration and tried not to smile.

"I do too have a sense of shame," Anders said. "I have a sense that shame exists. I just prefer to go without." With the hand holding his drink, Anders pointed out the stall next to the Chantry steps. "There we are. Oh, looks like there might be new ones!"

The vendor waved as they approached, recognising Anders as he bid them a good day. At least, that's what Fenris assumed he was saying, judging by the cheery tone of the Ander he spoke. He could be insulting Anders's mother in an unusually cheery fashion, for all Fenris knew.

"This will always make me think of our home in Lothering," Artie murmured, setting down his drink and picking up a figurine like one Leandra had kept on the mantel. He nudged Fenris. "Think I could make one of these?"

"I think the ears are much smaller and have a far lesser chance of flying away by themselves," Fenris teased, noticing amid the Warden figures one of an elf with a griffon. He pointed with the hand holding his drink. "Who is that one?"

"Garahel. Hero of the Fourth Blight." Anders eyed Fenris in surprise. "You really don't know?"

"I am only acquainted with one Warden, and I have not had a reason to peruse the literature." Fenris shrugged and took another bite, enjoying the combination of flavours. He spoke with his mouth full. "There are elves in the Wardens?"

"Yeah, lots of them. I worked with an elven Mage-Warden, for a while, in Amaranthine. Dalish, actually. Not even a city elf. There's a lot of Wardens from the alienages, historically. Right of Conscription helped with that. The easiest thing to do is walk into a city and relieve them of whatever people they don't want to deal with, which is usually elves and criminals." Anders sipped his drink, the bright red of it concealed in the hollow gourd he drank from. "But, that guy, right there, killed Andoral. Big deal. Huge hero. And this close to Weisshaupt, Wardens are really popular."

"Even elf Wardens? Interesting." Fenris considered that as he took another bite. He wondered if being conscripted by the Wardens would have been better or worse than staying on the run from Danarius. He wondered if they'd taken in any other slaves fleeing south.

Artemis set down the piece he'd picked up and reached for the Garahel Fenris had pointed out. "Would you like him to guard our mantel back home? I can't offer you a griffon, but we can get one of these."

"Why would I settle for griffons when there are dragons?" Fenris said with a slow grin. "And... I think I would like that, yes."

"I think someone's been playing too much Wicked Grace with Anton," Anders said, poking through the figurines. More of Andraste and her disciples; there were always a bunch of those. One of Solona... Two of Oghren, which was a frightening thought...

"Would I be better off riding into battle on a camel?" Fenris asked, eyebrow quirked.

"The camel would throw you, if it had any pride, Vint." One of the locals had come up behind them, while they were examining the goods. "You think you can just come here and make fun of us in the road in front of the Chantry, while your shitty Vint friends back in Minrathous plan another invasion?"

"Spies, that's what you are, right?" his friend asked, jabbing a finger at Fenris and Artie. "Coming here to find out how to break our city, when you come back. Well, it's not going to work! We kicked you out once, and we'll do it again!"

Anders reached up and pushed back his hood, with the hand holding his drink. "Easy, easy!" He followed with a few words in Ander, obviously offended.

One of them spat a word at him, and the other translated it for the supposed Vints. "Traitor."

"Why in the Maker's name would anyone want to invade the Anderfels?" Fenris asked, quite sensibly. "I'm sure it's a lovely place to live, but it wouldn't be worth the effort of an invasion."

"What my friend means to say," Cormac cut in, realising all the ways that could be taken exactly the way Fenris meant it, "is that you don't start a war with the nation that eats darkspawn for breakfast."

"I like this one. The dark one." One of the locals said, chuckling. "Why do you have friends with asscracks for hats? You will come to the pub with us. We'll show you a proper Ander good time."

"Sorry, I got all the Ander good time I can handle right here." Cormac cocked a thumb at Anders.

"The Vint is still shit," the other local insisted. "Probably from that new cult that's getting big there. The ones that want to bring back the Old Gods and take over all of Thedas. Well, you're not starting here, Vint."

"Yes, you've got me," Fenris drawled. He didn't bother setting down his drink or food to reach for his sword. He wouldn't need it with these two idiots, if it came to that. "Eating your food and shopping for souvenirs is all part of my dastardly plan to take over the world." Unconcerned, he took another bite, making a point to hum his pleasure at the taste.

"You think you're funny, don't you, Vint?" said the first local, taking a step forward in what he surely meant to be an intimidating manner, the way he towered over Fenris. Fenris merely raised an eyebrow and kept eating, unconcerned. "You know, I might find you a whole lot funnier after I've kicked your vulture ass."

The man made as though to knock the food out of Fenris's hand, only to find his way blocked by the elf's other companion, the scrawny one. "Back off, or I'll make you," Artie said through grit teeth, glaring up at the asshole of the day. He'd set his drink down on the vendor's table and laid his food carefully on top of his mug.

The local blinked down at Artie before he and his friend burst out laughing. "Okay, but this one is funny," said the second local, the one not standing directly in front of elf and mage.

"Oh, I'm hilarious," Artie sneered. "Now, apologise to my husband."

"Husband?" the man in front of him scoffed. He tried to look past Artemis at the hooded Vint, catching an amused look under white hair. "Is that how it works? You get the old man's seat if you marry him, and he gets your seat until he dies?"

He was still laughing when Artie's fist hit his teeth, hitting him with the force of a hammer. He fell back before he fell down, landing with a solid thud at his friend's feet.

"I think that's the first time I've ever heard anyone figure out which one of you is on top," Anders joked, mouth full of meat and bread. "I mean, he's still wrong about everything else, but that's a first."

"That's my brother," Cormac pointed out to the local who still had his feet under him. "We're not magisters. We're Fereldan."

The standing local said something to the one still blinking at the sky and bleeding from the mouth, but the only word Cormac could make out was 'barbarian'.

"That's us. Southern barbarian goat-herders. And we're all stronger than we look, but my little brother, here," Cormac wrapped an arm around Artie as he smiled between words, "is the strongest of all of us. He didn't even hit you that hard."

"The little one's still a Vint," the guy on the ground swore.

"The little one's from Seheron," Anders corrected. "Of course he speaks Common with an accent."

"But you're welcome to keep arguing if you want to lose a few more teeth," Artemis said, all but bristling like an angry cat.

The man on the ground levered himself up gingerly, muttering a few things in Ander to his friend as he helped him to his feet, propping him up. 

"You should be careful who you associate with," said the non-bleeding member of the pair to Anders. He started to shuffle his wobbly friend away.

"Now where's the fun in that?" Anders asked, earning one last scowl from the retreating pair. 

Fenris finished off his food, licking sauce from his palm and fingers before washing it down. "Well, that was today's entertainment," he drawled. "I'm so glad I chose a trophy husband who knew how to throw a punch." He grinned at the offended look Artemis threw him over his shoulder and bent forward to kiss his cheek.

Cormac turned back to the merchant, licking avocado sauce from his fingers. "We'll take Andraste and Justinia, for my brother, that Warden Garahel, for his husband, and Warden Oghren, for our collection. We're not missing any others from this week's set, are we?"

Anders shook his head. "Oghren's the only one out that we don't have yet. I can't wait to see what else this guy comes up with." He looked at the sculptor. "Your Wardens are the best. Everybody does the heroes of the Blights, but yours ... I knew some of these people. Yours are fantastic, and Commander Amell agrees with me."

"You have sent my statues to the Hero of Ferelden?" The sculptor blinked and smiled widely.

"She says you made her boobs too big, but the face is perfect. I think she just doesn't want to admit her boobs are that big." Anders grinned and turned over the little clay griffon. "These things are so cute. It's such a shame there aren't griffons any more."

"It's probably for the best," Artie said, ducking out from under his brother's arm to retrieve his food and drink. "Anton would want to add one to his menagerie, and I have a feeling it'd be a little more destructive than a goat."

"I don't know," Anders said, setting down the griffon figurine. "You've clearly never had Goatilda steal your underwear."

Fenris blinked. "Your underwear? How did--? Never mind. I'm sure I don't want to know."

"I do," Artie said, words muffled by bread as he tore off a bite.

"No, you don't," said Fenris. "And this nice vendor doesn't want to, either."

The vendor smiled politely as money and figurines changed hands. He offered no opinion either way.

Cormac slipped the man an extra ten silver. "A bit more. Just for putting up with us. If you don't feel like you've earned it yet, you will soon enough."

Fenris huffed. "Nobody ever paid me extra for putting up with you."

Chapter Text

Ulla brought in a sack from the market, glancing around carefully, and grinning broadly, when she only spotted Cormac. "They've gone out, yes?"

Cormac nodded, eyeing Ulla curiously. "What's so secret that we couldn't cook it with him in the house?" He never really called Anders anything to Ulla, if only because they both knew he had no name and anything they could call him to each other would be weird in some way.

"It's a secret dish passed down in my family. Something he'll like very much, and he'll be very surprised you made it for him." Ulla smiled warmly and patted Cormac's arm, as she made for the kitchen. "You have cassia and yellow bread, right?"

"Of course. Wouldn't be able to make breakfast without." It was a bit of an exaggeration, but butter and cassia on yellow bread was one of the best things to have, when it was hot -- like it was now.

"A round pan for the oven," Ulla said, unpacking the bag onto the centre island of the kitchen, while Cormac tried not to remember what Anders had looked like bent over that very surface, just the night before. Ulla held up two fingers, a bit apart. "About this deep. And a mortar. I brought milk, because I know you haven't been to the market, today."

Cormac assembled the requested items, as Ulla unwrapped a slab of meat.

"You have a grinder, yes?" Ulla asked, gesturing at the meat as she started shelling a bag of nuts and dropping them into the mortar.

"Of course we do. What's a kitchen without a grinder?" Cormac paused, bringing it down from a cupboard. "Probably my brother's kitchen, actually. I feel so bad that I could never quite teach him to cook."

Ulla chuckled, hands moving with practised ease. "You mean the brother I have met, yes? The one visiting? Is that why he's so skinny?"

"No, that's just all the exercise he gets, I think. Unlike me." Cormac patted his belly, and started putting the meat through the grinder. "He has a cook. I pay her. His husband can't cook, either."

"Then it is good he has a big brother who takes care of him," Ulla said, the laugh-lines around her eyes deepening as she smiled. "I wish my sons could have been so close."

"No you don't. Trust me. We were twice as much trouble than any of the others." Cormac cackled and moved the bag of eggs out of his way, so he could put down the bowl of ground mutton. Whatever this was, it was going to be enormous, if all these ingredients went in it. Still, he thought, it would want bread and a salad. It wouldn't be a meal, without.


Anders was the first in the door, the three of them still joking about the summer play, at the Chantry. The entire story of Andraste was performed in several plays over the course of a week, every summer, and every year, the shows would be a little different to the year before. The one this afternoon had been Andraste making peace with the elves, so Anders had wanted to take Fenris to see it, even if he'd spent the whole time translating. Cormac had volunteered to stay home and cook, not much wanting to face the crowds and the heat of the market.

"I'm ... I don't know, maybe it's just because I'm older, now, but I wish they'd gotten some real elves." Anders shrugged and held the door for Fenris and Artie. "It's not impossible. Kassel has elves, if not an entire alienage."

Fenris shrugged. "It would have been better, yes, but I am not surprised. The fake ears didn't need to be quite so large, however."

"And this is where you draw a comparison to my sculptural attempts, isn't it?" Artie sighed, pushing his hair back from his sweaty temples. 

"I didn't say a word," Fenris said, the picture of innocence. "Anders can attest to this."

"Just for that, I'm making the ears bigger next time."

Anders shook his head at the couple and followed the smell of food into the kitchen. "Something smells delicious in here!" he called out to the cooks, leaning his hip against the doorway. He craned his neck to try to see around them to the dish on the corner. "What did we make?" 

"Something I can't pronounce with fifteen eggs in it," Cormac replied, sprinkling a handful of crushed cheese over the top of a large salad, before handing the bowl to Anders. "Take this out to the table, would you? We'll be right out."

"Small beer with figs," Ulla called out from the other side of the room.

"Yes, mama," Anders replied, going to set the table and fetch the beer. This was going to be something fantastic, he was sure. One of those dishes his mother used to make, when he was young, but never taught him. 'Not yet,' she'd say, 'Let your mother have a few secrets.'

In the kitchen, Cormac took up the main dish and Ulla followed with a platter of bread and dip. As he stepped out into the main room and set the casserole on the table, Fenris's eyebrows arched in surprise -- something people ate in Tevinter, too, Cormac assumed. "I haven't tasted it yet, but it smells great, and I hope it tastes as good," Cormac said, lowering himself into a sack seat between his brother and where Anders would sit, when he returned from the pantry with the beer.

Ulla settled in on the other side of Anders, her smile small but her eyes sparkling with humour. "It is an old recipe," she said. "I think you will like it."

Anders returned carrying mugs of beer. "An old recipe, Mama?" he said. "Are you teaching Mack all your secrets?" It was as he was setting down the beer that he finally got a look at what was on the table. Salad, bread, and... that wasn't what he thought that was, was it? The colour drained from his cheeks only to rush back a moment later in a bright and splotchy scarlet. He rounded on Cormac. "Are you serious?" he hissed. "In front of my mother?" 

Fenris failed to hide a snicker behind his mug of beer. He shook his head and smirked at Artie's questioning look.

Cormac stared like a nug in torchlight.  "What? It's... she brought the recipe and half the ingredients. She said you'd like it! Why...? What did I do?" This was the absolutely last reaction he'd expected, and he couldn't figure it out -- the dish tasted pretty good, all the times he'd stolen a bite while cooking it, but...

"You really don't know, do you?" Fenris asked, eyeing Cormac in amusement. "This is... not a dish you serve to someone's mother."

"No! I really don't know!" Cormac looked around the table at all the eyes on him. At least Artie still looked as confused as he did.

Anders looked in danger of bursting into flames if his cheeks turned any redder. Considering who and what he was, that was a very real concern. He turned his look of betrayal onto his mother instead. "Mama?"

"This is a recipe my mother taught me after I married his father," she explained to the Hawkes, voice quavering with a chuckle. "It is meant to, shall we say, help with matters in the bedroom." She patted Anders's arm. "Come, Ket. Do sit down."

"No, thank you," he said, voice higher-pitched than usual. "I think I'd rather go outside and bury my head in the sand until I die of embarrassment."

"Well, at least now 'Mack' might have a chance to keep up," Fenris said to Artie in a loud aside the whole table could hear. 

Artemis sucked his lips between his teeth to keep from laughing as Anders glared at them both. Clearing his throat, he asked Ulla, "Just to be clear, it's the casserole we're talking about?" When she nodded, Artie considered the three attractive men at the table and shrugged, spooning a healthy serving onto his plate.

"Are you telling me this is some kind of ... aphrodisiac?" Cormac cocked his head and squinted at the casserole. "Should I be concerned? I mean, nothing in it tasted like orichalcum, but..."

"There's no orichalcum," Fenris assured him. "At least, there's not supposed to be orichalcum in the Tevinter version. I have known magisters who would slip some in, just to see what would happen. It's just a folk tradition. Something about eating meat and eggs making you strong and virile, or that's the impression I always got. On the other hand, Tevinter, so who knows what the magisters were really up to."

"Seems harmless enough, then. Come sit by me, sweet thing. I'll protect you from any wandering hands." Cormac shrugged and grinned, patting the sack seat beside hiim.

"Nobody's hands had better be wandering at this table! This--!" Reminded Anders a bit of the better times at Kinloch Hold, actually, but with the sudden introduction of his mother. "Mama! How could you--? This is--! And you're staying for dinner?" He looked like he might faint.

"Your father's going to have quite a surprise, when I get home," Ulla said, serving herself a bit of salad.

"You should listen to your mother and your... Mack," Fenris said, "and have a seat. You look like you might fall over, and I would rather it not be in the food." He passed Artemis the salad and started dishing himself some of the casserole, pausing to give his husband a suggestive eyebrow wiggle.

"That's-- I..." Anders didn't so much sit as slump into his seat. "There are things a man does not need to know about his parents, Mama." His stomach growled traitorously, and Ulla patted his hand and passed him the casserole.

"You exist, and you have a brother," she said. "If you didn't know it by now, it was about time you did."

"I like her," said Fenris, grateful, for the moment, that he didn't have a mother to embarrass him like this.


Cormac carried Artemis into the bedroom, in his arms, having avoided smacking any of anyone's body parts into the table or any other furniture, this time. Carefully, he laid his brother on the bed and then sprawled beside him, as Anders finished cleaning up after the meal. Ulla had left them to their own devices after the first helping, claiming she had some nice young men to see about some tilework, and Anders had looked pained at the implications.

Stretching, Cormac petted Artie's face. "You holding up? I think if I ever eat again, it'll be too soon."

Artemis rolled over onto his stomach, Cormac's touch prompting a whine in the back of his throat. "My stomach is what's holding me up. It is one giant ball of... something round and solid and heavy that I'm too nauseous to think of." Slowly, he shuffled along the bed until he could hang his head and arms over the side. "Forget what I've heard about Ewald. Ulla is the true evil in that family. It's too late for me. Save yourself." He blinked at the side of the bed, staring at the beams that held it together. "And your bed is upside-down. Why is your bed upside-down?"

"My bed is not upside down. My bed is fine." Cormac paused, squinting contemplatively at the decorative dragon on top of the bedpost. "Of course, it's also Tevinter, and we got it in pieces. And none of the instructions were in Common. They were in Tevinter and bad Ander. Terrible Ander from the look on Anders's face." Cormac laughed. "I'm pretty sure I learned some new words that night, and none of them should be repeated in front of anyone's mother."

Slowly, as though all his joints creaked, Artie looked up at the bedpost Cormac had looked at, then back at the headboard. "The pieces... they don't make sense. The beams under here are bevelled on the wrong side. They're made to sit flush with the crossbeams, but they don't. Your bed is upside-down. Or part of it. And it is distracting and woeful. And distracting. Where is Anders? My stomach hates me, and it's your fault."

"Hey, I'm not the one who took a triple serving of boner casserole to start the meal," Cormac huffed, before calling out for Anders. "Sweet thing? Leave whatever's left for morning! My brother's eaten himself into a death wish."

"You're not going to like my answer to that," Anders called back. "Either of my answers to that..."

"As long as he's not dying of ruptured internal organs, I think I'm going to be okay with it. He might not be. Especially if it's the same as the answer to too much lube." Cormac cackled, face darkening a bit, at the memory.

"It is!" Anders sounded all too cheerful.

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Artie groaned to the side of the bed. "He sounds much too happy about it. That is never good." 

Fenris appeared in the doorway, looking perfectly healthy and entirely too amused. "I admire your... enthusiasm, Amatus, but perhaps moderation would be better for next time?"

"Fuck you," Artie groaned, still hanging limply half off the bed.

"Yes, that did seem to be your plan." With a soft chuckle, he perched on the edge of the bed, rubbing Artemis's back between his shoulder-blades. Another whine started in Artie's throat.

"It's a plan I still thoroughly support... after Anders solves that problem, and my very favourite brother has had a moment to recover from that solution." Rolling onto his side, Cormac pressed a kiss to the top of Artemis's head. "If it's any comfort, I survived this just fine, with no serious injury to anything other than my pride. Remember that time when you were mad at me, so you ate that whole basket of raspberries by yourself? No worse. Probably better, really. I mean, at least you'll come out of this feeling better. And, you know, I'm not going to sit here making fun of you for half a day while you pretend you're not having problems."

"Take a note, Fenris," Anders said from the doorway, his sleeves rolled up and tied, "my brother was exactly that kind of asshole. This is what you missed out on, growing up, and it's probably what your sister remembers about you."

"I hate you," Artie grumbled, presumably at Cormac though he was facing the other way. He turned his head slightly to address Anders. "Wanna do your thing, Sparklefingers?"

"I will certainly do my thing, but you're not going to want to be in the bed when I do it." Anders didn't move from the doorway. "Come on. Bathroom's this way."

Slowly, Artie put his body into motion again, dragging himself across the bed and somehow landing on his feet. "I was hoping it wasn't one of those solutions," he groaned. "Has anyone invented time travel magic yet? That would be better. Then I could just go back in time and stop myself from eating so much. Or at all."

"I promise the salad was perfectly benign," Anders said, stepping out of the doorway to let Artemis shuffle through it, following close behind to make sure he wasn't about to fall on anything.

Fenris watched in amusement, knowing Anders could take better care of his husband in this case than he could. He considered the other Hawke still sprawled across the bed. "You have no plans to throw up on anything, do you?" he asked.

"Absolutely none. I stopped eating at some point, unlike my unceasingly delightful brother. I'm not going to throw up or rupture any organs rolling over." Cormac laughed and half-sat, propping himself on an elbow. "Well, Ulla's going to be happy she got him to eat so much. She thinks he's too thin. I tried to convince her he actually does eat, but I don't know if she believed me until she saw him start packing in that casserole."

Fenris chuckled. "Orana feeds us far too well for that," he said. "The trouble isn't to get him to eat so much as to sit still, as you well know."

Chapter Text

Minutes later, Artemis shuffled back into the room, looking pale and disgruntled, a still-cheerful Anders trailing behind him. "I am... that... Never again," Artie decided, crawling back onto the bed. "This is your fault," he assured Cormac even as he slumped against him. "I will never trust Ander cooking again."

"Rubbish," Cormac assured him. "You're having it for breakfast. You've been here for how many days, and you've been fine. Just stop... gorging yourself on it. I know it's good, but there is such a thing as too much."

Fenris snorted and pointed at Anders. "Yes. There absolutely is."

"I can't believe my mother taught you how to cook that. I'm still..." Anders covered his eyes and laughed. "And yes. I'm usually too much. I say that all the time, and it never seems to stop any of you from taking advantage of your favourite parts of me."

"My favourite part of you is all of you," Cormac argued, smiling smugly. "Have I been showing a favourite? I'm going to have to catch up on all the parts I've been slighting."

"Well, my elbows have been feeling neglected," Anders said, sitting at the foot of the bed. And he was doubly sure that this bed had been a good purchase on their part, confusing instructions aside, the way it handled the four of them easily. He stretched out his legs, nudging Artie's thigh with his toe. "You'll hate the world and your brother's cooking less in a minute. Give it a sec."

"Your bed is upside-down. I'll still hate the world." For all his whining, Artie was starting to sound more like himself. He snuggled closer to his brother, throwing an arm across his chest.

Anders threw a questioning look at Cormac. "How can it be upside-down? We're sitting on it, aren't we?"

"Maybe we're upside-down too," Fenris drawled. 

"He says the beams are bevelled he wrong way, so we must've put them in backwards." Cormac shrugged and pulled Artie onto him, gently rubbing and kneading his back. "And Anders is right. Just give it a moment to settle, and you'll feel a lot less horrible."

Anders reached out and squeezed Artemis's bottom. "Feels pretty good to me. But, what about my elbows? They're feeling terribly neglected and lonely."

"Well, if you bring them closer, I'm sure I can find a way to express my wholehearted and genuine lust for them," Cormac replied from somewhere under Artie's shoulder.

"If the bed is assembled wrong," Fenris remarked, after a moment, with a concerned glance at the heavy dragon-topped post beside him, "should we be more concerned about the four of us potentially engaging in ... enthusiastically lusty appreciation of elbows and other things on it? I know it hasn't fallen yet, but..."

"It's put together solidly enough," Anders said, hoping that was true. He shrugged one shoulder. "I can fix whatever we break. The bed or us."

Fenris hummed, still eyeing that post and weighing whether the risk was worth it. It wasn't a long deliberation.

Artie nuzzled lazily under Cormac's chin, nipping at the soft skin there. "I still keep expecting there to be a beard here." He rubbed his cheek against the smooth skin. "It is distracting."

Fenris and Anders exchanged wry looks. "He must be feeling better," Fenris said. "He has stopped complaining about the food."

"I'm allowed to discuss other things between complaints. Excuse you." Even as he spoke. Artie reached out a hand behind him for Fenris to join them.

"Can I complain that you haven't given us a clue what you'd like, tonight, since you started stuffing your face with boner casserole? That's something to discuss. A nice long chat about what you want where," Cormac suggested, trying to keep Artie's mind off of the bed and anything else in the room that might not be ideally aligned.

"As long as you leave Howe out of it, I think we're good," Anders joked, holding up a hand until he saw Fenris's eyes light on it, before running a finger down the bottom of the elf's foot.

"I wouldn't mind a bit of Howe, you lucky git," Cormac scoffed, leaning to the side to pinch Anders's thigh, his other hand still rubbing weak healing between Artie's hips.

Artie hummed, the healing a warm glow at the base of his spine. Cormac's healing wasn't as strong or as focused as Anders's, but there was still something comforting in it in a way that made him think of the word 'home'. 

"It's sweet that you always ask what I want," Artemis murmured before sucking at the corner of Cormac's jaw. "But, what would I like? I would like for us all to enjoy this large if upside-down bed in as many fun and interesting configurations as we can before passing out in a sweaty heap. Does that sound reasonable?" He sat up on his elbows to take some of his weight off of Cormac. Now that his stomach wasn't trying to murder him, Artie was warming back up to his original intentions.

"I think that's the most reasonable thing I've heard all day, but my day also included cooking with fifteen eggs, and I think at least nine of them went into you. Are you sure there's room for anything else?" Cormac laughed and turned his head, pressing a kiss behind Artie's ear.

"My day included fake elves with giant ears pasted on. This sounds much better." Anders sprawled sideways across Artie and Cormac's legs, to rub his cheek on Fenris's knee. "Especially the part where the elf is real."

"I am the least elfy elf in all of Thedas," Fenris protested.

"Yeah, but those are actually your ears, and you don't have stubble," Anders teased. "And, you know, you're much more enjoyable than anyone in town -- not that I've tried anyone in town, but I really doubt they're all that into fun things you can do with magic."

"You are, at the very least, the elfiest person in the room," Artie pointed out to a snort of amusement from Fenris. "And that's including Ass-face over here."

"Who happens to be the dwarfiest person in the room," Fenris replied. He dropped a hand to Anders's head, lightly kneading his scalp and curling his fingers in his hair. "Was that you hoping to avail yourself of my dubiously elfy charms?" he asked Anders, eyeing the long line of his throat. 

Anders responded by walking a pair of sparking fingers up Fenris's thigh, smirking when he felt the elf shiver. "You say as though you're not already thinking of my magey charms," he countered. "Which you should. They're pretty great, or so I'm told."

"They are," Artie agreed, reaching behind him to squeeze what he could of Anders. It was a bit hard to tell under the mass of fabric, but that felt like a globe of an ass.

"See that? My magey charms are already being fondled, even if nobody's groping my sad and lonely elbows, yet." Anders chuckled and squirmed, shrugging out of his robes and depositing them on the floor beside the bed -- the side Artie wasn't facing.

"I told you I'd lustily appreciate your elbows if you brought them where I could reach, but I have this sexy, young god on top of me, and it's going to take an awful lot to move me." Cormac nibbled at Artie's neck. "My beloved Lord Hawke, whose lips taste of lemon sweet, or whatever the fuck I wrote in that letter... I can't remember it, but I'm pretty sure it was true."

"It was practically Orlesian," Anders protested, hands wandering up under the bottom of Fenris's robes, healing and soothing the lines of lyrium he touched. He'd be subtle about this, since the point seemed to be not to worry Artie too much. At least the salve seemed to be working. It wasn't right, but it was a lot less bad, than when Fenris had first arrived.

"'Sexy, young god', hm?" Artie repeated in a purr. He closed his eyes at the feel of lips and teeth on his neck. "I could get used to that title." 

He ground down against Cormac's hip and decided suddenly that there was still far too much cloth in the way. After a short but bruising kiss, Artie sat up on his knees long enough to pull his robes up over his head, pausing to fold them and twisting to set them neatly on the ground. He tried not think about the fact that this was a dirt house with an upside-down bed and instead pulled at Cormac's robes. His brother's skin was the perfect distraction.

"You know, Anders," Artemis said, looking coyly over his shoulder. "If you want to bring your neglected elbows over here, you could avail yourself of our Hawkish charms while Fenris avails himself of your magey charms."

"Fenris might have a little difficulty availing himself of my anything, if you two don't move a little more toward the edge of the bed," Anders pointed out. "Or roll to the side, maybe."

"You are much too tall. It is completely unreasonable," Fenris agreed, giving Anders a thankful look, as his skin stopped itching.

Cormac rolled to the side, taking Artemis with him. "Needed to do that anyway, unless my darling brother expects me to preserve my modesty, while I submit to his utterly enchanting whims. ... You don't, do you? I mean, I am supposed to take this off, right?" He tugged at his own robes.

"Of course you are," Artemis chuckled. "My whims are generally best appreciated nude." Now that the fabric wasn't pinned under their combined weight, Artie helped Cormac pull his robes up over his head, stealing a kiss right after and sucking at his bottom lip. He only pulled away so he could fold Cormac's robes too.

When he looked over, Fenris had already pulled off his own robes and was folding them accordingly. He sent his husband a wry look. "There," he said as he tossed the folded cloth to the floor. "Now we are all suitably nude and lacking in modesty."

"The young, sexy god is appeased," Artemis joked.

"Has the sexy young god prepared to be worshipped at length and with length?" Cormac quipped, pulling Artemis close enough to conceal enough of himself from Fenris, not out of any sense of modesty, but because he knew Fenris didn't much like looking at him, and they were none of them quite drunk enough to be doing this with all of them together. 

Fenris did, however, like looking at Artemis, and the view was quite inspiring. He'd never tire of the shape of his husband's lean, long limbs and firm bottom.

Anders followed Fenris's gaze. "You know, they really have both got the same ass."

"They do not. Your bear is unspeakably furry." Fenris shivered at the thought. "The very thought of the texture is even more unappealing than the sight."

"And yet, you like mine just fine," Anders pointed out.

"Have you touched your ass, recently? Your ass is--" Fenris choked on the next word. "-- not that. It's also the limit of my tolerance. I am not interested in magical bears. Or bears at all. And that beard is horrible."

"Nobody likes the beard," Anders sighed. "I don't even like the beard."

"The beard is ridiculous, but I'm getting used to it," Cormac admitted, tugging at Artie's hair and nibbling under his chin. "Just like I'm getting used to worshipping the most beautiful and orderly god ever brought forth in Thedas in any way he so desires."

"Are you only just now getting used to it?" Artie asked. "And here I thought you were an expert on the subject. Or are you simply out of practice? I suppose that's a simple enough fix." He bent forward against the tug on his hair to purr in Cormac's ear. "What if your god wants to please his high priest? What would you say to that?" He held himself up over Cormac on one arm, his free hand mapping out all the skin he could reach.

Cormac managed a wordless sound of pleasure, before he started making sense. "Please, please, please. What did I ever do to deserve this, so I can do it ten more times?" Smiling at Artie in absolute awe, he ran a hand along one long leg.

"He never looks at me like that," Anders muttered to Fenris.

"Andraste never looked at the Maker like that, either," Fenris replied, under his breath. "Absurd. Obscene."

Chapter Text

Artie gave Cormac's skin a teasing bite where his neck met his shoulder. "What did you do to deserve this?" he repeated. "Well, it's not a reward for putting the bed together wrong. I'll tell you that much." He teased, but his eyes were soft as he brushed back Cormac's hair. "And I can hear you two muttering over there," he added, glancing at Anders and Fenris over his shoulder.

"Just admiring the view, Amatus," Fenris said with a pointed look at the ass he had been admiring earlier. Anders hummed in agreement, one hand still moving along Fenris's leg, tracing lyrium lines with sparks of magic.

"You know what I want," Cormac purred, nuzzling his brother's cheek. "And I promise you, tomorrow, we can take another look at the bed, after breakfast, and try putting it together differently." He didn't say 'correctly', as even if it was wrong now, there was no reason to curse the later attempts with that expectation.

"He means sometime around mid-afternoon," Anders teased, shifting to keep his head lower than Fenris's.

"You get out of bed at obscene hours, like you always have!" Cormac shot back, before returning his attention to Artemis, kneading that firm bottom as Fenris admired it. "But, you... I want you inside me. I want to feel you writhing against me, as Anders has his way with you. I want you to tell me all about how it feels with both of us..."

And that was an image Artie liked, between Cormac and Anders while Fenris set the pace. "I can do that," he said. He shifted, rearranging their tangle of limbs until he had Cormac's legs bracketing his hips. "I can definitely do that." He ran his hands down Cormac's thighs, kneading the muscles he found there, their shapes slightly different, slightly softer than what he'd been used to back in Kirkwall. "A bit like the old days in the cellar, if in a slightly different configuration." He reached between them to squeeze Cormac's knob even as he turned his head to address the other two. "Is that amenable to everyone?"

Fenris exchanged a look with Anders. "I think it is a good thing you got such a large bed."

"We planned ahead," Anders said.

"I specifically said I wanted one big enough for all of us and any cats that might wander in, and this was the biggest one we could find." Cormac's hips rolled, pressing him against Artie's palm.

"You just like everything unreasonably large, don't you?" Fenris huffed, moving aside to make room for Anders between himself and Artemis. He would miss the view, but there was no way they could swap places, speaking of unreasonably large things.

"Not everything," Cormac laughed, grease leaping to his fingers as he wound an arm around the complication of his and his brother's legs, to get Artie ready for Anders. "The two of you can take your time with each other. He'll let you know when we're ready."

Anders shrugged. "I'm always ready. I haven't been unready in years."

"Because you're a slut," Fenris teased.

"More usually a whore, but what's wrong with that?" Justice flared up with reminders of all the things that had been wrong with that, but every one of them was circumstantial and most of them were templars. "I get what I want; somebody else gets what they want; we both leave content."

"It wasn't exactly a complaint," Fenris replied. "Simply a statement of fact." He caught the blue glimmer behind Anders's eyes. Lighting the tattoos of one hand, Fenris brushed Fade-blue fingers along Anders's arm, watching Justice react almost immediately, blue lines branching out from where Fenris touched.

"Good." His eyes were blue, but the voice and the smirk were still Anders. "I like to hope I haven't given you any reason to complain about that. At least, you didn't seem to have complaints at the time." In the back of his mind, Justice was reminding Anders just how very nice the lyrium elf was to lick.

Artemis arched back against Cormac's fingers, his own hand occupied with Cormac's knob, kneading and stroking his velvet flesh into hardness. "I always love how your fingers feel," he said, voice low against Cormac's ear.

"Do you? Is it so different to the way your elven harem touch you?" Cormac pressed two fingers in, slowly, just feeling Artie's body react to him. Somewhere in the back of his mind their dad's urn was smouldering. Cormac was sure this wasn't what 'take care of your brother' had meant, but, it was what Artie wanted it to mean, and that was good enough for him. Didn't stop him being plagued by dreadful doubt, at times.

Anders licked his way down Fenris's arm, tasting the lyrium just under the skin -- and tasting something else, as well, something less pleasant. Justice shoved forward, grabbing at the magic within them, intent on healing whatever that deeper sickness was. Anders thought it might be an infection from how ragged Fenris's skin had been around the lines. The blue glow filled the room, swelling brightly, until Fenris cleared his throat.

"Yes, the lyrium," he drawled, "but could you avoid blinding us all with your excitement?"

"I wasn't going to say it, but yeah. Turn it down a bit -- we have the windows open, and they can probably see you in town," Cormac agreed, fingers stroking Artie's soft insides. "This what you like? Your big brother getting you ready for the nearly infinite Warden, over there?"

Artemis hummed, rocking back against those fingers. "The nearly infinite and glowy Warden," he added. 

The glowing was a not-so-subtle reminder that that was as much Justice as Anders, which was a sobering thought. Artie supposed Justice had been present all the times he'd slept with Anders, but he'd never been so close under the surface. Not that Artie minded really, not with Cormac's fingers inside him and Cormac's knob hot in his hand. 

The glowing subsided, but between Fenris and Justice the room stayed awash in a soft blue light. Anders continued mapping those lyrium lines with his tongue, focusing his attention on the filigreed lyrium branching up Fenris's chest. He kept up a steady trickle of healing as he moved, and Fenris let out a sigh that was as much relief as pleasure, his fingers carding through Anders's hair.

"Do you plan to lick every inch of me?" Fenris asked, voice a little breathy. "Which isn't to say I would mind if you did."

"Maybe not every inch," Anders said, looking up at Fenris from the vicinity of his stomach. "But there are a few inches I plan to pay an extra amount of attention to." 

Fenris hoped they were the same inches he was thinking of. A moment later, he discovered that they were.

"More," Artie panted, squeezing Cormac's knob just this side of too hard, teasing a thumbnail along the head.

Cormac nuzzled up under Artie's chin, nipping at the skin there, as he teased with a third finger. "Never enough for you, is there? Good thing there's three of us, then. You know that's how this is going to go, don't you? Anders is going to have his way with you and Fenris and I will catch up, eventually. One and then the other, back and forth. I want to hear you begging for us, knowing anything you ask, one of us will do. I will worship you, we will give you all the pleasure you could want, and in the morning, you'll wake up in my arms. I've missed you."

Behind them, Anders continued to demonstrate the talents of his tongue on the lyrium that decorated Fenris's knob, an electrical air occupying the rest of the space in his mouth. It tasted of the Fade and the storms that used to hang over the lake. Justice -- fairly obviously Justice, from the sound -- moaned his pleasure at the taste against their tongue. Anders still didn't quite manage on his own, but he'd stopped making sure Justice remained silent, as well. A little victory.

The sounds had surprised Fenris at first, but he found he liked the way they felt against and around his skin. He kept his grip in Anders's hair loose so he could pull free if he needed to, remembering that this wasn't Artemis. Fenris knew Anders was much less fond of choking, and Fenris couldn't blame him. 

The electricity tingled under his skin, made his toes curl where he dug them into the sheets. Anders certainly knew how to use his tongue and his magic, and it was enough to make Fenris regret the years they'd spent bickering instead of doing this. 

Artemis bent in for another kiss, letting Cormac swallow the small, needy sounds starting at the back of his throat. "I want you," he panted, his hand sliding from Cormac's knob to knead at his ass instead.

And that was what Cormac needed to hear, every time. That was what made this something he could do. "Do you?" he teased, sliding his fingers out with half a smile. "Me? Your very own older brother, who will give you anything you want?" He wrapped his hand around Artemis's knob, casting another grease spell. He could do without, but he didn't want Artie getting hurt -- they'd done that once, and it was better not to do it again.

Pulling his knees up higher, Cormac tucked Artie's knob under him, gently stroking and squeezing. "Take me," he breathed, looking into his brother's eyes. "I'm yours."

Fenris kept his eyes on Anders, watching those little lines at the corners of his eyes. Anders looked content, even with the hint of Justice's glow creeping and flickering across his skin, but content wasn't good enough for Fenris, this time. He'd seen Anders take pleasure in things that weren't too disgusting to even suggest in front of Artemis, and something in him had shifted, at that. Suddenly, good enough didn't seem like enough, any more. No objections seemed like the absolute minimum to be tolerated, and however much Justice seemed to enjoy licking him -- and he still wasn't over how strange that really was -- Anders only really put a stop to things that might actually be dangerous. He nearly never asked for anything -- not from Fenris.

"Mage," Fenris said, before hearing himself and starting again. "Anders. What do you actually want?"

Anders made a noise and pointed, the obvious interpretation being 'don't ask me things when my mouth is full'.

Fenris huffed. Obstinate even with a knob in his mouth. Especially with a knob in his mouth. Justice made one of those sounds again, the kind of sound Fenris could feel at the base of his spine, and it was almost enough to distract him from the way that accursed beard tickled. Fenris tugged at Anders's hair, and Anders followed the tug, letting Fenris's knob leave his mouth with a wet sound.

"I asked a question," Fenris said, watching when Anders licked his lips. "Tell me what you want." After a moment, he added a "please" to make it sound less like an order.

"What do I want?" said Anders. "I thought I had made that clear. My elbows are still feeling terribly neglected."

Artemis breathed a laugh against Cormac's lips and glanced back to address the glowy idiots. "You're the only one who can reach his elbows like this, Fen. It's up to you." He turned his attention back to his brother. "Now. Where were we? Here?" He pressed in slowly, agonisingly slowly, savouring that moment when he had Cormac wrapped around him.

Cormac was beyond words, for the moment, but the sounds from his mouth made his opinion clear. "Please," he groaned, trying to pull Artemis closer. "More... I want more of you. I want all of you."

And that was something Anders was completely accustomed to hearing from Cormac, and his knob twitched in response, as if the words had been directed at him. Still, he lifted an elbow and offered it to Fenris with a piteous look.

Fenris huffed a sigh and shot Anders one last confused look, before reaching out to take the elbow in his hands, caressing it as he would some more caressable body part. He stroked fingertips down the inner bend, where Anders's veins lingered close to the skin, and Justice's glow darted alongside them. Carefully, he lit the fingers of that hand, touching just below the skin, feeling the lines of muscle and the way Anders's skin still sat so close. Unlike Cormac, Anders didn't seem to have changed size at all, aside from his shoulders perhaps getting wider, still. It struck Fenris, then, that the healer might not age, like the rest of them did. But, then, it was hardly as though he, himself, had gotten any thicker. Artemis, if anything, seemed to have gotten thinner -- more densely muscular. But, Anders seemed unchanged.

Aside from the part where he was now curling his fingers in the bedsheet and breathing more quickly. "I did not expect that to be quite so ... effective," Anders admitted.

Fenris hadn't either, but he smiled and said, "You shouldn't underestimate my talents," as though it had been part of his plan all along.

Chapter Text

Fenris was fast turning Justice into a puddle of goo, which was always an odd sensation to Anders as the other occupant of their body. The sensations were pleasurable on their own, sure, but much of the sensation of lyrium and the Fade echoed back to him from his other half.

"You want to know what I want?" Anders said as Fenris continued his exploration. "That. More of that."

"More elbow-fondling?" Fenris teased. "They truly must have been neglected."

Their words drifted over and past Artemis, who was focused on the more important task of burying himself inside his brother. His hands were tight on Cormac's hips, and he almost relaxed his grip in apology before he remembered whom he was with. "Is this what you want?" he asked, rocking forward into Cormac. "All of me inside you?" He'd never be able to fill Cormac the way Anders did, but damn if he didn't try anyway.

"Yes, yes, please!" Cormac clutched at Artemis, always careful not to squeeze too hard, his eyes wide and adoring, as Artemis moved inside him.

"Is this a Hawke thing?" Fenris asked Anders, without looking at the tangled brothers. "The pleading to be used and misused?"

Anders stared blankly at him until the words made sense. And then he turned his head to watch -- both the Hawkes were gorgeous, like this, each in different ways. "Huh. You might be right. I never thought about it."

Fenris shook his head and traced a finger along one nerve in particular, the Fade-glow cushioning the contact, and Anders suddenly relaxed, back just stiff enough to hold him up.

"Is this too much?" Fenris asked, suddenly mildly concerned, but Anders reached out with the other hand, after a moment, and patted his knee, reassuringly.

"Cormac," Artie sighed, burying his face against Cormac's neck and panting against his skin. "Cormac." He worried a bit of skin between his teeth, hips moving at a pace that wasn't quite fast enough to do more than tease. "So, what do you think, brother-dear?" He trailed his lips and teeth up Cormac's neck to nip at his earlobe and to speak in his ear. "Shall we invite the other two to our Hawke party? Am I ready for the -- what did you call him -- the 'infinite Warden'?"

Artemis flashed a grin at Anders, catching the relaxed, almost blissful look on his face as Fenris touched him. He wondered if he made the same face when Fenris did that to him.

"Mmm, whatever you'd like, dear brother," Cormac purred, twisting to look at Anders. "Would the pair of nightlights like to bring that glow to the party? I'm sure there are some holes that could still be filled..."

"I'd be happy to fill your loud mouth, if it didn't mean touching you," Fenris drawled, sliding his fingers out of Anders's skin, and gesturing for the healer to precede him.

Anders took a bit to breathe, watching the brothers move together, the way they were completely absorbed in one another until Cormac's eyes lit on him with a wicked smile. 

"You going to come play, pretty thing?" Cormac asked, gasping as Artemis bit him more firmly.

"Only if you promise not to do any freaky glowing shit that's going to make me fuck right through you," Anders teased, reminding Cormac of the last time the four of them had shared a bed.

"Wouldn't matter," Cormac reminded Anders. "I'm not the one in the middle, this time."

"I promise not to glow, if that makes you feel better," Artemis said, turning a grin on Anders. He gestured him closer with the curl of a finger.

"I wouldn't find that reassuring even if you could glow," Anders drawled as he shuffled closer to the brothers, kneeling behind Artemis and smoothing a hand down his back. Anders could feel the bunch and slide of Artie's muscles as he rocked into Cormac, and he was almost sorry to feel that movement still when his hand slid down to grasp a firm buttock.

"It's been a while since we've done things quite like this," Anders said, "or... as close to this as we've come. Are you sure you're ready, Artie?" He would probably get kicked for the question, but he felt obligated to check. Doubly so, since Fenris was watching them.

"Cormac was very thorough," Artie assured him, reaching behind himself to touch what he could reach of Anders, his hand landing, ironically, on Anders's elbow. "Now come on."

"On?" Anders quipped, easing himself into position. "Now that's no fun. I thought we were going for in!"

"That was terrible, and I'm going to throw date pits at you for it later," Cormac groaned, burying his face against Artie's cheek.

"Worth it," Anders decided, pressing slowly in. He held himself up on one arm and smoothed Artemis's hair back from his face, with the other. "You still all right? I know it's been a while. Tell me if it's too much."

Artemis focused on his breathing, the combined scents of Cormac and Anders familiar and comforting. He'd forgotten how Anders had felt that first time, the pressure and the sheer weight of him inside, but the sound that escaped Artie wasn't one of pain. "I'm fine. Keep going."

"Maker, all my years in that tower and out of it, and it turns out that all I needed was a nobleman with a strong Fereldan upbringing." Anders chuckled breathily as he pushed in deeper, distressingly slowly. He'd almost said 'a Hawke', but that didn't account for Howe. But, then, nothing really accounted for Howe...

Fenris watched from just behind the pile of writhing bodies. From there, he could really only see the edge of Artemis's hip and Cormac's thigh flexing below it -- everything else was Anders. Not that Anders was a bad view, but from the back, he was still nearly all scars. Fenris watched the lines ripple, dull old wounds sliding over the hard muscle underneath. A reminder that he wasn't the only former slave in the room. A reminder that Anders remembered everything. He traced some of the older lines with one finger, keeping his hands outside Anders's skin, for now. 

Artemis clung to Cormac, his face pressed to the bend where neck met shoulder, teeth worrying at Cormac's skin to distract from the pressure. Anders watched the lines of his back as Fenris traced his, and Anders watched for any bit of tension, his hand smoothing healing into Artie's skin just in case.

"Anders," Artie breathed. His voice was shaky but not with pain, and he didn't tell Anders to stop. He reached behind him again, this time grabbing Anders's hip, nudging him forward when Anders paused.

Fenris decided it was probably for the best that he couldn't see much from this angle. He'd seen Anders's knob and felt Artemis's insides and still had no idea how they managed to fit.

"Tell me, beloved, is this what you wanted?" Cormac purred, wringing Artemis's knob inside him. He struggled not to howl, pressed this close to Artie's ear, and a constant stream of gasps and choked groans punctuated his words. "Is this as good as you hoped it would be, when you were watching -- ah! -- when you were watching Gantry tear me apart? Did you think, then, of fucking me open? Of how I'd feel inside? Or was it just how I'd look bleeding and screaming for you? You can make me scream. Just... not while you've got your cheek on my lips."

Anders stifled a laugh against the top of Artemis's head. "Yeah, don't let him scream in your ear," he panted, grinding in hard and slow. "Tell us what you want, Artie." He looked over his shoulder. "And you, Fenris. I'm pretty good at guessing, with you, but we can do better if we know what you want right now. It's not like I'm going to say no. Well, unless it's really stupid."

Artemis chuckled breathlessly. "I'm usually the one who comes up with the stupid ideas," he said. He gave Cormac's shoulder another bite before twisting to kiss Anders's fluffy chin. He remembered at the last moment not to go for his lips.

"He's not wrong," Fenris drawled, "though I can't say I usually mind the consequences." He just watched them for a moment. Or rather, he watched Anders and the way Artie's toes curled in the sheets. He couldn't see his husband, but he could hear him, those tiny choked-off sounds that went straight to Fenris's knob.

Fenris inched closer, his full hand replacing the finger on Anders's scars as he traced them steadily lower. Anders had asked him what he wanted, and Fenris wasn't sure if it was feasible, but he supposed they had tried odder things. "May I?" he asked, unsure how he wanted to finish that sentence.

Anders tipped his hips back, sliding out of Artie just a bit, as he pushed back against Fenris's hand. "Probably. Just tell me if you're going to start groping my organs or something. I don't want Justice getting ... He gets... we get... You love your husband; don't surprise me."

"I am increasingly glad you're a healer," Fenris muttered wryly, hands caressing the absurdly smooth skin of Anders's bottom. He decided, after a moment, that he didn't want to think too much about the texture of that mottled pale skin or the fact that it bore no relation to most of the skin above or below it. He'd known others in Danarius's service... 

But, he pushed that thought aside and held out a hand to Anders. "Grease?"

"It's me, Fenris," Anders replied, rocking his hips teasingly. "You know I've already taken care of it."

Sometimes, Fenris had to admit, magic was a marvellous thing. He knelt behind Anders, trying to find space amid the tangle of limbs. "I was not planning on groping your organs just now," Fenris teased, "but if you would like me to, later, I will consider it." A flicker of blue chased over Anders's skin, and Fenris wondered if he should be careful about teasing him, at least in their current configuration.

"I will remember that," Anders replied, glancing at Fenris over his shoulder. "I trust you have other designs on my ass in the interim, then? I wonder what they could be." He grinned as Fenris rolled his eyes.

Chapter Text

Fenris laid a hand on Anders's hip, and Anders stilled, drawing an unhappy sound from Artemis, who tried to see what was going on over his shoulder.

Cormac rocked his hips as best he could, in the awkward, sideways position they were in. He couldn't offer what Anders could, but he could keep things from getting too slow. "We'll try another position later. Or tomorrow. Something where you can watch them," he promised.

As much as Fenris knew about how to please Artemis, that really was what he knew, and as he'd learnt so many times, Anders was not the same. Still, some things would be the same, he remembered, sliding a finger into the slickness of Anders's hole. He remembered their first time, on that awful leather sofa, when he'd just shoved in and Anders had taken it, but looking back, that hadn't been his best moment. Slowly, he worked Anders open, feeling the clench around his fingers and the tiny motions as Anders rode them, still buried deep inside Artemis.

For a moment, Fenris wondered what would happen if he made his fingers glow, only to decide that that would not end well. No surprises, Anders had warned, so Fenris asked, "Ready?" though he suspected by the shift in Anders's breathing that he was.

Anders nodded, still circling his hips, and slowly Fenris withdrew his fingers, the sheets bunching as he laid down behind the mages. His thumb rubbed circles into Anders's hipbone as he slid in, nudging Anders into Artemis and Artemis into Cormac. Anders still didn't make a sound, but a shaky breath spilled from his lips, telling Fenris he was doing something right.

"I wonder what a sight we'd make, the four of us," Artie said to Cormac.

Fenris paused to breathe, his forehead pressed to Anders's shoulder. He reached past Anders's hip to pinch Artie's ass. "We'd look like a tangle of legs," he said. "Gorgeous legs, mind you. At least for the most part."

"There should be a statue of this. We have transcended the inordinate number of limbs for our own pleasure," Cormac muttered, from somewhere under an awful lot of other people's hair. "Artie? Can you let go a bit? I need to lean back. I can't breathe under your face and Anders's."

Anders cackled and tossed his hair back, easily missing Fenris and spreading his hair across the bed behind him. "This is why these things are never cuddly, when you get up to this many people."

"I would hardly characterise this as 'cuddly'," Fenris retorted, hips jerking forward as Anders flexed, kneading the base of his knob.

Finally untangling himself a bit, Cormac leaned back and wiped the sweat out of his eye. "There. Now I can look at you." He brushed Artie's hair back, with his sweaty hand. "I know I've been saying it forever, but you really are beautiful."

"You're welcome to keep on saying it forever," Artemis said. "I don't mind the reminder." He turned his head to press a kiss to Cormac's hand, choosing to ignore its sweatiness for the moment. He smiled at his brother, slow and lazy, eyes lidding with pleasure as he rocked between Cormac and Anders. He ran his nails down Cormac's thigh before wrapping his hand around his knob. "Does this mean you'll scream for me, now?" 

"Squeeze harder, and they'll hear me in Hossberg," Cormac promised, thrusting into Artemis's hand.

Artie grinned, tightening his grip and watching Cormac's face. A sharp thrust from Anders startled a gasp out of him, and Anders smoothed a hand down his side in apology.

"And yet, we're not allowed to glow," Fenris said, sighing as though this were some great injustice. He reached past Anders to grab Artemis's hip, pulling him back in time to his thrusts and wringing another shaky breath from Anders.

"Anyone within shouting distance is used to it by now," Anders replied. "Glowing distance is another matter."

Cormac's eyes rolled back as Artemis squeezed him. "Harder," he pleaded. "Nails."

Ragged and desperate sounds built up into a raw howl as he rutted into his brother's fist, flesh scraping along those stubby nails. He doubted Artie would draw blood -- that would be messy -- but as long as that sharp bite remained, he'd be happy. Even without it, he'd be happy, if he was honest with himself, but it definitely improved the situation.

Fenris pressed his face against Anders's shoulder, feeling that long, hard body writhe against him. He considered rattling off whatever he could think of, in Tevene, before he remembered Anders actually spoke Tevene ... Well, more ancient Tevene than conversational Tevene, but it wouldn't be as easy as it was with Artemis. And even if Artemis loved it, Anders laughing would skew the mood. He supposed he could try a few things that were actually dirty, but he still wasn't entirely comfortable with the aggressiveness of talking dirty in Tevene -- especially to Anders. Artemis, again, loved that sort of thing.

Fenris kept his words to himself, for the moment, aside from the occasional grunted "fuck" against Anders's shoulder. He half expected Anders to fill the space with his own smart words, but Anders was still eerily silent. Justice, at least, had made sound for him before, and Fenris decided he wanted to wring more of those sounds out of Anders's body later.

For now, Fenris took his cues from the shaky breaths he wrung from Anders, every time he pushed in at just that angle. Past him, Artemis was louder, his voice choked off and desperate as Fenris pulled him back into Anders and forward into Cormac. Fenris couldn't quite hear what he was saying, but it sounded like a combination of all of their names.

Anders tried to be gentle. It wasn't Cormac he was buried inside of, and that meant he couldn't just pound in until he was satisfied. He'd been spoiled, he realised, thinking back. The hand he wasn't leaning on slipped between the brothers, sliding over Artemis's chest, rolling one nipple between his knuckles. There was nothing he could say, but his hand spoke to his enjoyment, to his desires.

On the other side of Artemis, Cormac shrieked and wailed, shuddering against his brother's warm body. The few words he could manage were all praise and pleas for more, as he thrust into that merciless fist, out of time to Artemis's own thrusts into him. "Please, yes, this -- Love you, my lord, my god -- Oh! Perfect..."

Artemis watched his brother's face and felt him shudder, keeping his grip tight on Cormac's knob. He snaked his other hand under him, reaching up to cup Cormac's cheek before snaring in his hair as he pulled Cormac to him in a sloppy, teeth-knocking kiss. 

"Are you going to come for us, big brother?" Artie said, hips shivering as he continued to thrust into him. Cormac's screams always went straight to his knob, and with Anders thrusting into him like that, he wasn't going to last long himself. 

Cormac blinked stupidly as the words settled into his head. "You first," he panted between shouts of pleasure. "Come for me, little brother. Put it up inside me."

Fenris tried not to listen. This was what his husband wanted, and everyone was willing, but it still bothered him like it always had. Not in any way that meant he'd put a stop to it. Not when he'd seen how much Artemis enjoyed it. It was harmless, really. Just... kind of disgusting. He pushed memories of his own sister out of his head and focused on Anders. Anders, who was, frankly, a lot more disgusting, in the end, but again, harmless and pleasurable.

A sharp gasp was the only warning anyone else had, before Anders suddenly fell loose, his hips amplifying every one of Fenris's thrusts, driving him into Artemis again and again as he spilled. The first was always easy, and with three gorgeous men wrapped around him and each other, it was even easier.

A low groan spilled out of Artemis, and he turned a lazy grin over his shoulder in Anders's direction. "Having fun?" he asked.

Anders couldn't find his words at first or any of his extremities. "I have no complaints," he said when he remembered how to speak.

Artie's lazy smile turned into gasp at a particularly sharp thrust from Anders -- Fenris, really. And that was a thought that he liked, Fenris fucking him through Anders. Anders started to apologise, but Artie shook his head. "It's good," he said, unable to manage anything else. He wanted to hold on a little longer, but it was all too much. He started to shake, voice filling the room and magic prickling just under his skin. 

A part of Fenris still expected the room to shake, and he braced himself accordingly. What he wasn't expecting was the jolt that shot through Anders into him, making his teeth clack shut, or the smell of ozone that suddenly hung in the air.

The electricity crept along Cormac's scalp, followed almost immediately by the same jolt that struck Fenris. A ball of lightning, he thought, as his back arched and he spurted against Artemis's fingers and chest. The room smelled like a storm, and he wasn't sure if that was just post-orgasmic weirdness, on his part.

Anders's hands clenched, gripping Artie's hip brutally tight. Actually, his entire body tightened and released in the space of a breath, the un-plaited parts of his beard tugging gently toward Artemis's hair. "What--?" he asked, as he felt Fenris relax against his back.

"Ow," Cormac breathed, as his chest hair sparked against itself and Artemis. "I just... I don't know how I feel about that."

"This is why mages are dangerous," Fenris muttered from behind Anders. "I liked the earthquakes..."

"Sorry," said Artemis, dazed. He blinked at his brother, the sparks behind his eyes finally dissipating. His hand was still bruisingly tight on Cormac's knob, and it finally occurred to him to loosen his grip, giving Cormac's knob a last few lazy strokes before letting go. "I was just... thinking... 'no mage-floors' and tried to push my magic in the opposite direction. I'm not sure if that was the opposite of mage-floors, but at least it wasn't mage-floors." 

He trailed off and tried to smooth down his staticy hair with his clean hand. Then he noticed the state of Cormac's hair and bit the inside of his cheek.

"I'm with Fenris on this," Anders said. "I liked the earthquakes. We specifically made this place earthquake-proof, you know, if that's a concern."

"That... is actually good to know, yes," Artie said, his cheeks heating.

"Mindblowing," Cormac finally decided, recovering the scattered bits of his thoughts. "But, I'm going to vote for not repeating that one. You could actually kill someone with that. Probably not Anders, though."

Anders looked contemplative. "Justice agrees. Probably not. I'd still rather not test that too much." He nuzzled the top of Artemis's head. "I love the sparks, but not uncontrolled ball lightning in bed."

After a moment of uncomfortable chuckling, Fenris thrust forward again. "Don't tell me you're done so soon, Warden."

"I would never tell you any such thing," Anders replied, not looking back as he squeezed Fenris inside him. "I'm just watching the light show every time Cormac breathes."

Artemis squeaked when Anders moved inside him again, his body still loose and wrung out, the afterglow a bit tarnished after the lightning show. That was precisely the sort of dangerous magic he wanted to avoid. He reached for Cormac, only to get a shock for the effort. "Ow."

Anders chuckled in his ear, holding Artie by the hip as he ground back into Fenris. Anders's hair not tied back clung to his face, and he tried to blow it out of the way.

"Mages," Fenris sighed, settling back into the rhythm he'd set before. The faint prickles of static were almost pleasant where they touched his tattoos.

"You still interested?" Anders purred against Artemis's ear. "Or is this the part where I throw your brother down and you watch me ravish him?"

"If it's that part, I'm going to strongly suggest getting me a wet towel first." Cormac made the mistake of raising a hand to his own hair, setting off a shower of little blue sparks.

"Can it be the part where I touch your ... spirit with the Fade?" Fenris asked, fingers toying with the edges of some faded scars. The big one, still pink, sat right in front of his face, and this close, he could see how that had gone -- the runny, pocked streaks below giving away that this was much more than just a stab wound. "It seems that in addition to ignoring your elbows, we have been ignoring Justice."

"Justice's elbows must feel extra slighted," Artie teased, voice breathy as Fenris ground Anders into him, the short thrusts sending little sparks up his spine. It was tempting to stay there and let Anders ravish him again, but Artie still wasn't sure how he felt about Justice fucking him, not that he'd say no if Justice asked. Instead, Artie eyed his brother, cautiously smoothing a hand up Cormac's leg, only getting the one shock for the effort. "And I'm always interested, Anders, but I don't want to be selfish. Want to switch, brother-dear? I'll get you that wet towel, assuming my legs still work."

"Selfish? Not possible." Cormac leaned in, setting off a shower of sharp sparks as he kissed Artemis long and hard. "I wouldn't dream of depriving you of this. I get him all the time. We only get you for a few weeks." Something was definitely off, but he had no reason to doubt what Artie was saying. In fact, a concern about hogging all the knobs was just like his brother.

Artemis winced at another shock and pulled back from his brother's static onslaught. "That's sweet of you, brother-dear," he said, cupping Cormac's chin. "But I'm not the only figure in this equation, and... well, I think we all know Justice prefers the glowy ones."

Anders huffed. "Justice agrees. I was enjoying you, but he wants to get our hands on all the Fade he can touch, and I don't exactly object to Cormac. Not that he minds you, of course. At least not any more than he generally minds the idea of us getting laid, when he could be out fighting the depraved injustices of the culture I grew up in. And yes, we are going to have it out with the Carta representative about that painter, but that's not until the middle of the night, which it is not." He paused and glanced over his shoulder. "And yes, Fenris, we'd like that very much, if you're up to it."

Untangling himself from his brother, Cormac twisted himself off the bed and staggered to his feet, accompanied by a small storm and a faint shimmering haze of sparks. He grabbed a light wrap from where it hung on the corner of his dressing table. "I need to go pour water over my head, first. This is getting ridiculous."

"Sorry," Artie said with a sheepish smile. Reaching behind him, he gave Anders's thigh a squeeze and eased himself off of Anders's knob, a dull ache taking its place as he settled into the spot Cormac had been in a moment before. He turned onto his other side to better see Fenris and Anders. Or... just Anders, really, and maybe part of Fenris's arm. 

Fenris's hips still moved in tight circles, enough to keep Anders interested as Fade glow lit the lines of one hand. He didn't dare reach deep inside Anders, not with his tattoos in the state they were in, but he let his fingertips linger just under the skin, stroking along Anders's scars.

It was as much the ragged sound that left Anders as it was the blue glow that told Fenris that Justice had come to the surface.

"I CAN HEAR THE SONG OF THE LYRIUM IN YOU ... AND IN ME WHEN YOU DO THAT." Justice's voice was relatively quiet, but it somehow carried the same impact as when he shouted. "YOU ARE KIND TO INDULGE ME."

"It is hardly an indulgence." Fenris pushed in as deep as he could go, melding himself against Anders's back as his fingers followed the scars around the curve of Anders's ribs. He ground in, feeling the ... He didn't know, but with Justice glowing, Anders felt different inside -- warm in both the figurative and literal senses, welcoming, righteous. He could say this was the first time he'd had to consider what righteousness would feel like wrapped around his knob, but he liked it. It seeped into him along the lyrium lines, crept into his mind in ways that should have been horrifying and disgusting, but ... This was how demons worked, he remembered, suddenly.

"Get out of my head." The words were firm, but not antagonistic. The spirit didn't seem to be doing anything, just ... lingering.

"WHAt?" The glow faded a bit and Anders twisted around to look, sorting through what had just happened. "Shit, sorry. We're not sure how not to do that. Or, I don't do that, but he can't not do that. It's also why he gets so upset -- he just ... sees things. He can't change anything, just look at it. It's still creepy. Did we do this before? We must have."

"You did," Fenris agreed, still grinding slowly against Anders's ass. "It feels good. I didn't realise what it was until now."

Anders groaned. "We're... Huh. I'm going to see if I can make that stop. He says he can only do it when someone's upset -- when they've been wronged. And you... it must be the Fade-fingers. There's something different, here, and we weren't expecting it."

Perhaps simply being aware of it would make a difference. Fenris hoped so. He was almost unnerved by how easy it would have been to give in, but then he knew that already.

"And here I thought you were expecting the Fade-fingers," Fenris teased, glowing fingers still light on Anders's skin. "Or were you expecting some other part of me to glow when I asked?"

Anders choked on a horrified laugh. "Please don't do that. Justice is very intrigued, but as your healer, I'm telling you both 'no'."

Next to them, Artie chuckled, his head propped up on his palm. "You don't know what you're missing." His eyes followed the lines Fenris's fingers traced along Anders's ribs and chest.

"And I'm perfectly okay with that." Veins of Fade-blue crackled over his skin as Fenris's fingers nearly touched the scar in the middle of his chest.

Cormac returned, then, a bit drippier than he'd left, but much less sparkly. "What are you okay with missing?" he asked, tossing his damp towel onto Artie's head as he climbed back onto the bed.

"Fadeboner," Anders filled him in. "I'm pretty sure neither my bladder nor my liver need that."

"If he's hitting your liver..." Cormac grinned and took a deep breath, calling the fade to himself. He caressed Anders's cheek with one indigo hand.

"I shoved my knob through you and out the other side. I'm not taking any chances."

Artie pulled the wet towel off his face, his lip curled. He scowled up at his brother, planted a foot on his chest and shoved him off the bed, tossing the towel back onto Cormac's face. "Ass. Also stop rubbing it in that everyone else in the room can glow."

"Do you want to?" Cormac wadded up the towel and threw it almost straight up, catching it on one of the bedpost dragons. "I learned it from a book. It's still back at the house, in Kirkwall. I don't know if you're going to have an easy time, since it's not your school, but this isn't some weird natural talent."

"Please don't," Anders sighed, hips still flexing and rolling in response to Fenris. "I really prefer at least one of us not being... You are solid. You are always solid. I'm not going to have any surprises with you."

Cormac dragged himself back onto the bed and sprawled between Anders and Artemis. "Is that 'don't glow' I'm hearing? Are you sure? I'm pretty sure Justice was looking forward to getting his hands all over my delightful blue glimmer."

"Those are my hands too, you know," Anders reminded him, using those hands to pull Cormac back against him.

"You're both pretty cute," Cormac replied, holding his arms out to Artie.

"What was that you said about not getting too cuddly with this many people?" Artie teased, trying to smooth out the sheets as he shuffled over, throwing a leg over Cormac's thigh and pressing in for a non-sparking kiss.

"Still not sure this qualifies as cuddly," Fenris said, hips pressing more insistently against Anders.

"Maybe not on your end," Artemis said, rubbing his cheek against Cormac's. "But I can cuddle you next if you're feeling left out."

Anders huffed, sliding his hand between the brothers to fondle the fluffier Hawke as he ground against Cormac's ass. "You want to squish the elf between mages?"

"Mages who are all talking entirely too much," Fenris said, one finger tracing the edges of the ragged scar in the middle of Anders's chest.

Anders jerked like he might slap the hand away, but Fenris's finger lit a bright blue and slid under the surface, gently running a fingertip down the bone beneath, and Anders shuddered and arched, Justice's light darting across his skin.

"YES!" It was impossible to say the voice was one or the other of them.

Cormac reached behind him, wrapping one hand around Anders's knob to slick it again, before he squirmed, easing it into himself. A bit of a sting, but he'd already been opened up, and Anders slid into him, thick and tight. Indigo on his fingertips, he reached back to stroke Anders's thigh, triggering a heated moan.

"Kiss me," he breathed against Artemis's ear. "Have me as you will, as you can. I'm yours, always, any way you want."

Artemis brushed his hand along Cormac's cheek, sank his fingers into Cormac's hair, and turned into a kiss. It was slow and lingering, Artie's fingers kneading Cormac's scalp as he sucked Cormac's lower lip between his teeth, biting just hard enough to elicit a small sting. "Any way I want?" he purred. "That's a dangerous thing to say, particularly to your little brother." But his smile was as much affectionate as teasing as he dipped in for another kiss, his hand sliding down Cormac's chest and stomach to give his knob another squeeze.

All Fenris could see -- and reach -- of the brothers from this angle was Artie's leg hooked over Cormac's, and Fenris paused in his glowy fondling of Justice and Anders just long enough to run a Fade-blue finger down Artie's leg, making him squeak in surprise and point his toes.

Justice writhed between Fenris and Cormac, hands heavy with lyrium and the Fade pressed against the skin he shared with Anders. "PLEASE," he said, at Anders's prodding, gently running his fingertips over those hands. "I LIKE THIS."

Anders kept pulling them back, out of Fenris's head, out of Cormac's secrets. It was definitely something about the touch of the Fade, something about the lyrium, that made those minds more accessible, because he wasn't having this problem with Artie, and he hadn't been having it with Cormac, until the glowing started.

"Any way you want," Cormac repeated, mumbling against his brother's lips, as he massaged Anders's leg with the Fade at his fingertips. "Want you to be happy." He raised his voice. "And I want you to be happy, too, so tell me where to put this hand."

"EVERYWHERE," said Justice. "WHICH IS NOT SPECIFIC, AS ANDERS HAS JUST REMINDED ME. BUT IT IS WHAT I WANT."

Fenris dragged his fingertips along Anders's ribs, lightly stroking the bone, and another electric sound slipped out of Justice. Fenris smiled against Anders's sweaty skin, the roll of his hips making Anders writhe. He didn't need to be quite as careful, not with Cormac on the receiving end instead of Artemis, and he moved more insistently, panting against Anders's shoulder.

Artemis smiled against Cormac's lips as he felt the bed move, his hand still moving over Cormac's flesh. "Do you want me?" he asked, shifting his hips and angling Cormac's knob at his entrance.

"What the fuck kind of stupid question is that?" Cormac asked, blinking at Artemis. "You might have to squeeze that a bit, though. I'm not sure it's quite recovered from the last--" He trailed off in a ragged scream as Justice rammed into him brutally in response to whatever Fenris was up to. "Or that. That probably helped."

"GOOD SCREAM OR BAD SCREAM?" Justice asked, not willing to take Anders's insistence at face value.

"Good. Very good. Do that more." Cormac's hand moved like he meant to squeeze Justice's ass, but then he realised Fenris was going to be in the way and shoved the hand between himself and Justice, instead, squeezing and kneading the front of Anders's -- Justice's -- thigh, instead. The indigo crept up his arm, a faint touch of the Fade flickering around his shoulder.

It was also a loud scream from Artie's perspective, though not the loudest Cormac had been yet today. He chuckled, squeezing Cormac's knob for good measure as he slid his brother into him. After taking Anders, Cormac slid in easily, and Artie squeezed around him, a low sound escaping his throat.

Justice was letting out some sounds of his own, not quite screams but still loud enough to fill the room and for Fenris to feel the sound in his bones. Fenris's hips shivered, pleasure pooling at the base of his spine, and he withdrew his fingers from the surface of Anders's skin as he tried to hold himself back from the edge, determined to send Anders -- Justice -- over again first.

Cormac wailed with pleasure, easily drowning out Justice, as he bucked between Justice and Artemis. His hips rolled and twitched, loosely following both rhythms as best he could. Still, he could do this all night -- had done this all night a hundred times before. There was no real urgency in it, for him.

The glow flickered on Anders's hand, where it clutched at Cormac's chest, thick flesh buckling where the fingers dug in. So strange to have two people -- and he did think of Justice as 'people' -- in ways one could usually only have one at a time. However much Anders insisted he and Justice were one, Cormac knew there were times they were more one than the other, and Anders knew it too. And whatever that hand looked like, the rhythm of the flagpole slamming into him, that was Anders. Cormac recognised the timing, even as Justice cried out in pleasure.

Artemis clutched at Cormac's shoulder, trying to match the rhythm the others set, his eyes sliding closed as his breath shivered past Cormac's cheek. Cormac was loud, this close to his ear, and Artie remembered Anders's earlier warning. But Artie supposed it was a small price to pay for the way Cormac felt thrusting inside of him, even if he'd regret it later when his ears were ringing.

Cormac's screams blocked out Fenris's murmured swears, but Anders caught the sound of his name when Fenris said it. Fenris's grip was almost too tight as he determinedly kept up his rhythm, trying to think of all manner of unappetizing things to make himself hold out longer.

The strangest series of jerks and twitches crept through Anders's body as he came again. As he relaxed into it, Justice lunged into the gap, squeezing, clenching, grunting desperately as he pulled Cormac closer. They came and went in waves, limbs tight and then limp, as the glow flickered and flashed over their skin. 

Fenris huffed in amusement as the body in his arms shivered and flashed. That, by itself, was enough to hold him off a while longer -- more effective than even Cormac screaming. This was a reminder of what he was doing, that he had convinced himself to stuff his knob into an abomination. And somewhere in his head, that still bothered him in some ways. But, Anders -- or Justice -- had never done anything intended to hurt him and actually stopped, when asked, and not just in bed. Still, it wasn't somewhere he ever really imagined he'd be.

Chapter Text

Anders shuddered again, and Fenris gave in to the urge to keep going, pressing his face against Anders's shoulder as he quickened his pace again, losing himself in the sensation of the essence of Justice wrapped around his knob.

Justice was a pleased hum in the back of Anders's mind, veins of Fade blue rippling across his skin in time to each of Fenris's thrusts. He was loose and pliant where Fenris's grip was tight, his muscles tightening, coiling, as the slap of skin on skin filled the room. When Fenris came, it was with a garbled, anguished sound that bubbled up from his chest. Lyrium lines flashed and flickered, but he remained solid in and around Anders.

Artemis purred at the sound and stretched out the leg he had thrown over Cormac to stroke Anders's and Fenris's thighs with the edge of his foot. "It's quite the light show in here," he said, still rocking against his brother.

"This is why we don't have any neighbours," Anders said.

Fenris caught his breath, his head still floaty and filled with pleasant sparks. "I thought that was because of Cormac."

"We've got light and sound. It's both of us, on a good night. Can't be doing that in the middle of town." Cormac chuckled quietly, pulling Artemis closer with his leg. Sweat soaked slowly into the bed, under him, making the sheets faintly slimy, but he'd gotten used to that. One of the perils of trying to enjoy a Warden in this heat.

"And yet, this never stopped you in Kirkwall," Fenris pointed out, drily, caressing Artemis's leg.

"We were either on the second storey or underground in Kirkwall. The angle's different," Anders argued, rolling his hips and wringing another gasp and squeak from Cormac. "And it was better than some Lowtown alley."

"I rather liked some Lowtown alleys, to be entirely fair." Cormac shivered at the memory of some things he'd gotten up to, not least that one time with Artemis.

Artie hummed, having the same thought. "I'm rather fond of one or two of them myself," he said, "even if they were a bit filthy."

Anders huffed a laugh, his hand stroking the lines of Cormac's chest. "The one time where you left an alley dirtier than how you found it. Assuming, that is, that you didn't go back to clean it after we'd left."

"You're lucky I can't really kick you from this angle," Artie said, breath hitching in the middle of the sentence as he shifted and Cormac pushed into him at a different angle.

"Notice he doesn't deny it," Fenris said, sliding out and peeling himself off of Anders as he rolled onto his back. His skin was covered in a fine sheen of sweat where he'd pressed against Anders, and in this heat, the air on his skin was a welcome reprieve.

"There's nothing to deny," Cormac said, grinning at his brother. "We all know it. Artemis Hawke likes filthy sex in filthy alleys." He was going to get punched, and he was going to deserve it. Still, he couldn't help reminding Artie they were still brothers. For all that Cormac had devoted himself to Artie's happiness, there had always been that underlying, relatively harmless need to give him a hard time.

"And in freshly cleaned parts of the Chantry," Fenris pointed out, snickering at the ceiling.

Anders laughed sharply. "That's right! The two of you came all over Andraste's feet, didn't you? And only a little more direct than the Chantry encourages." The image of Sebastian's belt stood out in his mind, as he reached out to squeeze Artie's ass.

Artemis turned his face into the pillow, hiding half his face as he laughed. "The earthquakes... Anton actually believed there was a dragon under the Chantry!" Even with his brother's knob in him, he cackled at the memory, though that put him back in mind of how Fenris had felt that night. Artie bit his lip, let Anders's hand guide the motion of his hips. "That was a fun night." He leaned in and mouthed at Cormac's jaw. "Fenris tied me up and took me until the walls shook." Artemis shivered at the memory.

With his face pressed to Cormac's hair, no one could see the way Anders paled at the mention of being tied up. His hips stilled for a moment, but only long enough that he was able to play it off as intentional.

Cormac shook his head, rubbing his hair against Anders's face. "I will never understand the appeal of being tied up. How are you supposed to grab and grope and give as good as you get? It just doesn't work."

And that, Anders thought, was the thing about Cormac -- it was never some one-way thing, even when it could be. Even when, by all rights, it should be, because any sane person would've passed out hours earlier. Cormac was incredibly hands-on, and the more hands, the better.

"You're not supposed to. That's the point," Anders pointed out, leaning back from the depths of Cormac's hair, and pulling the brothers closer against him. It was fine. Nobody was tied up here -- not even Artie, who was into that. Still, his chest felt tight, as he picked up the pace again.

"That's ..." Cormac shook his head again, grinding down against Anders and letting himself be driven forward into Artemis. "I don't get it. Hands are important."

Artemis huffed and pinched Cormac's ass where it flexed against Anders. "I don't know," he said, his hand coming to rest on Anders's hip as the three of them moved together. "I just... I liked the thought of being at his mercy. Still do."

Fenris smirked up at the ceiling, reliving his own fond memories of that night. He was smug in the knowledge that that was something he had given Artie that the others clearly hadn't.

"See? Hands." Cormac ducked down and nuzzled under his brother's chin, nipping at the skin. "I guess I almost get that. I love making you smile. Listening to you tell me what you want and then giving it to you."

"I'm going to second the appeal of that," Anders volunteered, sliding a hand up Cormac's chest to tug roughly at one nipple. "Of course, there's something to be said about the volume involved." He dug in a thumbnail and Cormac thrashed and shrieked, pleading for more.

"I can agree with that," Artie said with a breathy chuckle. He did so love the noises Cormac made and almost envied how uninhibited he was when he was making them. Each shriek sent heat straight to his groin, and Artie snaked a hand down between them to squeeze his knob, a low sound slipping past his lips. "How loud can we make him, do you think, Anders?"

"He's loud enough," Fenris muttered. He ran a glowing finger along the top of Artie's foot and down his toes before retracing the patterns he'd followed earlier on Anders's back.

"He's not loud enough until I can't hear the--" Anders cut off in the middle of the sentence, shoving into Cormac hard enough to get another yowl. "It's a Warden thing. I like it loud. I like him loud. Of course if you want to get loud for me, too, I'm not going to complain."

"I prefer not to," Fenris grumbled, as visions of himself squalling like Cormac wound through his mind. Hideous, really. He simply wasn't loud -- not like that. But, that wasn't true. He had been -- and that was something he wasn't going to consider right now. No. There were three mages in this bed, and two lusted after his touch, submitted themselves to him to have it. And the third wasn't interested and took no offence at him. This was not the Imperium. None of the screaming would be his own.

"More, please, more, harder!" Cormac cried out from where he lay between two handsome, sweaty men, as Anders's hands gifted him pain and pleasure.

That was definitely a Hawke thing, Fenris decided. While he enjoyed watching Anders's ass move, he wished there weren't two mages blocking his Hawke from view. Whatever Fenris felt about Cormac, he did love the sounds and the faces Artemis made when he was being taken.

Harder was what Anders gave Cormac, pistoning his hips hard enough to make the bed shake, which, upside-down or not, supported their weight admirably. He added a spark to his touches, a low hum of electricity under his fingertips, but not enough to put Cormac's hair on end again.

"Fuck, Cormac," Artie groaned in his brother's ear. "It's like Anders is fucking me through you." His hand moved over his knob in time to their thrusts, pouring small, shivery sounds right into Cormac's ear.

Cormac whined at the thought, trying to find words before he finally managed, "Do you want him? Do you want him to fuck you like he fucks me? Pounding into your body until the sun's high, filling you with seed and slick until you feel it slosh inside you with every thrust, and you know the only reason it's not all over the bed is because he fits so tight?" He worked himself into a state, just thinking it, and considering how often they actually managed that, Cormac was impressed he could still find it so appealing.

Anders huffed, words escaping him as he rutted intently into Cormac. He managed a raised eyebrow and something like a sly smile at Artemis, but he wasn't sure how well that carried, between the beard and the sweat dripping into his eye. Either of the brothers would be wonderful, but he'd be more gentle with Artemis, which was less about Artemis and more about how ridiculously rough Cormac liked things to get.

Artie met Anders's look with a smirk before his eyes rolled back, a sharp thrust from Anders knocking Cormac into him. "Maker." He loved the filth his brother poured into his ear, and he shivered just at the thought, even if he doubted he could handle Anders in quite the same way Cormac could, despite how hard he'd once tried to prove otherwise. "Fuck. Yes." He wasn't sure if that was a yes to what Cormac was saying or to what he was doing, but in that moment he didn't care.

Artemis hooked a leg around them both, pulling the three of them as tight together as their (non-glowing) bodies would allow. It took him a while to remember that words existed, never mind what to do with them. "But right now," he growled right in Cormac's ear, "I want you to fill me up just like he did. I want all of you, again and again."

Cormac was verging on incoherent, by that point, desperate and wavering on the edge. "Oh, my beautiful and beloved god that I hold in my arms, perfect and everything, all my world, anything for you--" The rambling went on, louder and less coherent, until Anders's fingers snaked down to where his body passed into Artemis's, and delivered a sharp shock. He bucked and twisted, screaming as he rutted hard into Artemis, driving himself back onto Anders with every thrust. In seconds, he slowed, shivering and shaking, hands gentle on Artemis's skin, as he tried to catch his breath, throbbing out the last few dribbles inside Artie's warm, beautiful body.

Artemis cradled Cormac's cheek and swallowed his shaky breaths in a kiss. "You're so good to me, big brother," he purred, still rocking against Cormac. He was achingly hard in his own hand, and watching, feeling, his brother come undone inside of him had him flushed and panting.

Still rocking into Cormac, Anders smoothed a hand down his side and then up Artie's thigh, turning his sparking fingers on the other brother. Artie shuddered, the electricity pooling at the bowl of his hips, and his leg tightened its grip around the two.

"Mmm, still not sure I can fill you up 'again and again'," Cormac admitted, squeezing Artie's bottom and grinding into him. The electricity was a bit muffled, but he could still feel the tingle from Anders's hands in certain positions. "I think after two I run out of creamy filling, so if we're going to turn you into an Antivan custard cake, that might take all of us. You want me to taste you and make sure you're still good, along the way?"

Anders reached back to squeeze Fenris's hand, before he dove back in with more lightning on his fingers, letting it dance over the sweat soaked skin. Curling his fingers between Artemis's ass cheeks, he pressed a firm spark to the tip of Artie's tailbone.

Artie's hips jerked, and he made a ragged sound that filled the room. Shaking, Artemis clutched Cormac with his free hand and begged Anders to do that again. He was close, so close, close enough that he could feel his magic shivering under his skin again. They liked the earthquakes, they'd said, so when Anders sent another spark through him, Artie let his magic go where it wanted to. It trembled under the bed and in the walls as Artie's vision sparked white.

Fenris hoped the house was as earthquake-proof as Anders had suggested, but when the roof didn't fall on them, he smiled, pleased to feel the bed shaking under him again.

"Holy balls," Cormac breathed, reaching down to cup them in his hand as he slid out. "I love it when you do that. It's everything all those trashy romance novels want people to believe you can have without a mage. But, they're wrong. And I have the lord high god of the perfect orgasm right here in my arms."

"He should be in my arms," Fenris grumbled, half-heartedly, having missed out on most of the show, due to Anders being in the way for most of it.

"He could be, you know. There's another side, here," Cormac pointed out, still rolling Artemis's balls against his palm. "What do you think, Artie, is your ass cold?"

"I'd have to get up," Fenris complained, reaching out to grope Anders's scars again.

"Such a romantic," Artie teased. He wiped his hand on the bedsheet, feeling too pleasant and loose to mind too much about the mess they'd made. He reached out that hand towards his husband and wiggled his fingers. "Come on. My ass is worth it."

Fenris made an unconvinced sound as though he were thinking that over. Just when Artie was wondering if he should feel offended, he pushed himself up, groaning. "I suppose you are correct. Your ass has not let me down yet."

"It will be dark day in Thedas if it ever does," Artemis said.

Fenris walked around the bed instead of clambering over it, mostly to avoid accidentally touching any part of Cormac, and Artie smiled as Fenris settled in behind him.

"Now my ass is cold," Anders said mournfully.

"Your ass is always cold," Cormac reminded him, easing off Anders's knob and rolling over to wrap his arms around Anders, squeezing one uncomfortably between the bed and Anders's hip, to better warm his ass with both hands.

"And now my knob's cold, too." Anders made a sad face at Cormac. "You wicked and terrible mage, you. This is why nobody trusts us, you know. People like you making for cold knobs."

"You dink." Cormac laughed and leaned heavily forward, knocking Anders onto his back. "I'm just going to have to be more creative if you expect me to warm your knob and your ass at the same time. We're mages. We can manage." Cormac's grin was not reassuring.

Still, he managed admirably, and the four of them enjoyed each other in a variety of configurations designed to keep Cormac and Fenris from inadvertently fondling each other, while still keeping Anders warm on all sides. At least until the last of it, when Anders rose onto his knees, behind Artemis, a great deal less gentle than he tended to be with the younger of the two brothers, but still enormously more cautious than he'd have been with Cormac. Fenris sprawled beside them, alternately kissing and groping Artemis -- what of him could be reached under Anders's bulk -- and Cormac contented himself with lying beneath the pile, albeit a bit to one side, with Artemis rutting against his loose, exhausted body.

Fenris carded his hand through Artemis's sweat soaked hair. They'd made a sweaty mess of the bed, but Artie was still too distracted to care, eyes lidded and mouth open around those small choked-off sounds Fenris loved to hear. He traced the fingers of one glowing hand down Artemis's throat, not daring to reach beneath the skin while Anders was jostling him, but it was enough to wring a mewl from that throat.

Anders's eyes flashed blue, but even Justice was nearing exhaustion. Still, Fenris caught that look, and his glowing fingers trailed down Artemis's side, feeling Artie's muscles bunch and shiver at the touch, and up Anders's chest. Anders sucked in a ragged breath and caught himself before tightening his grip on Artie.

Half-asleep and ragged, Cormac moaned against his brother's ear, quieter than he'd been for most of the night, voice thick in his raw throat. "I'm all yours, little brother. Always. I want to see you happy. I want to feel you come." And that sentence still stuck in his throat. He wondered if he'd ever get over it.

"Last one," Anders breathed, leaning over Artie's shoulder to kiss Cormac. That was something he was sure of, and somehow the words made it out of his mouth, as he pistoned into Artemis's body, still so tight around him. A quick spell for a little more grease, and then his thighs began to tremble. So close, and so exhausted. He was going to sleep for a week -- or at least until lunch, which was fine, since he had to go out, that night. His hips rolled and his body ached, senses filled with the two extremely attractive brothers beneath him, and the occasional touch from Fenris, who seemed almost entirely absorbed in the look on Artemis's face. Anders almost regretted that he couldn't see it at this angle.

Artemis was too exhausted to do little more than cling to Cormac, legs shaking as he tried to meet each of Anders's thrusts. Fenris watched Artie's face twist, tightening and loosening, and he wasn't sure if that was the ground he felt shaking or just Artemis's body. But then Artie slumped over his brother with a long and anguished groan, and Fenris suspected that had been the night's last earthquake. Fenris tilted Artie's face towards his, and Artemis kissed back dazedly, still shuddering from every shove of Anders's hips.

Anders's arms tensed, his shoulders trembling, as he stopped breathing for a long moment. His face twisted, soundlessly, and his body hung loosely from his shoulders and hips. Somehow, he managed not to collapse onto Artemis.

"I'm sorry," he managed after a moment, slowly easing himself out of Artemis's body, to collapse to the opposite side as Fenris. Squishing the elf would not be an appropriate end to the evening. The bed squeaked in protest, and he reached out and patted one of the rails, consolingly.

Cormac rolled to the side, arms tight around his brother, putting Artie firmly between himself and Fenris. "Love you," he mumbled against Artie's neck. "And you're amazing, Anders."

"Hungry," Anders grumbled. "That's what I am. And tired. Food and sleep. Sleep and food. Mmm. Sleep first." He tossed an arm loosely over the bodies beside him, making grabby gestures at Fenris. "C'mere, Pointy. It's not real snuggling until there's four of us."

Fenris huffed. "Watch where those hands end up," he teased with a mock scowl. He scooted in close, moulding himself to Artemis's back. His husband was sticky with sweat, but so was he, and the room stank of sweat and sex.

"These sheets are disgusting," Artie mumbled into Cormac's hair, but his eyes were already closed, body heavy with encroaching sleep.

Anders hummed in agreement but made no move to fix this either. "That's a problem for later," he said, patting Artie's shoulder. Artie mumbled something incoherent. "What was that about the camel?" But Artie was snoring into Cormac's hair before he could answer.

Chapter Text

Anders pulled on the robes he'd gone to Hossberg to buy. They weren't the sort of thing he'd wear, in general, but they suited his purposes well on nights like these -- a dark blue, nearly black, with runes embedded in lighter blue trim. Justice could trigger the runes -- all of them -- with only the faintest effort, and while they didn't do much, being that they were cheap protection runes, they did glow rather alarmingly when overloaded.

"Where do you go, at night?"

Anders looked up to find Fenris leaning in the doorway. "Justice can't rest in a place that cries out to him, and given that this isn't the Fade, there's always something. We go to address the upsets in the town.There's always something going on, usually with the merchants, where people think they're getting cheated. Or someone's out throwing paint on statues of Maferath. There's always something."

"And you do what? Kill them?" Fenris scoffed, eyebrow arcing up.

"It's not Kirkwall. Usually scaring the piss out of them is enough. If it's not, we pass on the name to the guard, with a long list of things we've watched them do." Anders shrugged and wrapped his face, before pulling up his hood.

"And what if you get the wrong person?" Fenris asked. "Is that not doing them some injustice?"

"More inconvenience, really. We don't make anything up, so whatever we report, we've actually witnessed. It's up to the guard to prove it. If it doesn't go to the guard, the worst we've done is woken someone up in the middle of the night and ... probably scared the piss out of them. If we're wrong, we'll make amends."

Fenris hummed, eyeing Anders up and down. That wasn't the hum of one convinced. "And has any of this been traced back to you? Do you really want to be attracting attention after running all this way?"

"They meet Justice, not me. At night, we just look like a lot of glowy anger."

Fenris's lips thinned, and he nodded. He picked up his sword from where it leaned against the wall, where Anders hadn't noticed it.

"What are you doing?" Anders asked, but the sword wasn't pointed at him.

"I am joining you," Fenris said, matter of fact. "I have slept enough, and I admit to being curious."

"And, what, you want to join in the glowy anger?" Anders wasn't sure that was the best idea, but Justice seemed pleased by the thought. No, Anders scolded him. Stop being distracted by the glowy elf.

"I want to make sure you do not do anything too foolish."

"Foolish," Anders scoffed, checking himself one more time to be sure he'd gotten everything -- amulet, note, jar of sawdust and starch. He'd go and make his point, and when he was done, no one would see him leave. He handed another jar to Fenris. "Well, just to make sure you don't do anything foolish, take this. If anyone tries to come after us, smash that between us and them and run off in a different direction to the one I go in. It'll make a nasty cloud, a little hard to breathe in, but not enough to actually hurt anyone."

"And have you had to use them?" Fenris asked, tying the jar to a thong on his belt.

"Of course not. How long have I been on the run?" Anders grinned and headed for the door. "It's even easier here. I look just like everyone else. You, though. You don't. So keep your hood up and your head down."

"I left Minrathous before the last time you left your tower. I can look after myself," Fenris grumbled, following Anders out. "Who are we frightening and what have they done?"

"There's a sheep farmer -- there's a lot of sheep farmers -- but one of them is missing ten sheep and the other one just acquired eight that look surprisingly familiar, and it's said he just paid off some old debts, unexpectedly." Anders shrugged expressively and headed down the road, away from the village. "It's an unlikely combination of events, at the very least."

Fenris walked at his side, pulling his hood up. "So you have gone from championing mages to championing sheep farmers?" he teased. "Truly Justice never rests."

"Oh, I think you know just how tireless Justice is, by now," Anders said with a smug smile, "though the three of you made a good show of trying to wear the two of us out. But, really, Justice cares no less for the sheep farmers. He's just..."

"Not possessing one?" Fenris suggested, and the fact that he was something resembling friends with an abomination was something that still struck him now and then.

Anders opened his mouth, wanting to offer a different explanation but finding none. "I suppose that's part of it, yes." He followed a turn in the road and nudged Fenris to do the same. "This way."

Entering the farm was as simple as hopping the fence -- opening the gate might have gotten loud. Anders pet a few curious sheep as they passed through the yard, before he took out the note and fastened it to the door of the house with a bit of gum. Winking at Fenris, he stepped back out into the yard, eyeing the windows. The bedroom window was most likely the back one -- most people put their bedrooms in the back of the house, particularly when those windows could be made to face the rising sun.

He waved Fenris out of the way and stepped into a spot directly in front of the window, letting Justice rise to the surface. The runes on his outer robe were suddenly visible, glowing brightly, the lyrium sparking with the power of the spirit suddenly running through the designs. He looked, he thought, like one might expect an angry ghost to look. Justice called out to the farmer.

"Gunnar Jansson! You are called to answer for taking sheep which are not your own." Justice still bristled a bit at that. The sheep were their own creatures, but human language was a strange thing. "You have led them away from their home and their keeper. You must answer for this injustice!"

The night fell silent, until Fenris heard hushed voices and the sound of someone fumbling in the dark house. A man's face with saggy jowls poked out of the window, eyes round and cheeks ghost pale in the Fade light. He stared at Justice, rubbed a hand over his eyes, and stared again. He muttered something in Ander, something that sounded like a question.

Behind the man, Fenris spotted a second figure, likely the man's wife. She hissed something at him in Ander, and the man waved her aside.

"YOU HAVE HEARD ME," Justice boomed. "YOU HAVE TAKEN THAT WHICH DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU."

Gunnar sputtered, forgetting to breathe, and Fenris half expected the man to faint. "What? No!" His Common was accented but clear. "Those... those sheep are mine. I found them wandering... and..."

"YOU FOUND SHEEP THAT WERE NOT YOURS ON LANDS WHICH WERE NOT YOURS. YOU WILL RETURN THESE SHEEP OR FACE PUNISHMENT."

Gunnar trembled hard enough that his teeth rattled. "P... punishment?"

Gunnar's wife smacked him in the arm. "You said those were a gift!" she hissed.

"THIS WOMAN HEARS YOUR LIES AND KNOWS THEM." Justice sounded like every children's tale of the angry dead that Anders had ever heard, and apparently Gunnar, too. Not surprising, since he thought they'd grown up in the same place. Common enough name, though. "THE OWNER OF THESE SHEEP SEEKS THEM. I AM BROUGHT FORTH BY THE INJUSTICE YOU HAVE DONE HIM. LAY ME TO REST. RETURN THE SHEEP."

"Do you hear him, Gunnar? You angered somebody's ancestors with your foolishness!" Gunnar's wife scrubbed a hand over her face and glared at her husband. "Look at that thing in our yard!" She huffed and ducked under Gunnar's arm, as he clung to the doorway in terror. "Yes, of course he'll give them back! Whose sheep are they, so I can walk them over there and apologise?"

"ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE VILLAGE ON THE RIVER. HARALD AND HILDE." Justice paused, eyes still on Gunnar. "HE MUST GO. HE MUST ATONE."

"Oh, he'll go," Gunnar's wife looked balefully at her husband.

Sweat beaded at Gunnar's temples. He glanced back and forth between his vengeful wife and the vengeful spirit, and Fenris wasn't sure which one he was more frightened of. He swallowed visibly and nodded.

"GOOD," boomed Justice. "IF THEY ARE RETURNED IN THE MORNING, I SHALL LEAVE YOU IN PEACE. IF NOT, YOU WILL SEE ME AGAIN, GUNNAR JANSSON, AND I PROMISE THAT YOU WILL NOT WANT TO."

The affirmative sound Gunnar made was more a whimper than a word, and he nodded, retreating back into the house.

Justice watched the window a moment longer before turning to head back into the night, Fenris at his side. When they were far enough way to no longer be seen from the window, Justice receded, the glow leaving Anders's skin and robes.

A smile lingered at the corner of Fenris's mouth as he struggled not to laugh until they were further down the road. "Brought forth by injustice? That was ridiculous. How does that even work?"

"Pretend you don't know me," Anders said with a lopsided grin. "Come on, you used to be terrified of me."

"Used to be terrified I'd have to kill you, you mean. Killing the healer always ends badly, no matter how richly deserved it is," Fenris scoffed, stretching. "So that's it? Just put on fancy clothes and glow and shout at someone from across their yard? That actually works?"

"People will find a way to explain anything. We're getting a bit of a reputation around here. I just have to make sure it doesn't attract templars." Anders shrugged and palmed Fenris's face, running healing and electricity through it. "Probably won't. We haven't made a mistake, yet. So, it's just the 'Ghost of Injustice' going around to make people stop being assholes. And once the rumours start, people know they're seeing the thing from all the stories, and that just makes them believe even more."

Fenris chuckled. "I admit there is a certain... poetry to it. And I suppose finding non-violent means of solving crimes is a good thing. I can't say I ever imagined you glowing over stolen sheep, unless they were your own."

Anders's eyes flickered blue at that, but he shrugged. "I can't say I ever imagined it, either, and I've imagined a lot of things."

"Considering the sorts of things you are likely to 'imagine', perhaps it is best that sheep do not factor into them."

Anders turned an offended look on Fenris, but the elf looked impishly smug.

"Do you plan to do this again tomorrow?" Fenris asked.

"Depends on whether Gunnar has returned the sheep or not. Or if someone else does something else Justice does not approve of."

Chapter Text

Eventually, they made it back to the house, with Anders telling more stories of frightening local miscreants, along the way. Their cackling would be no more notable than any pair of drunks along the road, but it was better not to wake anyone, if possible, so they'd kept pausing to catch their breath.

"I know like six words of Ander!" Cormac's voice could be heard from the bedroom as soon as the door opened. "And most of them are things you shouldn't say to people and the rest are food! You read a little Tevinter, don't you? I mean, you married Fenris. You've got to know a little..."

A look of horror spread across Anders's face as he shut the door behind Fenris. "Are they...?"

A distinctly wooden sound echoed through the house.

"He did say your bed was upside down," Fenris pointed out, glancing at the bedroom door in bemusement.

A pained groan escaped Anders as he pulled away from the door and headed for the bedroom to assess the damage. He found exactly what he was afraid of, their lovely, perfectly functional bed back in pieces, laid out across the floor in a tightly organized system, a pair of Hawkes kneeling among them.

"I know some conversational Tevinter," Artemis sighed, agitation making his forehead tight. "I don't know half the words on this sheet of paper." He set it aside, shaking his head. "No matter. I suspect it's more confusing than helpful, at this point. Most of these pieces are fairly straightforward, and we can deduce the rest. Here -- hand me that long piece, there."

Artie started fitting different pieces together, too absorbed in what he was doing to notice the two men in the doorway.

Anders sighed. "I leave you two alone sleeping in the bed, and I come back and you've disassembled it."

Artemis jumped at the sound of Anders's voice. "What? Oh. Yeah. Well..." He shrugged sheepishly.

"It bothered him," Cormac muttered, holding up a plate of flatbread and lentil porridge. "I made breakfast."

"It... bothered him." Anders sighed again. "This is why my shelves were always in some kind of perfect order, back in Kirkwall, isn't it?"

"You can't have expected anything less." Fenris made his way over a couple of beams and took a fold of bread, scooping and rolling some porridge in it. "I'm amazed he slept in it as long as he did."

Cormac tore off half a piece of bread and rolled it up, scraping up a bit of porridge on the end. "It was inevitable. I thought we could get it done before you got home, but I set that one peg a little too well."

"That one? The one you set with your tongue, while holding up the side of the bed with your leg?" Anders asked, sitting on the edge of the vanity, the heavy edges of his outer robe clattering against it.

"The very one," Cormac agreed around a mouthful.

"Did I hear the instructions were in Tevinter?" Fenris asked, halfway through chewing his third bite. "This is really good. Reminds me of... nothing I want to think about, but it's good."

Artemis handed Fenris the instructions and offered Anders a cringing smile. "Sorry. I wasn't planning on disassembling the whole thing, but. Turns out these pieces here, the ones that were upside-down?" He gestured to the long bars that made up the bed's frame. "Turns out they're... kind of attached to a lot of things. That said, Cormac, please tell me you'll set that same peg with your tongue again, when we get to it. That is something I would like to see."

"And something I would not," Fenris said distractedly, mouth full of bread, as he scanned the instructions.

"I will shield your delicate eyes," Artie teased as he fitted together a few more pieces, nodding in satisfaction when they fit together seamlessly. "So what's it say? Am I doing this right?"

"I hope so," Anders sighed, stretching forward to grab a piece of bread and dip it in the porridge too.

Fenris hummed. "The instructions are a bit vague, but you seem to be on the right path. That piece there, however. The front foot? That's supposed to go in the back, on the same side as the headboard."

"Ah! That makes sense." Artie switched the feet around, nodding to himself.

"Well, obviously," Anders drawled between bites.

Cormac glared at Anders, with no real heat. "Oh, yes, 'obviously', as if you didn't have it the same way the first time we tried to do this."

"Hey, I was reading the Ander instructions! They ... make less sense than the Tevene instructions, and I'm not very good with modern Tevene! If it's less than a hundred years old, I probably only get half of it." Anders attempted to talk and chew at the same time. "The older and more magical it is, the better chance I have of reading all of it. Something mechanical written last year? Not so much."

"Some of the words have to be the same. I can't believe there's no words for putting things on or in other things in ancient Tevinter magic," Cormac pointed out, holding up a beam while Artie locked it into place. "That peg, actually. And yes. Later."

"Oh, there are, but... These words? These words were not the kind of words you said in front of your mother, twelve hundred years ago." Anders laughed.

"That is ridiculous," Fenris announced, not looking up from the instructions. "There is nothing in the least obscene here."

"That's what I'm talking about. There is -- or at least it was. Whoever they got to do the translation also reads ancient Tevene, because that's the only way you end up with pornographic instructions for assembling a bed, on the Ander side of that. That's not 'rod' like a piece of round wood. That's 'rod' like my knob." Anders stuffed the end of the bread into his mouth and reached for more. Justice needed to eat more, if they were going to go out and do things like that.

Artemis raised his eyebrows but didn't look up from his work. With Fenris guiding, he was moving through the pieces quickly now. "Honestly, the Ander instructions sound more interesting. Or possibly they're instructions for what to do on the bed after it's assembled?"

Anders tried to laugh around a bite of bread and ended up half choking, swallowing the piece of bread only half chewed. He coughed and massaged his throat. "Well, I'd say we already followed those instructions then, and rather thoroughly."

"They might bear repeating after the bed is reassembled properly," Artie said with a suggestive smirk.

Fenris shook his head. "I don't know how you're sitting after that last round of... instruction following as it is, Amatus. Oh, and that piece goes -- yes, like that."

The pieces were starting to look vaguely bed-shaped instead of just a pile of parts, which Anders took as a good sign. And Artie seemed to almost be enjoying the process. "We should have had you build all our furniture."

"I'm gonna go to the market and buy some complicated Tevinter sex swing or something," Cormac joked, handing the plate to Anders so he could hold a corner together while Artie pegged it together. "You can put it together for us, and then reap the benefits of the investment. Knowing you both building it and using it will be fun."

"Where are we going to put it, though?" Anders asked, glancing around. "I mean, the camel takes up most of the yard, and I don't think there's really space in the kitchen garden, and it's not going to fit in here."

"And we are only here a little while longer," Fenris reminded him. "As excellent as your hospitality has been, we have an entire city in various states of deconstruction waiting for us at home."

"You guys are lunatics." Anders shook his head. "I removed one building. One. And suddenly you've renovated half the city."

"And only the Chantry has touched the remains of that building." Fenris sighed, watching Cormac slip under the bed, a plank in both hands and a peg in his teeth. "They are not rebuilding at the rate the rest of the city has managed. They also refuse to use any mages or local workmen. It's nothing but Orlesians."

Artemis snorted. "It's always the Orlesians," he said, scooting over on his knees to help Cormac hold the plank in place. "That's why they haven't managed to rebuild the Chantry in the time it took us to rebuild the Alienage and build a town for the elves on Sundermount."

"A fact which annoys those Orlesians," Fenris pointed out before folding his last bite of bread into his mouth. "Or at least the Orlesian nobles on the council, according to Anton."

"Yes, Anton whines about that often," Artie agreed. "It makes me want to build more pretty things for the elves to spite them."

"Is that the only reason?" Anders teased.

"It's a reason."

Cormac said something completely incomprehensible, slotting a peg with his teeth and then glaring at it while his tongue glowed until it went in and settled. "The other reason being that you're enjoying all the extra elven c...ulture this gets you?"

"How much elven culture does one man need!?" Anders protested, covering his mouth with his wrist and trying not to laugh.

"That's not just 'one man'. That's my brother. So it's 'all the elven culture he can get'." Cormac chuckled and shoved himself out from under the bed frame, resting his head on Artie's lap. "I think he wants to experience the true glory of the Dales. The whole second empire."

"Well, someone has to," Artie said with mock humility. He grinned up at his husband, who merely shook his head in amusement. "I get to take the best part of elven culture home with me though."

"That's quite the compliment, Fenris," said Anders, "considering Artie's expertise on the matter of elf c...ulture."

"And I am duly flattered," Fenris said, still with that dry amusement.

Artemis twisted Cormac's hair around his fingers as he looked over what they'd built. "So. I think that's it for the frame. Is that it for the frame? Are we missing any pieces?" He twisted to look around, patting the floor to make sure he wasn't sitting on a peg or something. "All the pieces have been used. That is generally a good sign in the building of furniture."

"That's it. I'm not laying on anything." Cormac rolled his head to the side to make sure there was nothing next to him. "But, I should probably get up before we try to put the mattress back on. And then I should lay down. Possibly with the fluffiest blankets and my favourite brother -- you know, just to test that we've put it together right this time."

"Perhaps you and your magical goat should test it first. I'd hate for your favourite brother to experience any remaining problems, and I'm sure you would too," Fenris drawled, reaching for another roll of bread, as Anders snatched the plate out of his reach.

"The 'magical goat' would love to lie down a bit, but Justice has other plans for the evening." Anders shot Fenris a dirty look. "We're going to do some more reading and writing about Ander economics, and why this constant dependency on the dwarves -- the Carta, no less -- is really keeping us from catching up with the rest of Thedas."

"You never stop, do you?" Fenris sighed.

"It's always something." Anders shrugged and eyed the bed longingly.




The boat would arrive soon, but they'd had time enough to stop for lunch. Anders had ordered some more of those delicious wraps for them, the ones with the meat and cheese that Fenris had liked, but Artemis kept getting too distracted to eat. His hand patted his clothes, his pockets. He was certain he had forgotten something, but then he always felt like that right before travelling, especially when he didn't want to go. He missed Kirkwall, true, missed his cats, missed Orana and his friends and family, and missed living in a house that wasn't made of dirt, but going back meant saying goodbye to Cormac and Anders again. That had been hard enough the first time.

Fenris took Artie's fidgeting hand in his, rubbing his thumb over Artie's knuckles. "We have everything," he assured his husband patiently. "We both checked twice before we left."

"I know," Artie sighed, but he relaxed a little at Fenris's reassurance. He conjured a smile for Cormac's sake and stuffed his face with food.

"We're going to be right here," Cormac promised, reaching out with his clean hand to tuck Artie's hair back. "Any time you need us, we'll be right where you left us. We built a house. We bought a complicated bed. Justice is writing a new manifesto. Why don't you come back, next year? When the garden's really grown in... Maybe in the spring, next time, so it's not so hot. Maker, this weather will boil your balls right off."

"They say the taint removes a man's ability to make children," Anders threw in, holding up a finger while he swallowed what he'd been chewing. "But, I grew up here, so I don't know how much faith I'm putting in anything short of magic."

"Is there something I should know?" Fenris teased, raising an eyebrow. "I thought you said the Imperium had never achieved ass-babies. Were you going to try? Or is there something we should know about Cormac?"

"You know enough about me," Cormac scoffed, shaking his head. "He means all the pretty girls in town who think it's so amazing that he makes potions and smiles at them."

"I'm worldly," Anders said with a grin, before pulling Artemis to his chest. "I'm also going to miss you. Can't wait until things calm down a little and I can come back and see what you've done to Kirkwall."

Artemis laughed softly against Anders's shoulder and patted his back with his free hand. "Assuming I haven't driven the viscount crazy enough for him to kick me out," he said, "which is likely, considering the plans I've been drawing up for the sewers. But... yes. The city isn't the same without you, renovations or not."

"I doubt any city is the same after Anders has been through it," Fenris teased.

"Aww, Fenris, that was almost a compliment." Anders smirked, releasing Artie to hold out a hand to Fenris, waggling his fingers enticingly. "Your turn."

Fenris's ear twitched. "No."

"Come on. You've touched more of me with less clothing on."

Fenris cleared his throat, glaring at a few passers-by who gave them curious looks at this pronouncement. He stuffed his face with food. "Different circumstances," he grumbled, bread and meat swallowing most of the sound.

Cormac took advantage of Anders's distraction to sneak another hug from his brother. "You'd better come visit me again. Don't make me get on a boat and then go crawling through the sewers so I can get past the guard, to come see you. I'll do it. And I will not be happy."

"Fine." Anders put on his best look of offence and tipped up his chin. "No hugs for the broody elf. No greasy human fingerprints for you."

"Obviously," Cormac replied, with a smirk over Artie's shoulder. "He's married to my brother. Greasy fingerprints? Never. Artie would just flip."

Behind them, the bell on the riverboat rang to remind people it would be leaving soon. People in the fishmarket finished their purchases hurriedly and made for the boat.

Artie's smile started to shrink at the sound, but he propped it back up, clutching Cormac tight against him. "I'll visit," he promised. "Just try and stop me." He took a moment longer just to breathe his brother in, to commit the scent and feel of him to memory.

Fenris cleared his throat, and Artemis reluctantly pulled away. "I have to go," Artie said, reaching up to smooth out a crease of fabric along Cormac's arm. His throat felt tight. "Try not to cause too much trouble without me, okay? Wait until I'm here for that. You, too, Anders." Fenris took his hand and started leading him towards the boat.

Cormac curled his hand in Anders's sleeve and gripped it tight, until the boat left the dock. "I can't keep doing this," he muttered, looking down the river.

"It's only a few years. Let them forget our faces, and then we'll go home. We don't look that much like ourselves, now, but it's too close -- we look just enough like the stories. One day, we'll be able to make a joke of it, but not now. Not yet." Anders licked his fingers and put his arms around Cormac. "They'll come back. You saw him -- he's not going to be able to stay away. He loves you."

Chapter Text

The parcel arrived at their box in Kassel, and Anders refused to comment on it, all the way back across the river to Petty Crown. He kept the little burlap-wrapped box out of Cormac's reach until they'd gotten back to the house, no matter how Cormac climbed on him or tugged at his beard, to throw him off balance.

"Oh, come on, Jan! What did you buy?" Cormac laughed, calling Anders by the name he'd taken when they'd first come to town. "I can tell the writing on it is dwarven, and I remember the way you were whispering with that merchant all those months ago. It's got to be something good."

"I bought you a present," Anders replied, with a smug smile. "Go make supper while I check and make sure all the pieces are here."

"Now, I'm even more curious," Cormac complained, picking through the pantry. "Flipped dish?" he asked after a moment, naming a popular local casserole. "We've got the meat and veg for it, and I've had the barley soaking since before we went out. I think there's sweet yoghurt and ginger beer in the cold cupboard."

"It always amazes me how fast you took to the food, here." Anders smiled, picking at the wax seals on the knots binding the package.

"Once you introduced me to the wine, I had to have more of everything. You know me. I never did much care for Marcher food. Aside from that amazing cabbage salad, it all seemed like it was designed for people who thought paprika was spicy and that flavourful food attracted demons. Might as well have been eating wallpaper paste. I'm so glad to have had an unabashedly Fereldan family, through all of that." Working while he talked, Cormac laid strips of meat into the bottom of a clay pan, and started slicing vegetables.

"And now you know the other reason I wanted to come home. Real food. Pickled figs. Stuffed dates. Maize and hot peppers." Anders groaned in delight, as he tossed aside the outer wrapping of the box, which was, itself, beautifully carved, with a falcon etched into the jade of the lid. He'd spared no expense -- really hadn't needed to, with how things had been working out, since he'd started publishing works on the real-world applications of magic. Not just healing, although he wrote a text on a few illnesses commonly overlooked in works written outside the Imperium, but cleaning, farming, and building, with magical assistance. He'd been sending enormous piles of paper to Solona, who'd seen the works published anonymously, in Ferelden -- attributed to a nameless Mage-Warden, of which she had several in Amaranthine -- and she'd been sending back the money.

But, this gift was one of the most outrageous investments he'd made, he thought, lifting the top of the box. A hinged rack folded out, revealing ten curved, metal talons, shaped to fit his fingers. They curved up just enough not to touch anything he pressed his fingertips to, unless he curled his fingers. Between the two levels, three metal rods, all of a very specific size, were mounted on the back of the rack, one smooth, one spiralled, and one with beads of increasing size.

"I'm still not convinced about the pickled figs," Cormac muttered, pouring soaked barley into the pan with the meat and vegetables, Anders reached around his waist, untying his belt and slipping a hand under his robes, as they fell open. "Ooh, are you going to distract me while supper cooks?"

"You're not expecting anyone, tonight, are you?" Anders purred, the box closed again, in one hand, while his other hand tugged at Cormac's chest hair and kneaded the soft edge of his belly.

"Not tonight. It's just us, tonight, unless the neighbours have a crisis." Cormac pushed back and rolled his hips. "But, if you want supper, you're going to have to move, so I can put this in the oven."

"I thought maybe, tonight, I'd tear you apart," Anders said, stepping back and opening the box again, sliding the talons onto the fingers of one hand. "Make you bleed and scream, before supper, and then let you lick your supper off my fingers, before I bang you until your legs go numb."

Cormac's knees nearly buckled, as he made his way out to the oven with the pan, and his knob twitched eagerly against his thigh. "You do know how to show a man a good time," he chuckled, raising the oven's fire from the embers that kept it warm. "So, what did you buy? Clamps? Needles? A new blade? A bigger plug? Oh, Creators, tell me you got a bigger plug..."

"No, but you're making me wish I had. Might've added something to the evening."

As Cormac stepped back from the oven, Anders's arms wrapped around him, taloned fingertips stroking his knob, teasing at the tip. "Oh, fuck," Cormac breathed, legs suddenly shaky at the thought. "Do it. I want to feel it. Oh, fuck, hurt me, Anders, make me bleed."

"Do you know why I bought these?" Anders asked, tracing a thin, red line down from the point of Cormac's hip, along the curve of bone under his belly. "It's so I don't have to worry about the knife. These aren't long enough to do anything I can't heal, if you roll over on them or buck into my hand. It's going to be very hard for me to hurt you in ways I didn't mean to."

Smiling warmly, Cormac looked up over his shoulder and tugged on Anders's beard, pulling him down into a kiss. "You always think of the little things, even when I'm so turned on, all I can think is that I want more. What would I do without you, hm?"

"Probably bleed to death in an alley," Anders teased, flicking a talon across Cormac's nipple and swallowing the gasp that followed in another kiss.

"Probably," Cormac agreed, as Anders slid the robes off him, letting them fall to the pressed earth of the courtyard. He tried to turn, to face Anders, but Anders's hands were unyielding, bare fingers squeezing and kneading his balls, talons digging bloody gouges just below his collarbone. Staggering in the rush of pleasure, Cormac caught himself on the wall beside the oven, in a warm and dim corner.

"I love that your blood is in these bricks, that it runs through every wall of our home," Anders breathed, two fingers pressing firmly behind Cormac's balls, as the tip of a talon teased at one bloody nipple. "I come home to a shrine to the erotic talents and lunatic tolerance of the crazed apostate who fled a burning city with me. You are crazed. You do know that, right?"

Blood dribbled from Cormac's chest, each drop spattering against the ground between his feet. "Don't ask me questions. You know I'll say yes to anything, when you've got me like this."

"Mmm," Anders purred, nibbling at the side of Cormac's neck. "I should wind you up a little more and then ask you to weed the front garden."

"A small price to pay," Cormac murmured, hips rolling of their own accord, grinding him down harder onto Anders's fingers. "I wish you could tear me open with your fingers, touch me in places that weren't meant to be touched." A breathy sound darted out of him. "Give me a new hole, right there, and squeeze me tight while you fuck me with your fingertips. Oh, fuck, Anders -- I want it. I want you in me in a hundred ways you shouldn't be."

The talons dug in again, burying themselves in the buckled flesh at the edge of his chest, tugging and tearing, until he screamed. Blood streamed down, warm and wet, and Cormac's thighs quivered as Anders's hands soothed his aching flesh, before tormenting him again.

"Please!" Cormac screamed, thankful for the thousandth time that they lived out past the edge of the village, that they had thick walls around the courtyard, that there were acres of date trees between the house and the road.

Anders squeezed tighter with both hands, the blood running down between them as he stroked and smeared it over Cormac's knob. Justice still worried about this, sometimes -- and to be honest, so did Anders -- but the dazed and rapturous smiles Cormac gave between screams had eased their concerns, over the years. Still, this time Anders couldn't see Cormac's face, and Justice shifted uncomfortably in the back of his mind.

"This what you want?" Anders asked, loosening his grip and easing the talons out of Cormac's skin, as his other hand gently stroked Cormac's knob.

For a few moments, Cormac just leaned against the wall, panting and whimpering, as he tried to find words. "It's a good start," he teased, still panting. "You going to have me right here? Right up against this wall, while we wait for supper to cook?"

"And then, after we eat, you can thank me," Anders purred, nudging Cormac's legs apart with his knee.

Cormac's knees buckled, dropping him onto Anders's thigh, while he waited for his balance to recover. "You are insatiable, and I will never regret the day I walked into your clinic. One of the best bad decisions I made, in that Maker-forsaken city." He felt Anders's hand smooth across his belly, and the slick rush against his innards, as he settled his feet more firmly, leaning forward again.

"Still no regrets?" Anders asked, hand cupping between Cormac's legs, after a moment to unlace his own trousers, two fingers teasingly pressing into Cormac's hole.

"Not even when you do that instead of fucking me." Cormac laughed breathlessly. And then the fingers tugged, and he felt the thick tip of Anders's flagpole pushing in, as the fingers slid out under it. Cormac saw stars, felt the ache in his hips like he might split apart, and he clutched at the wall, making little groans and whimpers, until the first few inches were firmly inside him. This was it -- this was what he wanted, what he wanted and could have, which was really quite a feat.

"More," Cormac begged. "Come on, put it all in me. Fuck me like you want me."

Anders shoved the rest of the way in, pressing Cormac hard against the wall, to get the angle he needed. He would never cease to be amazed that Cormac wanted him like this. Years had passed and the warmth in his chest at being able to do this never faded. Cormac screamed for him, but always for more. "You all right?" he asked, all the same, unaccustomed to this particular wall.

"Tear me apart," Cormac panted. "Make me bleed for you. Make a mess of me that would give my brother chest pains."

Anders snickered against Cormac's neck, but started slow, until the lube caught up. As the thrusts got harder and faster, Cormac started to make little half-squeaks and bitten-off sounds that progressed into full-on desperate howls, as Anders finally pounded into him. Curling his fingers, Anders dragged the talons along Cormac's belly, letting the thin slices dribble more blood down between Cormac's thighs.

Cormac's eyes watered, tears streaming down his cheeks, as he shoved himself back against Anders, meeting every thrust, grinding down onto the hand cupped between his thighs. That hurt, the way Anders had bent his knob back under him, squeezing and stroking him against his own flesh, but it hurt so good. The smell of his own blood filled his senses, and a powerful desire for more echoed through his chest. There was never too much. There was never enough.

The talons bit in again and again, quick punctures, long slices, and the cold burn of his open flesh shot pleasure through him, to the tips of his fingers. Cormac scrabbled at the wall, getting nothing but clay dust for it. His cheek would definitely be scuffed when they were through, and he had no regrets about that. Writhing at Anders's every exquisitely painful touch, impaled on that glorious, throbbing pole that forced him so wide, Cormac thought he might have finally found perfection. Every shriek of pain was filled with words of pleasure, demands for more, pleas for the impossible.

"Oh, Maker, your perfect fucking body, Cormac," Anders breathed, as Cormac clenched around him again, wringing him so tight that glitter shot across his vision. A thousand little golden sparkles of delight. "Like you were made to take me in. How did I ever find you?"

Cormac opened his mouth to answer, but a ragged scream spilled out, instead, as the point of one of the talons pressed into the tip of his nipple. "Fuck me," he howled. "Fuck me harder!"

Anders was all too happy to comply, driving himself into that slick heat, losing himself in the firm warmth of Cormac's body, the smell of lust and blood and oranges. His breath came quicker for a moment, and then dropped off into long, slow breaths, his focus absolute, even as the world around him grew sharper to his ears. "As hard as you want," he whispered. "As long as you want. You're going to burn supper, you know. I slept last night. I'll be up for days, and I will fuck you into this wall until I collapse, if that's what you want."

The very thought was like a chime against his tailbone, echoing up his spine, ringing down every nerve. Anders's body relaxed for one long, slow breath, as he spilled into Cormac, before picking up the pace, again, pounding in with renewed savagery that complemented the waves of pleasure still tumbling through him.

Pressed between Anders's body and the mud-brick wall, Cormac screamed with every breath, raw sounds of pain, as the talons bit into the soft curve of his belly, the thickness at the edge of his hip, the hard flesh of his chest and thighs. Dizzy with the stinging pain and the smell of blood, with the feel of Anders's breath above his ear, Anders's fingers between his legs, Cormac writhed and begged.

"Yes, yes, yes!" His words echoed off the corner in front of him, adding to the chaos in his head, as he ground down against Anders's palm and the fingers crushing his knob back under him so far he thought he could almost fuck himself. And that was a terrible and glorious thought, the thought of twisting himself up until he was riding the head of his own knob, while Anders tore into his flesh and made him bleed. Rammed down, with his legs propped apart, and those talons tearing into his thighs. He wondered if it was possible. He wondered if, being mages, they could make it possible.

The throbbing between his legs became the rhythm of the world, his heart, his breathing, his thoughts falling in with it. Every pulse a rich, warm ache, as his body strained against the heel of Anders's palm and again beneath the tips of those long fingers. He felt as if his hips would split, with every merciless thrust of Anders's thick, hard pole inside him, felt his insides pull toward the outside, every time Anders drew back. And every motion fell in time with the pounding of the blood in his aching knob.

Cormac rose up on his toes, body tight, wringing a surprised huff out of Anders, as his muscles rippled with his impending release. So close -- the pain and pleasure rattling his nerves out to his fingers and toes. A tingling and crackling sense in the furthest bits of him, a counterpoint to the roaring need at his core. And then Anders's teeth sank into his shoulder, and Cormac bucked against the wall, toes leaving the ground for a split-second as his legs twinged and twitched. Exquisite, pounding pain shot through his knob as he spurted against the crack of his own ass, against the edge of his hole, where Anders still rutted brutally into him.

He sobbed, broken and raw, as Anders's fingers moved aside, catching his knob as it recoiled forward and stroking it gently, teasingly rubbing the last warm, white dribbles over the tight skin of the tip. A few more hard, deep thrusts, and Anders spilled again, sighing against the top of Cormac's shoulder.

For a moment, they stayed just like that, Anders's hips still rolling gently, grinding him into Cormac. His fingers soothingly stroking Cormac's bruised and aching knob.

"You're going to burn supper," Anders teased, laughing breathily against Cormac's neck.

"You're going to have to eat the burned parts, if you don't get off me," Cormac panted, thrusting into Anders's hand one more time before those long and powerful fingers let go.

Anders eased himself out, slowly and gently, still painfully hard. "Oh, was getting you off not enough?" he teased, half-lacing his trousers and pulling his shirt down.

"I'm hoping you can do that another three or four times, tonight." Cormac grinned, gasping as he tried to bend down to get his robes. Fortunately, they'd stayed behind him, when he stumbled into the wall, and managed to stay out of the little pool of blood that had fallen between his feet.

"Only three or four? Maker, we are getting old, aren't we!" Anders laughed again, as his hands caressed Cormac's skin, this time stroking healing into the dozens of gashes and punctures.

"Speak for yourself!" Cormac scoffed, straightening up much more easily and using the wadded cloth of his robes to pull the pan out of the oven. "I didn't feel this young when I was this young!"

"Then you must've gotten old fast, because you're moving like an old man," Anders shot back, holding open the kitchen door.

"I'll show you old, you great gangling savage!" Cormac snorted as he swept past, still naked, with their supper in his hands. "But, after supper. Gotta keep your strength up, Warden."

Anders whooped with amusement as he followed Cormac into the house, the door falling shut behind them.

Chapter Text

"Anders, your mother doesn't have an icebox." Cormac was sitting on the corner of one of the cabinets in Anders's workroom that didn't contain anything he was likely to break or spill, eating little balls of frozen fig paste from a chilled bowl.

"Hmm?" Anders measured another ingredient carefully, dripping two small drops into the boiling mixture he was working on. "Of course she doesn't."

"We could fix that, you know. Being rich noblemen and all." Cormac sucked a bit of fig off his finger, where one of them had started to melt before he got it into his mouth. "Really, we could probably also pay someone to fix the roof, where your dad hasn't done it. Not that I blame him for that. He's a little old to be getting up there."

"And he'd shit twelve bricks at the idea we'd done it, too." Anders shook his head. "I love mama enough not to piss him off too much."

"We should still get her an icebox. When's her nameday?" Cormac asked, holding out a fig-ball for Anders.

Anders gave him a flat look. "First Bloomingtide, same as everyone else's." Didn't stop him from licking the fig ball out from between Cormac's fingers. "Her birthday's a couple months from now."

"Early birthday present." Cormac smiled and shrugged. "He can't possibly object to that."

"And here I thought you'd met my father," Anders teased, adjusting the flame. "Magic. In his house."

"He can't cook and he doesn't go into the kitchen except for fruit," Cormac pointed out. "If we install it in one of the lower cupboards, is he even going to notice? We'll do it while he's out being a pain in someone else's ass, and by the time he gets home, we'll be gone. Your mother's been eyeing ours since the day she saw Artie trying to fit himself into it. We can make this work."

"As long as my mother doesn't try to fit herself into it," Anders sighed, even as he thought it over, "or try to fit my father into it. Then again, I'm not sure I'd blame her if she tried."

Anders supposed he spent enough time tip-toeing around his father. He wouldn't mind letting that asshole suffer in the heat, but his mother? If it would make her smile it was worth it.

"Fine," Anders decided, waving one hand before stirring the boiling mixture, careful not to let it splatter. "Something small that he won't notice. If he manages not to start frothing at the mouth, we can consider the roof."

Cormac rubbed his hands together. "I love it when you let me talk you into strange and troublesome things. I wonder, has Justice softened you up for me?"

The question went unanswered, as Anders changed the subject.



There was only one dwarven goods shop, in Kassel -- more of an indoor market, really, with everything from swords and armour to housewares from Kal-Sharok. Even the outside of the building was more after the fashion of dwarven cities than the surrounding buildings in that distinctly Ander style. Coming in through the stepped arch of the doorway, left open to attract customers during most of the day, an enormous, cool stone room stretched before them, with rows of shelves and racks displaying what was on offer, this week. As might be expected, most of the other people shopping were dwarves from the local Merchants Guild.

"Oh, this is nice!" Cormac found himself immediately distracted by a set of dishes. "Look at the pattern on these, and the heft of them! No fear of cracking something like this with a hot chicken."

"Cormac, focus." Anders plucked the plate from Cormac's hand and set it back where he had found it. "We are not loading down the poor camel with everything in the shop. Let's try to find a good icebox first."

Even as he spoke, Anders found himself distracted by a legless chair suspended from the ceiling. It was cushioned and light, made of wicker, and when he poked it, it swayed gently back and forth. It looked like the sort of thing the cats would steal. In the back of his mind, Justice did the equivalent of clearing his throat, and Anders shook himself, walking away.

"Right. Iceboxes... over here? That's where they were when we got ours." Then again, the place looked different every time they came, with new merchandise scattered about.

At least the dwarves spoke common. "Can I help you?" a dwarf asked, from behind them, amusement clear on his face. Few humans bought their goods, but these two he'd seen before.

"I thought the iceboxes were over here, but I haven't come in for a few months..." Cormac turned as he spoke, looking around and hoping to spot something familiar. "Is that roast nug I smell?"

"Good nose for a human." The dwarf cracked a bemused smile and gestured further into the depths of the store. "Ice boxes are probably three or four rows down and near the middle. Fresh food is all the way in the back, on the other side from the bronto armour. We've got a great deal on grilled bronto thigh, today. Got to get the best meat out, before it's only fit to be preserved. And if you're getting an icebox, you might as well take advantage. That stuff'll keep for days in one of those."

Anders's stomach grumbled at that, and Anders grumbled back. This dwarf knew how to make a sale. "We'll keep that in mind. Thanks." With a parting smile, Anders followed the dwarf's directions, doing his best to steer Cormac (and himself) away from anything particularly shiny. 

Then Anders passed by a sea of throw pillows, the one on top featuring an embroidered cat's face, and he wondered if the dwarf had sent them this way on purpose.

"Be strong," he muttered to himself, turning to walk down the appointed aisle. Ice boxes. Never mind how nice that throw pillow would look on that hanging chair thing. "This place is evil."

The drop in temperature told him they had come to the right section, and a few other patrons lingered in the area, likely less interested in the product and more interested in a respite from this damnable heat.

"So, we're looking for a little one -- about the same size as ours, right?" Cormac asked, eyeing the seven-rune walk-in on the end. He tried to figure out if they'd be able to fit it in the kitchen at all. Maybe he'd build a fitting for it in the kitchen garden, in the other corner from the stove... But, there wasn't his whole family to feed, any more. He didn't need the space to keep an entire boar chilled -- or an eighth of a dragon.

With a sigh, he turned back to the smaller units -- one was about the size of a drawer and meant for just a few eggs and a bit of cheese. But, on the bottom shelf, there was one that looked about barrel sized, which would fit the space just about right, and the cabinet door would hide it perfectly. He elbowed Anders and pointed.

"This one, and then we'll grab some of that bronto?" Cormac grinned. "You look like your stomach thinks your throat's cut."

"The perks of being a Warden," Anders replied. At least when he remembered he had a stomach. He peeked at the ice box Cormac had pointed at, opened the door and stuck his head inside, taking a moment to savour the cold. He stepped back, closing the door. "The size looks good. I can picture it in their place. And I can picture some of that bronto in my stomach."

Without Justice running him into the ground, it was easier to remember simple things like eating. The dwarf they had spoken to earlier was, conveniently, waiting close by, and the transaction was quick and relatively painless.

"Still want those plates?" Anders asked after they'd hauled the ice box to the cart.

"Yeah, but we don't really have room for them. They kind of remind me of the ones Varric's brother had, honestly. And now that I've had that thought, I don't think I want them after all." Cormac shuddered and ordered another few pounds of bronto. They'd take some home and he'd leave some in Ulla's icebox. He hadn't found it much different to boar, really -- it wouldn't be difficult to cook, even if she'd never had it before.

Putting the meat into the icebox, they began the journey back across the river.



Ulla heard the cart before she saw them. It was much too early for Ewald to be back, judging by the length of the shadows, but then the voices she heard were familiar but not Ewald's. A smile stealing over her face, Ulla set down her baking and wiped her floury hands on her apron as she pushed the door open with her hip.

"Well, what's all this?" she asked, seeing the cart and the pleased look on Anders's face. Once her son was within hugging distance, Ulla wrapped her arms around him and pressed a kiss to his bearded cheek, only to give Cormac the same greeting.

"I know it's a bit early, but we brought you a birthday present," said Anders, stroking a hand down the camel's side.

"We went to town and got you some fine dwarven crafts." Cormac grinned and heaved the icebox down from the cart.

Anders groaned. "I could have gone my entire life without hearing the words 'fine dwarven crafts' again."

Cormac looked at him oddly and blinked a few times before turning back to Ulla. "Just a little something for the kitchen. We saw the way you kept looking at ours, and we figured that since we're filthy rich Marcher noblemen, it was the least we could do..."

Ulla smiled brightly. "It's not... You didn't really..."

"We most certainly did! The finest in dwarven chilling technology." Cormac knocked on the top of the icebox.

"Small enough to fit in your cabinet," Anders added, "and out of your way until you need it."

Ulla kissed each of them on the cheek again. She had to pull Anders's face down to reach him. "You boys are too kind to an old woman."

"Old woman?" Anders asked, exchanging a look of mock confusion with Cormac. "I don't see any old women here. But you're welcome to keep telling us how great we are as we carry this inside for you."

Ulla clucked her tongue and tweaked his ear, not quite in reproach. "You know perfectly well how old I am, flatterer. Come on in, you two. Your father will still be out in the fields for a bit yet."

Anders wasn't going to pretend to be disappointed.

Cormac chuckled as he lifted the icebox and tipped it into Anders's waiting hands. It was a good thing, he reflected, that Anders was a healer, because he was absolutely certain that wasn't a noise his back was supposed to make. The thing was heavier than his brother. The thing was heavier than Anders.

Still, they got it into the kitchen with minimal trouble, and found Ulla already making room in one of the lower cupboards. Cormac rested his end on the table and took a few deep breaths, as Ulla took out the shelf that would've been in the way and dusted the bottom of the cupboard.

"Will it fit?" Ulla asked, looking between the icebox and the cupboard. "Oh, of course. I'm looking at the wrong side. It's not square."

Anders considered making a joke to Cormac about fitting larger things into smaller spaces, but his mother's hearing was much too good for that. He shifted his grip so that the edge of the icebox rested against his hip. It would leave a bruise, but that was an easy fix.

Ulla shuffled out of the way as quickly as she could. "You poor things, just standing there waiting for an old woman. Come, come." She waved them forward, and Anders adjusted his grip again. His fingers were getting sore.

It wasn't until they were trying to lower the icebox onto the edge of the cupboard that Cormac remembered quite how much taller Anders was. "Kneel and we'll tip it in," he hissed, only to end up bearing most of the weight, as Anders continued to be taller.

"Down! Down!" Cormac choked out, sure it wouldn't be this bad if he hadn't twisted his back picking the icebox up, outside. This was ridiculous. He carried full grown men around, slung over one shoulder. He'd picked the damn thing up to take it out of the cart without help. This was just stupid.

Anders heard the pain in Cormac's voice, saw the awkward way he was holding the icebox and shook his head, bending as far down as he could manage and struggling to shove the thing in as quickly and neatly as they could without crushing any fingers. It took a bit of shoving and jostling to get it to sit just right, but that was simple enough.

As he stepped back to get a better look, Anders waggled his fingers in Cormac's direction, healing at his fingertips. Mid to lower back, from the way he was bending, which was where Anders laid his hand. "Do we need to have a talk about proper lifting techniques?" he asked with a pointed look. "Neither of us can shove things around quite like your brother can, and human backs shouldn't make the noise yours did."

Cormac made a sound of absolute relief as the healing spread through his back, mending whatever idiot thing he'd done to it. "Just slipped a bit picking it up. Could've happened to anybody. At least it was a piece of kitchen equipment and not my brother."

"Do you carry your brother around often?" Ulla asked, a hint of humour in her voice.

"It's probably how I screwed up my back. I haven't been slinging him around like a sack of groats, lately. It's throwing off my technique!" Cormac laughed and leaned over to kiss Anders on the cheek. "Thank you, pretty thing."

A strangled sound caught in Anders's throat as he thought of all the ways Cormac threw Artie around. He darted a look at his mother to gauge her reaction, but she still looked nothing worse than pleasantly amused. 

"This is the same brother I met?" Ulla asked. "It is a marvel you haven't hurt your back sooner, even if he is all bone."

Anders wondered how many comments he'd have to swallow around his mother. Artemis being all bone was a perfect opportunity he had to pass up.

"I was in the habit of lifting my siblings for many years. Anton was short, Artie was cold, Carver was just looking for an excuse to poke me in the eye, and Bethany just needed help getting on the roof. I didn't ask." Cormac chuckled and eased himself back to standing, checking the angle of the icebox. It opened fairly easily, and he pulled out the two packages of bronto meat. "One of these goes with us, but we got you some fresh bronto, since you'd have somewhere to keep it cold."

"Bronto?" Ulla looked a bit confused. "Aren't those the things the dwarves use to pull carts?"

"Dwarves use them for a lot of things, including food. It cooks up about like boar, really. It's just... much larger. Good stuff." Cormac grinned happily at Anders. "Bronto steaks. I'll heat the oven as soon as we get home."

"He spoils me," Anders told Ulla.

Ulla's eyes sparkled. "Good," she said with a wink at Cormac. "Of course, you boys are always welcome to stay for dinner. There's bronto enough for everyone, it seems."

"Thank you, mama. But we should head back." Anders glanced out the window as though expecting to see his father coming to the door. He would still be out in the field, but Anders didn't want to risk running into him. 

The look on Ulla's face said she had expected that answer.

Chapter Text

Pickles at the Petty Crown had become a bit of a Marketday thing for Cormac and Anders. If nothing else, it got Anders out of the house for something other than whatever wrongs Justice wanted righted, that week. Sister Ingill still took it amiss that the one time he was sure to be in public in a week, it wasn't for any of the services -- something wrong with a man who spent all his free time in pubs, she said, but Mother Yotte was always quick to point out that when he worked, his time was spent doing the Maker's work, directly. Still, the stink-eye Ingill gave them across the market, as they headed into the tavern was something Cormac could've done without, and he barely stopped himself making a rude gesture by reminding himself she was a Chantry sister. Instead, he smiled and waved for her to join them -- just to watch the offence settle, really. If she ever did join them for a few pints, she might have to admit they weren't secretly harbouring demons or Qunari or whatever it was, this week.

Cormac waved to the bartender as they came in, looking over the mid-day crowd, which was always fairly dense on Marketdays. They aimed for that, really -- people who needed Anders's help and didn't want to show up at their door could just casually mention their troubles at the tavern. Still looking for a table, he spotted Peryn, sitting alone. Perfect. Peryn was always happy to see them, and they were always happy to have news on what the templars were getting up to.

"Why the long face, Ser Peryn?" Cormac asked, pulling out a chair and dropping himself into it. "You look like Kirkwall just repeated in Hossberg."

Peryn winced into his drink but summoned a smile for Cormac and Anders, or at least the approximation of one, lips turned up but eyes still serious. "Not Hossberg," he said, scooting his chair in so that Anders could walk around him to the next empty seat. "And not quite like Kirkwall, but no less serious." 

Anders hoped his eyes didn't flash blue. He could feel Justice there, under his skin, looking through his eyes. "What happened?"

Peryn opened and closed his mouth a few times, considered the nearly empty drink in his hand and the lack of drinks in theirs. "Have a drink with me, first. It is a drinking conversation." Turning in his chair, Peryn waved until he had caught the bartender's attention and held up his cup. The bartender nodded, and within a few minutes, he stopped by their table, a pitcher of beer in one hand and two empty cups balanced in the other.

Peryn thanked the bartender and poured out drinks for all of them.

"How bad?" asked Anders, noting the haggard lines of Peryn's face. The man looked like he'd aged since the last time he saw him. 

"Val Royeaux." Peryn said it in the Ander fashion, which sounded nothing like the way it was said in Orlais, and while Cormac was still making sense of the words, horror spread across Anders's face. "Val Royeaux is ... It is not Annulled. By the Divine's order, herself. Or they say."

"You say that like it almost happened!" The words finally caught up with Cormac. "It's the White Spire! It's right under the nose of the Grand Cathedral! What could possibly...?"

"A message came. If it was right, there is some new magic that changes everything. That is very... crispy? It is technical. But, it means that some very simple things are not so simple now." Peryn tried to explain, without letting on how terrifically dangerous the findings in that message really were. There was no sense in scaring people who'd probably never meet a mage as long as they lived. "The message after, I hope is wrong. Many First Enchanters died. The First Enchanters are the most precious of mages -- they guide the young. They teach the teachers. It is... I do not believe what it says is true. If it is true, nothing good will come of it. When our First Enchanter comes from the conclave -- that is what it was called, the Divine invited him to come, and we were happy. We thought it might be the end to the trouble in the south. When he comes home, we will know what is true."

Anders shut his eyes and bowed his head, ostensibly in grief -- which he did feel -- but mostly to hide his eyes if they started glowing. Justice wanted to barrel forward, in a rage Anders hadn't felt since Kirkwall, and the purity, the single-mindedness of his anger was something Anders had almost forgotten.

Templar, Anders reminded the spirit. A full tavern. This was not the time. Still, Anders's knuckles were white where they bunched in his robes, hidden under the table in case they started crackling blue.

Peryn took a long drink and shook his head, the lines deepening along his brow. "It cannot be true," he said, eyes far away. "Templars... We do not kill unless there is nothing else. We protect. I do not understand."

Eyes still closed, Anders reached for Cormac under the table.

"You sound just like Knight-Commander Cullen." Cormac struggled for some levity, as he felt Justice clutching at his hand. That couldn't be allowed to show. "I met the man, did I ever tell you? He said very much the same thing. But, I also knew a man who was at Ostagar, when the Blight came. All it takes is a bad leader. Just one person out of line, and everyone follows."

Could Peryn possibly mean the templars had attacked with no discernible cause? Cormac struggled with the idea in light of his own memories of the Gallows. Meredith had ruled with an iron fist, and no one dared disobey -- and some had no desire to. ...And Cullen had sent them back to Val Royeaux for re-training or retirement -- at least that's what he'd said he meant to do with the men in the dungeon. It wasn't impossible that this was the same templars all over again.

"It should not be true," Peryn said again, as Cormac called back to the bar for a plate of pickles and another of cakes. "But, if it is, perhaps that is less bad. Recruits and some addled lieutenant leading them."

Seeing a templar genuinely upset over this seemed to help quiet Justice's white-hot need to kill them all. Anders's thoughts followed the same route as Cormac's: there was a chance many of the templars who did this were the ones who had backed Meredith and survived. This was what came from mercy, he supposed, but at least Justice was more focused on killing specific templars now. 

Anders cleared his dry throat and lifted his hand above the table long enough to take a long drink since Justice was upset anyway. "Excuse me a moment," he said while his voice was still his, retreating to the bathroom until his glowier half decided to listen to reason.

"Is he well?" Peryn asked, brow knit with concern. The bartender stopped by with their food, and Peryn reached for the plate of pickles.

"Massacres are bad for his digestion," Cormac quipped, taking a bite of a honey-soaked fried cake. "You're not going to want to go in there for a while, if you get what I'm saying."

"Your poor friend. Does he not have a potion for that?" Peryn seemed prepared to be momentarily distracted from the horrors of Val Royeaux.

"Sure he does, but it's not the kind of thing he just carries around in case the subject turns to slaughter." Cormac shrugged and finished the cake before any more of the honey could drip down his fingers. He could feel Artie glaring, all the way from Kirkwall. "I guess I've got the stronger stomach."

And that was a sentence he was glad Anders hadn't been present to dispute. Stronger stomach, until it came to cabbage salad and a few other things Artie would rather see removed from the face of Thedas, lest he eat them again. Really, Anders had the much stronger stomach, as he understood it. He'd mentioned swallowing darkspawn blood, on more than one occasion. Yet another benefit of being a Warden, he supposed.

Peryn clucked his tongue. "Perhaps I should not have brought it up? I apologise to you. It has been... a burden on my mind, since I heard."

Like lightning, blue light flickered under the bathroom door, quick enough that the bartender only caught a sense of movement out of the corner of his eye. When he looked, the light was gone, and he went back to pouring drinks. With his back to them, Peryn failed to notice at all.

Cormac wondered if he could claim Anders was lighting his farts on fire to clear the stench, if that got any brighter. It was probably the worst thing anyone had ever accused Justice of being, but under the circumstances it had to be better than a frightened templar and a panicked room, if anyone figured out that there was a man wrestling with a spirit, behind that door, instead of his own intestines.

"It is no small news, and for all that it is little concern of ours, I do wonder about the safety of our friends still in the south. Something like this... and in Val Royeaux... Every noble in Orlais must be trying to angle for an advantage from this tragedy." Cormac shifted in his seat, thinking of Anton and Cullen -- was this a shift in the balance of power or just a rebellion in a single city, the most powerful city the Chantry had? Either way, it was a statement, and one Justice would be unbearable for having heard.

Peryn had picked through the plate of pickles and ordered another drink by the time Anders reappeared, looking pale and strained. He returned to his seat with as much dignity as he could, which was more dignity than he would have had if Cormac had gone forward with his fart story.

"Sorry about that," he said, pulling the plate of pickles closer and stuffing his face before continuing. "I'm not quite feeling my best."

Peryn nodded sympathetically. "Yes, Mack told me how my story might have affected you. I apologise to you."

Anders paused mid-chew, the food in his mouth stoppering a dry laugh. "I suspect he spared you the details." He plucked up a cake next, shoving it into his mouth whole, cheeks puffing out as he chewed. Anders had promised Justice that he would let him rage later, when they were back home and away from anyone who might not approve of finding out he was possessed. For now, Justice was a constant noise between his ears that he planned to tune out.

"Are your mages all right? In Hossberg, I mean." Cormac asked, studying the plate of cakes and hoping for something less drippy, as he picked up another. "I can't imagine they'd be pleased with the news."

"They are sad. We are all sad." Peryn shook his head. "But, I think that is not what you asked. There is no talk of fighting or running away. They know we will protect them and Weisshapt will."

"Wardens? Really? I didn't think the Grey Wardens got involved in Chantry politics." Cormac sounded surprised, but the Wardens he'd known had, in fact, been very political.

"They need us. All of us. We train strong mages, and every year, the Wardens choose the best." Peryn sounded very proud of his Circle, as he took bites of pickled pepper to punctuate his thoughts. "Sometimes, they take none, because there is no more room, but there is a great festival and a show always. We show the best we have. Everyone wants to be the next Warden."

And here Anders had had to go all the way to Ferelden to join the Wardens. Maybe it was inevitable from the beginning. He had to wonder what the state of Kinloch Hold was in all of this, wondered if First Enchanter Irving was among the dead. They'd had their disagreements, but Irving hadn't been a bad man.

He jumped when Peryn patted his wrist. "Your brother, wherever he is, I hope is safe," Peryn said. Anders stared at him for a long moment before realising he meant him.

The weak laugh that left Anders was little more than a shaky breath. "I hope so too."

Chapter Text

Every week, they went to the message office in Kassel. There was usually something -- letters from Artemis or Solona, Anton's monthly confirmation of their profits having been sent, the occasional annotated half a manuscript from Bethany with frustrated questions and angry notations scrawled in the margins. Oddly, Anders was usually more help with Bethany's troubles, mostly because he'd had a tower education, and the point at which things stopped making sense to her was the point at which they started making sense, to him. So, when a small, sealed envelope from Bethany arrived, they both assumed it was for Anders. Some thanks, perhaps, or an offhand question that didn't require an entire manuscript to explain the context.

Cormac studied the latest dispatches that hung on the walls, looking for some news about Val Royeaux, but the Anderfels maintained a firm indifference to Orlais, unless the Orlesians started marching north. He bet there would be news in Hossberg, but that would require going to Hossberg, which was really more trouble than it was worth, at this point. Still, there were posted notices of last week's guard blotter -- everything from an unidentified chicken thief in one of the river villages to the execution of a bandit who had been hunting Yothandi merchants returning from Kassel. A pity they hadn't become aware that was happening, sooner. Justice would have enjoyed taking care of it, himself. A page of the latest fashions in Tallo, marked with prices and ordering instructions, hung beside the counter, between warnings about restricted Tevinter imports and the list of prices for post by size and weight.

Anders opened the envelope from Bethany while Cormac checked the notices on the wall. The envelope's paper was a sturdy weight, finer even than her usual stationary, and inside was a card with beautiful, looping calligraphy. An invitation, he realised, and not to Anton's next sausage party.

"Mack." Anders held out the card to Cormac. "I think this was meant for you. Looks like Choir Boy finally stepped up!" He still thought Bethany could do better, but then she would make a terrifying and wonderful princess.

"You're kidding, right?" Cormac squinted suspiciously at Anders as he took the card.

"That... is a wedding invitation. An invitation to a wedding. In Starkhaven." No matter which way he held the card, the message didn't change. No hidden secrets in this one, just exactly what it said. His sister was getting married to the Prince of Starkhaven, on Summerday. "We'll be there, won't we?" It seemed like an idiot question, but Sebastian was still intensely displeased with Anders, and he was pretty sure that what his sister didn't want for a wedding gift was the murder of her editor.

"Damn right we will be," Anders answered, even though he knew it might not be the best idea. The groom had tried to kill him that last time he saw him, after all, and Anders could picture Sebastian interrupting his wedding vows just to chase him down. "Your sister might not forgive us if we don't, which is a terrifying prospect." He slipped an arm around Cormac's waist and looked at the invitation over his shoulder. "So, what do you think? We barely look like ourselves any more. Add a few outlandish outfits and a couple of outrageous accents? How's your Antivan?"

"Not as bad as my Rivaini," Cormac admitted, with an uncertain attempt at a smile. "Andraste's tits aflame, we're walking into a death trap. ... Which, if I'm entirely fair, we've done before. Repeatedly."

This was quite possibly the stupidest thing he'd ever done in his entire life, and he could say that after having helped Anders relieve Kirkwall of its chantry. Still, he wanted to believe they could get away with it. Sebastian couldn't possibly be expecting them to be as blighted stupid as they actually were.

Cormac sighed and pressed the heel of his palm between his eyes. "Shall we send a proper response, or should I just send a fistful of Orlesian royals and some measures, and instructions to buy the latest in Antivan fashion? No, that would be rude. Response to Bethy, instructions to Artie."

"That would be the wiser move, yes," Anders agreed. "Artie would take care of the specifics, possibly a little too well. He would also probably think we're idiots for taking the risk of going, but I know he'd love the opportunity to spend some time with his Antivan lover." Anders waggled his eyebrows at Cormac. "Carver's going to end up punching you, isn't he?"

"I expect you to be there, so that when he does the scary templar thing and then punches my teeth down my throat, you can put them back in." Cormac reached up and tugged on Anders's beard. "And also so I can put you behind me every time Sebastian walks past. I don't think he's got the reach to hit you around me."

But, Sebastian was an archer, which meant there was more concern if he wasn't close enough to take a swing. Cormac was going to be uncomfortable every time Sebastian stepped out of his line of sight. This was idiotic, but he had to be there. Couldn't and wouldn't miss it, really.

"You sure you want to do this?" he asked, again. "I mean you, not me. Are you sure you want to walk into this with me?"

Anders blinked down at him. "As opposed to, what, letting you walk into this alone? Like you said, you need someone to put your teeth back in after Carver punches you." He rested his chin on the top of Cormac's head. It was less of a danger for Cormac than for him, but it was still a danger. Anders wasn't about to let him do something stupid on his own, not after everything they've gone through. "So yes, I'm sure. Plus Justice insists he'd like to check on the lyrium elf. For purely professional reasons, he says."

Chapter Text

Anders went to bed, that night, but Justice got out of it, in the middle of the night, trying to keep the glow to a minimum, not to wake Cormac, who made disgruntled noises in his sleep, as Anders pulled away. Cormac whined, and Justice pulled the blanket up over his face to block out the light. He didn't try to speak to Cormac -- if anything would wake him the rest of the way up, that would do it.

Justice admired the clothes, as he put them on. It still didn't sit right with him that the only way to do good, to enact justice, was to do it in the dark, but at least they could make a difference. Anders had shown him, in Kirkwall, the power of compassion in leading people to just action, and he couldn't fault how Anders spent their days, but banditry in the streets was not proper, and he meant to spend this night, and many after it, putting an end to each case that arose. For some reason he couldn't quite understand, no matter how many times Anders explained, the theft of chickens was a particular local problem, even in Kassel. Something to do with blaming it on the sand cats, if he'd understood that part correctly.

Another farmer had complained of a rash of chicken thefts, and Anders had remembered the place, a farm that had belonged to an elderly couple when he'd been a child but had since changed hands to a young family. During the day, he could often hear them making repairs on the old house, but tonight the road was quiet as they walked a route Anders didn't need to see to know.

Their fence was still being patched up, and Justice slipped in where a section had slumped to the ground. He walked around the back of the house, to where he assumed the chicken coop would be, and approached the dark shape that looked about the right size. For now, he would wait and hope the chicken thief showed himself.

With any luck, the sight of the rumoured 'protector of the righteous' would push the thief back onto a just and righteous path. There had been an increase in offerings around statues of Hector in the river villages, since they'd started addressing the wrongs within walking distance of the house. Some people seemed to believe Justice was actually the spirit of Andraste's own protector, returned to guard her people, as he once guarded her. Anders still argued with Justice about correcting them -- what people believed was less important than that they did believe that someone was watching over them, in Anders's opinion. And fortunately, after one encounter with him and Justice, most people were inclined to respect the spirit, even if they didn't respect the law. ... Most. And then there was the Carta, which Anders insisted once again couldn't be their problem, because the Carta and the Merchants Guild were too deeply integrated into the national and local economy -- unlike the Chantry in Kirkwall, which had been primarily parasitic.

Still engaged in that argument, they heard a small scuffing sound from the other side of the coop, a sound like cloth on wood. Oddly, it was the first sound they'd heard all night, and it was right on top of them. Anders stood as quietly as he could and peered around the corner of the coop. Nothing. Another corner, still nothing, but now the chickens were awake and squawking their displeasure about... something. Possibly Justice, if he was entirely honest with himself.

Among all the squawking, Justice almost didn't hear the approach of footsteps, the creak of stiff boots. Eyes following the sound, Justice spotted the thief, a dark shape bent low and trying to be quiet, a weapon of some sort clutched in one hand.

Justice boiled over with rage at the brazenness of the thief, the overflow of anger spilling out in blue cracks along his skin. In the flare of blue light, he finally caught his first glimpse of the thief's face, the eyes wide and round in a tired face. "NO MORE CHICKENS SHALL BE STOLEN FROM THIS COOP," Justice boomed. "THIS IS THEIR HOME." In the back of his mind, Anders tried not to find this funny, but he'd never thought the Spirit of Justice would become a champion of chickens.

Cowards like this always ran. The thief faltered back a few steps, eyes still on Justice, unblinking, and Justice stalked after him, tensing to give chase. But instead the thief fell to his knees, hands up in supplication. "Oh, glorious Hector, you have answered my prayers!"

Shit. Anders threw his entire will into stopping whatever Justice thought he should be saying, throwing other words in the way. "I COME WHERE I AM NEEDED. BE AT PEACE, SERAH. I WILL CATCH THIS THIEF AND DEMONSTRATE THE ERROR OF THOSE UNJUST WAYS. YOU SHOULD BE TROUBLED NO MORE."

Justice argued at being overridden. They were not Hector. Neither of them was Hector. Hector had died long before even Justice had come to self-awareness.

"Bless you, guardian of most holy Andraste and protector of us all!" The man grovelled, gazing up adoringly. "I will make another offering. I will praise your name to all who will listen."

"PRAISE THE NAME OF JUSTICE," Justice boomed, before Anders could stop him. Still, that was ... among the ways least likely to backfire horribly. Anders took partial control again. "AND RETURN TO YOUR REST. THE THIEF WILL NOT APPEAR WITH YOU WAITING FOR HIM."

The man pressed himself even flatter to the ground, and Anders suspected if he grovelled any more he'd become one with the dirt. "Of course! You are most wise! And just! I will tell my wife the good news!"

Being called 'just' quelled some of Justice's agitation. He could ignore the false name for now as long as his purpose wasn't mistaken.

Still bowing, the man clambered to his feet, and he all but walked backwards into his house, still too awed to turn around. Slowly, Anders convinced Justice to tone down the glowing. Their talking might have scared off the thief as it was.

The blue glow was just dimming when they heard more movement from the coop, that sound like cloth on wood again, and Justice turned in time to spot a sand cat wriggling through a gap in the boards, dragging a dead chicken in its mouth. It froze, ears pressing back and eyes reflecting Justice's blue light.

"ARE You fucking kidding me...?" Anders filtered forward, and Justice let him. An actual cat? This, Justice hadn't been expecting.

The cat eyed them, calculatingly, trying to shimmy the rest of the way out of the hole with as little motion as possible.

With a sigh, Anders scruffed the cat and dragged it out, still clutching the chicken. The cat, unamused by this turn of events, made some muffled angry sounds and tried to twist around and claw Anders.

"Shh, it's okay." With his other hand, Anders stunned the cat, to prevent it hurting itself trying to get away from him. The chicken dangled as loosely from the cat's mouth as the cat dangled from his hand. Hands, a thing he didn't have enough of.

He set the cat on the ground and detached it from the chicken. They were probably going to have to wrap the cat in their hood, once they got to the road, but for now, he needed to leave a note and... probably the chicken, while the cat was still unlikely to go anywhere.



Daylight -- and Cormac -- found Anders in the kitchen, a sand cat nestled in the crook of his arm. The cat was making rumbling sounds halfway between a purr and a growl around bits of chicken -- cooked chicken, belonging to Anders, left over from last night's dinner, which Anders was hand-feeding the cat.

"Wondered how long that was going to take. 'S it got a name yet?" Cormac asked, rifling the cupboards for that citrus tea he'd gotten smuggled from northern Rivain. "And what'd you do with the chicken guy?"

"This is the chicken guy," Anders drawled. He paused in his chicken-feeding to lift up one of the cats paws to wave it at Cormac. Tail whipping, the cat whined and gummed at the hand holding it. "Caught him sneaking out of the chicken coop last night, after, uh... Justice tried to exact justice on the wrong person. Second cupboard to your left," he added, noting Cormac's barely awake shuffle. "And I was thinking of calling him Purrsino. He's an apawstate."

Anders half expected to be murdered for that pun. It was worth it.

Cormac paused, one hand already in the cupboard, and gave Anders a disapproving look. "Puns before I've had tea?" But, the tea was an automatic process -- he didn't need to be awake to make it, as long as he could find it. Warming the mug in one hand, he leaned against the counter, watching Anders play with the cat. This was what they'd been missing. Things weren't the same without a fluffy deathtrap underfoot -- particularly a fluffy deathtrap that actually belonged there, as opposed to the ones that leapt in through the windows, when they left the storm shutters open.

"Not First Meower Purrsino, huh? I mean, he would be. Head cat of the cat house." Cormac stopped. "Wait, no. Tea. Tea before talking."

Anders cackled into the cat's ear, which twitched. "Yes, tea before you make any more interesting insinuations about yourself. You can make all the insinuations you want about me, which you already do." 

The cat murrped and wriggled in Anders's grip, reminding him that he was neglecting his duties as cat servant. 

"Sorry, Purrsino. You are absolutely right." Anders cooed and scratched behind its ear before pulling off another bite-sized piece of chicken. "And he could be First Meower if the other meows elect him to the position. Or he could run off to Tevinter and become a meowgister. I won't tell Fenris if you won't."

The cat chirped again, looking up at him with small eyes that always looked like they were judging him.

Cormac muttered something incomprehensible into his mug, which trailed off in a burble as the liquid finally hit his lips. If there was one thing he didn't understand, it was how people without magic could stand waiting for their tea. Maybe it was less necessary, if one didn't have to sustain a power aside from oneself, but Carver seemed to be the argument against that. Anton had always seemed to be powered by wine in vintages he shouldn't have been able to afford.

Cats, though, were not powered by tea. And they now had one again, at least as long as it thought Anders was preferable to stealing chickens. For Justice's sake, he hoped that lasted a while. They'd been trying to convince Justice that in cases of petty crime, most often the environment was as much to blame as the criminal, and that punishment wouldn't drive down the rate of street brawls over seemingly inconsequential things or the theft of food animals nearly as well as making sure more people had food and the things that started arguments could actually be seen as inconsequential in relation to everything else. But, that was hard in a village getting by just above the survival level.

"The man called me -- or rather, called Justice -- Hector," Anders said, amusement colouring his tone. "Justice isn't thrilled, but I'd say it's working in our favour, at least until some priest or other tries to investigate this 'miracle'."

By now the cat had stopped pretending its purrs were growls, and it settled into Anders's lap, the tension in its little body leaving as his fingers stroked through its fur. Its ears stay perked, ready for any sudden noise, but slowly its eyes slid shut.

Anders grinned. "I think Purrsino likes it here."

Chapter Text

Sister Ingill was tidying up the previous day's offerings from around the statues of the disciples, when Andries came in, carrying half a roasted chicken and an assortment of flowers. A major offering, then. Such things weren't unusual, when important things happened in someone's family -- but she couldn't remember Andries's wife being pregnant or them being in negotiations for new property. What in the Maker's name was he so thankful for?

"Oh, Hector!" Andries pronounced, kneeling at the base of a statue already heavily bedecked with flowers. "Protector of Andraste, guardian of her people, I thank you for your intervention! I am blessed by your appearance and your solution to my troubles, and I hope my neighbours are helped by this as much as I have been."

Hector. There had been a lot of offerings to Hector, in the last year. His sudden popularity had always confused Ingill -- including reports that the spirit of Hector himself had been seen pursuing criminals in the middle of the night. That was ludicrous. There was no reason for Hector to be here. The Chantry was too small to have any relics at all, nevermind relics of one of the disciples! She would suspect a demon, but as far as she could tell, no one had been harmed by the ... 'spirit'. Or, at least not seriously. A few sprained ankles and small burns. There had to be another explanation.

Ingill approached Andries, clasping her hands in front of her reverently and waiting until he had finished his prayer before clearing her throat to get his attention. He turned a beaming smile her way.

"Good morning, Sister Ingill!" he greeted her, pushing himself to his feet. "This is a beautiful day the Maker has given us!"

"Indeed," Ingill agreed, coldly polite. "Forgive me, but I could not help but overhear your prayer..."

"I do not mind, Sister! I would proclaim it to the whole town!"

"Uh. That is not..." Ingill tried again. "Proclaim what, specifically?"

Andries raised his hands to the heavens. "That blessed Hector himself appeared to me and answered my prayers. I am humbled by his intercession!"

"Appeared," Ingill repeated. "You mean that metaphorically, I am sure."

But Andries shook his head. "No, no! Hector was there! His voice was like thunder and his eyes like lightning! He protected my home and my chickens!"

"Your... chickens." Ingill didn't know how to address this, except with a polite smile. Whatever this false disciple was, he had apparently helped Andries and had bolstered his faith. Still, she had no way of knowing if this wouldn't turn around and bite them in the ass, later. "Could you tell me more? About what happened and what he was like?"

"Like a storm!" Andries's eyes widened and his hands fluttered. "A man all blue and crackling, with a voice that echoed off the hills. A spirit! A real spirit!"

Not that Ingill had ever met a spirit. Or a disciple. Or any demons, really. Things were fairly quiet in the Chantry where she'd studied.

"He spoke to me, saying he would find the thief and put him on the path of righteousness. Saying I should praise the name of justice, because that's what would be done, of course."

"And this... spirit found the thief?" Ingill's eyebrow arched upward, and Andries noticed she always seemed to be looking down at him, even though he was taller.

"The thief was one of the sand cats. The note -- I have a note! -- said it wouldn't bother me again and to nail down a loose board on the side of the coop, where the cat was getting in." Andries gestured at the offering. "He didn't save the chicken, but he left it with the note as proof. So, I cooked it and brought half to offer in thanks."

Ingill found it all hard to believe. The spirit of a disciple, appearing just to stop a sand cat from stealing chickens? If not for rumours of other, similarly baffling stories, Ingill would write the man off as crazy, no matter how many times she'd seen him over the years. "A... note. That was considerate of him."

As she spoke, Andries reached into the folds of his robes and pulled out the scrap of paper, holding it reverently in his hands as though it were a sacred artefact. It occurred to Ingill that, to him, it probably was. Ingill looked it over, and it certainly looked real. She could think of no reason why Andries would fake a letter like this. 

"I see," she said, handing the letter back, which Andries slipped right back into his robes. "Is there anything in particular you did to... summon Hector to you?"

"Only prayer, Sister," Andries said, bowing his head. "I asked others for help, put up notices, but no one seemed able to help me. And then I heard the rumours about Hector helping the people of our town, and I prayed for his aid!"

"I am glad your prayers were answered," Ingill said even as she puzzled all this over.



"Watch your step, Sister." Peryn offered a hand to Ingill, as they made their way toward the site of recent vandalism against a statue of Maferath. Of course, it was the middle of the night. Whoever this vandal might be, they wouldn't try again by daylight, and last week was the third week in a row of tasteless slogans painted across the statue, always on the same day of the week.

Ingill thought it might be related to the increase in fanaticism around Hector, given that Maferath had slain Hector, as well, when he turned Andraste over to Hessarian. The quotes lent themselves to that interpretation, as well. No doubt whoever this 'Hector' spirit was, he'd show up to investigate. Ingill thought he might even be responsible for it. Either way, they'd know, once and for all.

Peryn held a finger to his lips and stepped into a small space between two buildings, gesturing for Ingill to follow. "If we wait here," he whispered, "they won't see us. Not the vandal and not the ... well, if it's a real spirit, it will see us anyway."

Which meant that it would see them if it was a demon as well, and Ingill was glad she had brought Peryn along. He'd told her all manner of stories about spirits and demons, and though she was curious, she was in no hurry to encounter one up close. 

They had been waiting hours by the time anyone showed up, long enough that Ingill was leaning against the wall with her eye closed, nearly dozing on her feet. Gently, Peryn shook her awake, and Ingill followed his line of sight to the group of hooded youths congregating around the statue. Three of them. No spirit or demon yet, but with luck, he would come.

"Kids," Peryn sighed as the vandals greeted each other, not even bothering to whisper.

The next movement was just a flicker in the corner of Peryn's eye, and at first he wasn't sure he'd seen it. A moment later, it looked like a ball of lightning, crackling blue with sparks flying off. The thing settled into the rough shape of a man, still glowing brilliantly as it descended on the youths still trying to climb down from the statue.

"THIS IS NOT RIGHT OR JUST." The 'spirit' boomed. "YOU CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR HECTOR, BUT HECTOR WAS DEAR TO ANDRASTE. HE ACCEPTED HER WILL. HER WILL IS THAT MAFERATH BE FORGIVEN. SHE FORGAVE EVEN HESSARIAN, WHO WENT ON TO BECOME HER MOST POWERFUL ADVOCATE. SHE WILL FORGIVE EVEN YOU."

"Holy shit! Holy shit!" A girl peered around the head of the statue, staring down at the spirit bellowing at them. "It's the fucking spirit of Hector himself! They weren't kidding! He's real, and he's right there yelling at us!"

"It's cool! We'll be cool!" The boy standing in Maferath's elbow, pressed back against the statue's side, looked terrified. "We didn't mean no disrespect against Andraste. I love Andraste! I just... you know... didn't understand the forgiveness thing."

"AND NOW THAT YOU UNDERSTAND, YOU WILL PUT AN END TO THIS DEFILEMENT." It was a command, not a suggestion, and the youths all nodded vigorously from their respective perches. "AND YOU SHALL DESCEND FROM THE STATUARY."

"Of course!" said the boy at Maferath's elbow as he started to swing himself down. "We was planning to!"

"Thank you, Hector ser," said the girl, still staring as she clambered down.

Something like agitation flashed over the spirit's face, but it was gone the next moment as all three youths returned to solid ground. "AND COME MORNING, YOU WILL COME BACK HERE TO CLEAN THE STATUE."

"What?" blurted the third vandal. The spirit turned flashing blue eyes his way, and the boy quailed, putting the statue between himself and the stern-eyed spirit. "Uhh, I mean... Yeah. Of course. Sure, Hector-ghost-man!"

"IT IS ONLY JUST."

Ingill turned ask Peryn about the nature of the creature in front of them, but Peryn was staring at Hector as though the light of the Maker himself shone through his eyes.

"I cannot believe..." he began, awed. "The rumours were true."

Ingill snorted and crossed her arms, glaring at the 'spirit' before them. She still looked unconvinced, but she was having greater and greater difficulty coming up with a reason to be. "Then why's he speaking Ander?" she finally demanded. "Hector's Nevarran."

"It is the nature of spirits to speak so they will be understood. Can a man called forth after his death not learn a foreign language to get his point across?" Peryn pressed his lips together and looked sideways at Ingill. "I am a templar. I know about spirits. We are taught to know them, because of the healers. That is a spirit. Don't you feel it?"

"It feels like a storm coming," Ingill muttered. "I doubt the Revered Mother will be happy if that thing starts a fire with all that lightning."

Peryn shook his head in amazement. "The spirit of one of Andraste's disciples stands in front of you, and that is your concern? Are you not curious? Don't you have questions for him?"

"I have many questions," Ingill muttered. "And all we have ascertained so far is that he is a spirit. Whether he is Hector's spirit is a matter of speculation."

Peryn offered her a look that fell somewhere between pitying and amused. "You are terribly cynical, for a priest."

Ingill watched the spirit lecture the youths some more before they left with bowed heads. At least she wouldn't have to worry about making sure the sculpture was cleaned after. She had no doubt they would obey the spirit's orders. "Blind faith can be inspiring, but it is also dangerous and often foolish. I would like to believe this is Hector, but I still have doubts."

Peryn stepped out of the alley. "Hector!" he called out to the spirit. "My thanks! We were waiting to catch them, too!"

The spirit shimmered as it turned toward him. "JUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE."

"Now, just a moment!" Ingill squeezed her way between Peryn and a stack of barrels, to face the spirit. "Are you saying you're really the spirit of Hector? And we're supposed to just believe you?"

"I HAVE ASKED NOTHING OF YOU BUT THAT YOU LIVE JUST AND RIGHTEOUS LIVES." The glow grew brighter, further obscuring the details of the spirit at its centre. "HAVE I DONE WRONG?"

"Well, no, but--"

"THEN WHY DOES IT MATTER WHO I AM OR WHO I MAY ONCE HAVE BEEN? I AM JUSTICE."

"Now, see here!" Ingill barked, not accustomed to being addressed so lightly by any man, dead or living. She grabbed at what she thought was the spirit's arm, even as Peryn tried to hold her back. "You can't just--"

As her fingers wrapped around the spirit's wrist, she slumped back into Peryn's grasp.

The spirit backed away. "SHE IS FINE. SHE WILL WAKE IN AN HOUR OR TWO. IT IS OUR NATURE. I APOLOGISE."

Peryn shifted Ingill's weight into his arms. For a woman full of such will, she was surprisingly light. "I understand, Hector," he said, dipping his head in reverence. "I thank you for dealing with these hooligans so effectively. I doubt the same words from me would have had quite the same effect."

"THANKS ARE NOT NEEDED. IT WAS MY DUTY, SER PERYN. SOMETHING THAT YOU UNDERSTAND BETTER THAN MOST."

"You know my name?" Peryn said in an awed whisper.

"I SEE MUCH. SEE TO YOUR FRIEND. I HAVE MUCH WORK LEFT TO DO."

"Of course." Peryn bowed his head as deeply as he could with Sister Ingill in his arms. "Be well, Hector!" A pointless thing to say to a spirit, but it seemed the polite thing to do.

As he watched, the spirit left, the blue glow fading as he disappeared into the darkness.



Sister Ingill woke in her own bed, in the Chantry, with Mother Yotte at her side. "Mother, I saw a spirit," she said, still trying to put together the rest of what had happened. They'd gone to catch those troublemakers, and the spirit had done it for them. And then... things got a little fuzzy.

"I know!" Yotte smiled indulgently, patting Ingill's hand. "Ser Peryn tells me you were very brave. I heard you tried to wrestle with it!"

"Wrestle? Did I?" Ingill blinked, looking surprised at the thought, as she sat up, clutching the blanket to her chest... which was still clad in the robes she'd gone out in.

"He told me that you grabbed for the spirit, and when you caught it, you fainted. The spirit apologised. You should know that. But, the way Peryn tells it, I think maybe you shouldn't go around grabbing spirits, unless you'd like a nap." Yotte chuckled. "You have come to no harm. The spirit went away, and Ser Peryn carried you back here, so I had him put you right in bed. He's downstairs sitting an all-night vigil before the statue of--"

"Hector," Ingill replied. "He's convinced, just like the rest of the village, that this is really the spirit of Hector come to save us. It doesn't seem right! What interest would Hector, dead or alive, have in the Anderfels?"

"We are a people of great faith, Sister," Yotte replied firmly.

"But... scaring off vandals, saving chickens? If this is the spirit of Hector, doesn't he have better things to do?"

Yotte's face fell in disappointment, disappointment in her. Ingill disliked how that one look could affect her. After years of working together, even when they argued or disagreed, Ingill couldn't stand to see that look on Yotte's face.

"The Maker makes himself known in the small things as well as the big things, Sister. You know this. No burden is too small, no hardship too trivial. And look what such 'small' deeds have wrought! In all my life, I have not seen this chantry so full so often. Whether the spirit is Hector or not, it is clearly doing the Maker's work."

Ingill wanted to argue, wanted to press the issue, but Yotte had already made up her mind. For all her wisdom, the woman could be dreadfully stubborn. "I see," she said, eyes to the floorboards. "Thank you, Mother."

Yotte smiled. "Regardless, it should please you to know that the statue of Maferath has been scrubbed and polished nearly into nonexistence."

"I wonder if we could trick them into washing the rest of the statues, while it's still so warm out..." Ingill speculated, turning to put her feet on the floor. "The water should cool them off, and it would keep them out of trouble."

"I'd hardly think of it as tricking them." Yotte lifted an eyebrow. "Perhaps just creatively convincing them. Maybe you could offer them something. How much longer is Peryn in town, this circuit? Perhaps he could tell them stories about the spirits he's met."

Ingill was fairly sure the last thing these little hoodlums would want was to spend time with a warrior of the faith, but it was definitely a thought. Or maybe a jar of those dates Mack brought to be given to the poor. If anyone counted as poor, it was those families. As little as she liked Jan and Mack, perhaps they, too, had their uses. "Stories about spirits. Hmm. Maybe we should hear them, first."

Chapter Text

The market in Kassel was busy, as it always was, and Cormac really only came across the river for things you couldn't get in the village. Imports, mostly, like the sungold melons Anders liked, or that ridiculously expensive yellow fruit from Par Vollen -- any of the ridiculously expensive fruits from Par Vollen, really, or black-market lyrium, for Anders's work. He'd managed to haggle the trader down a bit on a few pounds of bananas, since they were the kind that was only good for putting in bread. The Anderfels and Tevinter had the ones that were good for frying, but the other ones from Par Vollen were good for just peeling and eating.

He considered stopping in the dwarven market, to see if there was any good meat, but setting foot in there without Anders meant he was going to walk out with four sets of dishes and some dwarfy wall art he didn't really have the space to hang, however good he thought it'd look in the library. And that was when he spotted the woman sitting next to a table displaying goat cheese, with signs in three languages, only two of which he could read. Her skin wasn't as dark as his -- few people's was -- but she was definitely the darkest merchant in the market, that day. He hadn't seen any Rivaini up here, since Isabela dropped them at the docks, and he stood out like a sore thumb, so he made his way over to her, hoping to finally shake hands with someone else of similar ancestry. And buy some goat cheese, which would go amazingly with ... almost anything he had the ingredients for, right now, as he thought on it.

With a wide smile, he offered some of the few Rivaini words he knew -- a common greeting. He'd have to go back to common, shortly, but he hoped that would give him an opening to more conversation than the price of cheese.

The woman smiled in reply, but it was a tired, apologetic sort of smile. "Apologies, friend," she said in accented Common and in the tight way that said she had spoken these words before, "but I am not Rivaini. I did recognise the word 'hello' in there but not much else. I do hope you speak Common? Or Ander?" She repeated the phrase in Ander to be sure.

Cormac nodded, his face darkening a bit across the tops of his cheeks. "I only know the other two words," he admitted in Common. "You're not Rivaini, and I'm terrible at it. My mother was a Marcher, and I just never had the time... Do you mind if I ask where you're from? I don't see many people who look like me, up here, so I just... assumed. Sorry. I swear I'm actually here to buy something."

"What? Did you think you Rivaini had all the colour in the world?" Her words were biting but tempered with her amusement. "I am from the mountains," the woman said, pointing vaguely north, in the direction of the Donarks. "The air here is... different, but I am getting used to it. Which is not to say that I like it. The smell of fish will never leave me."

"You and my brother-in-law." Cormac laughed, as he studied the bundles of cheese. "He came up from the Marches to visit, and spent days complaining about the sea and the smell of fish. Not that I blame him, but it's not the fish that bothers me, it's just the sea." He shuddered. "Mountains. North. The Donarks-- Oh! Yothandi! Of course, we're in the Anderfels. I just ... left my brain in my other hood, this morning. Left the house without it. My friend's a great fan of the sungold melons from up there. I just didn't think."

"It happens to the best of us," the trader said, still looking amused at his expense. "I don't suppose your friend is a great fan of goat cheese as well? Melons I do not have, but goat cheese I do and only the best." Her voice and demeanour changed as she put on her customer smile. She pointed out the more popular cheeses she had on display and offered him a sample to try.

"I love goat cheese. And I am interested in buying a bit of most of the types you have." Cormac accepted a sample of a cheese variety he wasn't familiar with -- spicy and heavily herbed, a bit greasy. "And a lot of that one. That's intense. What is it?" He started counting coins through the leather of his pouch, trying to decide how much he could afford. "And you don't also have milk, do you? I guess that wouldn't make the trip down the mountain as well as the cheese..."

"We call it gevrik," said the trader as she started pulling out paper for wrapping the cheese. "We marinate the cheese in oil and a few spices you won't find down here." Her smile was smug as she wrapped a wheel of gevrik in the paper. "And we do have milk! Fresh, too. Why bring the milk down the mountain when we can bring the goats? A couple of them, anyway. They mind the journey less than my travel companions." She gave Cormac a long-suffering look as she reached for more paper a different wheel of cheese. "How much would you like?"

"A pound each of these five and half of those three. There's only so much space in the icebox." Cormac chuckled. "And a quart of the milk -- I'm the only one drinking that." He read the numbers on the signs and started counting coins as the trader wrapped cheese. A few pieces of silver would cover it, not that he generally admitted to carrying silver, this far from the doors of the Chantry.

"Do your goats fare well in the valley?" he asked, laying the silver coins on the table under his fingers. "I have a brother-in-law whose family were goat farmers in southern Ferelden, if you can believe it. Of course, it was southern Ferelden, and every third house was goat farmers around there. Couldn't get married without a goat."

"Why? Were the goats your officiants?" She laughed. "What an odd thing. But I suppose it must be saner than whatever it is they do in Orlais. Or Tevinter." Her face scrunched as though she had tasted something sour. "As for our goats, they don't complain too loudly, but the heat bothers them a little. It is a different world, up in the mountains."

"The goats were proof the person doing the proposing had any business trying to start a household. Goats and wheat delivered to the lucky victim's mother. It's how two of my brothers got married, and that goat's still keeping one of my brothers company, last I heard." Cormac moved his hand off the silver and started to load the cheese into his basket. "Would you consider selling one of the goats? I have someone whose mother deserves good company and ready milk." It was an afterthought, really. He mostly just wanted to see the look on Anders's face, when Ulla showed up to thank them for the goat. And he had no doubt she'd be able to give it a good home -- and if, for some reason, she couldn't? He could. He wouldn't mind having something to keep the camel company. Poor Harellan got lonely out there.

"Oh? Planning to propose to some lucky lady?" She still seemed dreadfully amused by the whole thing. "That's sweet. And I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense. As for the goats..." She bit her lip, mulling it over as she finished wrapping up the rest of Cormac's cheese. "Well, we do rely on them for milk and cheese, and that's our livelihood. I suppose we could part with one, but we could be taking quite a loss..." She tried to look regretful.

"The going rate for a fully-decked wedding goat, in Kirkwall, was two sovereigns, or so I'm told. I'd pay the same for the goat with no trappings. Would that buy you the time for the next generation to age up?" Cormac asked, without batting an eye. He knew the price of goats and that Fenris had probably gotten ripped off horribly, but he also knew he could afford it, and two double griffons would be more than most Ander people would see in a year.

The woman's eyes widened before she could school her expression into something more neutral. "That... would be sufficient, yes. Allow me to fetch her for you. And some of that goat milk you asked for." As she passed the assistant helping her tend her stall, she said to him out of the side of her mouth, "Clearly we're in the wrong business."

Chapter Text

Cormac had asked Ulla to come by in a few days and let them know how the goat was working out for her. If she needed help with it, or if it just wasn't the right goat for her, he wanted to know. Saddling someone with a goat, long term, just for a laugh, wasn't really on his list.

And, of course, he'd neglected to tell Anders any of this.

Instead, he'd made parfaits of goat cheese and fruits of Par Vollen, layered with the light cakes of millet and egg that went so well in these sorts of things, every day for breakfast. And every day, after breakfast, he wound up spending a couple extra hours in bed. A duel of desserts, Anders called it.

And today, as they lay there panting, there came a knock at the door.

"You should get that. Warden stamina. I'm sure you can get up faster than I can, right now," Cormac teased, reaching for his robes all the same.

Anders's whine floated up from the vicinity of Cormac's chest. "Just because I can doesn't mean I want to," he grumbled. But he only lazed a moment longer before getting up, toeing his robes over to him from where they'd ended up tossed against the bookcase. As much as he wanted to ignore the knock and wait for their visitor to go away, he knew they got visitors rarely enough for it to be important. Someone else in need of a healing potion, perhaps.

When Anders saw his mother on the other side of the door, he was glad he'd taken an extra moment to straighten his robes. "Mama?" He tucked his hair behind his ears, hoping it didn't look too mussed, and stepped to the side to let her in. "This is a pleasant surprise!"

Ulla beamed and pulled Anders down so she could kiss his cheek. "Surprise? Did Mack not tell you he invited me? Shame on him!"

Anders blinked, trying to remember if Cormac had said anything of the like but coming up with nothing. "No?"

Cormac smiled as he staggered out of the bedroom, hair more fluffed on one side than the other. "My mistake. You've been distracting me. I must've forgotten to mention it."

He made his way toward the middle of the room and threw a fistful of herbs into the fire to clear the smell of what they'd so obviously just been doing.

"Well," Ulla said, patting Anders's arm proudly, "your father almost choked to death on his tongue, but Mack brought us the most thoughtful gift. You know how much your father likes milk, and I'm getting much too old to be going to the market for it every day. And Mack brought us a goat! Can you believe it! I'd always heard noblemen were stingy bastards, but you picked a good one. Some Marcher city must be missing him!"

Anders's brain stalled at the word "goat". Red splashed across his cheeks and down to his chest, as he shot a horrified look at Cormac over his mother's shoulder. He'd deny that he almost choked on his tongue, just to insist he had nothing in common with his father.

Narrowing his eyes, Anders pointed a finger at Cormac. "Fuck you. The answer's still 'no', goat or no goat."

"Did I ask you? I don't think I asked you." Cormac smiled wider and batted his eyes. "I just bought your mum a goat, because she needed a goat, and there was a very pleasant Yothandi merchant selling a goat." Which wasn't quite true, but it was close enough. "Same one I bought all the goat cheese from."

"Ket, do sit down." Ulla patted his chest. "That's an awful lot of shouting over a goat. What's going on here?" She raised her eyebrow and squinted suspiciously up at Anders. "Mack, why don't you get him a glass of water. He's looking a little red. I don't want him fainting."

"Fainting when red? Is that a thing you do?" Cormac actually had the decency to look a bit concerned as he made for the kitchen to get a glass of ice water. A pitcher, probably, now that he thought of it. They all likely needed a cool drink.

"I'm fine, mama," Anders insisted, waving off her concern even as he let her herd him into a seat. "Mack is clearly making a terrible joke, and it caught me by surprise. The goat didn't come with any wheat, did it?" If it was just a goat, it wouldn't count as a proposal, right?

Ulla tilted her head. "Mack brought her over with a bag of mixed grain," she said, her voice tipping up in an almost-question. "Should he not have? The goat needs to eat something!"

Anders groaned and dropped his face into his palms. That wasn't quite the lace and sheaves of wheat Fenris's goat had come with, but it was probably the closest equivalent outside of Ferelden.

"I'm afraid I do not see the joke," said Ulla. "I thought it was terribly sweet. And generous!"

Cormac came back with a pitcher in one hand and three pieces of the good stemware in the other, because it was the easiest thing to carry three of in one hand. "Cold water for all of us. Can't have anyone passing out in this heat."

"He'll never admit it, but Ewald is very thankful for the icebox, by the way. Cold water has gotten very popular in our house, all of a sudden." Ulla patted a beanbag, inviting Cormac to sit. "So, Ket says this goat is some sort of terrible joke? I don't understand."

"A goat and three sheaves of wheat delivered to someone's mother is a rural Fereldan marriage proposal. I've got two brothers who got married that way. The first time, the goat didn't arrive with any indicator of who it was for, and for one blighted awful moment, I thought it might have been from him." Cormac gestured at Anders. "But, you'll notice this goat wasn't dressed in lace and laden with wheat, so..."

Ulla's eyebrows rose towards her hairline. "So Ket thought you were proposing to him?" She swatted Anders's arm. "And that was your reaction? You could do worse! You think you can do better?"

Anders leaned away from his mother and her disapproval, the beanbag making a shushing sound as he shifted. "No! That's not it! I'm a mage, mama. I'm not getting married in a chantry!"

That wasn't the whole of it, not when he thought about Karl and about what mages were or weren't supposed to have, but there was only so much heartache he was willing to burden his mother with.

Ulla's eyes softened, and instead of swatting Anders's arm again, she squeezed it. To Cormac, she said, "I'd marry you."

"I'm not the marrying type, I'm afraid," Cormac teased, pouring water for all of them. "Just breaking hearts all across Thedas." He paused. "Not his, though. I was going to stab the last person who broke his heart, but he beat me to it. I don't think I could ask for a better friend. Here, show her what I got you before we left Kirkwall, and I'll tell that story. Well, not that story. The one about what it is."

"Something special?" Ulla asked, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth as she picked up the water, and tried to settle the idea of these two kind men, one of them her son, killing someone. And the way Cormac mentioned it so casually. It must have been much more than a broken heart, if he wasn't joking. "I don't know, that sounds like you have some intentions, whatever you have to say about it."

"I bought you an icebox," Cormac deadpanned. "I'm just that kind of guy."

Anders leaned into his mother and said in a loud whisper, "Maybe he has intentions on you."

Ulla tutted and swatted him in the arm again. "If I were unmarried and a few decades younger, I might have done something with that." She winked at Cormac. "But show me this gift!"

Anders sighed as though greatly put-upon and reached into the neck of his robes, hooking a finger around the chain and pulling out the amulet he wore under his clothes.

"Jewellery?" Ulla said with a hopeful eyebrow tilt.

"Don't read too much into it, mama," Anders laughed.

"No? There's a big difference between jewellery and an icebox, Ket."

"It was a year for jewels. Particularly that kind." Cormac shook his head. "He doesn't wear it out, because it's Tevinter. Never mind where I got it, it reminded me of him, when I saw it, so I hung onto it for a while. Kept forgetting to pass it on. That's not really important. What's important is that it's the kind of thing you really only give your best friend. That jewel... isn't really a jewel. I have some talents in turning ... things ... into shiny rocks."

"Really? Is it very difficult? You could make a lot of money doing that around here. The Chantry would blink at you and coins would fall out. They're always looking for gems for those murals of Andraste." Ulla smiled and tilted the amulet in the light. "That looks very much like the real thing."

"It used to be the body of the man who murdered my mother and ... at least five other women we know about. And And-- Jan-- this git stayed with me and took care of my family through the worst of it. The jeweller I took it to, to have it set, seemed to think it was a real gem, too. Yellow diamond, he told me. I don't know. It looks good there. It seemed important." Cormac shrugged and reached out to tug on Anders's beard. "That's the kind of relationship we have. I brought him food, when he wasn't eating. He took care of my family, when our mother died. I gave him a home. He gave me a home. I don't know what I'd do without him, but it's not... It's not like that. It's not the kind of thing you get married over, unless it's political."

Ulla gave him a funny look, still turning the amulet over in her hand. "My dear, that sounds an awful lot like a marriage to me." She opened her mouth as though to say something, only to close it in a sad smile as she thought better of it. But Anders suspected he knew that look. She was thinking of her husband and comparing. "But, that does not matter." Ulla dropped the amulet back to Anders's chest and patted his cheek. "What matters is that you each take care of each other."

"His cooking helps," Anders drawled.

"But, Mack..." Ulla went on, "I did not know this about your mother. That is a terrible thing to live through." They had mentioned killing again, turning the body of a man into a jewel, but though it frightened her, Ulla felt a grim sort of satisfaction that they had killed such a man.

"My father was a mercenary, and he died at home, in bed." Cormac laughed, rubbing his forehead. "They died each other's deaths. I just keep telling myself that. But, we got the bastard, even if it was much too late. I keep telling myself that, too. You know why he's... that? I had to have something back from him. I couldn't make any good of him while he lived, and I tried. I tried for all of a moment or five, before he tried to kill us all. In death, at least he could be beautiful. And that would be good enough."

"You are someone special, Mack," Ulla murmured, "to try to find beauty in something -- in someone -- so horrible. I don't know if I would have had it in me." She thought of the templars taking Ket, thought of Jannik leaving. Those were the two most painful moments of her life, and she had never thought to look for any beauty there. She didn't think she could, even now with Ket back at her side. "I'm sure your mother would be proud of you."

"She said as much, before she died. I thought, for a moment, we could save her, but... There are things you just don't come back from." Cormac shrugged again, moving closer to Anders. "But, my father taught me to try, until trying becomes dangerous to someone else. And then to be quick and merciful. I like to think I'm merciful. He's just. We keep each other from slipping too far -- me into indulgence, him into vengeance. Between us, we do all right."

Without a word, Anders reached out and folded Cormac under his arm. Years later, it still had to be a difficult subject. "We do all right," Anders agreed. "No goats necessary."

Ulla barked a laugh. "Well, I'm keeping the goat. Your father would die before admitting it, but he's given her a name."

"And as long as it's not a marriage goat, he's welcome to call it whatever he wants," Anders replied. Then again, if it had been a marriage goat, he suspected his father would have had a few choice names to call the goat then too. Either way, Anders hoped the goat ate his socks.

"I'm hoping he's more creative than my brother. One 'Goatilda' in the family is enough." Cormac chuckled and picked up his glass again. "You don't figure Sandal's managed to enchant her yet, do you?" He laughed and tipped his head toward Ulla. "Sandal's a good kid. His father... sort of... is my brother's steward. But, Sandal's a bit odd. Kid's got to be in his mid-twenties, by now, but you wouldn't know it -- a dwarf with no beard, if you can believe it. Only got one word to him, most of the time -- 'enchantment'. And he's really exceptional at it, too! Man's got a talent! I'd hardly trust my runes to anyone else, but Gytha, and she's a bit of a specialist."

"A beardless dwarf who makes runes? And he's part of your brother's household? Your brother -- which brother is this? He must be very wealthy to afford this." Ulla's eyebrows arced upward. "And he's ... trying to enchant your brother's... marriage goat?"

"Oh, you leave Sandal alone with anything, he'll try to enchant it. The table in the kitchen wound up with plate warmers in it, at one point. Great kid." Cormac laughed some more, remembering Anders and Sandal playing together, with that ridiculous elven helmet. "And my brother does well for himself, with my investments. He's financed a substantial part of the reconstruction and renovation of Kirkwall, and at least one of the other brothers is working to on the construction, itself. That's the one you met. The next one down is the one paying for it. The next one down from that is... I don't even know what he's doing, but I'm sure I'd have heard if he'd been swallowed by demons. He's a templar. Couldn't handle the idea that he couldn't punch me in the teeth, so he had to go do something about it. And my sister's writing detailed examinations of the history of Nevarran architecture and funerary practises, because that's just a thing she does. Pays for her wardrobe with it, too, so it's a fair bit she's made doing it."

"Well, I suspect she's a bit too busy wedding planning to do too much of that?" Anders said with a shrug. "At least she'll be less manic than Artie was. I think. I hope."

Ulla perked up. "You have a sister getting married?"

"Don't get too excited, mama. He didn't even get her a goat." Or so Anders assumed. He suspected Artie would have said something about that in his letters. "Then again, who would he have given the goat to, anyway? Anton?"

"My sister's... Yeah. She's getting married." Cormac shook his head. "I don't really like the guy. It's political. But, he's a prince, and she thinks he's adorable. Blah, blah, he's like the tiny little dogs they have in Orlais, always barking at shadows and strangers. I hope she keeps him on a short leash."

"She's marrying into a royal family? Oh, that must just be a dream come true, for her! Every little girl wants to grow up to be a queen. Or a Warden." Ulla smiled brightly and settled intently into her seat, putting herself in a better position to absorb all of this. "So, what's wrong with this prince, hm? Is he just mean, or...?"

"He's not very smart, and he used to be a Chantry brother. And every time he gets pissed off, people die. A lot of the time, before anyone can question them. It's not that I necessarily disagree with all the deaths, but some of them were totally unnecessary. I mean, you don't hunt down and slaughter an entire mercenary company for doing what they were paid to do. You hunt them down and figure out how to make them tell you who hired them, and that's who you go after. But, no. He killed them and then spent three years trying to figure out who hired them. He's just... he really doesn't think things through." Cormac shook his head and rubbed his cheek on Anders's shoulder. "That and he wants to kill your son. That puts him on my shit list without any other assistance, but that's a recent development, comparatively. I already didn't have a lot of patience for him."

Ulla wanted to hope he was speaking figuratively, but considering what Cormac had said about the mercenary band, she doubted it. "Kill Ket?" she said, turning worried eyes on her son. They had hinted that they had been a part of something political, something to do with mages and how the Chantry treated them, but she hadn't wanted to believe that her son was in mortal danger. A foolish thought, she knew, considering he had once been a Warden. Mortal danger was expected.

"What can I say?" said Anders. "Some people cannot handle the glory of my existence. The prince is a fool. A politically empowered fool, but a fool nonetheless. I'm not exactly worried." Either way, it was probably best that they not mention to his mother that they were going to that wedding.

Chapter Text

"So, I've been meaning to ask you -- both of you, really -- if you've given any thought to the offer I made, while Fenris was here." Cormac sat on one of the few surfaces that wasn't littered with open books and prepped ingredients. He took a long breath, and the indigo light started at the tips of his fingers, crawling back across his skin. He could feel Justice's attention shift, as soon as he'd done it, and that... might not have been the best idea, now that he thought about it. "I've only glowed for you in a pantsless situation once, and it wasn't really the best of circumstances. It could've been good, though. Aside from that whole evil magister demigod problem. Which we don't have, right now."

Cormac leaned to the side to get a better look at what Anders was working on. "And if that's what I think it is, in about ten minutes, you're going to have to ignore that for a whole candle."

A strained laugh bubbled out of Anders as he worked, acting, for the moment, like this potion required most of his attention. Silly, he knew, since Cormac was aware that he could make this brew with his eyes closed. "I was beginning to think you had forgotten about that," he said, shooting Cormac's glowing fingers a speculative glance over the steaming pot.

Justice was sitting up, pressing in behind his eyes. The spirit was willing, it seemed, and Anders tried not to squirm at the memory of Fenris's fingers inside him. If Cormac could do that, too? Well. Cormac was very good at spoiling Anders.

Anders cleared his throat. "You make a compelling case, but put those away. I still need a few more minutes here, and for once, Justice is the one complaining about needing to work."

Another breath, and the glow at Cormac's fingertips vanished. "How about I just stop distracting you, while you finish up in here. I'll go feed Purrsino and see about wearing less. But, if I run out of things to do, I'm coming back in here. Don't start thinking you've got time to set up another batch."

He slid off the table and blew a loud kiss. Touching Anders right now would not be in his best interest. Either of their best interest, really.

The cat -- still a wildcat, really, despite having taken up residence because of the constant flow of roast chicken -- was easily attended and very pleased with the offering, that evening, and Cormac squeezed past him to check on the camel, for the night. Harellan seemed to appreciate Purrsino, too, and the two of them could be seen in the shade of the camel barn, throughout the day, Harellan kneeling while Purrsino tried to lick him clean. It was good, Cormac thought. Harellan needed a companion, and a cat was far less trouble than another camel.

Coming back inside, Cormac stripped off his robes and tossed them on a chair, as he passed through the main room. He cast a few spells to clean himself up and refresh that spiced orange scent that clung to his skin, and started to call the Fade to him.

Anders may have rushed through the potion a little more than he would have liked, but Justice was impatient and Anders was agreeable enough. He only cleaned up what he needed to, closed up vials and put away ingredients. He would wash the instruments later.

Justice smelled the Fade before they entered the room, like the air just after a thunderstorm, and as always it made Justice ache. Spirits were not meant to feel or understand loss, but he did.

But a spirit of Justice was also not meant to feel affection, and that was what he -- what Anders -- felt when they saw Cormac, naked except for the glow of the Fade. Anders meant to say something sexy, something clever, but what came out was, "Did you feed Purrsino?"

"I did. And Harellan." Cormac smiled and tugged at Anders's robes, unwrapping him like a remarkably awkwardly-shaped gift. "I told you, once, I'm not just for one of you. I accepted both of you, and I want both of you. I just always thought I had nothing to offer Justice. I'm not made of lyrium."

His fingers lingered on some of the safer scars on Anders's chest. Long lines, instead of that massive ... actually, it was looking a bit less lumpy, since they'd come up here, like maybe Anders had the magic to spare for himself, now. Still, Cormac kept his hands off that one. That wasn't his decision to make.

Justice did like the elf's lyrium, or so he informed Anders, and, really, some days Anders could do without all the extra commentary. "The lyrium is nice," he relayed to Cormac, "but you have a few other... attributes that weigh in your favour." As he spoke, he ran his hands over Cormac's arms, down his sides, pleased by the soft give of skin where he was once used to feeling muscle and bone. He gave Cormac's wonderfully plush bottom a teasing smack to remind Cormac that it was one of those attributes.

"I'm sure my attributes make me much more appealing to one of you." Cormac laughed, pressing his indigo lit skin against Anders, as he closed the gap between them. His fingers darted over all the old scars he didn't have to look to find -- an archer, an archer with a knife, templars, more templars, yet another templar, a broodmother. That last he traced up the back of Anders's thigh to where it passed between his legs and gave the firm ass cheek above it a tight squeeze. "You have been pretty consistent about my appeal."

Cormac pulled Anders with him as he leaned in the direction of the bed, turning to avoid hitting a bedpost, in the hope of sprawling the wrong way across the bed, at some point soon. They really had gotten an enormous bed, and he fit almost as well across it as he did along it. Angle really didn't matter in the way it had on that tiny cot in the back of Anders's clinic, all those years ago.

"Well, your appeal has been consistent," Anders replied, letting Cormac and gravity bear him to the bed. He braced himself above Cormac on his elbows so as not to crush him. As Cormac was fond of pointing out, there was an awful lot of him. 

Anders shivered where indigo skin touched his. The touch was less like electricity and more like static, the promise of power, of more, in Cormac's fingers, making the hair on Anders's arms stand on end. His eyes flashed blue, and Anders remembered that he didn't need to keep Justice leashed, not here, not now.

"Be careful with that," Anders said in a tone that said he hoped Cormac wasn't. He took one of Cormac's hands in his and pressed it to his lips, sucking one glowing finger between his lips. He was relieved to find that Cormac didn't taste like Fenris, even like this, and he liked the way the Fade tickled along his tongue.

Cormac writhed, expectantly. "Careful? Now, why would I want to do that?" A few deep breaths intensified the glow, but Cormac remained solid, shielded with the Fade rather than drawn into it. "I mean, other than the part where you'd rather not slam into anything through me. That was bad. Let's not do that again. Maker. I guess it was twice, not just once. In my defence, I was drunk at the time."

He reached up to cup Anders's cheek, feeling the difference in the texture of the beard, where it pressed against the Fade, before his hand. It didn't feel more real, or less real, it just felt... differently real. As if he were perceiving it with senses he didn't usually have. Curling his fingers into Anders's hair, he ran his thumb along the curve of Anders's ear.

"Show me what you want. Both of you."

Anders let Cormac's finger slide out of his mouth, nipping the tip just hard enough to sting -- and that was an interesting feeling, the Fade against his teeth, a fine buzz against the bone, reaching to deeper nerve endings. Not for the first time, Anders wished he could remember what it had been like in the Vimmarck Mountains, between Justice and Cormac, but all he had were flashes of sensation.

But Justice remembered where he didn't, and he wanted to surround himself with that glow, to bury himself inside it until he remembered what it was like to be home. They hadn't been gentle that time, but even if Cormac hadn't complained, that wasn't how they -- Justice and Anders -- wanted it this time.

Anders brushed his lips against Cormac's, and Anders wondered when something as simple as a kiss would stop seeming so novel. Justice had him linger there a moment, just to marvel at the texture of the Fade against his lips, before Anders leaned in to worry his teeth along the lobe of one ear. "Let me taste you," he said, voice not quite Justice's rumble. "And then, let me ruin you."

With lips, teeth, and tongue, Anders traced his way down Cormac's glowing body. The Fade's crackle went well with orange.

Cormac arched and stretched, head tilting back as a long, low moan spilled out of him. "Please, yes. It's not Marketday, tomorrow. I don't have anywhere to be. I don't have to be able to walk."

As Anders moved down, Cormac bent his legs, twisting them out from under Anders's body to wrap them around Anders, instead. He kneaded Anders's back with his toes, feeling that same otherness in the texture and consistency of Anders's flesh that he'd felt with his fingers. He wasn't drunk, he wasn't in danger, and he wasn't looking at Fenris across his brother's chest... he could finally really appreciate that difference, take the time to enjoy the newness of this kind of touch. And to enjoy the same old sensation of Anders's teeth and tongue against his chest and belly. He doubted he'd ever tire of that.

But what stood out for him was that this time, he'd taken the time to invite Justice. He'd done it before, but never like this. Justice usually ... it seemed like Justice usually left them to whatever they were going to do. Took part as an observer and little more. But, really watching, with Fenris -- that had been Justice. That had, as he'd noticed, usually been Justice with Fenris, and he didn't begrudge them that, but he wondered if he hadn't done enough. On the other hand, maybe he wasn't Justice's type, which was also possible, but Anders seemed to think that wasn't the case.

He paused, hands clenched at a particularly hard bite, head pressed back into the bed, and realised he was debating with himself over whether a Fade spirit was interested in mercilessly reaming his ass. It was probably a good thing his parents hadn't survived to this point, although he had little doubt his father would've found it hilarious, if he'd ever found out.

In the end, glowing, it seemed, was Justice's type. The growling hum around Cormac was too deep a tone to be from Anders alone. Blue light lit in cracks along Anders's skin, and in the back of their mind, Anders wondered if they should have closed the curtains. At least they didn't have neighbours to worry about.

Chapter Text

For once, Anders let Justice drive. After some experience with Fenris, he was a bit less awkward, but Anders still coaxed him along. Anders remembered giving Artie similar instructions once, how to touch, where to bite, and he tried to remember a time where he didn't know Cormac's body like his own. With Cormac and the Fade on his tongue, Anders ran his own electricity up Cormac's thighs, a low current, to see how it would react.

"More," Cormac pleaded, as the electricity followed a somewhat different path than usual. He knew his legs. He knew that spell. But, the purpose of the spell he was using was originally deflection and refraction. He'd been tuning it from something that made him harder to hit and far more difficult to damage, if anything did land, to something that let the Fade surround him like another layer of skin. And he could hear his father's voice in the back of his head, telling him he was demon-bait. That was an accurate accusation, at the least, but Justice would protect him from anything that decided to take a closer look.

Now, it moved with him, like a lover, wrapped tight around him and passing on the pleasures Anders visited upon them. Him. The Fade wasn't another person, as much as he might argue with it, at times. And it definitely wasn't a spirit. Justice would've noticed. It was just the fabric of the next world, and as an outfit, it felt better than anything out of Orlais. It still thrummed and rippled like water, and he could feel the current of his own magic so much stronger in it, and the current of Anders's magic settled into gaps in the pattern, low pulses where gaps used to be, trills instead of peaks.

He wondered, idly, if this was anything like what Justice got out of the experience. Maybe he'd ask, when he remembered where he'd left his tongue. It had to still be attached. He was very definitely making sound.

And those were different sounds than what Anders had expected but still the kind that told him he was doing something right. His magic grew in intensity as Justice grew in confidence, hot ripples of electricity forking through the Fade's current, along Cormac's skin. Bracing an arm across Cormac's hips, pressed a jolt behind his balls just to feel his twitch.

It was more than just a twitch -- Cormac's toes dug into Anders's back, as he ground down harder against those fingers. "In--" he gasped, trying to find the rest of the words that went in that sentence. "Put that in me."

Usually, with Anders, Cormac could remember what words were and what order they went in, and he didn't have to pay attention in the least to what came out of his mouth, because it would be the right words for what he wanted. But, something about this... something about Justice so close to the surface, the difference in the thrum of the magic between them, was extremely distracting. Definitely not a bad thing, but definitely unexpected. He could understand what Fenris liked about this -- about Justice. Maybe. Or he was totally wrong and it was some weird lyrium thing. Whatever. He knew why he liked it, and that was good enough.

Perhaps they should have done this sooner if it made Cormac this incoherent this fast. Anders smiled around Cormac's knob, teasing with his teeth, and reached lower, pressing the tip of one finger in and feeling him clench at the shock of more electricity.

Anders -- Justice -- pulled off Cormac long enough to ask, "HOW DOES IT FEEL?" Justice tried to temper his voice, to make it something closer to the low purr Anders made at times like these, but even when soft, his voice filled the room.

Cormac thought this must be what desire demons offered, and once again, he felt a bit smug, knowing he'd be able to decline -- he had everything he wanted at home, just like he always had. ... Except his brother, and that, actually was terrifying, and a thought for later, because now, right now, his perceptions were filled with the spirit that had, until a moment ago, been sucking him off. And he was ever so glad his father's ashes were still interred in Ferelden. Southern Ferelden.

"I always wondered what it would be like to touch you for longer than it took Anders to come back to me." Cormac stretched his leg, hooking his heel against Justice's tailbone. "Did you not believe me, when I said I wanted you both, or did you just have better things to do, for all these years?" he teased, pointing his toes and rolling his hips.

Justice still did not pretend to understand human desires, but he was beginning to see the appeal. What that said about him wasn't something he wanted to think about, not when he had already experienced far more than any spirit was meant to. For a moment, Anders felt guilty, but luckily Cormac was a good distraction.

"I BELIEVED YOU," Justice answered with all seriousness. "I SIMPLY DID NOT UNDERSTAND."

Anders continued to guide Justice as he spoke, pressing a second sparking finger into Cormac. Anders wondered how annoyed Cormac would be if he murmured another spell, one to ease the way.

Cormac had no opinions at all for a few very long moments, consisting mostly of whining and moaning desperately, clutching at whatever flesh or spirit was available to his hands. He panted, as the current eased back, knob still twitching with every little spark. As his eyes re-focused on the gorgeous blue-glowing... seer, honestly, he realised. What does one call someone who joins with spirits, instead of demons? A seer. Either way, his eyes began taking in the details of Anders and Justice, over him, and he smiled warmly, even as his knob dribbled streaks of clear fluid across his belly in time to the sparks inside him.

"And now?" he breathed. "Is this something you enjoy?"

Justice took a moment to weigh that word before answering. A Spirit of Justice was not meant to enjoy such things, and yet... "IT IS... PLEASANT," he admitted. At Anders's dry amusement, he wondered if there had been something wrong in that word choice. But it was pleasant, the way the Fade folded around him in the shape of Cormac's body. Even Cormac's enjoyment pleased him, the sounds he made in response to simple touches.

Still stroking Cormac's insides, Justice asked haltingly, "DO YOU WANT... MORE?" It was the sort of thing Anders asked or was asked in these situations, wasn't it?

"I do," Cormac assured him. "I want everything Anders will let you give me."

And that was it, really. Cormac wasn't sure if Justice really understood, but Anders did. Anders would know what was too much. And if they both just went with whatever Anders decided, this would probably continue to be an intensely pleasurable experience, for all three of them.

"Do you remember the first time I -- the first time we -- that one time, in front of my entire family and pretty much everyone we knew?" Cormac's eyes squeezed shut, in embarrassment. "I remember thinking that if we survived, I wanted to do that again, but with a little less being on fire, first. I remember feeling both of you, wondering what it felt like for you. Wondering if either of you would remember any of it. I think we made history. The first time a southern mage fought off a magister of tremendous power with nothing but willpower and an unconquerable ass."

Anders had a few comments about unconquerable asses, but all Justice said was, "I REMEMBER. AND I AM GLAD NO ONE IS ON FIRE THIS TIME. AND I IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE GLAD THAT WE HAVE NO AUDIENCE THIS TIME EITHER." Anders certainly was, though Justice didn't particularly care. A human sense of shame still wasn't something he understood, and Anders wasn't the best teacher of it anyway.

The Fade's current shifted as Justice pulled his fingers free, and Justice basked in its pleasant hum as he fitted the length of his body to the length of Cormac's. Like coming home, for both spirit and mage, and Anders had to wonder when Cormac had become home for him. 

Cormac wrapped himself around Justice's body, feeling Anders's heart pounding against his glowing chest. "I want you," he breathed. "Both of you. All of you. Tear me apart, pretty thing."

He tangled his fingers in that long, gold hair -- lighter and longer, every time he looked at it -- and pulled them down for a kiss that left him breathless even before their lips met his. It was like standing on the cliffs of Sundermount, with a storm coming in, but sweet, somehow. A sharp, sweet, metallic taste and the smell of lightning, and then that tongue that had already tasted so much of him was in his mouth, and the storm washed through his head, bright light and visions of colour, sparks in his hair, and a bottomless feeling of rightness. Contentment. And beard-fluff.

Clutching at Justice's back, he rolled his hips, pressing himself demandingly against the lean, hard body above him.

Both of you. Cormac was the only one who had asked for that, who would ask for that, and though Justice respected that, it was Anders who appreciated it. Cormac was accepting all of him, of them. Not just whatever part he liked best.

Anders -- Justice -- bent in for another kiss, marvelling again at the difference in texture, at the sparks -- literal sparks -- that passed between them, magic to magic. There was a sweetness, a softness, to the gesture that stood in contrast to the near merciless way they pushed into Cormac, hands tight on Cormac's hips. Quick enough to hurt, but not enough to break, and always, always Anders had his healing ready at his fingertips, needed or not.

Cormac howled at the first sudden thrust, pulling Anders closer with his heels. Anders and Justice moved together, this time, the timing much more precise than it had been in the Deep Roads. And, unfortunately, less of that double thrusting. Still, if that was the price for doing this without anyone coming to harm, it was a small one. A small price for a very, very large--

"More," Cormac pleaded, rocking his hips and trying to force himself down onto that painfully thick knob, thrumming with spirit energy. "Oh, Justice, yes! Anders, please!"

He could feel the Fade clinging close to him, moulding around Justice, like it had its own thoughts on the subject. It was like being present at a reunion of lovers, being invited to participate in something far more intimate than anything he and Anders had between them. The sensations in him, on his skin, were breathtaking, and for a moment, he did forget to breathe, only taking the next breath when Anders forced the last one out of him with another jarring thrust.

"Oh, Cormac," Anders sighed with Justice's voice, because it was Cormac beneath him, albeit blurred and outlined in Fade glow. Even with the fragments of memory between them, the sensations felt new, the current of the Fade, the pulse of magic between them, setting a rhythm for Justice's hips to follow. As good as the lyrium elf had felt against and inside him, he had never enveloped him quite like this.

Chapter Text

Their combined light danced along the walls, rippling like water and deepening shadows. Justice did not hear the creak of the door, and he might not have heeded it if he had.

"Harder, please, harder!" Cormac begged, and there was no doubt the camel could hear him, and his screams turned blood-curdling when Anders complied, drowning out any other sounds in the room.

But, the screams of pleasure stopped suddenly as the bed dipped behind Cormac's head, weighted down by something unexpected. "What--?"

"Nyow!" Purrsino announced, kneading his way into the thick cushion of Cormac's hair.

Justice didn't slow at all, but Cormac froze, awkwardly pinned between the spirit pistoning into him and the cat nesting against the top of his head. He still panted, little squeaks driven out of him with a few devastating thrusts, as he tried to convince the cat that on the bed -- in his hair -- was not somewhere there needed to be a cat, just then. Purrsino, of course, wasn't having it, and he nipped at Cormac's fingers, every time the man attempted to free himself from the small but deadly bundle of fluff.

Justice noticed the cat and Cormac's flailing attempts to dislodge him, but he saw no reason to stop, at least not until Anders erupted into hiccuping laughter in the back of his mind. That laughter bubbled up from their shared lungs until it became actual sound, and Anders pressed their head to Cormac's chest until laughter became cackles.

"Purrsino, no," Anders said, still laughing, still with his own voice. Blue still flickered over him, but Justice sat back, waiting. "Shoo. I'll feed you later!" 

Attempts to dislodge the cat resulted in a warning growl -- from the cat when Anders nudged him -- and a startled yelp -- from Anders when the cat whacked him in retaliation. Cormac's hair, it seemed, was too comfy a spot to relinquish. Purrsino's large ears twitched in a way that reminded him of Fenris.

"That is my head!" Cormac's voice was a bit strangled, between the pressure in him, the pressure on him, and the cat clawing at his scalp. "As if I needed another reason to go back to wearing plaits!"

Squirming under Anders's still-glowing body, Cormac managed to get both arms above his head at once, and he tried hugging Purrsino, knowing that used to work with Assbiter. And it did seem to work, as Purrsino attempted to leap over his arms... only to fail, claws thoroughly tangled in Cormac's hair. After a bit of yowling and thrashing, Purrsino returned to his calmly coiled state.

"I don't know about you, but this was not a feature of the delightfully sexy evening I meant to have," Cormac deadpanned, looking straight up to where Anders leaned over him. "I'm thinking I have to get the cat a sheepskin. Maybe I need to get one for Harellan, too, so they won't fight over it." He paused. "This... we are not done, but the cat has to go."

Anders's lips were pressed thin still as he tried not to laugh. "At least he's not biting your ass," he pointed out, and though he missed precious Assbiter, he didn't miss that part of having him around.

Anders tried to poke at the cat, but he just yowled in protest. Assbiter, at least, was like an assassin; he'd strike, and then he was gone.

"Come on, Purrsino," he coaxed, slowly trying to extricate the cat's claws from Cormac's impressive hair. He really didn't want to have to get up and lure the cat away with food, but the hissing wasn't promising. "Maybe I should have called you Mewedith."

Either the cat was insulted by his comment or all the prodding had finally become aggravating, because Purrsino finally jumped up with a spitting hiss, ears back and tail twitching.

Cormac thumped the bed beside the cat with the back of one hand. "Go bother Harellan. We'll come see you both, when we're done here."

Cats. Just another thing he'd become accustomed to, in his time with Anders, he reflected, as Purrsino yowled in irritation and fled the room. He'd probably have to rinse the pee out of his sandals, later. Of course, in the moment, there was something else he'd intended to become accustomed to, with Anders -- Justice. He wondered, for a moment, if this would make kissing them stop working, when he needed to calm them down, but perhaps it would still be distracting enough, even if it wasn't something Justice would flee.

"How's your nose, sweet thing? He didn't swat you too hard, I hope." Cormac's fingers traced the side of Anders's nose, out along his cheekbone, down into that thick, plaited beard. "And you are sweet, you know. Or maybe it's Justice. Sweet like licking coins. You're the other kind of sweet. Also very pretty. Downright ornamental."

Anders barely felt the scratch across his nose, but he brushed a bit of healing along it just in case. Scars from battles were one thing, but scars from cats? Less interesting. Unless it was from a particularly vicious cat. 

"Is that why you keep me around? To make the house look pretty?" Anders batted his eyelashes. "Though it's hard to feel pretty with all this beard in the way." 

Anders rubbed his bearded cheek against Cormac's, and, since he figured they'd already passed into the realm of ridiculous, he made exaggerated purring noises. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Justice was waiting with all the humour of a wet cat.

"It's a pretty beard!" Cormac insisted. "It's got beads in it and everything. Maybe you should add some flowers, for the wedding. Maybe you should let me do your beard for the wedding. I've got spells for that." He tipped his head back and kissed a flicker of blue that darted across Anders's cheek. "But, that's later. Much later. Didn't we have something better to do, now? Weren't you going to make me ache for you, ache from you, hurt so good I wake up in the middle of the night just to grind against your thigh?"

His hands wandered Anders's body, tracing the deep lines of muscle. Unlike him, Anders never really got soft around the edges. Once he started putting muscle back on, that was all he put on. All sharp edges and hard flesh, not that Cormac had any complaints.

Justice took that as his cue that the cat-sized interruption was over, and Anders yielded to his control when he pushed forward curiously. The Fade still licked around him pleasantly, like wading through sun-warmed water. And the warm, yielding body beneath him was pleasant too, Justice decided, though he wondered if that was more Anders's thought than his. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell.

"THAT WAS THE PLAN, YES," Justice agreed, voice pitched low. He was still buried inside Cormac, still felt every twitch and shift of his body, and his hips pressed forward, chasing that sparkling pleasure from before. His breath hitched, the low noise he made echoing strangely in his voice.

"Show me what you like," Cormac encouraged, tilting his hips up to take yet more of the flagpole. "Tell me what you want. It doesn't matter if it makes sense. Making sense is not a requirement, as I'm sure you've noticed, over the years."

He flexed, squeezing the flagpole inside him, feeling the touch of Justice's essence on parts of his body he never imagined a spirit might touch intentionally. "I know what Anders likes. I know he likes it when I wring him tight and tease his scars until he gives in and pounds me so hard I can barely catch my breath. I know he likes things he doesn't want to like, but I don't mind them. But, I don't know what you like."

His fingers finally made contact with the scar in the centre of Anders's upper back, just to the side of the spine, and he pulled against the Fade, feeling the rush over his hands and the warning sound of his magic finding fault in the idea.

Justice started to say that he wasn't sure what he liked either, but then that touch, there, that brush of Fade and finger just under the surface of knotted skin... that he liked. He didn't recognise the sound he made in response to that, the growling, aching note it pulled from his stomach.

"THAT IS GOOD," he said, hips moving as though on their own, muscle memory taking over when Justice's experience failed him. "YOUR HANDS. I LIKE YOUR HANDS IN MY SKIN." They weren't lined with lyrium, so they didn't have that extra bite, that dizzying high of sensation, but they still held the Fade's current, tingling and electric.

In it, Cormac noted, not on it. Had his fingers become tacky again? Were his internal organs still where he'd left them? Nothing hurt, as he flagpole slid in and out of him, so he was probably all right, yet. As long as Anders pulled out, before he became solid again, there wouldn't be too many unexpected surprises, aside from whatever else Anders left in interesting places, but there hadn't been any terrible aftereffects from that, last time.

His fingers pressed against the scar, again, and sank in to the bone of his fingertips. Just the flesh, then. Not too dangerous, whatever sounds of complaint he could hear. It wasn't the sort of thing he was used to doing, at the very least. Kneading at the scar, now, his fingers moved in time to Justice's breathing, and if he flicked one finger just so, at just the right time, he could hear Justice's breath catch.

Justice, it seemed, liked having their scars touched too, though whether that had more to do with the scar or with the spell was open to interpretation. "MORE OF THAT," he said, rutting into Cormac in a way that Anders assured him he liked. Justice was still cautious, not quite as rough with Cormac as Anders knew they could be, but he trusted Anders's advice when coaxed into shifting his weight to thrust from a different angle, when told to bite here or to press his nail there. All the while, his senses narrowed to the ripple of indigo around him and the fingers just under his skin.

Anders was rushing him, tonight, Cormac noticed, under the haze of delicious pain and smooth pleasure. Probably to show Justice that these were good things. Probably also because Anders actually did need to get back to those potions at some point. That was fine with him -- he wasn't the one who would suffer for stopping early, and he'd get the chance to make it up to Anders, later, after he'd recovered a bit.

He kept kneading at that scar, his other hand dipping down into the barest space between their hips, to toy with a scar he knew Anders, and not just Justice, liked him touching, fingers sinking into the taut, soft curves of flesh, where Anders had once been disembowelled. This scar, he knew, was Anders's favourite, however horrible it was, and this was the scar Cormac had learnt to worship with his touch and his tongue.

The only breaks in Cormac's screams of pleasure came when he needed to breathe in.

Justice shuddered at the touch along this other scar. He had Anders's memories of sensations, his own memories of Anders's experiences, but rarely did a simple touch light up his skin like this. "CORMAC," he said, one name in two voices, Anders and Justice somehow speaking at once. It was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began when their world had narrowed to touch and heat and pressure. 

Anders prayed no other cats interrupted them. Justice doubted he would stop even if they did. The bed squeaked under them, but it had survived worse.

"I'm here," Cormac panted, tongue numb with the rolling ripple of the Fade. "I promise."

And those words were the last he managed. Not even another howl for more slipped past his lips, before he lost control, clinging desperately to Justice and his own magic as he spurted across his belly, his wrist, the indigo glow of the Fade still clinging to his skin. He didn't want to hold on to the magic. It didn't want to be held. But, he knew if he let go, no one was going to be happy, and that was not what he wanted next. But, with every thrust into his rag-limp body, it got harder and harder to hold the spell where he needed it to be, and the magic started having opinions of its own.

Justice felt the magic waver but hold, the Fade still caressing and electrifying his skin, and feeling Cormac come apart around him had its own effect. He stopped holding back then, one hand tight on Cormac's hips as he chased that sparking pleasure at the base of his spine. Blue light broke over his skin in pulsing fissures, like Fade-blue veins showing just how fast his heart was beating. 
Then his rhythm stuttered and stilled, and he pressed in as deep as he could go, with no space even for the Fade light between their bodies. For a moment, his vision was nothing but blue and indigo, and as he floated, weightless, he thought he might be going home. Fucked into the Fade, Anders would say, and even dazed, Justice could hear his amusement.

When gravity returned, it was with extra force, and Justice -- Anders's -- body felt like lead. With noodle-limbs. Noodle-limbed lead. He laid like that for a moment, catching his breath against Cormac's neck.

Cormac wrestled his hand out from between them, draping his arm across Anders's back with the other one. "Okay," he panted, warm, loose-limbed, and aching for more. "More of that, but... less Fade. You remember what happened last time I dropped it. So, just... as soon as you can find all the parts of your body, you should probably take them out of all the parts of my body, so we don't ... have problems, when I dispel this. It's really an awful lot of thinking, right now, and I want to do less thinking about things that aren't your gorgeous naked body pressed against me."

He paused, taking advantage of the weight of Anders's body on him to enjoy the places they were both occupying at the same time. Still, having someone leaning directly on the bones of his ribs wasn't nearly as pleasing as some of the other intersections, and he had some concerns about what his belly might be doing to Anders's internal organs. Or maybe what Anders's hips were doing to his. "If you like it, I'll get better at this."

Anders huffed a laugh against -- into -- Cormac's neck, and slowly, as though uprooting himself, disentangled the two of them. It took a bit to figure out which body parts were his and where they were supposed to be. Two people occupying one space was enough, he decided. Three people was just getting excessive. 

With a groan, Anders rolled to the side of Cormac, the air cool against his sweaty skin, and made sure that no part of him was touching Cormac or that enticing indigo glow. He grinned at his glowing bedmate. "I want you to know that Justice is purring like a kitten in the back of my mind." Looks like they'd found a new way to quiet him down. Anders only wished they'd tried it sooner.

"Just what we need," Cormac groaned, stretching and slowly releasing the glow from the parts of his body he was sure weren't intersecting anything else, "another cat."

As he became sure the Fade had released him and he was quite himself and only himself again, he rolled over and nibbled Anders's collarbone. "I do like petting this one, though. And what about you, hmm? Do I have time to make you purr, or do you need to check the time on those potions, before I try to get you to make some noise for me?"

Anders tangled his fingers in Cormac's hair and muttered a curse under his breath. "Right. Shit. I have potions going." He groaned, head pressing back into the pillow. For a moment, he was tempted to ruin the batch and just stay in bed, hopefully making it squeak some more. 

He pulled Cormac up to kiss him, lingering a bit longer than he meant to before pulling away. "Ten minutes," Anders said, one hand still on Cormac as he poured himself out of bed. "Then you can make me purr all you want, and I'll make you yowl." Finally, he let go, his stare smouldering before he made for the door.

Chapter Text

As they led the camel up the wide road to the market, in the centre of the village, Cormac could already hear the shouting. A great deal of it was in Ander, but the parts in Common he could make out. Something about the only god Thedas needed being the Maker, he thought. And heresy. And villainous corruption. And the Blight.

"I think we should leave Harellan at the barber's," he said, as they came into the market to find Jan the Importer, as opposed to any of the other twelve 'Jans' in this village of only a couple hundred people, shouting at one of the Tevinter traders he sometimes bought from. The buying and selling had just about stopped, and everyone in the market was watching when Jan the Importer threw a full crate of Tevinter oils into the river.

"There is no god but the Maker, and Andraste is his prophet!" Jan the Importer shouted, waving a pamphlet in the trader's face. "I will not pay for you to raise your demon gods and bring the Blights down on us again. We have had five of them, Vasilia! Five Blights from the seven demon gods of Tevinter! I will not pay for you to raise an eighth! Nor for you to re-raise a demon the Wardens put down!"

Anders raised an eyebrow at Cormac. He didn't know how much of that Cormac had caught, but that last bit had been fairly clear. As had the tossing of the oils. He pushed forward a bit to get a better vantage point, though he was tall enough to see over most heads.

"I hope your 'Maker' is going to pay for those goods!" the Tevinter trader -- Vasilia -- snapped back. "Or is he going to strike me down with lightning for worshipping a real god?" She threw out her arms in invitation. "Well? I'm waiting!"

Anders toyed with the idea of throwing a lightning spell at her for a laugh, but he was rather fond of his freedom.

"With lightning?" Jan the Importer scoffed. There were angry veins visible on his neck, but he straightened and smiled, looking smug. "No. The Maker himself has sent us a guardian, one who reveals himself at night. I suggest you watch where you sleep tonight, 'Vint."

Cormac nudged his way through the crowd, wishing Anton was with him. Anton could work a crowd like this. Anton could work the trader's cart, like this. Still, he came up smiling and speaking Common with the heaviest Southern Bannorn accent he could manage. "Ho, Jan! What's with all the shouting?"

The importer looked up, surprised, just in time for Cormac to clap him heavily on the back.

"Is it a bad day for grapes, do you think? The prices have been getting very high, out of Tevinter," Cormac went on, slipping the pamphlet out of Jan's hand. "What's this? The new prices? Are they so worth shouting about?" He unfolded the pamphlet and held it upside-down. His Tevene was terrible, but he could at least tell which end was up, and that was not it.

"Tevinter's trying to bring back their demon-gods!" Jan the Importer bellowed. "It's trying to tell us how much better off we'd be, if we gave up our faith in the Maker and Andraste and turned ourselves over to the Archdemons!" Jan reached out and turned the pamphlet the right way in Cormac's hand. "See here? It says 'Make Tevinter Great Again'! And here's 'Do You Know Dumat?'"

Anders squinted and craned his neck, trying to get a better look at the pamphlet in Cormac's hand. Dumat? Anders tried not to toy with the amulet under his robes. At least it wasn't Urthemiel. He and Cormac would have had a good laugh about that afterwards.

"It's not like I'm holding a sword to your throat!" Vasilia snapped. "All it is is information. You are free to talk about your god, so why am I not free to talk about mine?"

"Because my god didn't turn into an archdemon!" Jan shouted. There were angry veins in his forehead now to match the ones on his neck.

"At least we both know my god exists!" Vasilia snapped, folding her arms across her chest, crumpling her complicated sleeves. "At least my god actually affects the world. What does yours do? And save your paltry threats about the 'Maker's guardian'. We both know that's hogwash."

Anders tried not to shift uncomfortably. 'Hector' appearing before farmers and townsfolk was one thing, but to a Tevinter? She would have grown up around magic and spirits. She would know exactly what he was.

Cormac took a huge breath like he might start shouting right along with Jan, but he fell to coughing, and as he pounded on his chest, a single bright bolt lanced down from the sky and crackled loudly through the spines of the trader's fashionable Tevinter hat. "Well, I did mean to warn you of it," Cormac choked out, "but I seem to have inhaled a bit of dust. Your pardon, and what. Seems the spirit's out early, today."

Vasilia's eyes narrowed as she pinned Cormac with a glare.

"Look out!" Jan cried, pushing Vasilia back against her cart, as another bolt fell from the sky, this one darkening the ground around it, as a few more crates slid off the back of the cart, into the river, and Cormac tripped over Jan's table and fell flat on his ass.

"Harellan!" Cormac called out, scrambling to his feet. "Balls, I hope it doesn't spook my camel!"

The camel bucked against Anders's grip, eyes wild, but Anders hushed him, grip tight on the bridle as he pet Harellan's snout.

"Get off me," grated out Vasilia, shoving Jan away from her to straighten her clothes, her shaking hands all that betrayed her unaffected manner. She looked back at her cart and swore when she saw more of her crates, bobbing in the water. "Kaffas! I have had it with this Blight-touched backwater! You want to lose my business? Consider it lost!"

With a flutter of voluminous sleeves, Vasilia waved off Jan the Importer and the rest of the market, shooting another withering glare Cormac's way. She gathered up the goods that had fallen without landing in the water and tossed them back into her cart, her every movement clipped and angry.

Anders considered another lightning strike at her departing ass, only to decide it was better to not push it.

"Dumat, I've heard of," Cormac admitted, holding the pamphlet the right way and squinting at the words, "but, who's this 'old man' they're talking about?" He tapped a line he could only sort of make sense of. Religion and magic, he could do in most languages. It was things like buying eggs and getting directions he had trouble with. And building beds, apparently.

"Elder One, not 'old man'," Jan the Importer laughed. "Old man. I'll call him that if she comes back. I don't know. Some crazy Vint who thinks the Imperium should use forbidden magic to take over the rest of Thedas. Same shit they're always selling, just with a different face on it, now. I never thought Vasilia would be one of them, though. She always seemed like her interest was more in coin than religion. Maybe Hector can set her straight."

"Seems like he already tried," Cormac pointed out, gesturing to the singed spot.

"I don't see why he didn't just fry her ass to the ground," Jan muttered.

"Sure you do, or you wouldn't have pushed her out of the way." The corner of Cormac's mouth tipped up. "She's got some ideas that are dangerous, but she's not hurting anyone with them. Not yet, anyway. There's still time for her to remember that the only two Old Gods left are just biding their time before they turn into archdemons. Dumat destroyed Tevinter. Rained fire on Minrathous, they say. There's no way any right-minded person can think that's a better way. But, she can't figure it out if she's dead. I mean, really, isn't it to us to love the Maker? You can't love the Maker if you fear the Maker."

Jan chuckled dryly and clapped Cormac on the shoulder. "You are a wiser man than I am, Mack. That doesn't change that I would have liked to see her ass a little more singed, but I suppose you're right. Hector certainly agrees, and he'd know better than either of us."

Without all the shouting and throwing of crates, the crowd lost interest and started to disperse. The press of bodies was still tight, but it had shifted enough for Anders to steer Harellan through the crowd. "Are you two all right?" he asked, affecting wide-eyed concern. "You were both terribly close to that lightning!"

Jan the Importer laughed and waved off Anders's concern. "Would Hector harm one of his own? It gave me a fright but nothing worse."

Anders forced a smile, not wanting to point out that that depended on Hector's aim, not his intent. Next to him, Harellan nudged Anders's head and started to chew on his hair.

Chapter Text

"The blind's down on the gate," Cormac pointed out, as they led the camel and a full cart toward their house. "We should come up through the camel gate and sneak up on whoever that is through the house. The wind's not up, so whoever's in there is probably sleeping, thinking no-one's coming home for a while. I don't like it. I know that's how things are, here, but after Kirkwall... They're expecting us to come in that way, blind. I'm not doing it."

A touch of magic silenced the huge, heavy gate that led into the yard, as he and Anders worked it open. The gate was, of course, no easier to use than any other way past the forearm-thick wall that blocked the house from casual inspection. But, it was their gate, and they could get it open and closed fairly quickly, even with a difficult camel, which Harellan wasn't being, today. Strangely, Purrsino didn't appear, as they led Harellan into the barn, but sand cats were wild, no matter how much one fed them. One more sound that wouldn't give them away.

"Cover the cart and leave it, for now," Cormac suggested, remembering how his father had taught him to approach an ambush laid in their house. He was sure it wasn't -- not really -- but the Ander custom of offering shelter along the road never ceased to make him think it. Just in case. Always cautious, just in case. Especially after Kirkwall.

Anders nodded and obeyed. Always better to be careful, especially people like them, especially after the things they had done. He gestured for Cormac to go ahead of him, slipping his staff out of the cart. Put the man with the sword in front or, failing that, put the man with the shields in his place. What had happened back at the market still had him on edge. They'd been careful not to let anyone see them cast, sure, but sometimes careful wasn't enough.

An ambush wouldn't have surprised him. But the woman's shriek followed by cursing in Tevene did.

Anders quirked an eyebrow at Cormac. The Tevinter was too fast for him to catch, but the voice was familiar. He twisted his fingers, readying a spell for when they spotted her.

Cormac ducked into the bedroom and grabbed his glaive, which he didn't tend to take shopping with him. The wards were still armed and it didn't look like she'd even tried to get into the house. In the midst of the next shriek, he whipped back the bold and threw open the front door, which led to the shelter at the front of the house.

"What in the name of all things great and holy...?" That was definitely Vasilia, as far as Cormac could tell, and her donkey, but... swarmed with cats. "We shut the windows when we left, didn't we. They're in here for whatever drove her in, because we shut the windows." He burst out laughing and leaned the glaive beside the door as he crouched. "C'mere, Purrsino. Who's a good cat? Probably not you, but that's fine," he cooed, scratching at his robes at the knee.

Vasilia spun on them in a whirl of dark fabric, not quite able to hide the startled look on her face in time. She drew herself up, trying to look as regal as she could with sand cats gnawing at and climbing her robes. The donkey braying at her back didn't help the effect. "You!" She narrowed her eyes at Cormac. "Did you really think no one would notice?"

As she hissed and spat, Purrsino bounded up to Cormac, tail up and curling. He sniffed and pawed at Cormac's hand as though expected it to be holding his dinner. Spoiled beast.

"Notice what?" Anders asked, purposely dense. "Your ridiculous outfit under the swarm of fur-beasts? I noticed! But then, I'm just so very observant."

"Notice that we locked the windows, so the cats couldn't get in? Yeah, I did, actually. I've got a chicken marinating." Cormac blinked up at the woman, as he scooped up Purrsino. "I was going to ask if you wanted supper, since that's what we do when we find people in the shelter, but Creators, not if you're going to act like that --" Two cats darted past him. "Shit, Jan, go put the chicken in the icebox before the cats get it! I'll come deal with the oven after we're done here."

"You're a mage!" Vasilia insisted, jabbing a finger at Cormac.

"I'm a southern barbarian," Cormac replied, drily. "I don't know any of your Tevinter handwaving shit. We've got some nice dwarven-made stuff in the kitchen, but magic? Are you crazed? I'd be living in some fancy tower in Hossberg and probably eating better!"

There was a hysterical edge to Anders's laugh as he ducked back inside, hoping he got to the chicken in time. Cormac could handle himself for a minute or two. If Vasilia couldn't handle a couple of sand cats climbing her skirts, she stood no chance against him.

"Your lies might be good enough for the local riff-raff..." Vasilia sniffed, toeing a cat off her shoe. It hissed at her and scampered off. "But don't make that mistake with me. I know magic. I know mages. I know exactly where that lightning came from. Are you their 'Hector', then? Must be hard to live up to that standard."

"Considering their 'Hector' glows in the dark and shoots lightning out of his ass, I'd think it would be. I'm a date farmer. I don't have time to be chasing around after every miscreant who pisses on a statue of Andraste. I'm too busy trying to turn this --" Cormac gestured around them. "-- this crap into arable land."

"And yet you also have the money for dwarfwork," Vasilia pointed out, crossing her arms, "and that implies black market dealings."

"No, it implies some very good investments in a port town that allow me to live like some noblewoman's heir." Cormac grinned and stood, Purrsino balanced on one shoulder. "And this is the Anderfels. I don't care how close to the river we are, it's still dry. You were just the tallest thing standing where that lightning wanted to go. You trade here often, right? Haven't you ever seen the storms with no rain? Lightning falling from a clear sky is nothing new."

"Lightning streaking right for me, twice in a row?" Vasilia scoffed. She folded her arms across her chest and glared down her nose at Cormac. "If it was after the 'tallest thing' in that area, I would think the lightning would have struck your friend." With her chin, she pointed at the path Anders had taken into the house.

As though summoned, Anders reappeared, a cat on each shoulder. "So you're saying it wasn't just nature?" Anders asked, feigning surprise. "You honestly believe it was the Maker threatening you, and you admit it?"

"I'm saying it was a nosey mage who is making enemies of the wrong people." Her voice was cold, the threat clear. "This is your only warning, mage. You do not want to be on the wrong side of the Venatori."

"Madame," Cormac pronounced in his very best Orlesian accent. "I don't know who you think we are, but we've been on the wrong side of the worst things Tevinter has ever delivered in its two thousand year history, and we're still more concerned about supper. I'd still prefer to avoid a repeat of that last archdemon, though."

"That's ridiculous. The archdemon was in Ferelden and the only people who fought it were..." A bit of the colour drained out of Vasilia's face as she started to put things together. Still, Wardens weren't supposed to involve themselves in politics. Still, this was the Anderfels. The Wardens owned the Anderfels, regardless of who sat on the throne.

"Grey Wardens." Cormac cocked a thumb over his shoulder at Anders. "And I told you I was a southern barbarian."

Anders gave her a cheeky wave, wiggling his fingers, and Vasilia visibly swallowed. "Now," he said, "I know you're having a bad day, so I'm not going to take that last bit too seriously. After all, I'm sure the Venatori don't want to make enemies of the Wardens either. That just sounds like a mess." 

Anders offered her his cheeriest smile, while one cat tried to climb from his shoulder onto Cormac's head. Its paw sank into his hair.

"And it looks like whatever storm brought you here has passed," Anders said, sticking his head out and making a show of looking around, "so if you don't mind, we'd like to get on with our dinner."

Cormac filled the doorway, under Anders's chin. Mages or not, they'd just established themselves as the last people anyone in their right mind would want to upset. "Don't let your donkey trip on the cats. They get terribly offended, and you've seen them offended. And now you've seen us offended. You have a nice night, and be careful where you leave those pamphlets, if you want to find somewhere to sleep, before you get to Tallo."

Vasilia checked for cats as she urged the donkey to its feet. As they left the shelter and set off down the road, Cormac shut the door and threw the bolt.

"Honestly, I don't know what she was expecting," he huffed, carefully turning to face Anders with too many cats on him. "It's a good thing she found us, though. I don't think the neighbours would've been nearly as pleasant."

"Vints," Anders sighed. "I'm beginning to wonder if they all have sticks up their asses." He leaned into Cormac with the shoulder no longer supporting a cat. "Speaking of sticks and asses, the sooner we have dinner, the sooner we can skip to dessert." He waggled his eyebrows.

"If you're thinking creamy filling, count me in." Cormac laughed and headed toward the kitchen, depositing cats on chairs, as he passed.




It was time for Anders to go shopping in the Dwarven Quarter of Kassel, again. Not just the Market, but a little shop in a back alley, tucked between a pho house and a laundry. The kind of place no one looked directly at, as they pretended the Merchants Guild wasn't just the respectable face of the Carta, which was still smuggling in fun things.

"Beardy," One of the dwarves addressed him, nodding and checking under the shelf in the vault in back. He came back out with a note. "I got some bad news. None of your blue beans, this month. We've got some supply problems in the south and Val Royeaux just doubled their order, this month, so all us little sellers got cut out of the loop. Gotta keep up with the big demand, or they'll start taking it out of Orzammar, and then where are we going to be?"

"Val Royeaux?" Anders repeated, brows knitting. He felt dreadfully out of touch with the outside world. The last news he'd had out of Orlais had been from Peryn about the mage rebellion. This wasn't connected, was it? "Leave it to the Orlesians to screw things up, eh?"

Justice was sitting up and paying attention, but behind his interest, Anders was running the numbers in his head, trying to remember how much lyrium he still had, as well as what and how many potions he could make with it.

The dwarf barked a laugh. "Right? Glad I'm on this side of the desert, either way. Heard it's a mess over there."

"As long as they're not marching north again, we'll be fine." Anders shook his head. "They're not, are they? They have made it across the desert, before, not that I'm sure how."

"Nah, nah. I heard they got some mage problems in the capital, and maybe somebody picking a fight with the empress. It's all very Orlesian." The dwarf laughed again, sorting parts of another shipment into boxes for the buyers. "Too busy sniffing enamel in those masks all day to come north."

"Picking a fight with the empress?" Anders blinked, hooking his thumbs in the back of his belt. "I wouldn't have thought Anora had it in her!"

"Anora? Nah, nah. It's all Orlesian, this time. Something about a bunch of elves starting a riot in one of those places I can't pronounce. And the empress stabbing some overenthusiastic suitor in the middle of a garden party. You ask me, she should marry the Queen of Ferelden, and put a stop to all the shit in the south. Trade is murder, down there. Sometimes literally."

Anders's eyebrows crept towards his hairline. "Goodness. Guess I have been a bit behind." He couldn't tell if the guilt he felt was his or Justice's, that exciting things were happening in Orlais, some of it including the mage rebellion, while they were here, farming and policing chicken thieves. Which was no less important, he reminded himself and Justice. Someone had to take care of the chicken thieves, even -- especially -- if they turned out to be cats.

The dwarf waved one hand dismissively. "Orlesians," he said with the same gruff tone in which Fenris used to say 'mages'. "Orlais has enough drama for ten kingdoms. I just wish its drama would stay out of my goods!"

So did Anders, but he supposed there was nothing for it.

Chapter Text

"There is a mage in this village!" Ingill insisted, jabbing a fork full of cheese and sausage at Yotte, over the table. "Lightning doesn't just fall out of the sky!"

"The Maker works in mysterious ways, Ingill. He has sent us Hector. No one has seen Hector in daylight, but few people in the village would be out spreading the good word about the dead gods of Tevinter. Perhaps it is too much for him to bear." Yotte served herself a healthy portion of a light and fluffy dish of lentils, eggs, and cheese.

"Hector -- whoever he really is -- lectures like he hasn't got to breathe. I've met him. He's incapable of shutting up, I think, and he's deafeningly loud. I heard the crack of the bolt touching down, but I didn't hear any shouting that wasn't from Jan the Importer." Ingill sipped her wine, watered down and spiced, just the way she liked it. "Come to think of it, Jan Ewaldsson was there, with that Rivaini halfwit he lives with."

"Half the village was there," Yotte argued, shrugging as she took a roll. "It was a clear day, until the winds picked up. Everyone buying and selling what they could do without going over the river. I think you just don't like Jan and Mack."

"I don't dislike them any more than I dislike anyone else," Ingill protested, spearing a sausage with perhaps more violence than necessary. "But there's something odd about them. Freak lightning strikes, Hector... none of that used to happen around here before they arrived."

Yotte listened politely, but her small smile said she was humouring Ingill. "Then perhaps we should consider them our good luck charms, sent by the Maker."

Sullenly, Ingill took a bite of her sausage, breathing a sigh out through her nose. Yotte was a good woman, a holy woman, but sometimes she could be incredibly dense. On purpose, Ingill sometimes suspected. "Or one of them is a mage."

"I'd like to remind you that Jan grew up here and wasn't a mage then." Yotte smiled indulgently. "It's awfully late in his life for him to be developing such talents!"

"Then it's the halfwit," Ingill muttered.

Yotte sipped her wine. "If you're so terribly convinced, then talk to Ser Peryn. He spends more time with those two than either of us has, and I'm sure he could tell you more."

"I will!" Ingill declared, before muttering a few uncharitable words into her drink.



The next Washday, Peryn appeared at his usual time, arriving on the afternoon ferry. He brought with him the latest pronouncements from the Chantry in Hossberg and the list of likely apostates who might have found their way into the nation. He tended to doubt those lists, though. No mage in their right mind would come to the Anderfels. If they came north at all, it would be toward Tevinter. The only mages he'd dealt with outside the tower were frightened children who just needed a little magebane and a cookie. It was amazing how quickly the little ones calmed down when he started talking about the tower and how the Wardens came there to pick the very best and strongest mages. By the time he took them away, they wanted to go. And their parents were usually so relieved not to have to worry about them hurting anyone, any more.

Ingill was waiting for him on the steps of the Chantry, a pitcher of that wet wine she drank sitting beside her as she read her book and glanced up, from time to time, to get a look at the crowd. As soon as she saw Peryn, she waved and poured another glass. "Ser Peryn! Right on time!" Down went the book, as she held out a glass. "There's been some excitement in town, and while Mother Yotte seems to think it's just 'Hector' -- and I still don't know if that's really who he is -- I'm sure there's a mage in the village somewhere. Lightning doesn't just fall from the sky onto convenient worshippers of the archdemons."

Peryn took the proffered wine glass with an indulgent, if confused, smile. He settled onto the step next to her, adjusting his robes so they weren't bunched under him. "So it's true, then? About the lightning? I had heard rumours about what happened, but by the time the stories got to me, the Maker himself was pointing a finger down through the clouds to smite the Tevinter himself." He chuckled over his wine, watching the way the sunlight glittered across its surface. "Did you see it happen?"

"I did." Ingill nodded decisively and pointed out into the market. "It happened right over there. I heard Jan the Importer shouting and came out onto the steps to investigate. Have you ever heard that man shout? I'd be surprised if the Fereldans didn't hear him." As she spoke, Ingill went through that day in her mind, tried to picture the lightning, the way it fell. "The timing was too perfect. Vasilia sneered at the Maker to strike her down, and then there was lightning. As much as I enjoy the idea of the Maker smiting Tevinters, you have to agree with me that there are other explanations that are, statistically, more likely."

"You think it wasn't Hector or the Maker? You don't think there are mages, here, do you?" Peryn chuckled, sipping the wine as he set down his bag next to Ingill's book.

"Of course it was mages!" Ingill looked shocked that he could even question that. "Although, I have to ask myself how offended I should be about a mage who is willing to defend the honour of the Maker and Andraste, in broad daylight. All the same, it's still dangerous, and you're a templar. You deal with dangerous mages all the time."

"Are you sure it was even someone from the village? Right here in the market, there are always traders coming through, and horsemen for the riverboats, and the people on holiday who got off the boat in the wrong place. It could just as easily been any of them, if it was anyone at all." Peryn shrugged, taking out the list of apostates. "Here's the latest list -- after what happened in Val Royeaux, I don't even know how many of them are still alive. I heard some bodies were... It was not good. Does anyone on there look familiar?"

"What kind of idiot name is 'Anders'?" Ingill asked, right at the top of the first page. "And that description could be anyone in this village or any other on the river! They didn't even know his name before they lost him? What kind of templars do they have in the south?"

Peryn shrugged and sipped his wine, making a noise of approval in the back of his throat. "This isn't bad!" he said, holding up his glass. At her impatient look, he sighed and addressed her questions. "Perhaps they could not pronounce it? I hear it's common enough for southerners not to be able to wrap their tongues around our names. I would say, 'Perhaps he is unimportant', but then he wouldn't be at the very top."

"Useless," Ingill grumbled, shaking her head as she scanned down the list. No names were familiar, but she didn't think they would be. Anyone on the run would change their name... and likely not end up in some Anderfel town, but then, who would look there? "And they can't pronounce our names, but then they have ridiculous names like... Joe-wan? Jow-an?"

She scanned the list for anyone described as Rivaini but had no luck. Damn.

"Don't work yourself into a state over it," Peryn said, accepting the papers back. "I'm not saying that was a mage, but if so? It worked out in our favour. But I will keep an eye out for newcomers."

"Into a state? Hardly. But, mages wandering through villages, dropping lightning on whoever they please, is something Andraste worked very hard to end. It isn't something we should return to, now," Ingill huffed.

"Because if we did that, we'd be Tevinter?" Peryn smiled as he put the pages back into his bag. "At least this one has some moral objection to Tevinter ways. And much better control than you usually see on an apostate. One lightning strike, not a whole storm."

"Two," Ingill argued, just to be contrary. "Two lightning strikes. But, they both hit the same mark. It's not natural. The chances of that having just been the dry wind..."



Later that day, over a different drink that was more his style, Peryn laughed about it. "Honestly, Jan," he said in his thickly accented Common, "I have never known more of a cynic than Sister Ingill."

"Few mortals have," Anders replied, pouring himself a drink from the pitcher, and then another for Cormac.

"You know, after that lightning-strike," Peryn went on, waving his finger in Anders's direction, "she believes a mage to be here. In this town. I find this sad! She serves the Maker but does not trust him? How did she become a sister?"

"A touch of scepticism can be a good thing," Anders said, carefully not looking at Cormac. "Though I think Sister Ingill has more than a touch." He pulled the plate of pickles closer to him and plucked up whichever was closest.

"A mage, here?" Cormac looked around the tavern. "I was standing right next to that woman when the first bolt struck. I'd like to think I'd have noticed a mage! I mean, don't they... glow and things? When they cast spells, I mean."

Peryn cackled, slapping the table. "Glowing mages! Oh, that's a good one. The apprentices back in Hossberg will love it." He chuckled and took a small date cake. "No, they don't glow unless they're making lights to see. Or fire. But, fire is bright no matter who makes it."

"But, if there was a mage, here... how would you find them? I mean, if they don't glow." Cormac watched Peryn with wide-eyed curiosity as he folded a few pickled peppers into a honeyed orange roll and took a huge bite.

"We have a list of all the mages who have run away from their homes or gone missing. Some of them... some of them, I hope they come to us in Hossberg. I have heard some stories that not all templars are as straightforward as ours. Some of those mages, though, I hope they are eaten by bereskarn, before they hurt any good people. Every man and woman can be good or bad. It doesn't matter if they're templars or mages or regular people." Peryn licked the sticky spots off his fingers and pulled out the list, putting it on the table. "I have been showing it around to the merchants. I do this every time I come through the village. The merchants see everyone eventually."

Anders licked his fingers before washing down his food with ale. "That's a good idea!" he said, poking at the food and carefully considering his next selection, surreptitiously eyeing the paper Peryn had laid on the table. "Do you mind if we take a look?"

"Of course!" said Peryn graciously, which Anders took to mean he did not mind. "You were at the market, yes? When the lighting? I showed it to Sister Ingill, but she recognised no one. Maybe you saw someone."

He still didn't think there was anyone to see, but he shrugged and slid the papers across to Anders. Anders angled the papers so that Cormac could read along with him and barked out a laugh when he saw the name at the top of the list. "What the fuck kind of name is 'Anders'?"

"What?" Cormac leaned over, cheeks bulging with cake, to get a closer look. "You're kidding. Who--? What--? And look at that description! That could be anyone we know! 'Tall man with blond hair and brownish eyes.'" He shook his head and washed the cake down with beer. "Suuuure, describe half the Anderfels. Are you sure this isn't someone playing a joke? I mean, that's really... kind of Orlesian."

"Does Orlais not have enough going on, with their own Circles?" Peryn asked, shaking his head right along with Cormac. "We have many names from Orlais on this list. Even the Grand Enchanter, if you can believe it. I do not think she has run away," he said, sadly.

"I don't know any of these names," Cormac said, looking at another page. "And the descriptions are so small. I must have seen ten people who looked like this woman, last week in the market over the river."

Anders hummed along with Cormac and said nothing about how he knew exactly who she was, though he remembered her going by a less flattering nickname at the time. The perils of having a name that rhymed with a part of the female anatomy. Whatever he thought of his lack of name, at least Anders didn't have that problem.

And that one there... The name was familiar, though he couldn't picture his face. Just the back of his head and the seat he'd taken in that class about the history of magic. And the next one... oh, Anders could remember his face, as well as a few other choice parts of his anatomy. Not to mention the broom closet he'd admired them in. And he wondered if those two at the bottom still had his shoes...

Missing. That's what he hoped they only were. Anders hadn't been particularly close with any of them, but he'd still known them. They were still mages. They were what he and Justice had been fighting for.

"I'm sorry," Anders told Peryn with a helpless shrug. "Nothing is standing out."

"Such a shame." Peryn shook his head, sadly. "I worry about them, you know? The Circle teaches many very important things, but it does not teach you to catch fish or make a farm. I hope someone is looking after them."

"If you ever want to spend a few years in the Marches," Cormac said, without thinking, "I'm sure Commander Cullen would be happy to have someone like you, in Kirkwall."

"Kirkwall is the place where the Chantry fell into a hole in the ground, yes? And they have let the mages out of the tower?" Peryn looked interestedly at Cormac over the rim of his tankard. "I should write a letter anyway and ask how that is working. Mages are very dangerous, and they need to be kept safe from themselves, while they learn how to be less dangerous. The good ones, they do this. The bad ones learn to be more dangerous and much more sneaking. Like thieves. Like Crows."

Cormac nodded. "That's Kirkwall. I have some friends who live there, now, and they tell me it's ... still Kirkwall. Just with more clinics for the sick and things like the dwarfwork, with enchantments. Can you imagine? Regular people with baths that heat up, when you put water in them."

Anders hummed around a bite of date cake, pausing to finish chewing before responding. "That sounds rather wonderful! I wish we'd had that back when we were still there. I would've felt like royalty!" Magical amenities: one of the perks of being a mage. His first magically heated bath had been a highlight of his life in Kinloch Hold. "But, I used to work a bit in one of the clinics..." As though his hadn't been the only one. "I wonder how that's working with mages? I heard rumours Kirkwall didn't have any healers."

And that was something Anders still struggled not to feel guilty over. He'd left because he had to, and now he was doing what he could for the people here. His work here was no less important. It was just easier to visit his mother, now.

"No healers?" Peryn asked, brows furrowing. "That is strange. And not wise. Some magic is... what is the word? Dangerous, yes, but. Hard to control..." He grappled with his wording, offering a word in Ander and giving Cormac a helpless look.

"Volatile?" Anders suggested as a translation. Peryn blinked at him, uncomprehending. "Unstable?"

Peryn nodded, brightening. "Yes! What was that first word? Vola...?"

"Volatile."

Peryn mouthed the word to himself a few times. "Yes. Some magic is... volatile." He sounded the word out carefully. "Unstable. Some take time to learn to control it. Healing is needed."

"I wish I'd gotten to meet more mages," Cormac said around a mouthful of cake. "You make them sound so interesting. It sounds like the Wardens have the right idea, letting them in the same as everyone else."

"You would not feel unsafe living with them as your neighbours?" Peryn asked, a bit surprised, as he waved for another drink.

"I heard there was a mage in this village, once -- his brother." Cormac tipped his chin at Anders. "The poor kid burned down a barn, and the village had it back up in two weeks. What's to fear, really? Kids back in Ferelden didn't need magic to do that kind of damage. You knock over a lamp, it'll do just the same. And like you said -- they're scared. If we had magic teachers like we have school teachers, it would just be another normal thing. Some people study swords, some people study magic. My father used to teach polearms to the village kids, back in Lothering. And imagine what the world would be like with a real healer in every village and town! No more going back to Hossberg to get your arm set."

Peryn considered Cormac in surprise. Surprise but not outrage or indignation as Anders might have expected a templar to react. But then, Peryn was one of the better templars he had known.

"That is a thought," Peryn said, nodding over his drink. "Magic is to be feared. But there is sometimes, too much fear around it. Like in Orlais, what happened there..." Peryn shook his head, shoulders sagging. "I am... not sure the Kirkwall way is best, but I am glad they are trying."

Justice was aglow at that -- if only in the metaphorical sense, Anders was relieved to know. Anders hid his smile behind his drink and called for another round.

Chapter Text

Cormac looked up at Harellan. "And... I'm supposed to ride on his back." That sounded dangerous. And like a terrible idea. But, the other option was to get on a boat. He'd already vetoed the boat. And that meant they were going out across the desert, heading for Val Dorma. Harellan had made the trip, before -- they'd bought him off a merchant company that did regular trade on that route, after he twisted an ankle and couldn't make the trip back. And now, he was going to make the trip carrying Cormac, because Anders had paid a great deal of money to take a second camel for the month -- a camel that he would ride, because it knew all the standard commands, and he actually spoke Ander. Harellan and Cormac got along by virtue of knowing each other.

"I'll even help you up," Anders offered, drily, eyeing Cormac's discomfort with amusement. "You can ride a horse, can't you?"

"No." Cormac laughed. "But, I can ride an ox. Or a donkey." He paused. "I did tell Bethany I was sending our luggage ahead, didn't I? And you're sure this is faster than the sea route? Not that I mind that much. Yet. It's not an ocean. I'll get used to it."

Anders gave him a droll look. "Are you always like this when you travel? And here I thought that was just when boats were involved." He reached up to pet Harellan's neck, smoothing out a tuft of fur.

"Travel usually involved a team of donkeys and a cart. You know what donkeys don't have? Boobs on their backs. I am extremely averse to the idea of falling off this thing." Cormac tugged at the ends of his sleeves and patted Harellan's side.

Anders nodded as though that statement clarified everything. "Well, we all know you're more comfortable with asses, so I suppose that makes sense."

Harellan seemed to take offense to this, making that snuffling sound that Anders associated with him winding up to spit. Anders hooked a finger in the camel's bridle and turned his head away from them.

"See, now Harellan's getting offended," Anders said. "Look, you're not going to fall. And if you do? You have shields. And if you didn't have shields? You have a healer. At worst, you'll lose a little dignity, but it's not like either of us has much of that anyway. Besides, I've watched Artie push you from taller heights just to watch you bounce." Anders patted Harellan's hump in invitation, eyebrows arched hopefully.

Cormac eyed the saddle suspiciously, but heaved himself into it, with a small struggle. "You know what else I didn't do? Ride donkeys in a robe," he complained, untangling himself as Harellan snorted and nibbled at Anders's shoulder. He tried to get comfortable -- the saddle wasn't the lightweight blanket and a rope he'd gotten used to, in Ferelden, but a large solid leather contraption with thick cushions. Cushions he noticed Anders's saddle mostly lacked.

"Did... did you get me a different kind of saddle?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know.

"I got you the one for pregnant women." Anders grinned back at him, tying Harellan's lead to the back of his own camel's saddle. "You can thank me later."

"I ... that is... Couldn't you at least have pretended it was for royalty or something?" Cormac's face darkened and he covered his eyes, sinking down in the strangely soft seat.

"I could have, but then I would have missed out on the look on your face." Anders's smile was perfectly cheery and without mercy as he hoisted himself up into his saddle. Long legs made the movement easier and quite a bit more graceful than Cormac's attempt. Anders twisted in his saddle to check on Cormac. "How are we doing? Still worried we're going to tumble off?"

"Obviously, I'm a little less worried about you," Cormac huffed, envious of the ease with which Anders had mounted. Anders had told him to sit back and relax -- particularly back, because the most likely way he'd fall off the camel was forward, so he'd slumped down into the curved back and pulled his legs up after him, bracing him against the front of the saddle, which had a small post on it, in case he wanted to sit forward and watch the desert pass.

"I'll get used to it. It's only two weeks, right? Val Dorma gets us on the Imperial Highway, and then down to the Minanter, and take the river road into Starkhaven." He'd worked out the route with some traders who ran goods to Tantervale, in the tavern, one night. Said he wanted to go on holiday, because he'd never had a Starkhaven fish pie, and that caused so many jokes, no one dared ask more of his intent in going south.

Anders tried not to look too amused at Cormac's expense, but he failed. "Just about, yes. Pregnant or not, you'll thank me for the cushions later." At least this trip would involve much less puking than the way over. Or at least Anders hoped so.

Gathering the reins in his hands, Anders clicked his tongue and uttered a command in Ander. His camel's ears pricked as it started to stand, and the two-week journey was underway.

Chapter Text

Meanwhile in Ferelden...

The votes had been tallied by the Tranquil, because they had little reason to alter the results. Four of them stood at the front of the room, counting in front of any mages who wished to watch, and all the candidates for First Enchanter, who sat below them, still arguing. Finally, the piles were divided and counted -- each pile three times, and each result printed on the slate board behind the Tranquil.

"Senior Enchanter Torrin has the largest number of votes," Owain announced. "In order of most to least votes, Enchanter Petra, Enchanter Godwin, and Enchanter Fen'Din follow."

Petra turned and shook Torrin's hand. "It was close, but you are the most senior of the Enchanters."

Torrin chuckled and patted her shoulder. "When you are old, maybe it will be time for your revolution. But, we have to live that long, first."

"I can only hope what you have in mind gets us there, then."

Beside them, Godwin was still shouting about funding and renovation, this time waving a letter from the queen. "Torrin, we have to. With the queen's protection, they'll have to be more careful with us. And the way to get the queen's protection is to get a contract, which we have an offer for. It's just basic runework for her personal guard, but she'll take care of us if we're working for her."

Torrin reached out and plucked the letter from Godwin's hand. "Are any of you going to challenge these results?" he asked.

Fen'Din stood slowly, smoothing his robes, and a clicking-clattering started, as his rats poured out of the walls. "No. I move to confirm First Enchanter Torrin of Kinloch Hold."

"So do I," said Petra graciously before turning a hard look on Godwin. Her supporters looked crestfallen but resigned, yet Godwin's supporters were still grumbling. She was still surprised that the tower held that many mages who thought like Godwin.

Godwin scowled back at Petra and at the room at large. "This is ludicrous!" he snapped. "The people in this tower are so focused on keeping their heads down that they don't see the danger that we're in. If they had any sense at all--"

"Do you wish to contest the results?" Owain said in his blank voice. "I will call for a recount..."

"No, no, no," Godwin huffed, cutting his hands through the air. "I am disappointed by the results, but I believe them. Even if they are nonsensical."

"Godwin, the only person in this room who is nonsensical is you," Torrin cut back. "The vote is finished. Show some dignity."

"It's Godwin," Petra pointed out, "he's not exactly known for his dignity."

"Bring forth the papers, Owain." Fen'Din gestured to one of the tables. "I will sign, before I go."

"Go where, to supper?" Godwin rolled his eyes.

"I should do that, as well. I have a long walk ahead of me, I think."

Owain laid out the letter of confirmation, each page beside the one before. "Sign the last page. This will go to Cumberland, in the morning."

Fen'Din took the quill from the rack at the end of the table, dipped it, and signed his name where Owain had indicated. "I wish you the best fortune, Torrin. I do hope that your decisions serve this tower well."

"Thank you. I hope you'll come to respect those decisions." Torrin smiled and took the quill to sign.

"I hope they are good enough decisions that I hear of them." Fen'Din smiled and his rats gathered at his feet. "But, we really must go. I'm glad to have met you all, but it's time for me to leave."

Torrin blinked at Fen'Din and exchanged a look with Owain, regretting it the next moment when Owain stared back at him as placidly as ever.

"Um. Good night, Fen'Din," Petra said to his back.

"Lunatic," Godwin muttered, snatching the quill from Torrin to sign his name and get it over with. "Who the Blight voted for him anyway?"

Fen'Din made his way down the stairs, talking to the rats around him. "It's time for us to go. Well, time for me to go. If you'd like to come along, you're welcome to join me. But, I think I will need your help, either way. The templars aren't going to be happy about this, so maybe we shouldn't tell them. Do you think you can keep them out of the way for a few hours, while I work on leaving?"

There was a brief chittering beside him.

"Oh, of course. I'm not that much of a fool. I'll definitely stop and get my things. The books have to come. I'm not leaving those behind. And then... whatever else fits, I suppose. Do you think anyone would mind if we took one of the wine carts? Probably not. Those can be bought. I wonder if anything larger is buried here. Would one of you like to be a horse? Or maybe an ox?" One of the rats scampered up onto his shoulder and he rubbed under its chin. "That's what we'll do, then. We'll take the wine cart and put a few trunks on it. I suspect we're not going to find a horse or an ox in here, unfortunately, so why don't you go out and look, while we get ready."


Torrin was pontificating on his plans for the future when a loud thump interrupted his speech and threw off his train of thought. It sounded heavy, like a wardrobe falling, and after years of dealing with young mages new to their abilities, Torrin knew exactly what that sounded like. He squinted at the doorway.

"At any rate, as I was in the middle of saying..."

The next sound was harder to identify, a heavy grating sound like something rolling against stone. The curious faces in the crowd were soon accompanied by curious whispers, and as Torrin tried to falter through his speech, Petra threw open the door to the hallway. She watched in amazed silence as a heavy, round table rolled its way down the hall. She waited for it to fall, to tip over, but it stayed eerily upright as it continued down its course.

"What's going on?" asked Torrin, pushing his way over to the doorway.

"Uh," said Petra.

Shouting could be heard from behind a door further down the corridor. "This Tevinter shit stands up for a thousand years and then falls over right against the door? I'm fucking writing to Val Royeaux! Send all this shit to the cellar and get goddamn Orlesian work!"

"Fen'Din," Godwin said, looking a little horrified around the eyes. "You don't think he meant he was ... leaving leaving."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Petra groaned. "We should probably stop him before he does something we're going to regret."

"And that's how you almost became First Enchanter," Torrin said, with half a smile that turned into a wince, as the table dropped, spanning the entire hall between two doors. "Whatever he's doing, he's doing it well. Why those rooms and not the one we're in?"

"Who cares?" Petra asked, ducking out the door and checking both ways for rolling tables. "Let's just get downstairs before he decides to do the same to us!"

In that, at least, they were in agreement, and Petra found herself leading a retinue of mages down the hall. No more heavy tables rolled by, but they passed doors barricaded from the outside with spare desks and bookcases and chairs. Books and paperwork were scattered across the floor in the upheaval.

Behind one blocked door, they shouting and the banging of fists. "Hey!" shouted someone from inside. "Get us out of here!" The doorknob jiggled, but a strategically placed chair held it firmly in place.

Torrin reached to move the chair, but Petra stopped him with a hand on his wrist. Above him, a chandelier flickered and rattled as though in warning. "Templars," she said in a moment of epiphany. "He's locking in the templars."

"Shit," breathed Godwin. "I swear, if this lunatic turns out to be smarter than the rest of us..."

Petra didn't wait for him to finish that sentence and took off at a run.

"He's going to get us all killed, if we don't stop him!" Torrin argued, running after Petra.

"Yes," Petra agreed, "but if we don't stop him, and they have to, we're going to die anyway."

The stairs were an interesting feat to get down. Below the Enchanters' Floor, they were iced in two straight lines, always the same width apart, in a way that raised part of the steps into a cart ramp.

"The wine carts," Godwin said, as he caught up, pointing at the stairs. "I know the wheel width on those -- I've had to move them enough. He really thinks he's moving out."

"I still don't know how he expects to get out the door," Torrin grumbled, pausing to catch his breath. "Even if he removes the guards, it's still not going to open for him."

"If he kills them, he can just take the keys, can't he?" Godwin asked.

"I don't know how those doors open," Petra admitted. "I've never seen it happen."

"Well, he must have some kind of plan, right?" Godwin asked, always walking just a bit behind her. Petra knew when she was being used as a human shield. "I mean, the rest of this... He's clearly been thinking this through for a while."

"I've heard you call him a lunatic three times in the past five minutes," said Petra, clutching at the railing as she stepped carefully around the ice. "Now suddenly he's a mastermind? Which is it?"

"They're not mutually exclusive," Godwin grumbled. 

Petra supposed he had a point. Either way, they had sorely underestimated the elf. She kept waiting for a smite to roll over them and deaden the air around them, but it didn't. 

Further around the curve of the first floor, Fen'Din set the cart back on its legs and smiled at the bored looking templars guarding the door. "If you gentlemen would be so kind, I have somewhere else I'm supposed to be, in a few days."

"Even if they elected you First Enchanter, you're not leaving this tower without permission from the Divine, and that's not going to happen until you're confirmed. Knight-Vigilant's orders," one of the templars drawled, looking thoroughly unimpressed with the idea.

"I'd hoped to do this with a minimum of damage to the tower. It really is very well made, even if it's poorly cared for." Fen'Din sighed and sat on the edge of the cart, feet still touching the ground, as he began to sing, loudly and wordlessly. It was almost one of the canticles, but the timing was different, and it wasn't shaped for Orlesian words.

"Look, elf, if you think you're going to move us with your terrible singing--" the other templar started, as the air began to thicken around them.

"Uh, Bran?" The first templar elbowed him and pointed up to where a block had gently slid out of the wall, revealing a pair of clear blue hands holding it. Another block began to move and then another, the hands and faces of those moving them slowly becoming clearer. One looked like one of the mages that had died during the demon attack. Another looked like the textbook sketch of a desire demon. Another looked like nothing that templar had ever seen before.

Ser Bran drew his sword, like he might do something with it, and then took a long look at the elf, who just sat singing, and the countless dead men and demons and... were those spirits? Like the healers used to have? One of them looked like Ser Drass, who was still sorely missed by those who'd known him. Bran tossed his sword on the floor and threw his hands up. "I don't get paid enough for shit like this," he decided, sitting next to his sword. "Just don't drop anything on my head, please? I've had about enough of all this."

Fen'Din winked and nodded, but the singing never faltered in its repetitive cycles. It was almost calming, except the part where it seemed to reach inside and rearrange a person's sense of what it meant to be real.

Fen'Din's voice carried up the stairs, and the descending mages heard him before they saw him. It made them no less confused.

"Is he trying to sing the Chant?" Godwin hissed, before Petra shushed him. The wordless sounds were haunting, the way they bounced off stone, overlapping and looping.

Following the singing brought them to the entrance, to Fen'Din, to a pair of wide-eyed templars, to the spill of sunlight where blocks had been and were being pulled free. Fen'Din sat in the eye of the storm, still singing, as spirits and demons and the ghostly faces of the dead flit around him, hard at work. The stone piled up as tears of sunlight became open wounds.

"What in the Maker's name?" Torrin breathed, face ashen. 

Petra sucked in a breath, recognising the ghostly face of a classmate Uldred had killed. She gripped Torrin's arm hard enough to bruise.

"That's enough!" the templar still standing declared, casting a smite on the room. The mages reeled, but the spirits merely flickered in discomfort, before going back to work. Fen'Din missed a few notes, but didn't lose his rhythm and picked up again at the next measure.

Petra, on the other hand, turned on the templar and rammed her fist into the space left by his raised visor, dropping him to the floor, as soon as she got her hand untangled. "Do you want some, too?" she asked the other templar.

Ser Bran shook his head. "I think I'm going to retire. Maybe a nice farm out in the Bannorn. Pretty wife. Two or three kids. I've had about enough of this."

"Give the man a glass of wine! He's seen sense!" Godwin barked, from the corner, where he was trying to stay out of everyone's way. Everything's way. What even was that?

"Enchanter Fen'Din," Torrin said, stepping to put himself between Fen'Din and the door. "Please stay. By leaving, you're putting us all in danger."

"By staying, you're putting yourselves in danger, whether I remain or not." Fen'Din finally stopped singing, to address Torrin. "When Irving still lived, we had a chance. He would stand up for us, and when he did, people listened. It's not that I don't trust you to follow in his footsteps, but I think it will take longer than we have, before anyone in Val Royeaux takes you seriously enough to make a difference."

"I thought you didn't believe in anything outside," Petra cut in. "So, who exists not to believe him?"

"On the contrary. I believe we are in the Fade, because we are all dead. I believe we have been trapped in some demon's stronghold, and now that the one defender I could depend on has been taken from us, it is time for me to leave this place. We know others who have left. They have not returned. Each one of them is out there, somewhere, in another dream. I hope to catch up to someone we know. To share a dream that is not a nightmare, like this place has been. I think some of the less material of our friends may join me. For some of us, it is time for change."

"Do you hear that?" Godwin said in a loud aside to his friends. "The elf has finally snapped completely."

"One could argue he snapped a long time ago," Petra replied, "but in this place, most of us do, at some point or another. But he is right. We've lost a First Enchanter who stood up for us, and, Torrin, as much as I admire you, I'm not sure if I'm willing to trust my safety to you."

Torrin turned to her, taken aback. "Your safety? Petra, the votes have been cast. You just signed, confirming my election."

"What other option did I have?" Petra asked. "What other option do any of us have? Fen'Din has his... eccentricities, but he is right about another thing: this place is a living nightmare and always has been."

A few mages muttered agreement. So did Bran.

Petra chewed her lip and cautiously approached Fen'Din, giving the spirits a wide berth. Past him, she could see the sky and the lake, teasing hints of an entire world she'd always wanted to see. "Fen'Din... wherever you are going, would you like company?"

"I will go, either way," Fen'Din said, shrugging. "The way will be long and difficult. There may be demons or bandits or demons disguised as bandits. If you come, you may die. If you stay, you may die. You're welcome to do either, but you'll have to find a way to carry your own things. This cart is only meant to hold a few barrels of wine, and it is already filled with books. I'm not leaving the best parts of the library and my research behind to be dreamed out of existence or lit aflame in an Annulment."

Petra watched the stones move -- more of them than needed to get the cart out. "Where are you going?"

"No," Fen'Din said, cocking his head at Bran. "The important part is that it isn't here."

Torrin looked at both of them and shook his head. "Both of you, now? If I stop you, you'll be executed or sent to Aeonar. If I don't, we'll all be Annulled."

"Punch him out," Ser Bran said to Petra from the floor. "They can't blame you for anything if you're knocked out. Who knew she was such a powerful mage?"

"He's probably right. We can save your life, Torrin, but it would be better if you left. Leaving is the safest thing to do." Fen'Din gestured to the open wall. "But, we're running out of time. And I will be leaving. Anyone who means to leave with me should find a way to bring what they need. Quickly. I don't know how much longer it will be, before they find a way out of those rooms, and I would prefer that no one be harmed in all this."

Petra turned to the mages behind her. Most of her friends had died during Uldred's assault, but there were people here who had sided with her and campaigned for her. "You heard him," she said to the wide-eyed masses. "Anyone who plans to come, grab your stuff."

"Are you kidding me, Petra?" Godwin hissed, reaching for her as she passed. "Torrin may be stuck in his ways, but he at least has more sense than him." He pointed at Fen'Din.

"I'm leaving," said Petra, pulling away. "I don't care how, just that I do." A number of familiar faces were already making their way back to their rooms. 

Torrin looked tightly wound and uncomfortable, and Petra wondered if she would have to punch him out after all, just for his own sanity.

"Ser Bran," Torrin said, after a moment, eyes unfocused as he held a finger out to the templar, "would you say the force of this wall falling might have toppled some furniture, elsewhere in the building?"

"Enchanter, I'll say whatever you like. What are they going to do, take away my pension?" Bran laughed and shook his head. "It's over. It's all over. My career, this tower..."

"Thank you. Your opinion in this instance will be invaluable." Torrin focused the whole of his attention on Godwin, who stumbled back into a wall, at the power of that gaze. "Godwin -- Senior Enchanter Godwin -- I want you to accept Queen Anora's offer, on my behalf, but do it conditionally. Explain to her there's been an unforeseen disaster, here -- the tower is no longer safe for mage nor templar, and we are undertaking a rescue of those trapped, but we need help, and we need somewhere to live -- preferably a place that isn't thirty-percent supported by the First Enchanter's continued life and good will. We understand that some mages may have used the chaos to flee, and we do not blame them -- running out of a falling building is a perfectly sensible thing to do -- but we chose to focus our attention on those still trapped inside."

"That's good!" Godwin sounded surprised.

"That's why I got elected," Torrin joked, rubbing his face, exhaustedly.

"Let them help you sell this," Fen'Din offered, making a few incomprehensible gestures, before he began to sing, again. The air thinned again, as the spirits passed, and the sound of stones falling and statues toppling in empty rooms echoed through the halls.

"Excellent," said Godwin, looking up at the ceiling. "Now I almost expect the tower to actually fall on us!" He laughed, but his eyes were wide as he backed into a more secure corner.

"That means it will be convincing," Torrin told him. 

Petra and a gaggle of her followers returned. Petra had thrown on an extra layer of robes and sturdier shoes, her belongings tied up in a bedsheet and slung over her shoulder. Her whole life, reduced to that small bundle. She couldn't decide if that was more freeing or depressing, but she supposed that 'freeing' was the more relevant option here.

"We're ready," she told Fen'Din. She glanced at Torrin before turning back to the elf. "Were you the one who knocked over those statues? Please tell me that was on purpose."

"Almost crushed my foot," mumbled one mage behind her.

"You lived," muttered another.

"Put what will fit on the cart, and we will go. We will find a beast to pull it on the other side of the bridge -- and you may tell your superiors they can thank me for that bridge at their leisure, Ser Bran. Consider it a gift. I would ask you to join us, but... we have no lyrium." Fen'Din smiled widely and turned to those still lingering who had decided not to join them. "May you all come to better fortunes than we have had so far. I may come to miss some of you, in time."

As the last bundle was pressed in between two trunks, Fen'Din lifted the cart handles and strained forward. "Do any of you have force magic?" he asked after a moment. "No, of course not."

Three rats climbed up the cart and returned to being piles of bone, as the spirits turned their attention to moving the cart from the tower. This time, when Fen'Din pulled, the cart rolled easily behind him, and he led it down the path to the bridge -- a path he had never walked, since the bridge had been out centuries longer than he'd been there. He wished Anders could see this -- this was how an exit was supposed to go, he was sure. Not some mad leap into the lake or out a window, but a decently orderly procession through a brand new door, over an ancient bridge, and into whatever lay beyond.

Chapter Text

The lightning-seared rabbit, Petra found, was a little crispy around the edges, but it was fresh, and it went well with the berries she and Keili had picked. She still wasn't used to all the air, to all the walking and the sunlight, but the breeze against her skin felt good. But a part of her felt exposed without the press of stone around her.

When Kinnon returned from the bushes, she pointed out the broad leaf with his share of the berries and meat. "Your rabbit's getting cold," she said.

Instead of taking a seat, Kinnon stood awkwardly over her, though perhaps he wasn't so much standing as squirming.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Keili between berries.

Kinnon didn't look at either woman but instead stared at something over their heads. "I, uh. I might require a healer. Before I sit. Or do anything."

Petra blinked a few times. "Did you get bit by something? What happened?"

"Plant demons," Kinnon muttered, after a moment more staring at nothing. "Apparently these Void-touched things don't like being used as ... cleaning rags."

"Cleaning... r--" Petra's eyes grew large as she put together what he must have meant. "Maker, Kinnon, what'd you wipe your ass with? Didn't anyone ever teach you to use an ice spell for that? Well, you'll remember, now."

"It had red leaves and they looked sort of ... round. Like clouds." Kinnon shrugged. "Does it matter? Just ... make it stop itching!"

Petra rolled her eyes and called forth a small healing spell, laying one hand on each of Kinnon's hips. "Four small ice spells in a bowl and melt them," she said. "Then wash any part of your body that touched the plant in that water and pour it out somewhere nobody's going to drink it by accident. It's not Void-touched. It's just poisonous. Don't wipe your ass with plants that look like that. They're red for a reason."

"And I thought magic was dangerous," Keili joked around a mouthful of meat and berries.

"Blighted then, if not Void-touched," Kinnon muttered. His squirming eased as Petra's healing sank in. "Why would the Maker create such a plant?"

"To torment idiot mages and their private parts, clearly," Petra drawled. 

"Then I guess he succeeded," Kinnon grumbled, grabbing up a bowl and disappearing back into the bushes -- a different set of bushes than last time, Petra was pleased to note.

"We should probably warn any other idiot mages," Keili suggested, still looking amused. "Unless you want to keep firing healing spells at their hindquarters."

Petra groaned. "It's like the berries all over again. I know the little clustered red ones look tasty, but I promise, it's a bad idea to eat them. I should make a list and pin it to the cart. Or maybe I should just tell them all not to touch any plants unless I point out that it's okay." She thanked the Maker that she had actually paid attention during her potions classes.

A flash of purple light caught Keili's attention, and she looked around the fire to where Fen'Din was kneeling on the ground doing... something. "What's he doing, now? We have his dogs to pull the cart. What else do we need?"

"They're wolves, not dogs. You'll never find a mabari with a face like that." Petra swiped another bit of meat -- plain, but edible -- and took a closer look at what their uncannily fearless leader was up to.

She saw the horns, first. Enormous ivory spirals tearing up out of the ground, earth falling from the spaces between them. He cooed and laughed and started cleaning the dirt off the thing as it rose up, a bit smaller than a horse, she thought, not that she'd seen many horses up close. What was that thing? It stumbled, dizzily, as Fen'Din rubbed it with his blanket and a knife, and finally turned its head to nibble at his hair.

"Is that... What is that?" Petra asked, scooting closer to Keili to whisper the question. "Is he creating odd hybrid beasts now?"

Keili hummed around one berry-stained finger and pointed. "No, hang on, I think that's a halla! I read about them once in a book on magical beasts. Mostly I just liked the pictures, but I remember the horns. Oh, that is... much less enchanting decomposing."

"But, we already have the wolves, why does he...? Is he collecting undead creatures?" This was why they were hiding away from the road, Petra reflected. This troupe of idiots would attract too much attention, and generally the point of running was to avoid being dragged back later.

"Let's ask him," Keili decided. "New friend, Fen'Din?"

"Old friend," Fen'Din corrected. "New body. There were elves, here, once. Lots of them. But, I don't need elves. I need something that can bear a man's weight. We are barely out of the tower, and I see how many of you look tired. We'll move more easily if some can ride. The cart's too full to add people to it, but there's a graveyard of halla, here. Just a few to carry the weak or injured, and we'll be making much better time than the templars expect. Of course, I don't think any of them are expecting us to head into the Frostbacks, either."

"Where are we going, anyway?" Petra asked. "Now that we're away from the templars..."

"North. I know some of you will want to go to Tevinter, and that won't be difficult, but I'm following a different trail. There's a little village on the river, in the Anderfels. I remember he could tell me every town they stopped in bringing him back from there, and I remember every one of them." Fen'Din smiled and took a deep breath. "We're going to find Anders and Karl."

Chapter Text

As long as she kept walking, Petra couldn't feel the blisters on her feet. A healing spell every now and then soothed them, but she wasn't the only one complaining of sore feet, so she would need her mana. Petra threw Keili some healing every time she started to limp, and Keili threw her a relieved smile in thanks.

When Kinnon walked up beside Petra and nudged her arm, she already had another spell ready. "What? Don't tell me you wiped your ass with another poison plant."

"No, I learned my lesson," Kinnon muttered. He pointed ahead of them, up the road, where Petra would have been looking if her mind hadn't wandered. The gleam in the distance was odd, at least until it drew close enough to take on a human shape. A few human shapes. "Templars. Stop casting. There are templars, and the cart is being drawn by wolf skeletons. Well, freedom was fun, I guess. Except for the itching privates. I could have done without that."

Fen'Din gently guided the cart to the side of the road and unhitched the wolves, whispering to them and rubbing behind where their ears might once have been. They disappeared into the underbrush, occasionally barking. "Whoever's on the halla, get down and let them follow the wolves. They'll come back, when it's time to go. Right now, we need to be ... not what we are."

Kinnon rummaged in the cart until he came up with a bag of apricots they'd picked earlier. "We can be a travelling circus," he suggested, juggling the fruit.

"That is the most idiotic--" Keili started, but Petra cut her off.

"It's that or an itinerant choir. Look at us. We look weird, but none of us as weird as him, and we don't have the kind of skills we'd have to be able to use and talk casually about, to say we're anything else."

"I don't look weird," Fen'Din protested. "I look Dalish, and I'm sticking to that. Quick, who can do what? Silly things, people!"

"I can sing Tevinter bawdy operas," one mage offered.

"Oh, me too!" Another moved to stand next to her.

By the time the templars had caught up to them, Kinnon was juggling while another mage threw forks at the apricots when he bounced one over his head every few cycles, five mages were singing the parts of a story of a married woman with three lovers and a chambermaid who was selling her exploits to the press, a few more were practising a dance routine, and Keili was turning a Maker's eye pendant in her hands, counting the sun's rays, and saying a prayer for each.

The templars slowed to eye them, but Keili took it as a good sign that none of them had thrown down a smite. One templar elbowed another, pointing out Kinnon and the fork-thrower with a laugh.

"I've seen quite a few things on this road," said the templar being elbowed, "but this is new." He sized up Fen'Din, stare lingering on the tattoos on his face. "Are you a travelling troupe? That would be my first guess."

"What's your second guess?" Petra asked. She didn't have any hidden talent half as entertaining as the others, but if pressed, she could pass herself off as the group's manager.

"Escapees from a madhouse," the templar answered, to guffaws from his companions.

Petra supposed that was probably closer to the truth.

"So does the cart pull itself?" another templar asked. "Is that its trick?"

"We've stopped to rest the dogs a bit, before the pass," Fen'Din answered. "There's six of them, and they get a little touchy in the afternoons." As if to confirm that, there was a rustling in the underbrush, followed by a few yips and some howling. "Good a time as any to practise our work."

"What do you do, then, some kind of trick archery? I heard the Dalish are great archers," a templar asked.

"Me? No, I breathe fire. I wouldn't know what to do with a bow if you handed me one, which is a fine reason to run off and join the circus, if you ask me." Fen'Din laughed and pulled out the bottle of something that had been wine, when they left the tower, but was now strong enough to take the paint off leather. Petra had distilled it, overnight, to use on burst blisters. "It's not so hard. I could teach you in a few moments, if you want to impress the boys in the barracks."

"You don't need magic for that? You don't look like a dragon to me!" The templars laughed among themselves.

"All you need is a strong drink and a torch. And maybe a little patience." Fen'Din took a swig from the bottle, before setting it on top of one of the trunks and snapping two stones together with a small fire spell to light the torch they'd bound to the front of the cart. He unfastened the torch and held it up, before blowing a gout of flame across it.

The templars cheered and applauded. "And you can show me how to do that?" asked one, stepping forward. Over his shoulder, he added to his friends, "Imagine if I did that in front of the commander! He'd have a heart attack!"

"Or try to smite you," another responded. "Maybe both!"

Petra laughed along as though she actually found that funny.

"Perhaps I left out the part about having a strong constitution," Fen'Din joked, spitting the alcohol into the dirt and offering the bottle to the templar. "Don't swallow that. Just put it in your mouth and hold it half a moment. It'll burn a bit, but not so badly as if you do this wrong. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, and close your mouth before you stop, if you don't want to light your lips on fire."

The templar nodded, listening intently, turning to exchange grins with his fellows before putting the bottle to his lips. His face scrunched at the taste, and the other templars laughed. Gesturing for the torch, he was all too eager to spit it back out.

Templars and mages both applauded the spout of flame that followed. He coughed and wiped dribble from his chin, handing back the torch. 

"How was that?" he asked the other templars, throwing his arms out wide. "Did I look like a dragon!"

"Sure did!" said another templar. "A constipated dragon, but still a dragon!"

"Are dragons often constipated?" Kinnon asked, looking concerned. "If they are, perhaps we shouldn't make that purchase of a drake, next season!"

One of the templars reached through the apricots and took Kinnon by the shoulders, turning the man to face him. "Buy the drake," he said, firmly. "And then definitely come back through. I'd give my left testicle to see a travelling show with a dragon in it!"

"A dragon for Ser Templar, here! What do you think, are they popular enough to get a crowd that's worth the cost?" Petra asked, nothing but relieved when no smites landed.

"Oh, definitely!" the templar replied. "There's not a red-blooded man in Ferelden who wouldn't come out for that! Though, I suppose we'll be somewhere else, next year. There's talk of moving the tower to a place with less history living in it."

"Oh, what a spooky thought!" one of the mages called out from where she was rifling the cart for something. "Living around all that magic! What's it like in there? Are there spirits? I heard there were spirits!"

"Oh, there's rumours of all sorts of things in that tower," said the fire-breathing templar. He spat, still trying to get the taste out of his mouth. "I'm not sure you know the story, but during the Blight, a blood mage went crazy and killed half the people living in it. Now there are stories about mages and templars seeing the ghosts of their dead friends!" He gave an exaggerated shudder, while Keili closed her eyes and murmured another prayer, still spinning the amulet around her neck. "So, yeah, pretty spooky from what I hear. But the place is falling apart anyway, so." He shrugged.

"I wonder where they're going to put all those mages," Kinnon asked, turning the apricots over in his hands. "Is it even safe to move that many mages?" He turned a concerned look Petra's way, and she hoped the templars didn't think the fear in his eyes was too exaggerated.

"Oh, I'm sure they'll find us something nice. I bet you there's some old Avvar forts we'd look great in." One of the templars shrugged and gestured at the hills around them. "That stuff's everywhere. They tell me that keep the Wardens got in Amaranthine is Avvar. Whatever they live like now, those guys built some nice places a thousand years ago. We just have to wait for the queen to find us a good one."

"Andraste bless Queen Anora," the fire-breathing templar agreed. "And moving mages isn't that hard, really. No harder than moving anybody else, anyway. We've got ways of making it easier -- templar secrets, you know. It's why the Order's so hush-hush." He winked at Petra, who tried very hard to look interested.

"Come on, guys," another templar said, looking up at the sky and pointing. "Hadley's going to have our asses for supper if we don't make it back in time."

The templar still holding Kinnon's shoulders let go. "Don't be afraid to send us a letter, if you see any mages wandering around, out here. A few of ours got lost in the woods, a couple days ago and we're hoping to find them before anything unfortunate happens."

"We'll send a messenger the minute we see magic," Fen'Din promised, trying to keep the amusement out of his eyes.

It wasn't until the last gleam of the templars' armour disappeared that Keili stopped praying and Petra allowed herself to breathe. Kinnon tossed the apricots back into the cart and sagged against it.

"Well," said Keili, "that was stressful."

"You weren't the one throwing forks at apricots," muttered the fork-wielding mage. "That was stressful."

"Good quick thinking, everyone," Petra said. "Especially you, Fen'Din. I half expected them to smite you after that fire-breathing trick, but it was a hit!" The elf was insane, but he did well under pressure. Maybe they wouldn't have been quite as screwed with him as First Enchanter as she had thought, but... no. She still couldn't picture it.

Kinnon stepped off the road and peered into the woods, rubbing the fingers of one hand together and whistling, trying to call back the undead halla.

"They're not cats, Kinnon," sighed Petra.

Fen'Din crouched by the edge of the road and whistled a bit of an unsettling tune. After a bit of rustling, the wolves bounded out, leaping up on him and rubbing their teeth against his hair. "There's certain sounds they like. Yours didn't make the list."

"What, because I don't sound like a dying cat getting bludgeoned with an organ pipe?" Kinnon sounded offended, and Fen'Din could see his shoulders bunch as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"Because you don't sound like the Fade. I don't really, either, but they think it's funny that I'll try." Fen'Din grinned and started buckling the wolves back into their harnesses, as the halla swaggered back toward the road, looking totally disinterested in anything that was going on.

"Like the Fade? The Fade doesn't sound like anything... does it?" Keili looked confused at the idea, squinting at Fen'Din and the way the light reflected off the jewels on his hair clip.

"You had a Harrowing like the rest of us, and even if you didn't, look around. Listen. It doesn't have a song, to us. It has a song to the spirits, though, because spirits don't have expectations about what a world is supposed to be. We bring that with us. We change everything we touch. And what we haven't touched? They say it sings. And the stone deep down sings. And the singing-stone, obviously, also sings. And they're all different songs, but Leniency, here, tells me they all used to be the same song, once. It tries to teach me to sing the songs, but I haven't learnt to change my shape enough to make the right sounds."

"And the song -- or something close to the song -- calls these spirits to you?" Keili asked, folding her arms around her. "That sounds dangerous, Fen'Din. What if it summons the wrong kind of spirit? What if you summon demons?"

Petra didn't mention that she had seen what looked like demons tearing down the wall of the tower. It was something that still rankled in the back of her mind, but she had seen no blood magic.

"What does it matter?" asked another mage, one of the dancers. Keili had passed her in the hallways a few times but never learned her name. "It's worked well enough so far, hasn't it? We escaped, we have our own transportation, and no one's made a deal with a demon to do it." She squinted at Fen'Din. "Right?"

"I have made no deals with demons or otherwise." Fen'Din stood, brushing dusty paw-prints off his trousers. "These spirits follow, because they are as tired of the tower as we are. Probably more tired of it, really. They've been there since before any of us were born, died, came to be in this place. Some of them have changed, in that time, though few of them can articulate how. But, while some are playful and most are helpful, I have seen none of them strike out in anger, like the spirits who fell to Uldred's call. So many of those had hungry faces and angry faces, but with us, I see only friendly faces, so far. But, Uldred was right. Even friendly faces don't stay friendly, with the right provocation, and I can say the same of the spirits that I would say of any of you. Who among us could not be driven to lash out?"

He spread his arms and looked slowly across the assembled mages, many of them breaking away from his gaze, before he moved on. "Karl, actually. I always thought he'd be First Enchanter, one day. But, they sent him to Kirkwall, and I don't think anywhere in Thedas hasn't heard what happened in Kirkwall. But, I expect that was Anders -- He always did make a splash."

"Especially when he hit the lake," Kinnon remarked, a smile sneaking across his face until he couldn't hold back the laugh.

"I told him there were easier ways across the lake, but did he ever listen to me?" Fen'Din sighed and shook his head. "But, they must be away from there, by now, and there is one place I know to look for them, no matter what they used to say about the Hinterlands or Minrathous. They will have opened the way for us. We will be welcome, as long as we can get there."

Petra cleared her throat. "And where is 'there', exactly?"

"I told you. We're going to the Anderfels." Fen'Din smiled in that entirely unsettling way he had, as if he'd never quite figured out the purpose of a smile. "A little village on the Lattenfluss, just over the river from Kassel. It's easy by the Imperial Highway, but I think we want to stay off the roads until we're much further north." He gestured after the templars.

"The... Anderfels," Kinnon repeated, eyes owlish. "That's... But Tevinter is just as close, right? Maybe closer?" He glanced at the mage next to him, who verified this with a nod. "So why don't we go there, where mages are actually treated like people? I don't want to trade in a Fereldan tower for an Ander one!"

"We won't end up in an Ander tower," Petra assured him, rubbing her forehead. "But, Fen'Din, that is a long way to travel with such a large group. And not easy to travel! We would have to cross water, mountains, desert..."

"What? No." Kinnon shook his head. "No. I want to enjoy my freedom while I can. Grab a pint at a tavern, served by a pretty girl. Let Karl and Anders enjoy their freedom how they want!"

"You could always have that pint and still head for the Anderfels," Keili said softly. "You could even have that pint in the Anderfels."

"I want the world they dreamed of. I want to find them and to take my place at their side, where I belong. As I said, you are welcome to follow, but that is where I'm going." Fen'Din re-attached the torch to the cart and checked to make sure everything they'd taken out was back where it went. "We can stop and get pints in Orlais or Nevarra, but we have to get over the mountains, first. We have to get out of Ferelden, while they still think we're here. While they're still checking the docks for us. If you want to go to Tevinter, it's the same way I'm going, for most of the way, anyway. You'll just want to stay on the Highway, when I turn west. It might be easier if I go to Minrathous and then catch a boat, in which case, it's the same way the whole way, but I won't know which decision to make until further up the path. All I can see now is Orlais. All I can concern myself with is the first step, and that is not being in Ferelden."

"He has a point," Petra admitted. "Whether we get all the way up there or not, we need to get away from the people who might recognise us. We got lucky with those templars -- a bunch of new recruits, from the look of them -- but we're not going to get that lucky again. There are Orlesian towns and cities on the Highway, and we can stop and reconsider, there."

"We need to stay away from Val Royeaux. Let's go on to Nevarra," one of the singers argued. "They killed Irving, in Val Royeaux. The templars in Orlais have run mad. We can get some supplies, but we can't stay there."

"As long as those supplies include some Orlesian chocolates," Kinnon said, "I am fine with not staying in Orlais."

"I always wanted to see Orlais and Nevarra," Petra said, surprised by the realisation that she technically could, now. They were on the run, yes, and they had to be careful, but they were free. For the first time in her life, she could choose where she wanted to go or stay. For the barest moment, she considered going home, but she knew that would never work. "And... well, I suppose the Anderfels could be interesting too. Full of history."

"I hear Ander art is really beautiful," Keili said, "and that their chantries glitter like gems." She grinned, broadly and brilliantly. "I would certainly love to see them."

"We'll stop in Halamshiral," Fen'Din decided, suddenly. "I have read stories -- it's big, but not like Val Royeaux, just big enough that no one will notice a performance troupe visiting for an afternoon. Maybe we should tell them we're pilgrims, instead. And maybe we should have something to sell... Herbs. Potions. Fruit. Everything is paid in coin, outside the tower, and we have none. No matter. We will have what we need by the time we need it."

"How can you be so sure of that?" Petra demanded, jarred out of her reverie by the realisation they still had a long way to go, and with nearly no supplies.

"Has it failed me yet?" Fen'Din counted the halla and checked the wolves again. "Come, we have to get off the road. We need to get into the pass and over the mountains. When we're back near civilisation, you can decide whether to stay among them or follow me again, but staying here is not going to end well."

He set off toward the pass, again, and the wolves followed.

"He's really not that reassuring, is he?" Kinnon sighed and set off after the cart, the rest of the mages with him.

Chapter Text

"There's something in the trees," Kinnon insisted, as the rustling grew more intent around them. Wolves -- living wolves -- or maybe bears, he thought. What horrors would come out in the dark of the mountains and eat them before they ever made it to Orlais?

"Don't be ridiculous," Fen'Din scoffed, as a skeletal bird pushed a berry between his lips. "Sisterhood says it is the trees, and I think it knows what its talking about. Unless you meant 'in the trees', like 'the trees are possessed', in which case, yes. They are."

"We're going to be eaten by trees!?" Kinnon howled, and a young-looking tree stepped onto the path behind him, when he turned to jab a finger at Fen'Din. "This is your fault. You got us into this."

"I seem to recall I got us out of something, not into something," Fen'Din huffed, looking up at the towering, leafy creature behind Kinnon. "Hello, tree! We're going to Orlais. Can you tell us if we're going the right way?"

"Before me I do see an elf. With spirits he surrounds himself. But his loud little man does not understand we are nourished by Thedas itself." The tree's words sounded strangely like wind through leaves -- very loud whispers through leaves, in fact.

"Which is to say he's not going to eat you, Kinnon," Petra translated, face still frozen in shock. There was a tree standing in the road talking to them. That was... Did that sort of thing happen often? Was this something she'd become accustomed to outside the tower? She'd certainly never seen any indications trees could talk, before.

Slowly, Kinnon moved until the cart stood between him and the tree. "The tree is talking," he said, eyes round. "The tree is not only talking, it's rhyming. Did you know that rhyming trees existed, Petra?" His voice rose in pitch as he spoke, until his words came out in squeaks.

"It's called a sylvan, I think," Keili said in a small voice. "A tree possessed by a spirit. But... I've always heard them described as violent, not... rhyming."

Kinnon pressed closer to the cart. "Implying it can't be rhyming and violent?"

The tree straightened, leaves bristling, but it only stepped closer to get a better look at them. Petra still found herself reaching for one of her few fire spells, just in case -- except, no, she didn't want to burn down the forest with them in it. That would be a bad thing.

The tree rumbled before speaking again. "The creature you're thinking of, mage, is a tormented monster of rage. No such demon am I, but since you passed by, might a few words be exchanged?"

"It's rhyming again," Kinnon said in a loud whisper.

"Don't mind the loud little man," Fen'Din replied, with a smile. "He's doing the best that he can. As I started to say, we're bound for Orlais, and any help is better than..." He gestured around them with a shrug.

"No, no, no." Kinnon ducked behind Petra. "Is it contagious? I think it's contagious. Now Enchanter Crazypants is doing it too."

One of the wolves chuffed in amusement.

"I have sometimes heard of Orlais, from others who travelled this way. But where to begin or whether you're in, however, I just couldn't say." The tree shrugged, branches creaking and leaves falling. "There are other men in this wood. You'd be best to ask them, if you could. Just head on this way for another half day, and right at their gates you'll be stood."

Fen'Din looked over his shoulder at Petra. "I didn't know there was a town out here... Have you heard of one?"

"A... town? No, I don't think so." Petra tried to picture where they would be on a map. She had found one in one of Fen'Din's books, but it was old and small and didn't have much by way of details. "This seems awfully secluded for a town, unless we're veered really far off track, somehow, which..." She squinted through the trees, but, no, the sun was still on the correct side of them. "I don't think we have."

"Do you think that they would believe we're a travelling troupe?" Keili asked. "All the way out here?"

"Bring the rhyming tree, and they might be more likely to believe us," Kinnon muttered.

"Oh, so now you want the tree with us?" Petra teased.

"No, I was just sarcastically pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation," Kinnon grumbled.

Petra rolled her eyes. "Thank you for clarifying."

Keili watched Fen'Din and the tree make more and more ridiculous rhymes as the conversation continued at a rate she didn't want to think too hard about. "Perhaps we should stop for lunch. I saw some quail, earlier, if the tree hasn't scared them all off."

Petra grinned and called back into the crowd. "Hey, Candles?"

"Yo!" a voice came back.

"How many quail do you think you can hit at once?" Petra asked, crouching down and peering into the shrubbery at the side of the trail.

"How many candles are in a library chandelier?" an elven woman asked, the voice finally taking on a face as she broke through the crowd to look where Petra was pointing.

"Keili thinks she saw some quail, and if the tree hasn't scared them, we can get a good meal," Petra explained.

"Well, some of us. It's going to take more than a few quail to feed us all," Keili sighed.

"The road right here follows a stream. Head that way and watch for the gleam. If you don't mind some fish, you can make quite a dish, as it's down from the lake filled with bream," the tree called over Fen'Din's head.

"Fishing," said Kinnon. "Always wanted to go fishing!" Not that he had any of the materials to do it the traditional way. But, magic existed.

"You just want to get away from the rhyming tree," Keili leaned in to mutter.

"At this point, the rhyming tree is no worse than the rhyming elf." Kinnon pointed at Fen'Din. "But that does not hurt, no."

Petra exchanged a look with Keili as Kinnon cheerfully headed down the road, following the tree's instructions. "Keili, Elma, go along with him and make sure he doesn't fall in. The rest of us will be along with the cart shortly."

As she spoke, Candles cracked her knuckles, squinting into the shrubbery. Her lightning struck without warning, outlining the trees in a crackle of light and sending up a few singed plumes of feathers. A moment later, the air was heavy with the smell of burnt feathers and flesh. 

"Got 'em!" Candles cheered.

"Most of them," Petra agreed, pointing out movement in the brush and an escaping creature.

Lightning cracked again, and this time the base of a tree began to smoulder. "Got 'im!" Candles said, with a cheerful shrug.

"This isn't the practise rooms, Candles!" A wall of ice followed, lancing between trees and uprooting the underbrush, where it passed.

"Forgive them their ignorant ways," Fen'Din said to the tree. "This wasn't the way they were raised. They've never seen trees, or flowers, or bees -- well maybe bees, but that was my fault -- thus these uneducated displays."

The tree blinked at him, considering the concept of a creature that had never been outside. "I would think you were dwarves, but you're tall. And dwarves know no magic at all. But, where were you kept, that left you inept, and what else will your magic befall?"

"Not you," Petra was quick to reply. "Definitely not going to befall you."

"We come from a tower of mages, on Lake Calenhad now for ages. We were trapped in that prison, until spirits arisen let us out in ways truly outrageous." That one was good, and Fen'Din looked a little smug.

Petra was starting to wish she had joined Kinnon and the others. "Let's just... gather up the quail and meet up with the others. Unless, of course, you want to possess the quail so that they can walk to us instead." Her chuckling died out, and she looked concerned. "Please don't actually do that."

"Don't go giving Enchanter Crazypants ideas, Pets," Candles called over her shoulder as she kicked her way through the bushes. She paused mid-stomp and twisted the other way to address the sylvan. "Hang on, rhyming tree. These aren't your cousins or something I'm stepping on, are they?"

It took Petra a moment to realise that the sound of wind rustling through leaves was the sound of the sylvan sighing. She was relieved he didn't do that in meter as well.

"Each plant, rock, and tree is my kin, and, yes, that's a friend you've stepped in. But better your boot than the lightning you shoot, though I wonder where that boot has been."

Candles frowned up at him before lifting one foot to inspect its sole. "Oh, ew. What the Blight did I step in?"

"Just pick up the quail," Petra groaned, leaning forward to thunk her head against the cart.


Kinnon stood on the bank of the river, a sharpened stick in one hand, stabbing at the fish that darted beneath the surface of the water. "I almost got it!" he insisted, as Keili rolled her eyes at Elma.

"I don't think you can stab fish, Kinnon. Aren't you supposed to throw string at them, or something? Or a net? There's all those pictures of nets full of fish and people with fish hanging from strings." Keili watched, dubious, as Kinnon thrust his makeshift spear at another fish he completely missed.

"Kinnon, you idiot," Candles started, and Fen'Din leapt between her and the water. 

"No! Don't do it!" It was the most excited he'd gotten about anything since they'd left the tower. "It would work, but we still don't have nets. There's no way to get them out of the water once you do that, so our supper is going to end up back at the other end of the stream, a day down the road."

"Do you have a better idea?" Petra asked, cynically eyeing the stream and the surrounding mages.

"Let the wolves do it for us," Fen'Din responded, with a shrug and a smile. "It's not like they'll get dog drool on anything."

"And how is that better than me stabbing them?" Kinnon demanded, jabbing at another fish.

"Well, for one, spirits can see underwater and they don't need to breathe. You're standing on the shore. Of course you keep missing."

Kinnon glared, angling his spear for a second as though to stab it at something other than a fish. "Maybe that's because my concentration keeps getting interrupted."

"Just let the wolves do it, Kinnon," Petra sighed. "We have them anyway, and it's really not the worst idea." At Kinnon's dejected look, she rolled her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Fine, you can keep stabbing at the fish, too. Just try not to hit the wolves. They don't need to be any deader than they are." 

One of the wolves wagged its tail in agreement. Since it was mostly bone, it was more disconcerting than cute, at least to Petra. She still offered it an affectionate pat on what was left of its snout.

Another wolf slipped into the river, the fish darting out of the way, but after a time of it standing still, they began circling it as if it were just a rock. The other wolves slid quietly into the water after it, and in a few minutes, the stream had returned to normal.

"That's a great job they're doing," Kinnon grumbled, as the wolves stood still and the fish continued to dart away from his spear.

"Why don't you start a fire?" Fen'Din suggested. "We'll make camp here. Eat, rest, and then go to find these people the tree was talking about."

Suddenly one of the wolves lunged, throwing a fish out of the stream, before settling back to its unmoving state.

"Or you could stab that fish," Fen'Din said, smiling blandly. "Either way, I think we have to cook it before we try to eat it."

"I hope someone knows how to cook fish," Keili said as she watched Kinnon, who was doing a marvellous job of stabbing the stone around the flopping fish. He was bound to hit it eventually, preferably before the fish flopped its way back into the water.

A flash of lightning jolted the fish, and it flopped limply to the ground, smoking. Kinnon turned a betrayed look Candles's way.

"What?" Candles huffed. "I'm hungry!"

One of the wolves flung another fish towards the bank, this one smacking against Kinnon's shins before wriggling on his feet.

"You can stab that one," Candles suggested.

Chapter Text

They followed the path the tree had pointed out, and hoped they were getting closer to civilisation. There were more blisters than Petra could handle, and the idea of walking for months was wearing very thin with most of the mages -- especially since food had been so hard to come by. A rustling in the trees drew their attention, and a deer burst out, racing across the path. And then lightning struck it, and it flew forward into a tree, unmoving once the momentum wore off.

"I think I got enough for all of us!" Candles enthused, running over to investigate the deer. It was very definitely dead, but less cooked than smaller things had been. "Still going to have to make a fire or something. It's too big."

As the mages struggled to load it onto the cart, for later, few of them noticed the hunters creeping out of the trees, around where the deer had appeared.

"Uh, guys?" Kinnon brought up a barrier and clung nervously to his staff.

One of the hunters, painted like some combination of shadows and beasts, lunged forward, shouting angrily as he plunged a spear into... nothing. It bounced off the barrier and tore out of his hand, sending him reeling.

"Hey, hey, that is not necessary!" Petra shouted, scrambling around the cart, to get a better look. "We're not here to hurt you! We just need food and some help!"

Fen'Din quietly worked open the buckles on the wolves' harnesses, and they radiated out from where he crouched to sniff at the edges of the barrier. They liked when Kinnon used arcane spells, he'd noticed.

In the trees, Candles noticed a pair of hunters with bows drawn and trained on them. Clustered as they were, she could easily hit them all with one spell, but Petra caught her eye and sharply shook her head.

The hunter who had thrown the spear eyed the wolves through the barrier. He crouched to pick up his spear and held it at his side, available but unthreatening. Or less threatening. "The gods hunt with you," he said in a rumbling accent Petra didn't recognise. His stare lingered then on Fen'Din, brows knit on confusion under the paint. "What brings a clan of lowlanders into our lands?"

"We are just travelling through," Petra said, still keenly aware of the arrows trained on them, her own barrier spell ready in case Kinnon dropped his. "Sorry about stealing your kill. We didn't know you were hunting that deer. But, there's plenty of meat. Perhaps we could share?"

'Plenty' was an exaggeration with their numbers, but it might be worth the trade, especially if no bowmen tried to shoot her in the face.

Fen'Din rose to approach the hunter, one of the halla following him. "What did you mean 'gods'?"

The hunter blinked at him in confusion and pointed to the halla. After a moment, he gestured to the wolves. "Your gods walk with you."

"My friends walk with me." Fen'Din looked at the halla beside him. "Dolora, are you a god?" He paused. "She says she isn't."

Whispers spread between the other hunters. The word 'augur' came up several times.

"Bring the deer," the first hunter decided. "We will bring you to our thane. She will know what to do."

Petra sighed with relief. "So, there really is a town out here? That's the best thing I've heard all day."

"Hawk Hold," the hunter corrected. "It is where we live and who we are. Where do you come from?"

"The east," Petra said.

"Kinloch Hold," Fen'Din replied at the same time.

"There has been no clan in Kinloch Hold for a thousand years," the hunter pointed out. "Not since the magisters took it. But, our thane will know."

Petra glanced at the bowmen in the trees, thanking the Maker -- or these... gods with them -- that they had put their arrows away. She gave Kinnon a reassuring nod, and only then did Kinnon let the barrier dissipate. When the hunters made no other move to attack even with the barrier down, Petra let her own half-formed spell fizzle out.

"Avvar," Keili whispered to her as the hunters escorted them down the road, in the direction the sylvan had told them. Petra nodded, familiar with the term but knowing scarcely little of the people. Keili twisted her amulet in agitation.

Hours passed before their wooden gates came into view, and by then Petra's feet throbbed. She would wait to heal them, not wanting to risk startling an Avvar with a brush of magic.

"Lowlanders!" One of the hunters called, as they entered the settlement. "Bring Thane Setach! She must judge them! They were hunting on our land, and they claim to be from an eastern hold!"

Faces appeared in doorways and windows as the mages passed through, toward the hall at the far side of the central plaza. Kinnon nervously waved to a few children who stood watching them, stuffing their faces with berries. Women pushed their husbands behind them and made signs against evil spirits as they passed. A group of apprentices glowed a strange and unearthly blue at the sight of the halla.

"Who is the augur?" asked a woman with a weighty spear and heavy red hair. Red, not ginger, Kinnon noticed. Quite a bit like his own, actually.

"If you could tell us what an augur is, we'd be happy to tell you!" Petra said, with a smile. "We're very sorry about the deer. We didn't know anyone else was hunting it. You can have it -- a gift of our goodwill. We can hunt something else." Her stomach growled at the thought.

"I think she means me, Petra." Fen'Din stepped forward, leading one of the halla, still with a mage on its back. "I am Fen'Din, and these are my friends." He rubbed the halla's teeth, gently. "We mean you no harm. We're just trying to get over the mountains."

The woman's eyes were grey and sharp as steel as she looked over Fen'Din, the halla, and the mage astride the halla. "I have not heard of elf augurs, but the world is a strange place." Her voice hardened as she asked, "You use gods as steeds and pets?"

"Use? They're my friends. They're helping us because it's what they want to do. Do you have anyone who speaks with spirits? They're welcome to come speak with the spirits we travel with, if that would set your mind at ease." Fen'Din looked somewhat confused and concerned by this reaction. Certainly people had been horrified at him, in the past, but never for that reason. "And, like Petra, I still don't know what an augur is, but if you're looking for the person the spirits speak to, that's me."

The woman looked mollified, if puzzled, her grip relaxing on her spear. "An augur is... what you lowlanders call a mage. They speak to our gods." She tipped her had at the hunter who had brought them in. "Conall, bring our augur. I would hear his counsel on this matter."

"Yes, Thane Setach." Conall bowed his head respectfully and left the hall.

Petra cleared her throat, barely daring to speak. This woman was more intimidating than a Qunari. "By your definition... yes, Fen'Din is our 'augur'."

"How do you come to travel with an elf?" Setach looked into the crowd. "Several elves, from what I see."

"We all lived together," Petra explained, cautiously. "But, there were some...problems, when our leader died, so some of us left. We're making our way north, to find a new home."

"There was an elf-slum, you mean? I have heard Lowlanders do that." Setach tried to interpret what she was being told, in light of what she'd heard from the dwarven traders who paid her to use the roads.

"No, we all lived in a tower, together," Kinnon corrected.

"We come from Kinloch Hold," Fen'Din offered, rubbing under the chin of another halla that rested its head on his shoulder.

Setach nodded slowly. "I know the place, though I have not been. I have heard strange stories of towers where Lowlanders lock up their mages, but none of elf augurs in such places, blessed by the gods. And the gods have helped you to form your own clan, separate from the others?"

"They helped us," Petra said, glancing at the halla closest to her. "The... gods. But it was our decision to leave." It was odd to think of them as a 'clan', and yet... the people with her were the closest thing to family she had. She could think of worse words for their motley group.

"A decision they are pleased with, if they still follow you," Setach said. "Where are they leading you now?"

Two men entered the hall as she spoke. One was Conall, the hunter they had already met, and the other was a stranger clad in furs, a mask covering half of his face. He considered the halla at Fen'Din's side with a practised eye.

"Orlais, for the moment," Fen'Din answered. "Some of these people would like to go on to Tevinter. I would like to visit the Anderfels. They lead us north, and north we will go. Unfortunately, many of them have never been off the island we lived on, either."

"You called them?" the fur-clad stranger asked.

"No, but they came. When they knew I could see them and hear them -- that I wasn't afraid of them -- they came to talk to me. They told me so many things about the tower we lived in -- about the Fade, about the Veil, about the songs of the world." Fen'Din shrugged and rubbed his cheek on a halla's skull. "I am called Fen'Din. This is Dolora and this is Fastidiousness. We're pleased to meet you, and I'd be happy to introduce you to the rest of our spirits, if you can promise us safety while that happens."

"You have come into my home as guests," Setach declared, with a sweeping gesture. "Though we may test your words and your intentions, it is not our intention to harm or kill you, unless we come to believe you mean to do us harm, in your words or actions."

"Thank you," Petra said, all her relief in those two words. "Is there-- If I may-- That is, we have come a long way, and many of our people are tired. Is there a place they could rest? Fen'Din and I would be more than happy to answer whatever questions you have for us."

Setach nodded and again gestured at Conall. "You have guest-welcome among our clan while you are here, so long as you honour it. We have room enough in the houses of our village and food enough to keep your bellies warm."

Conall gestured for the other mages to follow him, and Keili turned a concerned look at Petra, who smiled reassuringly and waved her on, hoping they hadn't just made a terrible mistake.

One of the halla nuzzled the fur-clad man, who reached up to pet its head, amazed.

"Take the deer," Fen'Din called after them. "We stole it from their hunters. If they're going to feed us, we might as well give it back." He nodded gratefully to Setach, as one of the wolves tugged at its harness. "You are very kind. It wants to thank you. I thank you as well."

"We are not hunters," Petra said, watching the mages take their bundles from the cart and follow the locals out of the plaza. "But, we have a few among us who might be able to help your hunters."

"Conall tells me one of you struck that buck with lightning," Setach said, with an amused smile.

"Candles is really good at that." Petra nodded. "She got us six pheasants in a single shot, yesterday."

As they fell to talking about mundane matters, Fen'Din unbuckled the wolves, who rushed to the augur and pawed at his legs. "I would tell you they are amazed to meet another who can hear them, but you know that. You can hear them."

"I can," the augur agreed. "They are dressed in bones, as you said, to help you. They say you are fleeing a place of demons. Is that so?"

"That's one description of it, yes. We were held prisoner in what is best described as the stronghold of a powerful demon, who has been taunting us with the idea of freedom for generations." Fen'Din smiled, in that uncanny way he had. "And finally, we were strong enough, with their help, to leave."

Petra's brows knit at that description, but she didn't question it. "We have two friends who left before us, and we are hoping to meet up with them." She hoped Fen'Din was right about Anders and Karl going north. Moreover, she hoped Fen'Din was right about Anders and Karl being safe. "It... won't be a short journey, but these spirits -- gods -- seem intent on helping us get there."

Or so she assumed. Petra really had no idea what these spirits wanted, but Fen'Din seemed so sure of them.

The augur nodded. "You are blessed, indeed. The gods don't always answer our prayers and rarely in such numbers. Kinloch Hold has lost a fine augur, and I am sure they grieve your loss."

"They grieve other losses more, I'm sure, and those yet to come." Fen'Din looked grim, an odd twist of his usually faintly amused face. "May they have time to miss us."

"Your gods speak to the truth of your words," Setach glanced at her augur for confirmation and received a slow nod as his attention continued to drift between all the bony faces looking up at him. "But, the gods of other clans are not our gods. We will put your intent to the test of our gods."

Fen'Din and Petra glanced at each other, uncertainly. "And what will this test involve?" Petra asked.

"A test of your courage, a test of your will, and a test of your strength. None of them will be possible without the favour of the gods." Setach's face remained perfectly neutral, an expression that wouldn't have looked out of place on Fen'Din.

"We really don't have any force?" Fen'Din muttered to Petra, and then, "I will meet the first two of those challenges. The third will depend on the nature of the test which of us will speak for us."

Strength. Petra eyed the Avvar towering over the two of them and wondered what show of strength they could possibly make that would impress them.

"Then we shall start with the first two and see if you make it to the third," Setach said with a slim smile. "But that can wait. First you must rest and recover your strength. Join your companions. Eat, drink, and tomorrow we will see."

Setach tipped her head and waved them away with a finality that said the conversation was over. Petra didn't quite hide how relieved she was at that, not when she could feel her stomach gurgling
expectantly.

The augur gave the halla next to him one last pat and led the pair to where they would be staying.

Chapter Text

"The first challenge before you," Setach explained, waving forward a pair of warriors bearing trays of large needles and folded rags, "is one of will."

Fen'Din listened, unmoved, as one tray went on each stump to his sides. Around the edges of the plaza, clansmen and mages gathered to watch the challenge. The clan had seen this type of challenge before, and they whispered among themselves and pointed at the elf who dared to undertake it.

"Place as many needles as you wish into your flesh, in whatever manner you deem fit. Your choices will show us the power of your will and the blessing of the gods. Korth, himself, carved out his own heart and bound it, but that is not a deed for men." Setach gestured at the trays and took a seat between her augur and an older warrior, to watch and judge the challenge. "Begin!"

Without so much as another glance, Fen'Din undressed completely, folding his clothes and setting them onto one of the trays. He gazed down his body, thoughtfully -- where had Anders spoken of the worst pains? His hands tempted him, but those were best saved for last. Underarms didn't seem to be a good starting point, either.

He picked up a needle and studied it, before sliding back his foreskin, with the other hand, and pushing the needle through just below the head and out the hole. If he could remember where all the important parts were, he could do this without making too much of a mess. He wondered if he could set them close enough to jingle without risking them tearing out from the weight.

The Avvar watched, stonily expressionless, but Petra thought she caught a surprised twitch of an eyebrow from Setach. It was easier to watch her than to watch Fen'Din, though Petra watched him out of the corner of her eye to make sure he wasn't causing more damage than she could fix later.

At her shoulder, someone made a strangled sound, and Petra glanced back to see Kinnon, face a ghostly shade of white. "All right?" she whispered back to him.

"I'm not sure I'll ever be all right again," Kinnon whispered back.

The needles went in easily, and Fen'Din never stopped smiling. Not the faintest hint of a grimace or a wince. Not a word spoken. Six needles passed, then two more between his testicles, four between his toes. He reached for another needle, but they were gone, and he stepped out, carefully, from between the stumps, turning to slowly display all of the needles to the crowd, before turning to Setach.

"Do you have any more? I had a rhythm going, and it feels incomplete."

Behind him, a soft thump and a murmur echoed through the crowd as Kinnon's head dropped out of sight. Petra's "Shit!" was clearly audible across the plaza as she ducked after him, to make sure he hadn't given himself a concussion in the fall.

"I admit to being impressed, Lowlander," Setach said, eyes gleaming with something between approval and amusement, "both by you with your poise and daring and by your friend for dropping so quickly."

"He's fine!" Petra called out over the Avvar's laughter. She helped Kinnon sit up. "We're fine! Carry on!"

"You have passed the challenge of will," Setach continued, her voice ringing across the plaza. Her declamation was met with thunderous applause and cheering from mage and Avvar alike.
"Next comes the challenge of courage, but first you may tend to yourself." With a sharp smile, she added, "You may keep the needles, if you wish."

"Thank you, but they're a little long. I think they might catch on my trousers." Fen'Din looked at himself, bemused and somewhat saddened. He thought keeping them might be a nice touch, but there was no way that would work.

"Hey, hey, Lowlander!" An adolescent boy waved from the edge of the crowd. "That was incredible! Come to my mother's shop! She's a smith! She'll make you something nice just so she can say you're wearing it!"

"I suppose the gods really are looking out for me, today," Fen'Din joked, picking up his folded clothing and holding it somewhat modestly as he slid out the needles between his toes before following the boy into the crowd. Chuckles and congratulations followed in his wake.

Petra shook her head at Fen'Din's back but kept her attention on her patient. "Feeling any better, Kinnon? I've sent Keili for some water."

Kinnon blinked owlishly up at her. "I don't remember lying down..." He glanced past Petra, where Fen'Din had been sitting the last time he looked. "Where's Fen'Din? Did he win?"

"Oh, he won!" said Candles cheerfully, crouching over them. "Turned his knob into a pincushion, and now he's off to commemorate it!"

Kinnon looked a bit green around the edges. "Commemorate?"

Candles's grin widened. "He's been offered jewellery. You know, for his new piercings."

Kinnon made another solid thud as he slumped to the ground.

"Dammit!" Petra hissed. At least he didn't have as far to fall this time. 



Fen'Din reappeared shortly before the second challenge was announced, surrounded by a small group of men and women of the hold. He looked confused, as he approached Kinnon and Petra, in the shade of one of the craft halls.

"And this is my friend Kinnon. You'll like him. He's much more... human. And alive." Fen'Din smiled awkwardly at the other mages.

"Maybe, but he wasn't laughing and telling funny stories while Muirenn fixed rings through his shaft," a young woman pointed out, still giving Kinnon a once over.

"All. Twelve." A hunter of about the same age looked awed, still. "I took three. And in the name of the Mountain Father himself, I didn't take them there."

"Conall's father took eight, in that argument with Fennec-Tooth," said a woman with a distaff and spindle, still spinning as she chatted. "But, all along the top of his arm, and with a bit of hissing. The other hunter took six and wept."

"But, here's this one," a young man said to Kinnon, cocking a thumb at Fen'Din, "takes all twelve and then doesn't even bat an eye with Muirenn tugging at his shaft."

Kinnon looked up at the group from where he sat at Petra's side. "I'd blink," he admitted. "I'd flutter my eyes and bark, if it'd get me that treatment."

"Why don't you try it?" Candles suggested. "See if it works."

"Please don't bark at the locals," Petra sighed. She eyed Fen'Din, tossing some low-level healing his way. He didn't seem to have stabbed himself anywhere that made her worried, but if there was one thing she had learned from Wynne, it was better to be safe with Fen'Din.

"So," Kinnon addressed one young woman standing close to Fen'Din, "any idea what the test of courage will be? Because if it involves Fen'Din mooning a dragon, I get two sovereigns." He pointed at Candles with his thumb over his shoulder.

"She doesn't even have two sovereigns to give you," Petra sighed. She did quite a bit of sighing around these two.

"It depends on the gods," the woman answered. "Conall had to bait a bear, naked."

"I remember that," one of the men next to her laughed. "When the bear roared at him, he roared back even louder."

"Have we had a pit of snakes, lately? I don't think we've done that in a while." The woman with the spindle twirled it idly, nose scrunched as she tried to remember.

"No, because that wasn't our test. That was from the dispute about the dragon with those Dalish." The hunter held out his hand to Fen'Din, who was still somewhat improperly dressed. "If you're ready, we'll take you to the thane. She'll tell you what to do next."

Chapter Text

Setach waited with her augur. "I see you've chosen to join us again, Lowlander. Already courageous."

"Just a traveller looking to the road ahead," Fen'Din replied, still trying to figure out what had happened to his smalls.

"You'll feed the hawks, for your foresight." Setach smiled thinly, a faint sparkle in her eyes. "Another challenge to be undertaken in the nude. Bring him the meat!"

The gathered Avvar howled and cheered as one of their hunters brought out a bag, which he handed to Fen'Din.

"Really?" Kinnon muttered to Petra. "Why does he have to be naked to feed birds? I'm beginning to think the thane just has a thing for him."

Petra shushed him, but Candles leaned in on Kinnon's other side. "Looks like you owe me two sovereigns," Candles whispered.

"What?" Kinnon hissed. "Your bet was that they would try to have him poop on a bird!"

"Yes, and I was close. There are birds involved."

"That doesn't count!"

Petra reached around to smack them each upside the head.

Fen'Din left his clothes with Petra, this time, to avoid losing any more of them. He followed one of the hunters up to the cliff-top aerie, above the village, studying the plants they passed.

"I don't understand why this is supposed to be frightening," he said, opening the bag to retrieve the first length of twine dotted with organ meats. "And I'm not sure what being naked has to do with it."

"You've never met a falcon, have you?" The hunter laughed and shook his head. "I wouldn't try this without clothes. I wouldn't try this without my gloves and shoulders. They get a little excited about food. And they get even more excited by small bouncing things." He pointed down.

Fen'Din shrugged. "I'd miss the rings," he said. "I just got those."

The hunter blinked at him a few times. "I've got my gear, and I'll be back here. Scream bloody murder, if you need me to come carry you out. You've got four strands, and you'll want to get all the way out to the end and back. Stay on the path."

The first thing Fen'Din noticed was the smell -- a sharp reek that underlaid everything else. And then the birds saw him, saw what he was carrying, and they were on him, tearing at the twine in his hands and screeching as they pulled away, to call the others. The first string went alarmingly fast, and the birds pecked at his hands, as he tried to get the next.

But, he wasn't afraid of them. They couldn't hurt him. Well, they couldn't make him feel pain, anyway. That talon in his shoulder did make it hard to move his arm, and he lured the bird away with the next bit of meat.

Petra stared up the cliff-face, chewing on her thumbnail as she watched the distant whirlwind of feathers. She couldn't make him out from here, but at least she would be able to hear if he started screaming. Assuming he would start screaming. The mad elf probably wouldn't even notice if a bird pecked a hole in his arm.

Oh well. Any damage they did, she could fix later.

"Can you see anything?" Kinnon asked in a loud whisper. He clutched at Petra's sleeve.

She shook her head.

In the end, Fen'Din returned, still standing, one hawk firmly attached to his shoulder and another, smaller hawk trying to build a nest in his hair. He was spattered with blood, some of it his own, but he'd wiped the worst of it off with the now-empty sack he carried in one hand.

"Can someone please get this bird off me? Either of these birds?" he asked, sounding terribly put out. "Flannan tried, but they just keep coming back."

The augur sat down on the fence he'd been leaning on, cackling madly at the sight of the naked elf, covered in blood and hawks.

Kinnon saw the blood and the new piercings and whimpered.

"Kinnon, I swear to the Maker," Petra said, "if you pass out again, I'm not healing your concussion this time."

A few members of Fen'Din's new Avvar fanclub crowded him, trying to help coax the hawks off of him. They squawked and flapped their wings indignantly but eventually relocated to a tree branch just overhead. They still eyed Fen'Din as though expecting more food to materialise out of his hands.

"Has he passed the challenge?" Petra asked the thane.

Setach had a hand over her face, trying and failing to hide her laughter. "Yes, of course he has passed. The gods are pleased with his showing so far. Rest, and then we will discuss the third challenge."

Petra took that as her cue and elbowed her way past Fen'Din's admirers to light up his skin with healing. Nothing too horrifying, she found, but she didn't like the amount of blood. "Fen'Din, sit. No, put on some pants, then sit."

The elf did as he was told. "It's not ... most of it came out of the bag," he protested. "And now I'm hungry, too. Watching the birds eat reminded me I got rings put in, instead of getting lunch."

"Food!" called out one of the crowd. "Lunch for the Augur of Kinloch Hold!"

"When did you become Avvar?" Petra teased, filling in the punctures from the hawks' talons.

"Somewhere around the twelfth needle, apparently," Fen'Din replied, with a shrug. "Does this make you our thane?"

"I wonder if we can actually make it north like that. We're not escaped mages, we're an Avvar clan." Kinnon still looked like he might fall down, looking at all the blood. "What's the next challenge? Wrestling warriors? Heaving bears? You up for it?"

"Probably not. I don't think I'm the best choice for a challenge of strength. Especially not after that." Fen'Din shook his head and prodded his freshly-healed shoulder. "Which isn't to say you don't do good work, but Wynne always said I wasn't to do anything strenuous after things like that."

"Wynne was a wise woman," Petra agreed. "Having something to eat is also a good idea. We can worry about the third challenge once we know what it is."

As confident as she sounded, she was concerned. Without Fen'Din, she wasn't sure they would have passed the first two tests, and strength? Physical strength wasn't exactly something the Circle emphasised.

"Between the lot of us, there's bound to be someone who isn't useless," Candles added with a cheerful nod.

Kinnon made some kind of sound that could have been agreement or nausea.



The third challenge still loomed over them, the next morning. Maybe Fen'Din would do it after he'd rested, the other mages speculated, but over breakfast, he insisted he wasn't the best choice.

"How are you not the best choice?" Candles argued. "It's a contest to see if you have the favour of the gods. You walked in here with a dozen of them."

Keili looked up from her berries and eggs, blinking as if something had just occurred to her. "Because I am."

Kinnon pointed. "That is absurd. How, exactly, do you expect to dead-lift a dragon, or whatever it is?"

"The Maker rewards the faithful." Keili looked down the table. "Who among us is more trusting in the Maker's way, incomprehensible as it may be at times? It's not a test of strength. It's a test of faith."

Kinnon rubbed his forehead. "So, you want to beat a test for Avvar gods with faith in a completely different god?"

"Yes," Keili said unfalteringly, as though the answer were obvious. "Maker willing, that is how we shall win. Assuming he wishes us to, but he has guided us safely so far."

Petra shrugged at Fen'Din. "Honestly, I'm not seeing any better options. Why not?"

"Our thane has spoken," Candles drawled, pouring a handful of berries into her mouth. "So, what do you think happens if we fail? Do they kill us or just kick us out?"

"Candles," Petra said disapprovingly.

"We won't fail," Keili assured them, returning to her eggs.

Chapter Text

The final challenge was announced in the plaza, as the others had been. Setach and her augur waited, as the mages approached.

"Who stands for you?" she asked, half-expecting it to be Fen'Din, again, despite his protests, but a woman strode forward.

"I stand for us. It is my strength you will judge." Keili looked as certain as she had battling the ancient demon in the foyer, all those years ago, Kinnon thought.

"So be it!" Setach declared, without a moment's hesitation. "You will climb the cliff below the aerie. Unlike the other challenges, this is a competition. You must best the hunter whose meat you stole."

"We gave it back!" Candles complained from the side of the plaza.

"You did! And so we will weight him with a single stone." Setach gestured into the crowd. "Conall, come forward to meet this challenge."

Conall strode proudly forward, shoulders back and head held high. His skin was painted for battle. "I would know the name of my challenger," he said, inclining his head respectfully in Keili's direction. He stood more than a head taller than she did and was easily twice as broad.

"I am Keili," she answered, "and I wish you well."

Conall's lips twitched up in an almost-smile, and it was difficult to tell if it was genuine or mocking. "Gods be with you."

Setach pointed across the plaza. "You will be climbing that cliff face when I give you the word. First, our Augur will weigh down Conall with a single stone. Kinloch Hold clan, you may test the weight of the stone first, if it pleases you."

"I have faith," Keili declared, brushing aside the hands of the other mages. "It is all I need."

Kinnon turned around, as Keili stepped up to the cliff. "I can't watch this. What if she falls?"

"That's why we have a healer, innit?" Candles joked, draping her arm across Kinnon's chest and resting a hand on his shoulder.

"No," Petra said, quietly. "If she falls too far, there's nothing I can do. I'm not Wynne."

Fen'Din watched Keili's first hesitant grabs at the stone. "Kinnon, if she falls, she's your problem. How fast can you cast a barrier?"

"Maker's breath, are you kidding me? You want me to catch her?" Kinnon whirled around, horrified.

"I think you stand a better chance than most of us of actually having any useful spells and getting them off in time."

Kinnon looked ill, but he nodded, squaring his jaw. "Guess that means I have to watch this, then."

Candles squeezed his shoulder in consolation.

With Keili and Conall in place, Setach's voice filled the plaza. "Begin!"

Conall had clearly climbed this cliff before. He reached for a jut of stone and pulled himself up with the confidence of someone who knew where he was heading. But next to him, Keili did the same.

Petra chewed on her thumbnail, wincing when Keili's foot slid. Next to her, she saw Kinnon's fingers twitch in the beginning of a spell, but Keili recovered quickly, finding a better foothold and hoisting herself up.

"She's moving too fast to get a good hold," Petra muttered.

"She's gotta move fast if she wants to beat him," Candles replied. "But look at her go!"

The crowd was a cacophony of shouting and cheers, encouragement from both sides that melded into a roar, but as Keili pulled ahead, the mages did their best to be heard over the din.

Fen'Din chanced a glance at the Avvar crowd and, in front of them, at the augur who squinted intently at something that didn't seem to be one of the challengers, on the side of the cliff. Following the man's line of sight, he saw it too -- and most likely, no one else did. Bright colours and flashes of feathers, each time Keili moved a hand or a foot. Some spirit climbed with her, and it wasn't one of the ones from Kinloch Hold, as far as he could tell.

"She's won," he said, quietly.

"What are you even talking about!?" Kinnon barked, voice sharp with nerves. "They're barely halfway up!"

"She's not alone, and it isn't ours. By the very definition of the challenge, she's won. Their gods favour her." Fen'Din watched curiously, as Keili's movements grew more sure and steady, each one landing a solid grip on a strong support.

"Weird spirit shit. Great." Candles shook her head and chuckled. "I guess it's a good thing we brought you along, isn't it?"

Fen'Din laughed. "Oh, yes, an excellent choice. Can't imagine where you'd have gotten to without me. Probably Aeonar, don't you think?"

Kinnon's fingers flickered again, and Fen'Din's eyes leapt back to the cliff in time to see Keili land solidly after a strange sideways leap that put her on a better incline.

"What the blighted Void is she doing?" Kinnon clutched Petra's shoulder for balance as his knees weakened.

"Besides giving each of us a heart condition?" Petra said with a crooked grin. "She's winning."

As Kinnon clutched Petra's shoulder, Candles still clutched his, her grip tightening the higher Keili climbed. She bounced on her feet, jostling Kinnon and hissing, "Go, go, go!" under her breath.

Conall glimpsed Keili out of the corner of his eye and reached steadily higher, his longer reach still an advantage Keili didn't have. One slip, one false grip, and he could pull ahead again. This close to the top, there was no room for error.

And Keili made an error, reaching for a loose rock, but instead of slipping or stalling, she continued climbing, a hand steadying her that she could not see. Her arms were shaking and sore, but she could see the ledge. 

Candles's chanting rose to a shout as Keili reached the top, pulling herself up and over the ledge. Conall was still climbing.

"Oh, thank the Maker," Kinnon groaned. He let his jelly knees bear him to the ground.

"I'll admit I wasn't expecting that to actually work," Fen'Din said, still gazing up at the cliff.

"Then why didn't you do it yourself?" Petra asked, shoving Fen'Din's shoulder.

"Because it wouldn't have worked for me. Our spirits would have come to me, yes. I'd have made the climb. But, we're not here to impress our spirits. We're here to impress theirs." Fen'Din cracked a smile, like those smiles when he swore he knew nothing about what Ser Drass was doing lying in a pool of wax at the bottom of the library stairs. "I knew one of you would be strong enough to do it, but it couldn't be me, because I can actually speak to them."

"So, it's not really strength, like picking stuff up," Candles said, thoughtfully. "It's... strength of what, faith? I mean, if it's really faith, then obviously Keili's the one, like she said."

"Strength of anything, really," Fen'Din offered, shrugging, as the hunters at the top of the cliff led the challengers back through the aerie and down. "Strength of will, strength of faith, strength of love or hope or compassion. These are the things that draw spirits. Someone had to have something that would draw one of the local spirits -- and I'm still working on how faith in the Maker managed that."

"Faith is faith." Petra shrugged. "If her faith is strong, do the spirits care what it is for?" Not that she knew the first thing about this spirit nonsense, but she had been around enough spirit healers (and Fen'Din) to make a few educated guesses.

"Who cares?" Candles laughed, tugging at Kinnon's arm until he reluctantly pulled himself back to his feet. "We won! Their gods approve, and that means we're -- I don't know -- guests of honour? Or at least guests they're not going to kick out or try to kill."

"I like being that type of guest," Kinnon muttered.

Another cheer went up as Conall and Keili reappeared. Keili met her friends with a beaming grin, and Petra pulled her into a hug, which Kinnon and Candles piled onto.

"Thank you for not falling," Kinnon said, voice muffled against Candles's arm.

"Did... did I really beat him?" Keili asked, finally, from under the pile of mages.

"Just barely, but absolutely," Petra assured her. "How did you do that? That was incredible! You just... all of a sudden, you just started climbing like you knew what you were doing!"

"I prayed to the Maker, and Andraste came to me in a vision." Keili smiled tiredly. "I don't know why she had feathers, but she guided me. Told me my faith would preserve me. And it did. I did it. I didn't fall."

Conall stood back by the Avvar crowd, surrounded by other hunters, and shooting dirty looks at the mages. Next to him, the thane and her augur discussed the results of the contest.

"Drost tells me what I could not see, and that the hand of the Lady guided Kinloch Hold's champion to the top of the cliff. She has won not only the favour of her own gods, but of ours, and we extend our favour in light of this. I will discuss the possibility of a treaty of safe passage with the Thane of Kinloch Hold, over supper." Setach's voice echoed across the plaza. "The people of Kinloch Hold are our guests, favoured friends of our own gods, as proven by their successes, this day. We welcome warmly these Lowlanders, and I invite their hunters to join our own to provide for a feast. Such victory should be celebrated!"

"We have hunters?" Kinnon asked.

As one, Keili and Petra pointed at Candles, who grinned and cracked her knuckles. "Ooh, I get to show them how to catch and cook dinner at the same time!"

"Gross," Petra said fondly. "Do us proud!"

Candles and a couple other mages disappeared to join the Avvar hunters. It had been a trying couple of days -- couple of weeks -- but now they were safe. Celebrating seemed like a good idea.

Chapter Text

By nightfall, the feast was in full swing -- meat cooked over every fire, and everyone had a cup of mead. Petra warned the mages not to get drunk, that being drunk out here might end in stumbling off a cliff or insulting the gods. But, she and Fen'Din and Keili sat with the thane and her augur, at the head of the hall, eating and drinking and talking about the little concerns of living and leading a tribe.

Setach told stories of defeating challengers to become the thane and reworking old treaties with the dwarves. Petra tried to explain the much less violent process of electing a First Enchanter, and how the College of Enchanters had worked, when there still was one. To the other side of them, Drost and Fen'Din talked about spirits, over Keili's protests that the Maker did not intend his first and second children to interact.

"And the Voice of the Maker shook the Fade, saying: In My image I have wrought My firstborn. You have been given dominion over all that exists. By your will all things are done," Fen'Din intoned, with a smile at Keili. "And then, the Canticle says, 'Now, with their Father's eye elsewhere, the firstborn at last created something new: envy. They looked upon the living world and the favoured Sons and daughters there, covetous of all they were. Within their hearts grew an intolerable hunger.' He parted them from us because they did nothing, and then the first to create -- the first to seize the will granted the second children -- were demons. But, they're not all demons -- I don't think you'll argue that point with me. The Maker cast down the first demons and bound them in the earth. But, clearly, some of the firstborn escaped that fate, because they're doing as they were intended. They're creating. They're making things that couldn't be, without them. And so are we, also as intended."

He reached out and stabbed another bit of meat off the serving platter for himself. "So, in essence, whether you call them gods or spirits, we're in the company of people who have managed to live the life the Maker intended for his children."

Keili's lips pursed, and Petra saw her readying an argument behind them. Instead, Petra passed the serving platter directly in front of Keili, drawing her eyes away.

"Arguing politics or religion is a good way for a feast to turn into a food fight," Petra said with a tight smile, "and this food is much too delicious to be tossing around." Which was true. After subsisting on lightning-roasted pheasant and fish, whatever was in front of them tasted divine. She could only identify some of the food, but she tried it all.

"But..." Keili started to protest, even as she took the platter.

"Keili, my dear," said Petra, "you have already proven the strength of your faith. Any words would pale in comparison, anyway."

Mollified, Keili nodded and served herself another helping of meat.

Setach watched over the rim of her cup, a smirk pulling at her lips. "I see why you are thane," she teased.

"I, uh. Yes. It's a bit like herding cats, really."

"The only cats I know are the lions of Orlais," Setach joked, taking a sip before she continued. "I would like to exchange a safe passage treaty with you. Once you have settled in your new home, you would have the right to pass freely through our lands, provided you do no harm, and we would have the same rights in your lands. Is this agreeable?"

"I can't speak for our new lands. We may be returning to a Lowland city, far from here. It depends on whether they will accept us." Petra nibbled at some sort of fruit gravy on a surprisingly tasty leaf. "We are trying to get to the Anderfels. We have friends on the river who may be able to help us. So, I suppose the question is what assistance can we offer in exchange for your help getting as far north as possible?"

"Hunt with us," Setach replied. "Help us cure the meat and preserve fruit for later in the year. In a few days, the dwarven traders will return from Redcliffe, and they are the ones you will want to ask. I have heard them speak of getting wealthy with statues from the Anderfels."

"That seems a fair enough trade," Petra agreed. "Plus I think Candles is starting to enjoy hunting, perhaps a bit too much." She glanced down at the table where Candles and Kinnon sat, surrounded by Avvar hunters. Candles was, it seemed, fairly popular, judging by the number of Avvar trying to ply her with drinks. Petra hoped Kinnon was keeping an eye on that.

"Excuse me," said Keili, leaning over the table to join in their conversation, "but did you say dwarves?"

"I did," Setach answered.

"Don't dwarves travel underground?" Not that Keili had had more than passing interactions with any dwarves, but that is something she thought was consistent.

"They often do, yes," Setach responded, amused.

Keili turned round eyes on Petra.

"What's wrong with underground?" Petra asked, still slicing meat on her plate.

"Darkspawn? Demons?" Keili gestured futilely. "A thousand tons of stone over your head?"

"You lived in the tower," Fen'Din reminded her. "It's a lot more likely to fall on you than dwarven tunnels. You don't hear about dwarven settlements getting crushed by cave-ins."

"No, but you do hear about them being overrun by darkspawn!" Keili argued.

"The Blight's over," Petra reminded her, gently patting Keili's arm. "The darkspawn have gone back to wherever they go when they're not invading places. And if you were a merchant, wouldn't you make sure your trade routes avoided those places?"

Keili sighed, stabbing her meat with a bit more force than necessary. "I know. But we only just got out of being surrounded by stone. I'm not looking forward to feeling closed in again." Under her breath, she added something else about darkspawn possibly being there anyway.

"It's just for a little while," Petra said, hoping she was right. "It's better than crossing over mountains and deserts, and we're less likely to run into templars."

"Templars or darkspawn," Keili sighed. "This is the choice we have."

"After what I have seen since you all arrived," Setach said, refilling her cup, "I would fear more for the darkspawn."

"I fear Kinnon's going to wind up with a concussion," Petra muttered, looking down the table to where Kinnon was still trying to impress some warriors with his magic. "Kinnon! Knock it off! What did I say about mixing mead and magic!"

"If he keeps that up, I think you'll be the one to give it to him," Fen'Din teased, spooning honey onto a slice of ... he wasn't sure what that had started out as, but it was tasty, now.

"Maker preserve us all," Keili muttered into her drink.

"The dwarves travel the Deep Roads all the time," Drost reminded her, gently. "And you travel with your own gods. From what I have seen, maybe the dwarves should be paying you to guard them. You will have little trouble, if you have done battle with demons, like your augur says. It is a long road, but you are in good company." One of the halla leaned over his shoulder and bumped his cheek. "Dolora is concerned about you. What is it that you are unhappy with? It's more than the Deep Roads."

Keili opened and closed her mouth a few times and stared down into her drink. Petra knew her to be a melancholy drunk and hoped that wasn't what she was seeing.

"I keep wondering if I should have stayed," Keili admitted. "I... hated the tower, but it's where mages are supposed to be, to keep the world and ourselves safe. I thought the Maker was giving me a sign when you opened the walls, Fen'Din, but... sometimes I doubt."

"I'd say the Maker gave you a pretty strong sign while you were climbing," Petra said, skirting the issue of where mages should or should not be. She had her own lengthy response to that, but getting into an argument wouldn't help.

"I don't understand your 'Maker'," Drost admitted, after a moment. "Why would something create a world and abandon it instead of changing it, if it wasn't what they wanted? It seems foolish. Our gods are not the creators, but they are what we need. We trade with them, and they help us when we need. We sing, we make sacrifices, we undertake what they ask of us -- from what I know of the Lowlanders, this is what you do for your Maker, but he gives nothing back, because he has turned away from his people? It doesn't seem like a good deal."

"The idea," Fen'Din said, with a mouthful of something sweet and greasy, "is that we are trying to lure him back to the world. To prove that we are good enough."

"Your all-father is kind of a deep latrine, as far as gods go, no personal offence intended to the lot of you. What kind of parent abandons their children for doing childish things?" Drost shook his head. "Our gods may become angry with us -- sometimes they punish us for doing wrong -- but when we do right, they are just as quick to reward us. They teach us. They instruct us. They help us become better. How does the Maker help you become better?"

"In wanting to be worthy of Him, we make ourselves better," Keili replied. "We treat each other better, hold ourselves accountable. Or... we should. A good parent also allows his children to grow, without holding their hands when they are old enough. It is perhaps, not the best deal, no, but I believe it was the one we were given. It is our duty now to make the best of it, not to complain. Turning away from him and towards other gods is what made him turn away in the first place."

Drost shook his head with a companionable chuckle. "I do admire the strength of your conviction, if your not conviction itself." He patted Keili on the back hard enough to knock her forward. "I'll never understand it. But come! Have another drink."

Petra had visions of Keili stumbling drunkenly off a cliff at this rate. At least Kinnon had stopped casting.

"You should've seen us," Kinnon was telling some wide-eyed apprentices. "Demons to the left of us, demons to the right, and there we were -- it was me and Petra with Enchanter Wynne and the Hero of Ferelden herself. Solona just started hammering on the big one with ice and ice and ice, and there was fire everywhere--"

"Some ancient rage demon the enchanters trapped, centuries ago, if you listen to a word out of Nolan," Candles added, rolling her eyes. "I guess he was trying to stop Gant from waking it up, before ... well, you know. Still, it wasn't Slapwits and the King of Farts, this time. I heard Solona let the thing out, so she could kill it."

"We helped," Kinnon insisted. "There were shadows everywhere -- the kind that'll kill you, but we squished them flat!"

"Squished them?" asked one of the apprentices, completely absorbed in the story. "How did you manage that?"

"I have my ways," Kinnon said with a coy smile.

"By which he means magic," Candles cut in. "Magic specifically for squishing."

"Can you show us?" asked another apprentice, pressing closer excitedly.

"I, uh." Kinnon shot a look at Petra, who frowned back at him as though reading his mind. She couldn't possibly hear them from all the way over there, could she? "I would love to, really, but some magic is much too dangerous to take lightly. It would be irresponsible of me." He puffed out his chest and reached for his cup.

"Giving him alcohol was a bad idea," Petra sighed.

Chapter Text

"Why would anyone want to go to the Anderfels?" the trader asked, bafflement clear even through his bounteous beard. "It's nothing but death, death, sun, and death up there, with the occasional darkspawn. I know the people make some art that really sells in Val Chevin, but that's that tortured artist thing, I think."

"If we don't like it, we can always go on to Minrathous," Kinnon pointed out.

"Or you could save yourself the trouble and go to Minrathous to begin with," the trader argued. "We can get you there. You'd come up through the Dwarven Embassy, right in the middle of the city. I mean, people keep telling me Minrathous is a nice place, but the Tevinters never did learn how to use stone properly. The whole place is going to fall in on their pointy magisterial heads, one of these decades."

Petra cleared her throat. "Nonetheless, Kassel is where we need to go, Master Ansgar. We are prepared to offer our services as guards, hunters, and healers, for the duration of the journey. We may not know much about the Deep Roads, but we can flawlessly hit a running buck at ten yards."

Ansgar let out a belly laugh at that. "You won't be seeing too many running bucks in the Deep Roads, lady. But there's always the occasional deep stalker. They're ugly things, but their meat tastes as good as any other." He looked Petra up and down as though sizing her up. "As long as you're pulling your own weight, I don't see the trouble. We're heading that way anyway."

"We appreciate that," Petra said, shoulders sagging in relief. "We'll help make sure the journey goes as smoothly as possible."

Keili still looked less than thrilled at the prospect, but she kept her thoughts to herself.

Candles and Kinnon, somewhat hungover, as they'd been since the first night in the village, were demonstrating their talents for some of the locals and a few members of the trade caravan. Flashes of fire and lightning brightened that side of the crafthall, and Kinnon met every shot Candles took at him with a strong shield. One of the Avvar came back in with a pile of bones from the midden heap, and Candles shot them down, as the dwarves tossed the bones into the air.

"Did I mention I could juggle?" Kinnon asked, holding his hand out. One of the traders tossed him one bone at a time, until he got a nice rotation going. After five, with every new one added, Candles shot one down.

"Have you ever thought of touring as a travelling show?" a dwarf asked, hands on her hips as she watched them.

"It was one of our first thoughts!" Candles replied, grinning as she turned her back on Kinnon and still made the next shot. "We got to put on a show on the side of the road, for some templars. No magic in that one, though. You know Enchanter Creepy can breathe fire? It's not even magic. Wildest thing."

"Like a dragon?" the dwarf laughed. She glanced back at Fen'Din, where he and Petra were talking to Ansgar. "Skinniest dragon I've ever seen."

"If it turns out he's hiding wings and a tail under that robe, I'm definitely going to Minrathous," Kinnon said, still juggling.

"Considering how Tevinter is with dragons, that might not help," Candles said in a sing-song voice. "Besides, you already know what's under that robe."

She waggled her eyebrows, and Kinnon faltered, fumbling a bone, another hitting his head before it tumbled to the ground. "Please don't remind me. I drank myself into a stupor last night, and those piercings still gave me nightmares." Clutching the bones he hadn't dropped, Kinnon stared out at nothing with a haunted look on his face.



The mages hadn't expected to find a market at the gates of Orzammar. Of course, they weren't really sure what to expect at all, but that was on exactly no-one's list. The dwarves they were travelling with, however, behaved as though this were perfectly normal, and the mages tried to follow suit.

"Hrildan!" Ansgar called out, as they approached the market. "Aren't you supposed to be in Amaranthine, by now?"

"Do you know I lost the Amaranthine route?" The other dwarf huffed, crossing her arms. "I guess when the Wardens opened up the Deep Roads down there, they cut a path right back to Orzammar. Cleared out all the darkspawn. There's no need for a surfacer, now that they can get through underground. The Vigil's got the market cornered on Orzammaran goods, but I might try one of the northern routes -- see if I can't sell out from Kal'Hirol to Minrathous. Not too many importing to the south from there. You and the rest of the Blasted Lands Trading Company have the human trade out of the Anderfels locked down, but not too many are selling Minrathous, down here."

"Go Minrathous and sell to the mages. Of course, I heard Val Royeaux and Lake Calenhad both had some problems, so that might stick you back with the Vigil, if you don't want the trouble of Jainen," Ansgar suggested. "Of course, selling Minrathous to mages is about as legal as the lyrium trade, so..." He shrugged.

"And we don't know any lyrium traders," Hrildan replied in a tone that implied that not only did they know lyrium traders, they might actually be on very friendly terms with them.

"Of course not," Ansgar said, face firm with exaggerated sternness. "Say hello to Oskias for me, when he gets back in. I've got to get these pilgrims inside, before the mountains eat them."

As he spoke, Petra looked around to make sure they were all accounted for. She wasn't sure if 'thane' was synonymous with 'babysitter', but in moments like these, with mages wandering off every which way to investigate the vendors' stalls, it might as well be.

As least Candles was still -- wait, no, she wasn't. Where had she gone?

Petra found her shuffling towards one stall as though pulled on a line, eyes glittering at the display of jewellery none of them had the money for. "Candles, no," Petra said, taking her by the wrist and pulling her away.

"But... can't I just try them on?"

"You can, but you won't. Back to the caravan, little lady."

Candles pouted but allowed herself to be wrangled.

But, the market outside was nothing compared to the orange-lit hall beyond the doors. It took a few moments and a mention of Hawk Hold to get them through those doors, but the ancient alliance was still supported by the current queen, and after a lengthy lecture on, in essence, not wandering away from the group and not touching anything, they were allowed through.

"Those are incredible!" Keili eyed the towering statues of dwarves with awe. "Who are they? Kings? Gods?"

"Paragons," Ansgar replied, letting the rest of the caravan pass them, while the mages gawked at the scenery. "They're the best dwarves who ever lived, or so they say. That one there? That's Paragon Branka. I knew her. We lost her in the Deep Roads, when she went chasing after ..." He spun and pointed at another statue. "...Paragon Caridin's research. The Wardens went to find her, but the darkspawn got her, I guess. But, they were smiths. And this guy, here, was a warrior, and that one was a king. All through history, Orzammar has kept the history of its best right here. Mind you, none of that applies to the Surfacers, like me." He tapped a swirl on his cheek. "We're not dwarves, any more, once we see the sky. Or that's what they tell us. You ask me it's a bunch of stupidity and fear of progress. Still, gives me a job, so I can't complain too much."

"That seems awfully silly," said Keili, brows knit in confusion even as she nearly tripped over her own feet looking around. "I don't see how glimpsing the sky would make you any less than what you already are."

Ansgar shrugged. "I was barely more than a kid when I first saw the sky, and though, yeah, it's nonsense, I've gotta say, seeing something like that for the first time? It changes you. I kept expecting to float away!" He laughed at that, and Keili was starting to get used to his laughs, which were sharp and loud, the kind that echoed in the cavernous chamber and came back to her ears distorted and unfriendly. "So, I don't know about being any less a dwarf, but I can't say I was the same person either."

After tasting freedom, Keili could relate. "The statues are lovely, anyway," she said softly, unsure what else to say.

"Wow, check out this one!" Candles pointed at the plaque at the base of a statue further into the hall. "Did she really cut out her own tongue? She sounds amazing!"

Ansgar nodded and led the mages toward the Commons. "Astyth the Grey. You know, there's still Silent Sisters in Orzammar. Couple of them still fight in the Grand Proving -- and for them, it's to the death. They're some scary ladies. I wouldn't want to piss one off, and she's the first and greatest of them all."

"This Caridin..." Fen'Din caught up with the group after too long studying the story. "I thought there was no magic among dwarves. But, he gives life to stone?"

"Ah, I think the official story is that he didn't need magic. He was just more dwarf than any dwarf before or after him, and he found a way to wake the spirit of the Stone itself to defend his people from the Blight. Who knows what really happened? Well, Branka, maybe, but she's dead, too. A shame. She was really something."

Fen'Din opened his mouth to say something when he heard a voice he recognised, loudly joking with a merchant further down the ... were they still streets, if they were underground? He whistled sharply and called out. "Dagna? Is that you?"

A dwarf girl with pigtails, bright eyes, and an air of energy turned at the sound. She looked around at the mages's waist level before thinking to look up, and a beaming smile lit her face when she spotted Fen'Din. She ran to him, arms spread in threat of a hug.

"Well, if it isn't Enchanter Crazypants!" she called out. "What are you doing here? They let you out? Oh! Did they send you here to see my work? That is just perfect! I've been looking for a second opinion on the effects of high levels of heat on lyrium potency -- particularly lava heat. Have you been to Orzammar? There is lava everywhere -- but everyone I talk to just blinks at me until I go away." 

Dagna barely paused for breath, forgetting in the middle of talking that she had been planning to hug Fen'Din and instead using her arms to gesture emphatically.

Kinnon waved from behind Fen'Din. "Hello, Dagna."

"Oh! Kinnon! You're here too! And Petra! And... wow." Dagna finally noticed just how many mages there were. She blinked. "You're all here."

"Kinloch Hold has a new door," Fen'Din joked, reaching out to tug at Dagna's hair, the way Anders used to pull on his. "The spirits missed you. We brought them with us, you know. Well, some of them."

"The rats?" Dagna's eyes lit up. "Oh, you're the best! You brought the rats!"

"Well, the wolves and the halla, but... yeah, they... I guess they just followed him out." Kinnon shrugged and bent down to give Dagna a hug. "Well, after they let him out."

"Tore a hole right in the wall!" Candles added, leaning over Kinnon's shoulder. "I mean, I wasn't there for that part, but you could feel it happen all the way upstairs!"

"That wasn't the wall, it was the falling furniture." Fen'Din grinned and shrugged in the worst impression of innocence since Anders left Kinloch Hold. "Had to block a few doors. We couldn't have the templars coming after us. They'd never have let us take a holiday like this."

"They'd have packed you off to Aeonar in an instant," Kinnon agreed, still patting Dagna's face and shoulders. "I can't believe you're here! I can't believe I'm here!"

"So, how has the whole 'introducing dwarves to magic' thing been going?" Fen'Din asked. "And what do you know about Paragon Caridin? I think he must've been a mage..."

"A mage, huh?" Dagna repeated, eyes lighting. "Oh, that would be interesting. It would also mean contradicting so much of what we think we already know, which is the best kind of knowledge to find, really. Never mind how bent out of shape the Shaperates get. Ha! Get it? Bent out of shape?"

Kinnon chuckled indulgently.

"But, really, you're better off asking the Hero of Ferelden, if you can get a hold of her," Dagna went on. "Rumour has it she found the Anvil of Void and spoke with Caridin herself, however that works. But, she's a busy person and... you asked me something else, too, didn't you?"

Kinnon helped. "About introducing the..."

"Oh! Right!" Dagna's expression turned more wry than excited, but her eyes didn't lose their spark. "It's a long, slow introduction, really. Or more of a courtship, with a very reluctant partner. Still, there is progress. And interest! Though you... really have to look to find the interest. It's there, though."

Ansgar edged his way through the cluster of mages. "With this many of you, we've got to move quick," he told Petra. "Keep your wits about you and follow me. You can catch up with your friend after you're settled -- and we're only staying a couple of days, before it's time to push north."

"Why don't I walk with you?" Dagna asked, still giddy to be back in the company of mages.

"Because we're going to Dust Town," Ansgar replied, firmly.

"I've been to where they're from. They only let me stay in the palace because I'm on a diplomatic mission." Dagna laughed and held out a hand. "Dagna. I used to be a Smith."

"Ansgar, merchant." Ansgar shook Dagna's hand, and his face softened a bit. "You went out there on purpose?"

"Totally. I read all these books about magic and mages, and then Warden Amell came down here looking for somebody to fulfil that treaty, and she was a mage, and I just wanted to go and study where they taught her to do all that cool stuff. Which was amazing. Did you see? Were you here? She fought in the Provings, and it was like bam! Pow! Zap! She was great. And she put in a good word for me with Enchanter Irving, who is such a sweetheart. Really. What a nice guy." Dagna's eyes sparkled and her smile looked like it might split her head in two. "And then? Then I wrote a book, and it was great, but there was some work I wanted to do that I just... they wouldn't let me do it in the tower, so I came back here to see if we could have a tower in Orzammar. I mean, totally saves on the cost of shipping lyrium, if it's right here. I kind of wanted to move to Amgarrak, but... yeah, let's not talk about Amgarrak. But, it's amazing and it's so big up there! And I didn't fall into the sky or anything!"

"Always a surprise when that doesn't happen," Ansgar said drily, eyeing her as though he still didn't quite know what to make of her. Granted, most of the mages didn't know what to make of her, either, but they were glad to see her.

"Listen, Dagna, about Irving..." Petra started and then stopped. "A lot has happened since you left. I'm not sure if any of it would affect your circle down here, but things are a bit tenser than usual upstairs, with regards to mages."

"Has it? I don't really get much news down here." Dagna frowned up at her, walking quickly to keep pace with her. "But, hey, I figure something must have happened for you guys to just break out like that. All of you, too! That must have been some hole in the wall!"

"It was a sight," Petra agreed.

Ansgar eased himself to the front of the group as the marketplace noise of the Commons dimmed behind them, and the buildings started to look a bit more decrepit. There was a foulness in the air that was very different to the sulphurous lava smell around the bridge to the Proving Grounds, and it reminded Fen'Din of the way Anders had smelt that last time he came up from the dungeon.

Beggars crowded around them, recognising them as surfacers, and therefore probably merchants, and few of them could understand why people with nice, if filthy, clothes had no money, until Dagna shouted, "They're escaped prisoners and we're taking them to the Deep Roads, next week!"

Suddenly, the beggars didn't want to stand too close, lest they end up in the Deep Roads, as well.

"Where's the water come from?" Kinnon asked, looking around for a well. "It doesn't rain down here, does it?"

"There's a well. There's a river, really, but it's more that way, and the mud is really good for making pottery, but it means the water's higher near the river, which the city is. I mean, aside from the parts with lava. There's not much water right under there, but there is piping in the Diamond Quarter. Somebody became a paragon for that," Dagna rambled, pointing in appropriate directions as she walked and talked. "Why?"

"Because we can give these people water. We don't have money, but we do have that. Water, fire, oil..." Kinnon shrugged. "It just... seems like we should do something. However bad we had it, it wasn't... this."

"Unless you were Anders," Fen'Din pointed out.

"Anders made his own trouble," Petra scoffed, shaking her head as she looked around them. "But, Kinnon might be right. We might be able to do something."

"Too bad Anders isn't here," Candles said. "He could entertain them with his spicy shimmy. That's another thing sovereigns can't buy."

"I'm not so sure about that," Keili said with a coy smirk. "I remember a few wax sovereigns encouraging a spicy shimmy or two. Besides, he's not the only one who can do it." She nudged Kinnon with her elbow, and Candles turned his way, eyebrows arched in interest.

"I will require a few more drinks before that will happen," Kinnon said. "Sobriety is not conducive to shimmying."

"You were drunk back at Hawk Hold, and I didn't see a spicy shimmy!" Candles protested, sounding for all the world like someone betrayed.

"You know what else is not conducive to shimmying?" Kinnon replied. "Cliffs."

"Right," said Petra, "water, fire, oil, and a spicy shimmy. That's what we can offer these people."

Dagna glanced at Ansgar. "You spend more time down here than I do. Any of that useful?"

"Karshol's gonna shit forge-fire, but as long as it benefits him, in the end, I don't see a problem." Ansgar considered it. "How do you make water? Just wave your hands and it pours out of the air?"

"It's usually frozen, but once the ice melts..." Keili shrugged.

"Good. It's more portable that way. We can let people put it where they need it. Most people down here have picks and hammers, so if you make a wall of ice, they can just come break some off, take it wherever." Ansgar nodded, considering the filthy street in front of them. He pointed to a building that seemed to lean a bit to the right. "That's where we're going. Karshol owns the place, of course -- all the property worth owning in Dust Town belongs to the Carta -- but that also means it's the nicest place you'll find down here. Got a nice tavern on the ground floor and everything, not that most of these people can afford to drink."

"We probably can't afford to, either," Fen'Din pointed out. "We have, as we have been pointing out, no money. We lived in a place where there wasn't money -- mostly so we wouldn't be able to take it and leave."

Candles tossed an arm heavily across Fen'Din's shoulders. "So we trade, right? That's how we got this far. We have stuff we can offer these people like..." Her eyes lit up and she grinned at Petra. "You're a healer..."

"So, what we really need, then, is somewhere to set up shop! Well, whatever you call it when it's free. But, we need a place to put you." Dagna clapped her hands and looked excitedly around, before pointing to a spot that looked like it had once held an enormous statue. "This is going to be great for my argument to get a tower down here! If I do it, I hope some of you will come back! There's no templars in Orzammar, if you know what I mean."

"Thank the Maker for that," Kinnon muttered. "I don't know why, but dwarf templars sound especially horrifying."

Chapter Text

Word travelled fast in Dust Town. The mages had barely set up shop before they were thronged by dwarves. Petra tried to keep order, but it was difficult from her corner where she had set up a makeshift clinic. She healed what she could, but many of the injuries and ailments presented to her were old and partly healed, if badly. There was only so much she could fix.

Candles had set herself up as a hawker, shouting in the street and directing dwarves to whichever mage could best help them. After trying to banish the foulness in the air and accidentally starting a fire -- only a small one, in her defence! -- Petra had told her to find something to do that didn't involve magic.

"Need healing?" she called out. "Step right over there and head to the back of the line! Need water? Join the line in the middle! Oil? To the right! Need a bucket for the water and the oil? Too bad, because we don't have any! Bring your own!"

"She said line, not amorphous herd," Petra called out to those waiting.

"Did she just call me a muffled turd?" one of the dwarves muttered to his friend.

Two dwarves in leather armour closed in on Candles -- unlike the rest of the crowd, they seemed much cleaner and healthier. And much more threatening. Ansgar spotted them and tried to cut them off, but they reached the elf, first.

"We want the healer," the one on the left said. "Karshol has some business with him."

"Her," Candles corrected, pointing to the slightly less amorphous herd around Petra. "Get in line."

"Dougal! Erahel! Good to see you both! Did you come to see what I brought back from the surface, this time?" Ansgar grinned broadly as he walked up to the two. "Picked up some pilgrims with very useful skills, in one of the Avvar settlements. Thought I should come share the bounty with the rest of Dust Town."

"You should've shared it with Karshol, first," the dwarf on the right argued.

"Please, you know how he is about visitors, and there must be forty of them." Ansgar shook his head. "But, it is to his benefit! The people will be thanking him for this, for years. You didn't think I'd take all the credit, did you, Dougal?"

"Give us the healer," Erahel demanded, stepping forward to loom over Ansgar.

"Healer's busy," Kinnon cut in, the faint glimmer of a shield licking into existence around him. "How about I give you a spicy shimmy, while you wait?"

The dwarves eyed Kinnon, trying to stare him down while staring up at him. "The Blight is that?" grunted Dougal. "Some kind of surfacer sex act? Sorry, Red, but my type runs a bit broader in the hips, if you get my meaning."

Erahel cackled.

"No!" Kinnon huffed, ears turning pink. "It's a dance. To be performed with your clothes on... unless you're paying for them off, anyway."

"We're not," Erahel assured him.

"Your loss," said Kinnon. "Now, this is usually more moving with musical accompaniment, but..." Kinnon closed his eyes and adjusted his posture, standing taller, shoulders back, and then he started to move in a full-body, well, shimmy that started at his hips.

Behind him, Candles pinched her lips together with her fingers and tried not to laugh.

Erahel and Dougal stared at him in repulsed fascination. "So what exactly makes this spicy?" Dougal asked Erahel, who shrugged.

"It's a lot spicier after three glasses of wine," Keili chimed in, between filling buckets with olive oil -- a luxury the dwarves appeared never to have tasted.

"Do I have to be drinking, or does he?" Erahel asked, cocking his head to the side.

"Both," Fen'Din assured him, raising another ring of ice around their makeshift shop. "Both is best."

"Says Enchanter Jangle-My-Dangles over there," Kinnon scoffed, raising his arms over his head and bending his knees. He could almost hear Leorah's clapping, as he tried to remember the rhythm the other apprentices used to keep for him. He still missed her, even if she did make Enchanter, while he was still edging toward his Harrowing.

"It really jingles," Candles assured Dagna, who was squinting at Fen'Din.

"Huh. Maybe we should have him do the shimmy," Dagna said.

"And, what, have him shake it like a tambourine?" Candles laughed. "I've heard jokes about said dongles being wind instruments but never percussion."

"Stop, both of you," Kinnon groaned, glaring over his shoulder while still wiggling his hips. "I would like to go the rest of my life without seeing or hearing Fen'Din's pincushion knob ever again."

"Pincushion?" repeated Dougal, who looked alarmed behind his face tattoos.

"Pincushion," Kinnon assured him with an intensity that said it all.

Between patients, Petra glanced over and show the commotion. Or, rather, she spotted a pair of armed dwarves staring confusedly at a dancing Kinnon. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. "Excuse me one moment," she said to the patient next in line before squeezing through the amorphous herd to stand next to Candles. "Did someone pay him, or is he drunk?"

"Neither, he's trying to keep us from getting killed until you were done over there," Candles replied, quietly. "These guys want to 'take the healer', they say. On the orders of some Karshol guy. I don't know dwarves, but that doesn't sound very good."

"Stay with Fen'Din. If anything goes wrong, the two of you get the rest of them out of here." Petra set her jaw and stepped forward, poking Kinnon sharply in the side. "One of you needs a healer? I should tell you to go to the back of the line, but I understand this is serious?"

"Karshol's our boss. In fact, in Dust Town, he's everybody's boss. He says he needs a healer back at the house. Something went wrong," Dougal explained in more words than he'd strung together since he'd arrived.

"How fortunate that we happened to be travelling through. What would he have done without us?" Petra waved for two more mages to join her, and Candles noticed they were some the Avvar had been borrowing as hunters.

"Sent him back to the stone," Erahel replied. "Move."

"I'm going to go keep them out of trouble," Ansgar muttered to Dagna. "Can you keep an eye on the rest of them, until I get back?"

"Hey, if you've got Karshol, the worst's taken care of, right?" Dagna grinned.

"These mages seem to have a way of finding their own trouble," Ansgar replied with a smirk.

Petra followed Dougal, a pair of mages at her side, but Erahel at their backs. Her spine prickled with the weight of his stare, and she wondered, a bit frantically, if she was being led to her death. The route they took, through alleys and behind buildings, did not give her great confidence.

The building Dougal led them to didn't look like much from the outside. It looked like any other building on the street, rundown and worn, the stone pockmarked and crumbling. Dougal knocked, and an eye slit opened on the door. Dougal exchanged words with someone on the other side of the door, words Petra couldn't quite hear and doubted she would understand anyway.

The slit closed, and then the door opened. Dougal gestured them inside. "Come on."

The first thing Petra noticed was the heavy cloud of incense, and under it, the reek of blood. A lot of blood. The next thing she noticed was the lack of screaming. "Are they still alive?" she asked, as Dougal led the way to a room behind the stairs.

"He was alive when I left," Dougal said, shrugging. 

He opened the door and blocked the doorway with his body, but Petra could see over him. Three dwarves, covered in blood, stood around a fourth, passing water and bandages.

"Boss? I got you a healer. Real thing, too, from the talk in the streets."

At the sound of Dougal's voice, one of the standing dwarves looked up. "Well, hurry up! I don't know how much longer he's going to live, and I don't know where I'm going to find someone else who keeps the books that well!"

Dougal stepped aside and Petra eased herself into the room, the other two mages following close behind her. They at least had a basic grasp of healing and could take care of smaller problems while she tackled the worst of it. Of course, none of them were real healers. There were no spirits among them to aid their magic.

Petra knelt beside the cushion of linens and rolled sacks to examine the fallen dwarf. "What happened?" she asked, peeling the bandages back to get a closer look.

"A merchant got robbed, and the guard stabbed my accountant because of his brand. He's casteless, so they just left him in the street, when they spotted the actual robber," a dwarf with a thick black beard explained. "One of my girls spotted him and ran down here to get help."

Petra started casting before she finished peeling back the bandages. That was definitely a stab wound, at that size and angle, a deep cut below the ribs. She couldn't do much for blood loss, but she could slow the bleeding that was still happening, could mend the skin and the muscle beneath.

"I'll do what I can," she said, assessing the damage with glowing fingers. "Could we have some space, please?"

The dwarf with the thick black beard nodded and snapped his fingers, motioning the others back and away.

While she worked, Petra set aside the knowledge that she was being watched by Carta dwarves, though the stares from the tattooed faces were difficult to ignore. She thought of Wynne's voice and the soothing warmth of her magic as she reached past skin to stitch together organ and muscle. Maker, she missed Wynne.

The dwarf she was working on began to stir, midway through the healing, and his coughing rustled his thin, red beard and made the bleeding start again. "Gerda! Blood!"

One of the other mages stepped in and started re-attaching the tiny blood vessels, while Petra continued to struggle to reconnect the muscle. There hadn't been many incidents like this, in the tower, and Wynne had handled most of them, herself. Or Anders, sometimes. But, they'd both gone and then Finn had gone off with Solona, too. Petra wondered, idly, why she hadn't seized on that opportunity, but really, she'd never much wanted to leave. She just wanted the tower to stop being frightening and dangerous, even if a substantial part of that could in some way be blamed on either Anders or the elf she was following to his doorstep. Maker, that wasn't the brightest decision she'd ever made, but neither was staying. She hoped Torrin was still alive.

Under her hands, the edges of sliced flesh came back together, easier to join as she no longer had to hold them in place with her hands. She pointed to one of the dwarves with one bloody hand. "Milk and groats. Hot. If he survives this, he's going to need something warm and simple to eat -- and a lot of it. Tomorrow, if he sees it, as much meat as he can eat. It'll be weeks before he recovers -- if he recovers."

The dwarf blinked at her and cast an eye at Karshol, before looking back. "Ah, that... what... what's a groat?"

Petra decided the Maker was really testing her, this time.


Candles's voice was getting hoarse by the time Petra returned, but she still called out when she spotted the returning group. "Welcome back! You're not dead!"

"Thanks," said Petra as she squeezed closer through the crowd. "'Not dead' was what I was aiming for. And hopefully we just made someone else less dead. Or less likely to be dead by this time tomorrow." Past Candles, she eyed the line to the empty clinic. Her fingertips burned from pushing her magic too far, and she felt exhausted just thinking about healing all those people.

"Oh?" Petra looked down at the sound of Dagna's voice. "So Karshol really did need a healer? Phew. I was worried he didn't like us on his turf or something."

"Well, not him, but someone, uh, useful to him, was the impression that I got." Petra shrugged, spotting a bit of blood under her fingernail that she'd missed in washing her hands. "Not only did he not mind us on his 'turf' -- do you even have turf down here? -- but I think he offered us a job."

"You might want to talk to him about your research," Ansgar suggested, eyeing Dagna. "He seemed very keen on the idea of Dust Town having access to this kind of thing more regularly."

"Sell it to the Carta instead of to the queen? Now, there's an idea." Dagna tapped her lip, thoughtfully. "Except then it would be controlled by the Carta, and I might as well be dealing with templars. But, yeah, I'm definitely interested in people who are interested! And people with magic who want to stay here and help out." She glanced at the mages around her. "So, you'll be here a few days, right? Anyone want to come to the meeting I'm having with the queen, tomorrow? Having some real mages to back me up would be nice."

"Can I bring the spirits?" Fen'Din asked, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "They're very confused by dwarves. You don't... have something. Or maybe it's you have something we don't. But, they tell me you don't dream, and they're very interested to know that you're not just some kind of Tranquil -- that there's a whole city full of people like you. I think they thought I was joking when I said there were more dwarves."

Dagna chuckled. "I'd be happy to tell them all about us, if I could see them! How amazing would that be? A dwarf interviewing spirits?"

"Just try not to scare the locals," Petra sighed. "That might hinder rather than help."

Dagna nodded, but her eyes had that bright, glossy look that said she was busy scheming something.

"Anyway," Petra said, "we have a job, and the Carta didn't kill us. I'm counting this as a productive day, but now I need to get back to work. Please try not to destroy anything." 

"The healer's back!" Candles called out, to a smattering of cheers. One of the mages Petra had taken with her offered Candles a bit of healing for her throat, and she called out louder than ever.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Dagna was already waiting for them, when Fen'Din came down the stairs into the tavern. The place had been open all night, and many of the same faces still sat at the same tables. A beardless dwarf man stood by the side of the stairs, chanting what seemed like nonsense, as Fen'Din passed.

"Blood of the stone sings. Blood of the stone sings to me. Not for the sky people. Sky people keep stealing the blood of the stone, but I know. I know!"

Fen'Din blinked at the man, about to say something, but Dagna interrupted. "Lyrium," she said. "That's what happens if you get too close."

Fen'Din's face relaxed. "I knew a templar... You knew Carroll, didn't you? Worked the docks?"

"That poor guy. And they do that to themselves on purpose?" Dagna shook her head. "I still don't really understand. I mean, I understand what they say about it, but I don't know why it would be true."

"They do it because it's what's always been done. Chantry says it's the only way." Fen'Din shrugged and squinted at the list of prices painted on the wall. Maybe he could afford some more mushroom gruel, after Petra got up. "Chantry says a lot of things." He paused, a faint smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "Don't let Keili hear me talking like that, or we'll never make it to the Anderfels."

Dagna laughed, clapping hand over her mouth when it ended in snort. "Oh, Keili," she said. "Honestly, I'm surprised she came with you guys. She was always so..." She shrugged, grappling for the word. "I dunno. But she was just so convinced she had magic because she was being punished for something. How could you see something like that as punishment? I mean, yeah, the imprisonment part, I could see, but the magic itself? I've always wondered what that must feel like."

They heard Kinnon before they saw him, the clomp of his feet just as heavy as it had been in the tower. "'Morning," he mumbled to Fen'Din and Dagna, rubbing one puffy eye. "Is breakfast here an option, or should I go send Candles after some deepstalkers?"

"Is she awake yet?" Dagna asked. "I remember being told not to wake her unless I had something heavy and solid to hide behind."

"I have shields," Kinnon reminded her through a yawn. "She's only fried me the one time."

"We had better healers at the tower," Fen'Din assured Dagna. "But, they all left. We're going to go get one, now. One of the best."

"So, you're going to the Anderfels for a healer?" Dagna asked, putting down a few coins for a whole roasted nug. "You're getting meat for breakfast. I need you two to be able to think. And I really want Petra, too, but I can't take all the responsible parties."

"Ansgar's still here," Kinnon pointed out, between angry noises from his stomach.

"Ansgar's a dwarf. Ansgar's Carta." Dagna shook her head. "I'm not leaving forty mages alone with a Carta lieutenant without someone in charge. And Karshol likes her."

"She has a point. Ansgar doesn't have a clue what he's dealing with, but Petra made a fairly serious bid for First Enchanter. The rest of you followed her, not me." Fen'Din smiled lopsidedly at Kinnon. "If we're doing politics, don't take Keili. Candles, maybe, but if you bring Keili, Orzammar's going to end up with Templars."

"Which is not conducive to my research. You're getting pretty good at this." Dagna elbowed the elf, as the woman at the bar slid a tray of fresh, hot nug down to them.

"I was also a candidate for First Enchanter," Fen'Din admitted, cutting a slice for himself. He nibbled at the meat. "I think Candles cooks it better."


Kinnon wouldn't call it breathing fresh air, not while they were still underground, but compared to the stink of Dust Town, the Diamond Quarter smelled like lilies. Lava-scented lilies, sure, and lava had its own unpleasant undercurrent, a bit like rotten eggs, when Kinnon stopped to focus on it. But, he supposed 'fresh' was a relative thing down here.

Dagna had barely paused for breath since they had left the inn. She'd pointed out landmarks and her favourite stalls and even where her parents still lived and worked, all the while beaming with pride.

"And here we are!" she said, pointing out a particularly large and ornate door, lit from the sides by pools of yellow-hot lava. "The palace! I still can't believe we get to go into the palace! Isn't it exciting? I'm excited!"

"I'm excited," Candles agreed, though whether she was excited about the palace or about the runaway nug that was letting her pet him was open to debate.

"We have a conference with Her Majesty at three morning. These are ... representatives from one of the affected groups," Dagna told the door guard.

"The investigation on magic and lyrium," the guard replied, nodding. "Go straight in and talk to the man with the red banner on his sword. He'll take you to the right room. You're the first ones here."

"Well, I hope so!" Dagna grinned and the guard smiled back. They'd been having this same conversation three times a week for a month.

The guard eyed the four mages and then leaned in. "Is that one of those wild elves? The ones that live in the woods?"

Dagna laughed. "Nope, no Dalesmen, this time. That's just Enchanter Crazypants." She coughed and cleared her throat. "I mean--"

"That's Senior Enchanter Crazypants, I'll have you know." Fen'Din raised an eyebrow and snorted, nudging the back of Dagna's shoulder.

Gerda covered her face with one hand. "At least he admits it," she muttered to Kinnon.

"I didn't realise the elves had such odd names," the guard teased. "Are they always so descriptive?"

"You should hear what he actually calls himself," Kinnon replied.

"I don't know," Dagna said, nudging Kinnon's arm. "I think some of the things you've called him are far worse."

"Nothing I haven't said to your face," Kinnon assured Fen'Din. Past Fen'Din's shoulder, he caught sight of Candles, only then realising that she hadn't quite kept pace with them. "Candles, come on, put down the nug," he called out to her. "You realise we just ate one of those this morning?"

"But he's so cute!" Candles whined even as she reluctantly set down the nug. It snuffled her leg, and Candles gave it one last pat in farewell.

Eventually, Dagna managed to herd the mages inside, receiving only a twitch of one eyebrow from the man with the red banner when he saw the unlikely group.

"I promise they won't pee on the floor," Dagna assured their guide. "They're not nugs."

Fen'Din eyed Kinnon. "Not nugs, but there might be some similarities."

Candles cackled. "It's true. His nose wiggles if you pet him just right."

Kinnon's face matched his hair as he folded his arms and stiffly followed their guide further into the palace. "I'm not a nug, and if you pet nugs like that you need to have a long talk with the Maker," he muttered.

Gerda stepped up next to Dagna. "I'm not hearing any of this. So, what can you tell me about those lamps? They don't look like they have fire in them..."

"These? Oh, these are lyrium lights! The miners use them to light tunnels, too. They come in a bunch of colours, but orange is really popular in Orzammar. I like blue better, and so does someone in here, because it's almost a surface colour in these halls. Somebody became a paragon for those, but I can't remember the name." Dagna shrugged. "I should check. I wrote a whole chapter on them, and it's just slipped my mind, probably because everyone and their third cousin down here has the same couple hundred names, over and over. Like, the old king, King Endrin? He's named after another king, Endrin Stonehammer, who was also a paragon. And there's like twelve other Endrins, because everybody wants to name their kids after a paragon. The next generation's going to be full of Brankas."

"Maybe the generation after that will be full of Dagnas," Candles said with a companionable nudge.

"What? Oh stop." Dagna's grin was so wide that Candles's cheeks hurt in sympathy. "I don't know if the work I'm doing is nearly popular enough for that sort of thing, but it's a nice dream, isn't it? Imagine a giant statue of me greeting you when you come into Orzammar! I'd finally be taller than you!"

Their guide stopped in front of a wide set of double doors, and he cleared his throat pointedly, still looking thoroughly bored. "Wait here. I will see if Her Majesty is available to see you."

"Of course!" Dagna chirped as their guide disappeared behind the double doors. "Isn't this exciting?" she said to Fen'Din. "Have I already said that? I don't care. It's exciting. I'm glad you guys are here."

"If," Fen'Din noted, eyebrow quirking. "Well, I'd certainly hope she'd be available for things she scheduled." He glanced at Kinnon. "You think that's what it's like, being in charge? If I was First Enchanter, do you think I'd be able to get away with saying 'if' to people I had meetings with?"

"You're a mage," Kinnon pointed out. "Hadley would have your head for it."

"Hadley's all of what, twelve? I'd say he could eat Anders's ass, but I don't think Anders would stand for it." Fen'Din laughed and shook his head, largely unable to take the new Knight-Commander seriously. Greagoir's health had been failing for years, and with Irving's death, he'd stopped coming back from his treatments in Val Royeaux, leaving Hadley in charge. Hadley who, even after this many years, still looked like it was his first day on the job.

"Anders had standards? Since when?" Kinnon scoffed, examining the design on the doors. "These are nice. Look at the detail. When was this place built?"

"Endrin Stonehammer moved the capital from Kal-Sharok to Orzammar before the First Blight. I don't know exactly, but it's probably older than anything that looks this good on the surface," Dagna replied, beaming with pride that her mages finally got to appreciate proper dwarven architecture.

Their sour-faced guide returned, this time holding the door open for them. "Queen Aeducan will see you."

"Oh, so she is available?" Candles griped to Gerda out of the corner of her mouth. "Lucky us."

"Politics," Gerda responded. "Keeping us on our toes."

Chapter Text

The woman they met looked more warrior than queen, dressed from pauldrons to greaves in plate armour, which she moved in with practised ease. Blond hair tied back, she studied them with dark eyes and motioned them forward.

"Come in," she said. "I have heard many colourful rumours about the visiting mages in Dust Town. Are you those mages, or is there a mage pandemic on my hands?" She smiled, but there was an edge to the expression.

"Both?" Kinnon cast a questioning glance at Fen'Din. "Both." He nodded.

"There are probably forty of us, Your Majesty," Fen'Din clarified, "but we're just passing through. A trader offered to lead us to one of the other stops on his route, but we had to pass through Orzammar on the way. I trust we haven't caused too many problems?"

"Problems." The queen laughed, gesturing to the room around her. "The last time there was a mage in this room, she summoned a dragon and uncovered a cache of ancient treasure from some king the Shaperate cannot name. You're not going to summon any dragons, are you?"

"Dragons?" Gerda squeaked, looking around and then ducking behind Candles.

"That would be incredibly exciting, but also incredibly unlikely. ... The last mage -- you don't mean Solona, do you?" Fen'Din blinked in surprise, face twisting in confusion. "Solona Amell, who ran off with the Wardens, summoned a dragon in the throne room of Orzammar?"

"That is what I'm told," Queen Aeducan replied. "I wasn't queen at the time."

"It's what I'm told, too," Dagna agreed, nodding. "You should ask the guards. They were mostly here for that. She was so cool!"

"I'm to understand you know her? The Warden-Commander of Ferelden?" The queen's eyebrows arched up inquisitively.

"Know her?" Kinnon scoffed. "I--"

"Don't say anything I'm going to regret," Fen'Din said, holding up a finger but not looking back at Kinnon. "Yes, we knew her. We all grew up together."

"I see," said the queen, eyebrows arching up. She almost looked impressed. She leaned forward in her throne, armour rasping against stone, and, really, that could not be comfortable. "So you are from the Circle Dagna studied at?"

Occasionally, the queen's hand would drop to the side, fingers brushing the hilt of a sword where it was propped up against her throne. She showed no interest in drawing it, just in seeking the comfort in assuring it was there.

"We are," said Candles, side-stepping so Gerda was no longer hiding behind her. She ignored the betrayed look Gerda sent her. "We got to show Dagna around our place, and now she gets to show us around hers. It's pretty great."

The queen hummed, her smile thin. "There are some in the assembly who would insist Orzammar is no longer 'her place', now that she has seen the sky, but I've never concerned myself too much with that."

"So, just to cut the shit," Candles started, and beside her Dagna hissed, "Dagna tells us she's trying to negotiate with you for a mage tower here in Orzammar, and we're supposed to prove it's a good idea."

There was a tense moment in which everyone but Fen'Din blinked at Candles in sudden horror. Fen'Din's smiling serenity continued, even then. And then the queen began to laugh.

"She really gets to the point, doesn't she?" Queen Aeducan's enormous, echoing laughs faded to a chuckle. "All right. Convince me. What's the benefit to Orzammar?"

"Healers," was the first word out of Fen'Din. "Even those who do it poorly can make the aftermath of an injury less severe. Our tha-- that is, one of our people healed a gut-stabbed accountant, last night, shortly after we arrived. He may never be well, again, but he is alive. An excellent healer -- of which we no longer have any, at Kinloch Hold -- might have been able to do even more good. But, healers are the very best we have to offer, as mages."

"There's also earth magic," Kinnon added, looking contemplatively around the room. "I'm not horrible at that, but you can use it to reinforce walls and tunnels. Put a mage out with your miners, and I'd bet money I don't even have that your cave-in rate drops."

"We can provide water," Gerda said, nudging a loose tile in the floor with her foot. Not loose, she realised, but a pressure plate, and she edged away from it. "We washed the streets of Dust Town, last night, and gave water to everyone who brought a bucket. It's... less foul."

Candles shrugged. "Don't look at me. I just kill shit. But, I can also light an entire three-tier Tevinter chandelier from before the First Blight faster than you can blink. Which, surprisingly enough, also works for killing and cooking game birds. I don't know what you people eat, down here, aside from mushrooms and nug, but if you hunt it, a mage can probably do it cleaner."

Queen Aeducan scratched her jaw, her knuckles hiding her smile. She pointed at Candles. "I like you. Now, those are all wonderful ideas, but ideas are all they are without mages. And where will we be getting these talented mages? From the surface, I'm sure, which your Chantry is sure to love. I have no use for your Chantry, but I have no interest in poking a dragon in the ass either. It's hard to enjoy a less foul Dust Town with an Exalted March clomping through here." She pursed her lips. "As it is, that many runaway mages passing through my city is bound to draw Chantry attention, or it would, if they were a little less preoccupied."

"Well, we could work something out with the Chantry, couldn't we?" Dagna asked. "Brother Burkel has his connections..."

"And, really, we're only 'runaway' mages because our tower was starting to collapse," Kinnon said. "They'll have to find some place to replace Kinloch Hold anyway, so why not here?"

"Kinnon, if they make it official, there's going to be templars," Fen'Din pointed out, quite sensibly. "That's inviting the Chantry into Orzammar, which is the last thing we want to do."

"Warden Amell made that same argument against building an actual Chantry, here. A surfacer returned from Redcliffe and brought the Andrastian faith with him. He wanted to open a Chantry in Orzammar, but the Shaperate decided against it, and your friend was quite vocal in her objections, as well. Said we didn't want to invite that into our home, which I found rather surprising, since she was, it seems, also a believer in the Maker and Andraste." Queen Aeducan looked faintly confused. "I thought all surfacers followed the Chantry..."

"Okay, so, it's like this," Candles opened, leaning her elbow on Dagna and crossing her legs. "Andrastianism is a belief that Andraste is the prophet of the Maker, and the Maker made all the world, including people and spirits. The Chanty is an institution that was founded on that belief, but you can have the one without the other."

"The Chantry has kept all the mages it could find imprisoned for centuries, because it claimed the alternative was to kill us all," Kinnon said, nudging Candles and pointing at Dagna. "I mean, sure, it's totally possible that there were evil warlocks wandering the countryside when the Chantry was founded, but I like to think we're over that, for the most part. We've got a solid magical tradition in the south that's no longer dependent on Tevinter and the magisters. But, they're stealing kids from their families and locking them up. We're not allowed to have children. We're not allowed to have strong relationships with each other."

"One of my best friends -- there were three of us -- finally made it out. He's been gone for almost ten years. They sent the other of us to Kirkwall, just to make sure we wouldn't try again. The two of us had never tried. But, they caught Karl crying, one night, and it was all over. Sent him off by the end of the month." Fen'Din shrugged, the same slightly distant smile still on his face. "That's what happened if you got too close. Everything was meant to be professional, all the time, but we didn't go to work and then go home -- we worked where we lived. These were the only people we knew, our entire lives, and we weren't allowed to get too close to them, or someone would be sent away. Not allowed to get too close to the mages, the templars, the Chantry sisters... One poor fool fell in love with a Sister. She's been in prison for a decade and he's... I don't know. He got away, but they were going to do the same to him. I don't know that I really see the difference to where we were, but they liked to scare us with the idea of Aeonar."

"Templars are horrible people. Can't be trusted," Gerda muttered, arms folded across her belly.

"The point is, if you do this, you really don't want to involve the Chantry," Candles said, finally realising she was leaning on Dagna.

The queen shrugged. “And I would really rather not involve the Chantry,” she said. “But I am also not hearing anything that lessens my concerns. You don’t want me to involve the Chantry, but opening a Circle without the Chantry’s approval will get them involved, whether I want them to be or not.” She shook her head. “It’s a bold plan, Dagna, and I like bold. But it’s also dangerous.”

“But, Your Majesty,” Dagna said, her desperation shining through, “think of what they’ve been able to do for Dust Town in less than a day! Think of what all these mages could do in a year!”

The queen looked ready to protest again, but Kinnon politely intercepted her. “Queen Aeducan, if I may,” he said. “If your only concern is the Chantry, you already have an advantage over them, and more specifically over their templars…” He trailed off meaningfully.

Queen Aeducan sat back, chewing on the inside of her cheek as she considered his words. “The lyrium trade. Yes.” 

Kinnon nodded.

“And you are suggesting what, exactly? That I lever that against them?”

Kinnon shrugged. "I'm saying it's an option you have that few other rulers do."

"That's a very dangerous move. Orzammar was, until the last Blight, the last dwarven stronghold in Thedas. We may have leverage, but that depends on us living long enough to profit from using it." Queen Aeducan crossed her legs and stared into the corner of the room.

"On the other hand," Fen'Din pointed out, "it's Orzammar. It's the last dwarven stronghold in Thedas because the walls have held off armies of darkspawn for centuries. And those come from underground, so they have an advantage the Chantry lacks."

"Was, not is." Queen Aeducan tapped her foot thoughtfully against the air. "Kal-Sharok, Ortan Thaig, Bownammar -- in the wake of the Blight, we've been reaching out into the Deep Roads again. Trying to get back what we lost. Turns out Kal-Sharok also never fell, but it's so far north that with the Deep Roads closed, we never knew. They never knew, either. We're trying to get back together with them, but eight hundred years changes a lot." She considered the point. "We probably could hold them off. No one has ever breached the surface gates of Orzammar -- ever. The Shaperate has no record of us being invaded from above. Of course, the Shaperate also had no record of the survival of House Ortan until Warden Amell found it in the Deep Roads, but I think they'd have marked a successful invasion. But, we're still here, and even Bownammar fell, in the end, so you may have a point."

"This also gains you magical support in repelling that invasion. It's possible--" Candles cocked a thumb at Kinnon "-- to seal the surface gates so they no longer open. Those are made of stone, right? We can mend stone -- or he can, anyway. Actually a lot of us can. I just... spent more time with lightning than stone. You can defend this city. That will never be a problem."

"The problem is cutting off the trade with the surface and abandoning all the surfacers to the Chantry's wrath. I know how the Chantry gets. I've heard the stories about the Dales." Queen Aeducan shook her head. "Whatever we do, it's not going to be a simple decision. In every case, people wind up getting hurt, and I have to weigh the options to see which one results in less of those people being my people. Whatever horrible things are being done to mages, on the surface, those things haven't come to Orzammar. But, at the same time, mages can solve a lot of the problems Orzammar suffers with self-sufficiency, in the wake of the Blights, which would help a lot of my people, but at what cost? And that is the question I have to find an answer to. That is the question that all of this hangs on -- is the cost of this help greater than the cost of doing nothing?"

"Well," said Dagna with a sheepish smile, "you know what we think the answer is, Your Majesty."

The queen's laugh was sharp but genuine. "Yes, you've made your position clear. You have given me much to think about, however, and I'm afraid I cannot simply give you an answer, at least not yet. I hope you will continue your work in Dust Town while you are here, either way."

"Gives us something to do," Candles said with an insouciant shrug. She was still using Dagna as an arm rest.

"What she means is," Gerda cut in with an exasperated glance at Candles, "we are certainly happy to help where we can." Kinnon nodded his agreement.

"Isn't that what I said?" Candles muttered.

"Then you have Orzammar's thanks and appreciation," Queen Aeducan said formally, "and mine."

Chapter Text

A few days and a lot of magic later, the buildings in Dust Town stood straighter, the water table was higher, and the streets were no longer foul. There was no way to tell how long that would last, but it would take years to get as bad as it had been, when they arrived. After a great deal of smiling and back-patting from the locals, the mages climbed onto Ansgar's carts, and one of their own, having finally sold the dilapidated wine cart and bought something new, with the coin earned from caring for Karshol's accountant. This time, they would all ride, and for that, they were grateful.

"How long is the journey?" Keili asked, eyeing the Deep Roads gate with trepidation as they passed through it.

"It's around seventy, maybe seventy-five days to Kal-Sharok, depending on the condition of the tunnels. But, it's big roads, all the way. The Kal-Sharok to Orzammar trade corridor was one of the foundations of the dwarven empire, back when. None of this tiny tunnels nugshit on this route. And a lot of the side tunnels have been bricked over and marked, to keep the darkspawn out of the main road, until we push in against them in another spot. Well, not us. The Legion handles that, and they've been doing a great job. We're taking back thaigs all over," Ansgar explained from his position in the middle of the caravan. "I've been running this road since it re-opened, and it's in much better shape than we found it."

"And what happens once we get to Kal-Sharok?" Keili asked, trying to wrap her head around the idea of being underground for another two and a half months.

"Then we go up to the surface and push on from there. Kal-Sharok's got a major camel and bronto hub, so we just put these guys in their safe keeping and borrow a few camels for the trip across the desert. You might want to invest in something to cover your face, when we get there, if you don't already have something for that." Ansgar looked vaguely sympathetic. "I about peeled my face off, the first time I tried that route. The winds will pick up the sand and just slam it into you -- doesn't sound like much, it's just sand, but once it hits, it'll take the face right off you. I lost half my beard."

Keili frowned, touching a hand to her chin. Two and a half months underground, only to resurface to a route that could tear her face off with sand? She wondered if this was the Maker telling her she had been wrong to leave.

Candles stretched out, resting her heels in Keili's lap. The ride was smooth and would have been relaxing if not for the press of stone overhead and the chance of darkspawn, however small.

"Do you think the queen will listen to Dagna?" she asked, watching the ceiling pass overhead. Some crags in the dark were deeper in than others, and she amused herself trying to picture just how deep they went and if there was anything inside them.

Ansgar grunted something less than hopeful. "A circle would benefit a lot of people, particularly anyone in Dust Town, but the noble caste has a way of screwing over Dust Town, so I'm not optimistic."

"So, she'd have to find a way to make it good for the nobles," Kinnon ventured, looking at the damaged stonework that seemed to support the tunnel. Eight hundred years no one had travelled this way, and he could only assume it had been a popular road before, making this even older than the tower, in all likelihood. Different, too. But, then, anything underground would have to be different to the spire that had, at one time, stretched up to the heavens. "Can't be that hard. We've got the same benefits for everyone, really. You need food, water, healing, and a house that isn't going to fall on your head, no matter who you are."

"A house that isn't going to fall on your head being our official reason for leaving Kinloch Hold," Fen'Din noted, eyes closed, as he reached out with his mind and the spirits following them. What died down here? What died down here that wasn't blighted? He was sure that offering blighted bones would have an ill effect on his spirit companions.

"They let you leave because it was unstable?" Ansgar asked, eyebrows crushing together quizzically. "I thought they didn't let anyone leave for anything."

"They let the enchanters go to Cumberland. Used to be a meeting every year, before Kirkwall." Kinnon let a grin creep across his face. "And it wasn't so much that they let us leave because it was unstable as that a wall ripped open in front of twenty witnesses and we left."

Ansgar glanced over his shoulder, surprise writ large across his face. "Well! I've been by that place, and it didn't look good, but it didn't look that bad!"

"It might've had a little assistance," Candles admitted. "I guess Enchanter Crazypants sang to the wall and it got out of his way."

Fen'Din shrugged, still looking for suitable hosts for the spirits. Travelling away from the tower seemed to be harder without bones to carry them. "The walls and I were always very close," he joked.

Ansgar let out one of his sharp laughs, the kind that echoed off the stone. "So if we run into a cave-in or something, we should have this chicken wing of a mage sing at it to clear our way? Is your singing just that good?"

"Or just that bad," Candles teased. "Even the walls tried to escape."

"Better than Kinnon's singing," Keili said. She still fiddled with her amulet, her nails tracing its edge. "I still think that's why the bookcases in the library tipped over that one time. They fainted in horror."

"For the last time, that wasn't me singing!" Kinnon protested. "That was Jowan!"

The cart erupted in a chorus of "ohh" in sudden understanding.

"And now we know how Jowan really escaped," Candles said, wriggling until she had her head in Kinnon's lap. "All this time we thought it was blood magic!"

Fen'Din leaned over the side of the cart and made a small clicking sound with his tongue, holding out his hand for a skeletal nug, which hopped toward it and was quickly swept into the cart. "There you go, Sisterhood. Feeling a bit better? Good."

The nug tipped its skull up and examined the rest of the mages in the cart, before settling into Fen'Din's lap.

"You're not going to be able to stay there, you know. You'll fall off if I have to lean over to get one of the others."

The nug glowed a faint blue and stayed where it was.

"That is uncannily cute," one of the other mages muttered.

"I could unpack the wolves, but I thought they'd fare better with something more local." Fen'Din shrugged. "I may have to unpack the wolves anyway. A lot of what's down here is blighted."

Ansgar looked back at the glow he caught in the corner of his eye. "What are you doing cuddling a dead nug?"

"Spirits aren't meant to travel like this. They get sick, it seems, when they're left formless for too long." Fen'Din explained, scooping up the nug and holding it out to Ansgar. "This is Sisterhood. You met it before, as a wolf."

Ansgar stared, cross-eyed, at the glowing skeletal nug. "And it was... just as unsettling that time, too." Sisterhood's head drooped as though hurt. Haltingly, Ansgar reached out a hand to pat its skull, and it leaned into his touch. "Still a bit dusty," he muttered, wiping his hand on his pants. "But, uh. Hello again. Sisterhood."

Sisterhood glowed happily.

"Are there others coming?" Candles asked, sitting up enough to peer over the edge of the cart. "Please tell me none of them are possessing a giant spider, or something. All the singing in the world wouldn't save you then."

"Or darkspawn," Keili muttered, "but... I assume Fen'Din is wiser than that."

"I'm trying to keep them away from the darkspawn, the ghouls, the strange blighted things I can't recognise. They're with us, but they really do need bodies to wear. Particularly down here, it seems. They tell me there's a song, down here, and it's a different song to the one they taught me to sing." Fen'Din shrugged and set the nug between his feet.

"Are you telling me they can hear the Stone singing?" Ansgar asked, paying less attention to where they were going than the weird elf with the spirit bones. Of course, it was a long, straight road, at this point, so he wasn't going to miss any turns. "The miners always swear it sings to them, but everybody says it's because they've been around the lyrium too long."

Fen'Din shrugged again. "I don't know what sings. I only know there's a song. Maybe it's the same one your miners hear. If it is, they're not crazy. They're just hearing something that ... huh. They're hearing something for spirits. But, dwarves don't dream. I remember Dagna saying it. Dwarves don't dream and they can't do magic. So, I guess there's something different about your miners, if they're hearing songs for spirits."

"You know, we had a paragon, back in the -- well..." Ansgar counted on his fingers. "Back in your Exalted Age. Paragon Ebryan, a poet. He wrote a book called 'Songs Only Nugs Can Hear'. And it was silly stuff, but here you come, with a nug, and I have to wonder if he wasn't on to something."

"I haven't met enough living nugs to guess." Fen'Din shrugged, which was becoming a common gesture. He figured it must be good for the muscles in his shoulders, if nothing else. Suddenly, he looked behind him, toward the front of the caravan. "Dolora, what are you--?"

Kinnon followed Fen'Din's line of sight and squeaked, jostling Candles into sitting fully upright. "That's not a nug," he said.

The skeleton that lumbered towards them was taller than the cart. The slope of its back and its heavy bones bore a strong resemblance to the brontos pulling the carts, but there was something off in the way one leg dragged and in the shape of the head, which was much too small for its hulking body.

"Actually," said Keili slowly, drawing out each syllable. "I think that's part of a nug." She pointed at Sisterhood, who had perked up at the sight of Dolora. Its skull was a similar shape.

The brontos pulling their cart huffed in agitation, small ears turning back as Dolora brushed by them to put its head in the cart. Ansgar made soothing noises, though his wide eyes said he could use some soothing himself.

"That's... uh..." Kinnon stammered.

"At least it's not a spider," Candles said, flopping back to use Kinnon as a pillow.

"Dolora, no," Fen'Din sighed, rubbing his face. "You can't wear that. It's broken and it's too big to fit in the cart."

There was a pause and a flash of blue that had the brontos skittering sideways, nearly overturning two carts.

"And you're spooking the brontos. And their drivers." Fen'Din scrabbled down off the chest he was sitting on and pulled it open. "If you're that sick, I'll get one of the wolves out for you, until you find something better. You can come ride with me."

Another pause and Dolora bit at the strangely dangling leg.

"That's because that isn't the leg that belongs there. You picked up the wrong -- well, if there's not another leg there, then something else dragged it off. Come back and get a wolf."

"Is it just me," Petra whispered to Keili, "or does he sound exactly like Enchanter Wynne talking to the apprentices?"

Chapter Text

Despite everything, Jowan liked to think his rescue mission wasn't a complete disaster. He got the girl and got her out alive, which had been his objective all along. That 'out' meant slipping sideways into the Fade was a separate issue.

They had long left Aeonar, had watched it disintegrate into nothing the moment the last mage had stepped outside. The spirits with them hadn't even bothered with stairs or doors, floating right through the walls as though knowing they would turn to dust a moment later.

Now they wandered through dreamscapes, across craggy stone with upside-down stairs, under floating stalactites with a green sky. It was like and unlike every dream Jowan had ever had, and every now and then his skin prickled with the sensation that he had been here before. 

Like his back prickled with the sensation of eyes glaring at him. They blamed him for what had happened, for the demons that crossed their path and plucked more templars and mages from their number. The people of Aeonar, it seemed, prisoner or guard, were all desperate in their own way, and that drew demons to them like flies to honey.

But, that spire rose in the distance, and Jowan didn't think it was the Black City. It looked ancient, when they were close, and dark, when they were further away, but walking toward it didn't seem to determine which of those things they got, as if something else were at work to tempt them with signs of civilisation and then pull them away. But, he was sure it was real. Unlike Aeonar, it never faded. Someone was there. Someone would be able to help them, he hoped, since whoever they were, they seemed to be able to reach into the Fade.

And then, one day, he found himself standing on a cliff, looking at a scattering of islands that surrounded a central spire that rose up from a point much too far below them. The shape looked oddly familiar, but he couldn't place it. Something that nagged at his memory. Maybe it was Tevinter -- he had no idea which way they'd been going, and Tevinter had been everywhere, at one point. Maybe he could talk a nice magister into letting them out.

Of course, to listen to the Chantry, there was no such thing as a nice magister, and nevermind Hessarian. But, the Chantry had been full of shit about a lot of things, including the part where he'd apparently just done the impossible and with every inhabitant of Aeonar. After a moment, he started to chuckle nervously, and glanced at Lily, who was still somewhat less than impressed with him.

"I was always so worried about my Harrowing. I, ah... I guess I've been Harrowed, now." His laughter turned hysterical, and he sank to his knees, hands pressed to his face, as he stared down at that tower, at the way the Fade almost seemed to bend and pool around it. And that's when he saw it. The laughing choked off in a sick groan. "Lily? Look again. I think -- I think we're home."

"The First Enchanter can help us," Lily decided, smiling for what Jowan thought was the first time since they'd left Aeonar, however long ago that had been. "Irving was always a good man."

"First Enchanter Irving is also on the other side of the Veil," Captain Brynn pointed out.

"Technically, so is the tower, and yet we can see it," Lily said, throwing her hands up in the building's direction. "Maybe we can, I don't know, talk to him in a dream or something?"

"This is the Fade," Captain Brynn pointed out. He looked tired, shadows heavy under his eyes. "Nothing is real, not the way we know of it. This is probably a projection of yours."

"Well, do you have a better idea?" Lily said, an edge creeping into her voice, taking a tone she once never would have dared with a templar. "Maybe we should keep walking by it into this green nothingness like we have been, until the next demon warps it into something else?" Her voice rose in pitch, verging on shrill.

Hesitantly, Jowan reached out a hand to comfort her, but Lily moved out of his reach. Asha curled an arm around her shoulders instead, making soothing sounds until she quieted.

"It couldn't hurt to check it out," Knight-Lieutenant Owain said, leaning in towards the captain. "It's not like any of us know where we're going."

"It could hurt," Jowan muttered, looking for a way down to the base of the tower, and finding himself a little surprised when one spooled out beside him, winding down the face of the rock. Perhaps he was finally getting the hang of this place, after all. "Maker only knows what happens to the ones who don't come back from a Harrowing. Maker only knows what's happened to the ones who do."

"You're an apprentice?" the Knight-Lieutenant looked utterly horrified.

"No," Jowan quipped, setting off down the path, "I'm an apostate."

The stone around him flowed and rippled, temptingly, as they descended. A faint rainbow of colours crept through it, blooming into flowering vines. And that was uncomfortable, to say the least.

"Desire?" one of the other mages asked, studying a flower.

"Probably," Jowan agreed. "Or sloth, like the old Tevinter tales of Amaranth and the flowers that make you sleep forever."

"A cheery thought," another mage muttered, inching away from the flowers. "So don't sniff the Fade flowers?"

"Don't sniff the Fade anything," Owain sighed, picking his way down after all the mages had descended. Captain Brynn still walked up front with Jowan, and together the remaining templars acted like the mages' escorts even now.

Flowering vines followed and surrounded them, making a trail towards the front of the tower, inviting them onward. There was something off about the flowers, the colours too bright, as though painted on. A dream's impression of what flowers might look like.

"I don't like this," Lily murmured, keeping close to Asha.

They almost bumped into Jowan when he came to a sudden stop, eyes round and fixed on the door. Or, Lily realised, the gaping hole in the wall to the side of the door. Blocks of stone floated up and out of it as though forgetting which way to fall.

"I really don't like this," Lily said.

"Oh, shit," a voice groaned from closer to the tower. "Are you fucking kidding me? Of all the things you could show me, you show me the dead maleficar and a templar?"

"Hey, fuck you, I'm not dead!" Jowan objected. He didn't say anything about being a maleficar. He probably was one, really. He'd used blood magic and summoned demons.

"Bullshit, you're not dead. You're here, same as me." The shape of a man resolved from between some apparently dead branches, as flowers and leaves suddenly raced along them. "I'm definitely dead. I watched that happen. I failed the Circle, but Solona didn't."

"Wait, what about Solona?" Jowan stepped forward, still expecting the man to turn into a demon at any moment. "Hey, I know you! You're ... Niels? Nolan? That isolationist who used to sulk around the back of the library all the time."

"Niall. And everyone remembers your name, asshole." Niall shook his head. "Weren't you one of Uldred's students? Is that where you learned it?"

Jowan shifted uncomfortably. "Yes and no. He didn't teach me, but he left a lot of books laying around, in obvious reach of his apprentices. I just... I didn't think I'd make it through the Harrowing."

Niall laughed, incredulously. "Well, I'd say there's little question, now. Where did you even come from? How long have you been here?" Niall paused. "And how long before they cut you loose?"

"They?" Jowan asked, looking around him for traces of demons and finding only flowers.

"The templars," Niall answered, punctuating his words with a tired sigh. "You've been here a while, haven't you? You've got that look about you in the eyes. Poor sod."

"Templars? What...?" Jowan glanced at Captain Brynn, who shrugged pauldroned shoulders. It took a long moment for Jowan to realise Niall didn't mean these templars.

"There's no one to 'cut me loose'," Jowan answered. "I'm not being Harrowed. Or... I suppose I just was, but not officially." His laugh came out higher and thinner than he liked. "As for where we come from... it's a bit of a long story. I summoned geese at Aeonar and ended up here. That should tell you everything you need to know."

Niall blinked. He looked confused, then disgusted, and then he pressed a hand against his eye in frustration. "You what? Aeonar?"

Brynn stepped forward. "I'm Knight-Captain Brynn, and he's not joking. I don't know about the geese, but I came out of my office to discover I hadn't been in my office, and then the fortress just sort of ... blew away."

"That's impossible," Niall deadpanned, eyeing Jowan. "You know that's impossible. Even Uldred knew that was impossible."

"Knew?" Jowan asked. He'd heard that Uldred had caused some troubles, after he left, but the Mages' Collective wasn't terribly forthcoming. Being apostates, they didn't know much about what went on inside the tower.

"He's dead. Solona killed him after he -- are you really going to tell me you know nothing about this?" Niall crossed his arms and leaned back.

"Apostate," Jowan reminded him. "I heard he started some shit, but it only lasted a few days."

"Some shit," Niall drawled. "Some shit. Do you know about the Blight? You must. You were outside for it. At Uldred's suggestion, the Circle was about to ally itself with Teyrn Loghain, when the teyrn's treachery was revealed."

"You mean that he killed the king," Jowan guessed. "Or was there something more?"

"I guess he betrayed us, as well, but I wasn't really listening, at that point. Do you have any idea how boring those meetings are? Everyone knows what's going to happen before we even sit down." Niall shook his head. "Should've been. Might still be alive."

"What happened?" asked Jowan. He noticed the trail of flowers stopped in front of Niall, their colours muted.

"Uldred hit us all with a bolt of energy," Niall said with a thin smile. "It must have been a signal, because then a group of mages poured into the room. I started paying attention then." He pinned Jowan with a look. "That was the first time I saw blood magic in action. It was like they brought the wrath of the Maker himself down on our heads."

Jowan gaped. "Uldred... attacked the Circle? I-I mean, he was always a bit odd, but..."

"In fairness, that's what a lot of people said about you," Niall said, drawing a wince from Jowan.

"I just wanted to be with Lily," Jowan said in a small voice. Lily turned her head but said nothing. "So, what happened? Was he killed? Made Tranquil? What did you do?"

"Me? When Uldred became an abomination, I ran for my life! Thirty years and just barely an enchanter." Niall shook his head and looked back toward the tower. "And then I thought about what would happen if that... thing got out of the tower. I gathered some of my fellows and we went to get the Litany of Adralla from the stockroom. I don't know who or what Adralla is, but they said it would stop blood mages, and blood mages is what we had."

"Did it work?" Jowan asked, eyeing the hole in the side of the tower.

"It worked for Solona, after she took it off my corpse. I watched my friends fall, and then the sloth demon got me, too. I was asleep too long. Just wasted away." Niall paused. "Maker, that's morose."

Lieutenant Owain looked terribly uncomfortable. "You got... trapped here? And then you died, but you're still here?"

"Yyyes?" Niall blinked at him. "That's usually how it works."

"They didn't tell us that." Owain looked at Brynn. "Did they tell you that, Captain?" He pulled off a gauntlet and ran a hand through his hair. "I served at Aeonar. We didn't do Harrowings. But, I learned about them, same as any templar. If the mage doesn't come back or they turn into something else, you kill them, and they die. But, you're ... I don't know, not really dead. You're half-dead, because you were in the Fade when you died. And I can't help but wonder..."

Captain Brynn stared at Niall, looking stricken. "They only tell you to worry about demons," he said. "If a mage is in the Fade too long, you have to assume he's made a deal. You have to assume the threat of a demon possessing his body is imminent. They don't tell you what happens to the part of the mage still in the Fade."

Owain swore under his breath, wiping a hand over his face. "This is..." He shook his head, fumbling for an adequate adjective and coming up empty. "Are there others like you, here? The Harrowed who didn't make it back in time?"

Niall considered Jowan and the other mages clustered behind him. "Where else would they go?" he asked with a shrug. "I see others, sometimes. They don't always hear me when I talk to them, and some of them don't even look human any more. Some of them stay around the tower, trying to find a way back in."

"Is that why there's a hole in the wall?" Lily asked, speaking up in a timid voice.

Chapter Text

Niall laughed and then suddenly stopped, looking distressed. "No. That wasn't in. That was out." He took a long breath and breathed it out sharply. "Do you remember the crazy elf who cut up his face and dyed it purple? Used to say he talked to the walls?"

Jowan's eyes rounded. "Alim? You think Alim did this?"

"He wasn't talking to the walls. He was talking to the spirits. And not really discriminately, either. Demons used to hang around him, too." Niall paused, squinting into the distance. "But, he didn't make any deals. With anything. They just liked him, I guess. I kind of liked him, too. He could see me. He'd talk to me like I was still there. But, I didn't do this. I thought he was going to get us all killed. Them. Them all killed. No, us too. Maker only knows what all the Tevinter shit in the cellar could've done if anyone had a mind to use it."

"So, he... what, asked the walls to get out of his way, and they did?" Jowan scoffed. He'd heard the elf say it often enough, over the years, but he never really believed it.

"Basically? Yes." Niall shrugged. "The spirits liked him, and he wanted to leave, when he didn't get voted First Enchanter."

Lily looked confused. "Why would he be First Enchanter? Isn't Irving--"

"Oh, shit," Jowan groaned, burying his face in his hands.

Niall blinked at Lily. "Seriously? I've been dead for ten years, and I'm more informed on current events than the rest of you are?"

"We don't get too much news in Aeonar," Lily grit out. She pointed at Jowan. "I don't know what his excuse is."

"I'd heard about what happened at the White Spire," Jowan said, a tad defensively. "It's why I broke into Aeonar when I did! I just... I guess I never thought about what had happened to Irving. Or, I just assumed he'd made it out. The man is -- was -- an institution! He was just sort of always there, and you felt like he would always be there."

Niall nodded. "Wynne was like that too. I couldn't believe it when I heard."

"Wait, Wynne's dead too?" Jowan blurted. "Shit. No wonder Crazyface Alim took off. Wynne and Anders were most of his impulse control."

"I always thought he was Anders's impulse control," Niall muttered. "Anders is gone, too. And Karl. Gone, not dead. Anders finally didn't get dragged back, so they sent Karl to Kirkwall. And you know about Solona. Everyone knows about Solona. Liorah died, along with most of the enchanters, when Uldred brought the demons down. I liked her. She's not still here. Sweeney, too. I always thought Sweeney would outlive us all. I thought he was immortal. But, really, the only one of the senior enchanters who lived was Torrin, and he's First Enchanter, now."

"You think he'll help us?" Lily asked, still watching the flowers get denser around them, never quite reaching Niall.

"Help you what?" Niall asked, gesturing broadly at the endless cloud and stone. "You're in the Fade."

"Help us get out of the Fade, you cad," Jowan retorted. "Can you get out? I mean, if we find a way out, would it help if we took you with us?"

"There's nothing for me out there, any more. Just this, here. Emptiness and sorrow, as far as the eye can see, with occasional interruptions from Pride, Sloth, and Desire. Is there anything out there for you? Really?" Niall raised his eyebrows. "You're an apostate, Jowan. A maleficar. And you're travelling with templars who aren't going to have the slightest compunction about locking you up again, once you get out. They can't lock you up, here. It just... won't work, if you don't let them."

"I protest!" Owain held up a hand. "The man broke into Aeonar and transported everyone inside into the Fade. I'm pretty sure locking him up isn't going to help."

"All I did was summon geese!" Jowan protested weakly. "I didn't--! Maker." He hung his head, staring down at his feet, finding them completely surrounded and cushioned by more of those cursed flowers. Well. They were lovely, he supposed. He'd forgotten what colours other than green and grey looked like.

"All the more reason why I doubt it would help," Owain muttered, crossing his arms. "You weren't even trying much, and this happened. Imagine if you had actually tried to do something of this scale on purpose."

Niall laughed long and hard, wiping at his eye, and even that laugh, for all its sincerity, sounded hopeless. "Jowan? Please. If he tried, he probably would have just dropped a chandelier on his head or something. It's when he's not trying to be disastrous that you have to worry."

"Hey!" Jowan said, shoulders slumping. Even Lily was nodding in agreement, and he stared down at the flowers again. Flowers that not only stopped at Niall's feet, he noticed, but withered and died the moment they pressed too close.

"So, whether they can help or not," Lily said, "is there a way we can contact anyone who's left in the tower?"

Niall shrugged one shoulder. "Ironically? If the crazy elf were still here, he could probably hear you. At least hear me complaining about you. Sorry, Jowan. Your timing is still shitty."

"Well, where'd he go?" Jowan asked, folding his arms and looking like he might go storming off after.

"Who the fuck knows?" Niall shrugged and the flowers in the shadow of his arms shrivelled. "He wouldn't tell anyone because the templars were listening."

"Okay, Wynne's gone, Alim's gone, Anders is gone... What about, ah, Flora?" Jowan snapped as the name came to him.

"You mean Finn? He's gone, too. Blame Solona for that one." Niall kicked at the dust and a few more flowers died.

"What's... with you and the flowers?" Jowan finally asked. "Is that because you're dead?"

"Huh?" Niall looked down and finally noticed the way the flowers retreated and died around him. "Well, that's shitty. Like everything else. Everything has sucked since the moment I became an enchanter! Why do I even bother?" He flung his arms out in exasperation and more of the flowers died, in a ring around him. Two mages standing in the dead flowers began to cry. "There's just no point!"

"Demon," Asha said, quietly, gathering one sobbing mage into her arms. "Your friend's been here too long. He's lost his way."

Brynn nodded sombrely, fingers itching to hold his sword. "I'm afraid so."

"What? No! I'm not a demon!" Niall held his hands, palm out, and more of the flowers shrivelled and died, bright red and blue petals rotting to black. 

Something had changed in the stance of the templars. None had drawn their weapons, at least not yet, but they held themselves poised and ready, their stares sharp. Niall swallowed and took a step back.

"Of course you'd think I'm a demon," he said bitterly, wrapping his arms around himself. "The first mildly sane conversation I've had in... What is the point?"

Jowan could see Niall's breath, ghosting in front of him as though he were standing in the first morning frost of the year. Watching him, Jowan could swear he felt the cold too, nipping at his fingers, and not just a physical cold, but an icy heaviness in his chest.

"Despair," Jowan said, putting a name to the feeling. And despair was what he felt, knowing he couldn't do anything for Niall.

Another scruffy, young mage, this one dressed as a senior enchanter, swaggered through the flowers, from the direction of the tower, and they bloomed larger, in stranger, brighter colours. "Niall, Niall, you could've had anything you wanted, but you just gave up! You gave up before you ever got here."

"Does it matter?" Niall scoffed, another quick cloud in the chill air. "I was there, and I was never supposed to be able to leave. Now, I'm here, and I still can't leave."

"It's not like you're me. You're actually talented. You have friends -- look at them! They came to see you and everything. You have a name! You have power!" The younger mage tossed an arm around Niall's waist, with a tiny, hopeful smile. "I've been here so long I don't even have a name any more. Nobody remembers who I was."

"But, you're Mouse," Niall said, looking up. "Does it even matter if you were someone before? We're never getting out of here, so whoever forgot you doesn't matter. Nothing matters, really, but you can't say you don't have any friends. I mean, I guess you could. It's not like I count for much."

"You still remember what it's like to be real. You could change this place to be anything you desire. You could rule it in your own image." Mouse crouched down to get a look at the flowers. "You're the only one who really stayed with me, Niall... And now you've brought your friends. Why don't you make something nice for them?" He picked a flower and studied it. "Or maybe they can make something nice for you."

"Who are you?" Owain asked sharply, in his 'templar voice' as his friends liked to call it. Not that he had many friends who weren't templars, with the job he had. A demon in his sights and now another... spirit? Demon? Dead mage? He wanted his sword in his hands, but best not to provoke them.

"Oh, I'm sure I had a name at one point, but now everyone calls me 'Mouse'," the maybe-spirit said. He offered the flower to the templar, the petals an almost blinding shade of yellow that made Owain think of -- and long for -- sunlight. "I have been here, longer than I remember. Coaxed a few mages through their Harrowing, after I failed mine. I thought that was the most terrible day of my life, for the longest time, but you get used to the Fade. It can be beautiful, in a frightening sort of way, if you make it so."

Owain still didn't take the flower, and Mouse nodded as though expecting as much. Instead, he tucked the flower in Niall's hair. It stayed there a moment, golden and blinding, until Niall made it dim, petals curling and growing black and brittle. Niall brushed it away with a frown.

"He just has these fits," Mouse sighed, taking Niall's hand. "The Fade changes, when you feel. That's what the demons do to you -- they make you feel. They trap you with it. But, he's just... unhappy. I don't know if he's ever been happy, but who is? We have no family; you don't let us make proper friends. And then we get woken up in the middle of the night and forced into the Fade, and whether or not we go, for the most part, we die. And don't tell me being Tranquil isn't death. Look at them! They can't even come to the Fade in their dreams, because they can't feel anything at all."

"Didn't you just say demons make you feel? I mean, I'd think you'd want to feel less, not more." Brynn watched the young mage curiously.

"Demons make you feel what they want. If you don't feel anything, you lose your dreams. You lose your will. You think Niall looks poorly, but at least he still can feel. It's just... a little dangerous sometimes. Here." Mouse looked a bit abashed at his sudden sharp reply. "I don't mean to be rude. You're our guests. Are you all asleep? Dreamers? It's just a strange assortment of people -- I don't think I've ever seen this many templars at once. Not here. Is this some new ritual?"

Niall eased his hand out of Mouse's grip and sat down amid the dead flowers. "That's one word for it. Those are their bodies. They're really here. You remember the stories of Aeonar? Jowan says they broke out of there. Well, he broke in, and then the Power of Jowan happened, and now they're here. The last time the Power of Jowan happened, the walls of the phylactery vault were shattered, and no one could shut up the Tevinter ghosts in the cellar for a week."

"The Power of Jowan, eh?" Mouse said, gaze landing on the mage Niall indicated as Jowan. "That is impressive. I've heard of mages trying to enter the Fade, body and mind, but never thought I'd live to see it. How did you do it?"

Jowan's whole body moved with the weight of his sigh. "If I figure it out, I'll let you know."

Chapter Text

"He says he summoned geese," Niall told Mouse. He plucked at the dead flowers underneath him, pulling off their petals and crumbling them under his fingers.

"We're just trying to find a way back out," Jowan said. "Maybe you could help us? Niall didn't seem to, uh... think it mattered."

"Have you tried summoning geese again?" Mouse drawled. He chuckled at Jowan's sour look. "Never mind. The Veil is thin in some places and thick and others. I have heard the Veil is thin in Aeonar. It is thin here too. If you want to find your way back, you have come to the right place to try."

"We have?" Lily asked, sounding achingly hopeful, hopeful enough to make Niall wince. "So, do you know, then? How to get back?"

Mouse tapped his lip as though deep in thought. "'Know' is a certainty I would hesitate to give you. But ideas, on the other hand... Those I have in abundance."

"If they don't execute all of us, when we get out of here, you should write a book," Brynn chuffed, shaking his head and taking a closer look at the way the land dipped down around the tower. "Fade Travel By Way of Goose. I'm sure the Chantry will love it, as soon as they ban it to keep it out of the hands of impressionable young mages."

Asha cackled, slipping an arm around Lily. "Sounds like you're coming around, Captain. Always knew you had a head on you."

"Well, the obvious answer really is summoning more geese," Niall pointed out. "Not that I think it's going to work, but if it's how you got here..."

Jowan studied Niall, who hadn't aged in all the time he'd been here. Outside, Niall was older, but here, time had stopped and they looked the same age. And Jowan could remember that hopeless feeling -- the sense that there was no way out. "We're not... leaving you here, you know. If we get out, you can come, too. I mean, I know you don't have a body any more, but we'll think of something. It's not right. The two of you were people, once."

"Well, whether or not you can leave," Mouse began, looking around, "you might want to stay here, a while. The demons haven't been as bad, since that thing where that enchanter dragged them all out. They don't die, when you stab them, you know. They come back here, but... where exactly? Nobody knows. They didn't come back to where they started. It's safe here. Or at least, it's safer than what's out there." He gestured away from the tower. "You look tired. You should rest and regain your strength. Then I'll see what we can do about putting you into someone's dreams. Now, I don't know that it'll work -- you're not a real spirit -- but I'm sure a powerful mage like yourself has some tricks."

Jowan huffed. "Most of my tricks end in disaster," he said, and Niall hummed. He realised then that he was standing at the edge of the dead flowers, and he took a step back.

Mouse clucked his tongue and tugged on a lock of Niall's hair. "Niall, my friend, you're depressing our guests." 

Niall mumbled a half-hearted apology.

"Resting... does sound good," Owain admitted, rolling his right shoulder. Even in the Fade, his armour felt heavy, though it was something he'd barely noticed until they had stopped to chat. "Maybe the fake tower has some fake beds in it?"

"One way to find out," Mouse said. "And it looks like someone left the door open."

"Thanks, Alim," Jowan said with a nervous laugh. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what he'd find inside that tower, but Lily and Asha were already making their way over to the hole in the wall, following the trail of flowers that blossomed in front of them.

"This is where you grew up?" Asha asked Lily, eyeing the antechamber beyond the hole.

"No, but he did. I was raised in a lovely little Chantry in Crestwood. I just came here as an initiate." Lily clung to the almost-normal conversation, as Kinloch Hold gaped before her, once again. Her feet dragged as she grew closer, and her breath shortened, but Mouse was at her side, in an instant.

"There's nothing to be afraid of, here. You're the queen of this castle, if you wish it. But, there's only something to fear if you fear it first."

"It's just the memories," Lily choked out, bringing Asha with her as she walked through the wall. "I was happy here, once. A young fool in love."

"And if that makes you happy, who says you can't have it again? You're still young, but you don't look like a fool. That might get in your way," Mouse joked, easily, still tugging Niall after him. "And who did you love? Some young Templar? I know they were very popular with the ladies, for a lot of years."

Lily opened and closed her mouth, without answering, but the look she darted at Jowan said enough.

Mouse hummed in understanding, eyebrows tilting up. "I see. Young, forbidden romance, hmm? There are many things we mages aren't supposed to do, and fall in love is one. Is that why Enchanter Goose-herder broke into Aeonar in the first place? To reclaim his lady love?"

Lily's blush showed up bright and red against her pale skin. "I suspect he had his own memories of being a young fool," she said to the floor.

"And now he's making memories of being an older fool?" Mouse teased.

Behind them, Jowan followed and pretended he wasn't listening. Walking into the Circle was a bit like being punched in the gut, and he could understand Lily's reaction. It was like they had turned back time ten years earlier. Except someone had punched a hole into the wall.

It wasn't the only change, they noticed, moving further inward. The doors all opened easily and it was strangely quiet. There were no people in the halls.

"Where is everyone?" Jowan asked, looking into the apprentice dormitory. "I mean, not the living people. People like you two."

"Not everyone manages to survive. For a long time, there were demons -- trapped for the Harrowings. If you failed, usually they'd consume you," Mouse explained, following Lily into the library. "There are still spirits here, but a number of them left, recently. Took to travelling."

"The hole in the wall," Jowan realised, still unsettled by all of it, as he took a book off a shelf and opened it, to find the words were all incomprehensible and shapeless. "What--?" He took down another book and then another, but none of them had real text in them.

"The Fade is only an impression of the world," Mouse reminded him, as Niall drifted deeper into the stacks to what had once been his favourite section. "This place is made of dreams, and dreams don't care what's in the books, just that there are books." He paused. "You could change that, if you remember what belongs in them. Or what you want to see in them. You can change all of this. What was missing, when you were here? You can have anything, as long as you can dream it. No demon owns this place, so it will turn itself to your will, if you push -- just like the flowers."

"Wait, I'm making the flowers? That's not just a thing that happens, in this part of the Fade?" Jowan looked confused.

"All of you are making the flowers, because one of you believes it should be that way. You and she are the only ones who remember this place, and only you are a mage. You have the power." Mouse looked at Jowan, almost deferentially, and Jowan almost felt competent, for once in his life.

"This is becoming a theme," Jowan sighed. "Accidental magic having odd effects. I can't get us home, but I can grow flowers!"

Mouse chuckled, walking in step with Jowan now. "It's a start. Think about it. You want to go home, yes? To do that, you have to exert your will on the Fade so it will let you. Controlling the Fade accidentally shows that, with a little practice, you can control your surroundings on purpose."

Jowan tried not to feel too hopeful all at once, but hope was, he supposed, a nice change of pace. Maybe he could do this. Maybe it wasn't impossible.

"Hey, this one's got something in it!" one of the other mages called out, tossing a book in Jowan's direction. "No words, but it's probably somebody's dream!"

Jowan turned just in time to take the book square in the cheek, but he caught it before it dropped to the ground. There was something vaguely familiar about it, and he opened it to the middle, where page after page of faces caught his eye, and then a page that was nothing but Anders with his mouth full. "Aww, come on, I've seen enough of that to last a lifetime," he complained, flipping back to the page before it. Godwin. That was Godwin, and there was Sweeney. 

"Alim," he breathed, flipping back to the first page of the book. And there it was. The drawing of a three-eyed wolf with billowing fog instead of feet.

"How does this work?" he asked Niall, handing him the book. Niall was probably too old to have been too closely familiar with Alim, but he'd know the faces. "You said he left -- broke a hole in the wall and left. Why is this still here?"

"He made an impression," Mouse answered, as Niall paged through the book in amazement. "The spirits preserve things that have great meaning. And when I say that, what I mean is don't go downstairs. Up here is memory. Almost everyone agrees on what these rooms look like -- they haven't changed much in centuries, to hear the spirits talk. Down there, though... Don't open that door. You remember what's down there, and so do centuries of spirits preserving the memory of the tower."

Jowan paled at the thought. He'd been down there to get things out of the vaults -- mostly because Sweeney couldn't carry things up the stairs, and he'd grab whatever apprentice was handy to help him -- but the fact remained that there was still a dungeon down there. And he'd gotten a much better look at it when he and Solona had gone looking for the phylactery vault. Empty, but mostly because Anders hadn't been well enough to do anything stupid, recently. He liked to think he'd have broken people out, if anyone had been down there, when he was making his escape.

Another mage seemed to be taking Mouse's advice. "Hey, look!" she cried out, as the bookcases on one row burst into wooden blooms, perfectly polished and shaped as if they'd grown there.

"How'd you do it?" asked the mage who'd thrown the book, running his fingers curiously over the shapes.

"I thought it would look pretty, so I told the shelves to do it. And then they did." She grew a tree out of the floor, but much like the flowers on the bookshelf, it appeared to be made entirely of polished wood.

"You see? Even she can do it. But, with your power, you can do so much more. I can feel it, just standing next to you." Mouse looked a little awed and elbowed Niall. "Tell him I'm right. You feel it, don't you?"

"I feel an impending disaster," Niall muttered. "It's Jowan." He paused. "Nothing personal, but you've got to admit, your track record is high-powered disasters. Still, Irving was talking, after you left. If you hadn't turned to blood magic, he was going to give you a Harrowing. He really didn't think you'd have any trouble with it -- I mean, not worse than any of us did. Maker knows, I made it, somehow. Destined for great things, my mother used to say." He snorted and shrugged.

"A Harrowing?" Jowan said with a nervous laugh. Maker. Once upon a time, he had been terrified of just that, and now, here he was in the Fade, as thoroughly Harrowed as one man could get. "Like you said, I was a disaster. Imagine the kind of disaster I would have been if I had stayed."

"Couldn't have been worse than Uldred," Niall muttered. He pinned Jowan with a hard look. "Would you have sided with Uldred, if you had stayed?"

"Of course not!" Jowan squeaked. He liked to think that would be obvious, but... he had also never thought Uldred capable of any of that.

Chapter Text

Cheering behind him broke Jowan out of his thoughts, and he turned to find a table in the middle of the hall where there hadn't been one before, piled high with exotic foods he couldn't identify. Even the food had that smooth, too-perfect quality that made the flowers unsettling. It didn't stop his mouth from watering.

On the other side of the table, Owain and Brynn looked more uncomfortable than excited, no matter how good the food looked. "I don't like this," Brynn muttered, even as he eyed a pastry.

"So, make something you do like!" one of the mages enthused, around a mouthful of cake. "It's not hard."

"We're templars," Owain reminded her, at the same time Brynn replied.

"That's not what I meant."

"Do you dream?" Asha asked, picking apart a bit of roast fowl as if she were looking for something. "I think you must dream. You're not Tranquil. If you dream, I don't think it matters if you're templars."

"That can't be right," Owain objected, crouching down to get a closer look at Asha's plate. "And that's... not quite how meat works, is it?"

"It's a dream about meat," Asha pointed out, finally tasting a bit. "But, it's a very good dream."

"This is magic," Brynn insisted, gesturing down the table. "Templars don't do magic! We're the opposite of magic. We stop magic."

"You put lyrium in, you get magic out," Asha drawled, helping herself to some strange Orlesian-looking sphere of what she thought might be caramel and... something fluffy. "Besides, it doesn't matter. You're awake, but you're dreaming. Every time you dream, you make a whole world, don't you?"

"I don't think it's the same, for them," Mouse said, nibbling on a Nevarran vegetable pastry. He looked surprised and genuinely pleased at the taste, as if he'd forgotten what it was like to eat. "A true mage touches the Fade always. Templars are like everyone else -- they only do it when they're asleep. You have the real power, here, because you're expecting it. It's expecting you."

"I'm not sure if that's more comforting or disturbing," one mage said.

Lily said nothing but quietly stole a piece of Orlesian chocolate, nibbling at the corners as though it were the only food she would ever get to touch.

"I'm going with disturbing," Brynn muttered, pointedly turning his back on the food and inspecting the books again.

"Spoilsport," Mouse sighed. He nudged Jowan with his elbow. "Why don't you try something?"

"I, uh... I don't know..." Jowan shifted his weight nervously.

"If you're worried about accidentally doing something too big," Mouse said, "then start with something that's easier to visualise." He took Jowan by the shoulders and steered him to face the door. "Something simple, to start. Close that door. No casting, no spells... and no walking over to it and closing it by hand. That's cheating."

Jowan supposed that was harmless enough. He could picture taking the door's handle and pushing the heavy door closed. He knew its weight, knew the way it scraped against the floor on humid days. The slam of the door startled him, making him jump, and Mouse patted his shoulder with a laugh.

"See? It's that easy. You're good at this! Imagine what else you could do. What would you like to do?" Mouse still had one hand companionably on Jowan's shoulder.

While Jowan fumbled for an answer, Asha cut in, "I'd like to eat chocolate while soaking in a hot tub." She nudged Lily. "Is there any place in here with the room for that?"

"I... I don't know, really..." Lily looked around and pointed toward the inner chamber of the library and its stairs. "There's the great hall -- that's big. It's mostly enchanters' rooms and research facilities upstairs, then there's the templar barracks... At the top -- well, the last floor to have a roof, still, I heard, there's the Harrowing chamber. I've never been there." She looked around. "Actually, I don't know if any of us have been."

"I have." Niall waved, looking a little exasperated. "But, you know, I can see where that might be 'none of us'."

"Oh! That's right!" Lily shook her head and smiled. "I didn't know you very well, when you were alive -- I just wasn't there long enough to meet everyone. I keep forgetting you're from here, since they're not." She gestured to the rest of the mages gathered around the table.

"It's big and mostly empty. But, I wouldn't go up there, for the same reason I wouldn't go downstairs." Niall shuddered, looking slightly ill at the thought. "I don't think anyone's ever had a good time up there, and it probably shows."

"Antivan hot tub party in the templar barracks!" a mage called out from the end of the table.

Brynn still looked terribly uncomfortable with the idea of living in a completely malleable world -- and one with no lyrium. He noticed he still hadn't gotten sick, for some reason. None of the templars with them had. Which, he supposed, reinforced the idea that this was a dream. A dream he was living in, which was almost a pleasant thought, until he remembered how many people they'd lost to demons, getting here. A dream in which you could get killed.

"Captain?" One of the templars tapped him on the shoulder. "I think it's okay. I think we should go with them. There's no demons here, and it's the first time we've had a chance to rest on something other than rocks, mud, or nightmares in months. We'll keep our swords close -- no different to being at home -- and if anything happens, we're trained for that. We've gotten this far."

Brynn wiped a hand over his face. This was out of his control -- this entire situation was out of his control -- and even after all these months he still struggled with that. "Fine," he said, voice clipped. He waved them on. "Just keep them -- and yourselves -- out of trouble."

"Thank you, Captain," said another templar who looked a bit more eager at the thought of a hot tub. They took off after the mages who were already racing each other to the barracks.

"See?" said Mouse with a crooked smile. "The Fade isn't so bad once you're used to it. In fact, it can be kind of wonderful, in the same way dreaming can be wonderful."

"Demons make it less wonderful," Niall muttered, "in the same way nightmares can be less than wonderful."

Mouse offered Niall an indulgent smile. And a fluffy pastry. Niall looked less scowly after a few bites.

"So, maybe I've been awake for too many days, but if you two know all this, why aren't you creating things? Do you have a house somewhere else around here? Do you make flowers or swords or something, for fun?" Brynn looked a little confused as he sat on the edge of one of the huge study tables.

"Don't need a house," Niall muttered, mouth full of cream. "Dead."

"What he means to say is we're dead, and that means we have a lot less control over things than the living. Or the natives. Demons build entire kingdoms, spirits preserve places that mattered to the living. We're just... stuck here." Mouse shrugged and tugged a strip of meat from some indistinct sort of fowl that smelled good. "The demons that used to be here -- they ate people like us. I'm... I don't even know who I was, any more. They chewed it all away. So, the event that left him stuck here saved me from a dreadful fate. It's nice to be known, again. To have a name and someone to say it."

"So, because we're alive -- and especially because they're mages -- we can do things you can't do." Brynn tried to wrap his mind around the idea and found it might not be so difficult. "That makes some kind of sense. Mages change the real world, too, and dead people don't. And the rest of us are stuck in the middle."

"Yes! Exactly!" Mouse beamed. "You're really quite smart, for a templar. I'm surprised. I'd understood you were all savage beasts."

Brynn squared his jaw. "The only 'savage beasts' I've encountered are the abominations I've had to put down. Aside from that, mages, templars... we're just people."

Mouse pouted and addressed Niall. "Well, that's no fun. I was hoping he would get all huffy and upset. Maybe make all that plate rattle."

"Sorry. I am not, as you said, a savage beast." Brynn's smile was tight and did not reach his eyes.

"So, you... said you had an idea of how we could try to get back?" Lily said, finally speaking up. "Could we try that?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Mouse said earnestly. "But not just yet. Relax. Rest. You all seem like you've had a long journey, and it's no good casting when you're stressed or exhausted. So... Lily, was it? Why don't you have some -- what is this? pheasant? -- and maybe a soak in the hot tub. Once everyone is rested, we can begin." Mouse beamed at her and Jowan.

Lily's face fell, but she nodded, staring at her feet.

Jowan put an arm around Lily's shoulders and, for a moment, she looked like she might shrug it off. "He's right. We need to rest and we need to practise more. We've been here for ... I don't know how long. Months? Does time even pass the same way in the Fade? It's going to be all right. We're safe, for now. In a few days, once we're all feeling a little better, we can get out of here."

He paused and then gave Lily a chaste hug. "I know things are different between us, but I just want you to be safe and happy. That's all I ever wanted. Well, and for me, too, but I thought it was part of the package -- we'd be safe and happy together. I got you out of Aeonar. I'm not going to lose you in the Fade."

"Look at them, Niall. Aren't they sweet?" Mouse sounded more than a little bitter, and it was the last straw for Lily.

She pushed Jowan away. "Blood. Magic."

"I didn't know what else to do!" Jowan sounded frustrated, like they'd had this argument before.

"This is exactly what I'm talking about, with him," Niall told Mouse.

"Why don't you make dear Lily a nice Orlesian bathing robe?" Mouse suggested. "I think she'd look lovely in gold. And then we can all join your friends upstairs. I think you'll both feel better after a nice, relaxing dip. You really do need to relax. Don't want to end up uptight for all eternity, like poor Niall, here."

"Up yours with the horse you rode in on," Niall muttered, still working his way through a plate of pastries. "I was meant for great things."

Chapter Text

"Yes," Petra sighed. "It was a rock. Again." She shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position. Sitting in the cart was making her ass numb, and she considered getting up to walk next to the cart for a little while, just to feel like less of a sardine. She wasn't sure it would matter. She swore the walls and ceiling were closer than they had been the day before.

Candles nudged Kinnon awake with an elbow to the ribs. "Hey. It's your turn."

"Mmrf?" was Kinnon's intelligent answer. "We're still playing?"

"No," Candles drawled. "We decided it was your turn to pull the cart. Yes, we're still playing."

"All right." Kinnon looked around half-heartedly. "I spy something... grey."

"Let me guess," Keili said, staring up at the ceiling with her head resting on the back of the cart. "Is it a fucking rock?"

"It was a specific rock!" Kinnon insisted, crossing his arms.

"I spy something ivory that-- No, Dolora, they can't see that. Yes, I know you can see that, but they can't." Fen'Din chuckled absently, rubbing the back of the nug's skull.

"Another dead nug?" Kinnon yawned.

"Well, it's definitely dead," Fen'Din allowed, looking where Dolora told him to.

"Dead ... dwarf I think," Ansgar said, spotting it on his own. "Looks like they're working on clearing out an old cave-in up here, to put in a real door."

"A door?" Candles blinked and looked up toward the top of the tunnel. "Isn't that going to be kind of... heavy?"

"Orzammar's uncovered some of the ancient seals our ancestors put in place to keep out the darkspawn. They're mostly still standing -- it's hard to get through that much steel. But, the doors are incredible. If they're unlocked they open and close like they're normal door size. Almost no effort at all -- or that's what I heard from the crew in Amaranthine. But, Orzammar's trying to get this tunnel worked up proper, while the darkspawn are still losing."

"How many people were trapped down here?" Keili asked, looking over the edge of the cart at the ancient bones laid against the wall of the tunnel, as they came up to the massive construction site. "Was this because Orzammar closed the gates?" She could feel herself irritated by the idea of Orzammar cutting itself off, like it had. Leaving people out here in the dim stone tunnels. It was like travelling through an unending crypt.

"This? Probably not. Looks like just a cave in, I think. And everyone who died fighting on this road has been returned to the Stone." Ansgar shook his head and pointed. "This is probably some miners who got caught up chasing a vein into disaster. The caste tries to pretend it doesn't happen, but ... Every year or three you hear about someone pulling on the wrong stone. Usually, it's all right, but then there's things like this. It's sad, but natural."

Keili wasn't sure anything about this place, these roads, was natural, but she was polite enough not to say so. Still, the thought of these walls being filled with bodies made her shiver. She wondered if it made Dolora nervous too, the way the nug lifted its head, moving as though sniffing the air. Keili considered reminding Dolora that she didn't have a nose but thought better of saying that, too.

"Okay," said Candles, nudging Kinnon again as he started to drift back to sleep. "Enough gloomy talk. It's my turn, right? Well, I promise I will pick something other than a rock." She made a show of sitting up and looking around, squinting in concentration at her surroundings. "I spy... oh shit!"

"Is it Bronto shit?" Petra drawled. "Or the metaphorical shit we're standing in?"

Instead of answering, Candles pointed, smacking Kinnon's arm to make sure he was awake and paying attention.

"Ow, stop hitting me!" Kinnon shifted away. "I don't think you're playing this game right."

Fen'Din looked up and blinked. "Ansgar? Is that rock supposed to be doing that?"

The caravan stopped moving. "I don't know what that is," Ansgar admitted, studying the blue-glowing pile of rocks that had just stood up in front of them.

In the carts, two mages burst into tears, completely unable to explain themselves, but sure it wasn't the pile of rocks towering over them.

"Rock wraith," one of the dwarven merchants whispered, gazing into the blue, unblinking. "There's the ones that don't go back to the Stone. They get up again. They take the mining slag and the cast-offs and they get up again."

"It's just a legend!" Ansgar insisted.

"Then what, by your ancestors' blood bones, are we looking at!?" the merchant barked.

With a sickly wail, the nug in Fen'Din's lap exploded, showering shards of bone across the whole cart.

"She's upset. It's all right, Dolora. It happened a long time ago. Do you know how to make it better?" Fen'Din paused as the blue glow thickened in the air before him. "It's all right, Dolora," he said, again, before raising his voice. "She says they need to return to the Stone. Does anyone know how to make that happen? Is that something we can do?"

"They already are stone!" Candles shrieked. At least now she held Kinnon's arm in a death-grip instead of whacking him some more. In her other hand, she summoned fire, tucking it against her palm like a weapon. She had no idea if that would help, fire against stone, but at least fire was familiar.

"I don't think that's quite what he -- she, whoever's talking -- means?" Kinnon protested, seeing the flicker of fire between Candles's fingers. Still, he kept her between him and the glowing mounds of rock.

"It's hopeless," Keili murmured, face drained of colour, as the rock-wraiths shambled closer. "They can't go back, and neither can we."

The brontos snorted and tossed their heads, trying to back up, only to find the carts in the way. Petra turned to Ansgar for instructions, but he merely stared, absently trying to soothe the bronto in front of him.

Fire leaped in front of the rock-wraiths, herding them back a step.

"Candles!" Petra hissed, hoping that hadn't just made things worse.

"Rocks? Rocks..." Kinnon's hands flashed and the rock wraiths trembled violently, the stone splitting and shearing. But, it still held its shape, sort of, if a little differently filled in. "Running out of ideas! Keili? You want to give me a hand?"

"It's too late for us. They won't pass us by. Even if they do, we'll never get out." Keili rocked back and forth as one of her feet bounced against the bottom of the cart. "We're here forever."

The swirling blue-green that hung in the air between Fen'Din and Keili shrieked, wordless and filled with the loss of them.

"Keili," Fen'Din called over to the other cart. "Keili, we're walking out of here, just like we walked in. Don't you remember all those people from Hawk Hold? They think you're amazing, and they're right. So, be amazing for us, Keili. Sing that song they were trying to teach Kinnon."

"Why does it matter! We're never getting out of here!" Keili snapped, the loudest and harshest she'd been in years.

The rock wraiths pressed forward, and Kinnon raised a barrier around the front rank of carts. "Come on, somebody do something! I'm running out of ideas! Still!"

Fen'Din reached up into the thick cloud that hung around him. "Come on, Kinnon, sing me a dirty Tevinter drinking song. I know you know a few of those. You pick, I'll follow along."

"That's your idea? To sing?" Kinnon's voice came out a bit shrieky. "Why do all your escape plans involve singing?"

"In fairness, it seemed to work the first time," Petra said. A shield shimmered into existence around the front of the cart.

Kinnon looked at her as though betrayed, but they both knew she was right. As Candles continued throwing fire at the rock, Kinnon began to sing. It wasn't Tevinter and it wasn't the dirtiest song he knew, but it was the one that came to mind. "In the woods, there grew a tree. A fine, fine tree was he." Trees and rhyming put him in mind of the sylvan they had met what seemed like ages ago, and he hated himself for picking this song. "On that tree there was a limb, and on that limb, there was a branch..."

"On that branch, there was a nest, and in that nest, there was an egg," Fen'Din sang with him, gesturing for Candles to join in.

"You know, if we sing loud enough, at least somebody will find us. Hopefully somebody who knows what they're doing." Candles laughed and turned around in her seat to encourage as many of the mages as she could see to join them, as she started to sing. The fire hadn't been doing much. Better to rest her hands and come back with something else.

"Of that feather was a bed!" Petra joined in, as well, shrugging. What could it really hurt? They weren't running. She cast a weak but wide rejuvenation spell, imparting a general air of well being, if not much else.

But, the rock wraiths grew angry, and Dolora raged and wailed their despair.

"Sing, Dolora!" Fen'Din encouraged. "Show them the words. They're not trapped any more."

The next verse picked up, and Fen'Din fell in with it, still swirling his arms in the air that was Dolora. He'd done this before. He could keep her out of it. But, the rock wraiths... That wasn't something that was mentioned in the histories back in the tower. If they were spirits, though, maybe it would work.

"And on that bed, there was a girl!" Kinnon shouted more than sang, as though he could repulse the rock-wraiths with the volume of his voice. Or its poor quality. Shaping rock slowed the things but did little else.

The dwarves looked at the mages as though they were crazy, and Petra wondered if, assuming they made it out of this alive, they would ever escort any other surfacers along this path.

"That's not how you send anyone back to the stone!" Ansgar said. "If anything, all that singing will wake more of them up!"

Candles stopped singing. "Would that happen?"

"That's not how spirits work," Petra cut in while the others kept singing. Dolora still glowed distressingly, but Keili had started to mutter along. "I think. Right? Anyway, Ansgar. How do you send someone back to the stone?"

"Usually, you kill them." Ansgar chuckled, weakly. "But, if somebody's dead, you bury them and bless them. I mean, I'd have thought these guys counted as buried, with the cave in and all, but..."

"But, nobody read them a funeral," another dwarf cut in, above the din of singing mages. He hopped down from the cart he rode in and tugged at the ankle of the dwarf in the next cart. "Help me do this! We need to bury them and say the rite."

"Cover them," Ansgar ordered the mages behind him, and fingers flickered, raising shields for the dwarves.

As the other merchants understood what was happening, they, too, moved toward the bodies, and the mages kept singing. Fen'Din opened a chest and gestured toward its contents, but Dolora wasn't interested. Whispers wound through the air, under the song.

"They're out there. Can you hear them digging?"

"There's nothing for us to eat, in here. We're going to die whether they get in or not."

"The blood of the stone fed our ancestors..."

"That's a children's story! You can't eat it! You'll go mad!"

"It doesn't matter. We're all going to die."

"Atrast tunsha. Totarnia amgetol tavash aeduc," the merchants recited, again and again, as they piled the stones and dust removed from the passage onto the dried corpses of lyrium miners who had been missing for centuries.

Shields flickered as rock-wraiths hammered against them. Petra held her breath, knuckles white on the edge of the cart. This wasn't working. They were still attacking!

Until suddenly they weren't. The floor stopped shaking with the weight of their footsteps, and shields stopped flashing with the force of their blows. They stilled, a set of misshapen statues, and with a sound like a ragged sigh, their blue glow faded, stone slipping to break upon the earth.

A new whisper cut through the air: "Thank you."

Ansgar wiped the sweat from his brow. "I can't believe that worked."

Petra nodded. "Now we know what to do if we run into any others."

Ansgar's laugh came out a bit hysterical. "Others. Right. Good work, men!" He reached forward to pat his bronto's rump. "Some days I hate the blighted Deep Roads."

The air thinned and as the sickly glow around Fen'Din ceased, a skeletal wolf stepped out of the crate and rested its head in his lap, in the fashion of a mabari that knows it's done wrong. He pet the thing at the back of its skull. "It's all right, Dolora. You didn't hurt anyone. You were only trying to help."

"That was helping!?" Kinnon sounded outraged.

Dolora leapt between carts to nuzzle Keili's face. "I'm sure that's very sweet, but... that's..." Keili leaned away from the skeletal wolf, who curled up at her feet, instead.

"Of course it was helping. Without her, we'd have had to fight those things. Those spirits." Fen'Din turned his gaze to Keili. "She's just trying to apologise for upsetting you. She worries about you a great deal."

"Fight... rocks. Rock-spirits." Kinnon shook his head, considering the things he'd tried and failed. "All right. That's a reasonable point. But, I hope she can do it a little less terrifyingly, next time! I really thought she was a demon for a few minutes there!"

"So did she," Fen'Din responded, sighing.

Chapter Text

Jowan was sure hot tubbing would be more fun, but he had seen the look on Lily's face. She wanted to get out of here, wanted to go home, even if people like them didn't have a home any more. He had to do what he could to make that happen.

"I would not recommend summoning any more geese," Mouse said, rubbing his hands excitedly. "That may have worked the first time, but I doubt they will be as helpful this time around. Or as happy. You don't want flocks of angry geese tormenting you. That's how people turn into Niall."

Jowan laughed along politely. The flowers were springy under his feet, and he wondered how they would feel under his bare toes. "Right. No more geese. I am okay with that. But what would work?"

"You are in a place of infinite power, and it is to you to take control of that power and mould it to your will. Of course, if you draw too much without a proper outlet, there's a chance you might... I have heard stories of magisterial excess, and the men who boiled their own faces off. But, they were on the other side of the Veil, so I'm sure that's nothing to worry about, here." Mouse gestured at the expanse of stone before them. "This world is yours to command, Jovan."

"Jowan," Jowan corrected, reflexively, bending down to pull off his boots. Maybe it really would help. Maybe if he felt the power of the Fade on his feet, he could do something with it. He started small, letting the ground cool his sweating feet, as he ran what should have been a thread of ice through it. The flowers seemed not to mind it right away, more of them blooming close around his bare feet, despite the sudden pool of ice. "I'm no good at this," he argued, warming his feet until he sank through the ice.

"Are you an elementalist, by trade?" Mouse asked, curiously.

"No, but we all learned it. Learn your elements and then worry about your speciality." Jowan huffed and bent to pick a flower. He'd made this, just by being alive in this place. "It's... I studied entropy magic. Hexing and weakening and messing with people's minds. It's ... I don't know. I feel like that's why I'm terrible at everything. The Maker's given me a gift and I hexed myself with it."

"But, that's perfect! You'll do great things with that!" Mouse looked at Jowan in awe. "You're trying to weaken the Veil, so you can get through. What better than entropy?"

"Um. I guess," said Jowan unconvincingly.

Mouse threw an arm around Jowan's shoulders and jostled him companionably. "Guess nothing! It is the truth! The problem is you're thinking too small. Why freeze the flowers under your feet when you could freeze..." Mouse turned Jowan to face away from the tower. "...that whole valley, down there. You can, you know."

"Didn't you just say something about magisters melting their own faces off?" Jowan asked, looking askance at Mouse. "I mean, in this case, it would be freeze, but... aren't we trying to avoid that?"

"Well, like I said, it probably won't happen here." Jowan still looked unconvinced, and Mouse went on. "That's why we're aiming waaay down there. There's no one down there to freeze, and you'll have plenty of time to break off the spell if you feel yourself losing control of it."

"I suppose that makes sense," Jowan admitted. His stomach still felt like a worried knot, but he had to do this.

Think big, he told himself, which was something he didn't usually do, and the last time, he wound up with like six pitiful demons and a gash in his hand that got infected. And then, it was there, sudden and uncontrollable, the power searing through his body as ice dripped from his fingers, beads of it gathering at his feet. In a flash, the empty valley was crisp with fresh ice, but he let go, shoved it away, tucking his hands under his arms to warm them. He panted with the cold and the effort, and his breath clouded in the air before him.

"Look at that!" Mouse sounded outright awed. "It's not full of ice, but it's all frozen, and so fast! You're incredible at this! Think what you could do with even a little practise!"

"Hurts," Jowan complained, looking at the red tips of his fingers, before sticking them back under his arms.

"Can't tell me the first time you tried to do anything magical didn't. And step to the side, where it's still warm. You just froze right in front of you." Mouse pointed. "It's a line from you to there."

Jowan took that step and then another one, and drew in a deep breath of warmer air. "You really think this will work? You think I can open the Veil and let us out?"

"Of course you can! It's already thin here, and just look at that valley! First try!" Mouse looked incredibly excited at the idea.

"But, what about you. I mean, I have a body. You... don't. How long have you been here? Can you leave?"

Mouse tilted his head, considering. "Time is an odd thing, something I had forgotten existed. I have no way to measure how long I have been here, but it has been long enough that I barely remember what life was like before here. As for getting out... I believe I can, but not without help." He waved aside anything else Jowan could have said. "But don't worry all that, and certainly don't worry about me! Let's just focus on getting you home, shall we?"

Jowan wasn't sure how freezing a valley would help him escape, but Mouse seemed so sure of him and his abilities. It was nice, for once not being told that he was messing up, always messing up.

"I... don't know if I could do another cold spell. I can still barely feel my fingers." Jowan wasn't sure if he could get frostbite in the Fade, but he was fine with not finding out.

"Then why don't we heat things up, instead?" Mouse suggested. He held his arms out wide. "Remember, think big! What about a pillar of fire, way out there?" He pointed again down the valley, still frosted from Jowan's last spell.

Jowan threw him an uncertain look. "And is this the part where I accidentally melt my face off?"

"It's not likely. The problem's usually getting the power to come through the Veil with enough force to pierce it and not enough force to destroy the mage using it. But you're already on the side of the Veil with all the power, so you should be able to use whatever you need." Mouse shrugged. "But, let's be honest. You're the first mage to physically walk into the Fade since the Seven Sidereal Magisters turned the Golden City black. There were once exactly seven people in all of Thedas who knew how this would work."

"That's not encouraging. You do remember what happened to them, don't you?" Jowan shuddered, the magic rushing to his fingers to warm them more quickly.

"Yes, but you're not trying to break into the stronghold at the centre of everything. You're just trying to get out," Mouse reminded him.

"Pillar of fire, huh?" Jowan concentrated on not setting himself on fire, this time, forcing the magic away from him before it could twist to his will. The fire started small, or comparatively small, in the basin of frost, slowly rising up in a cloud of steam. The flowers around Jowan's feet grew denser and more colourful, as if he stood on some Fereldan moor of the sort he'd only seen in picturebooks. More and more of the power lanced through him, eager to accomplish his desires, and his arms ached with it, as the plume of flame licked into the air, wider than he was tall.

"Amazing," Mouse murmured, barely audible over the roar of the flame, and in that moment, Jowan felt like a god, bending the forces of nature to his will.

"Jowan?"

At the sound of her voice, Jowan remembered he was human. The pillar of fire wobbled and twisted unsteadily, and he let it dissipate before it could topple. The air smelled like smoke, even though there wasn't any.

Over his shoulder, Jowan saw Lily approaching from the tower, her steps cautious, Niall in tow. She stared off at the where the pillar of fire had been.

"Ah! Lilian, was it?" Mouse clapped his hands. "Come to join us? Jowan was just putting on quite the fire show!"

"It's Lily," she corrected him coolly. "And I saw. What are you two doing out here?"

"I, uh..." Jowan floundered and looked to Mouse.

"Practising, of course," Mouse stepped in. "Jowan here knows how desperately you want to go home, and he was adamant about finding a way."

"Mouse had some... theories. I thought I should see if they seemed realistic. If they seemed like something we could really do." Jowan shifted his weight uncomfortably, under Lily's gaze. "It's not blood magic. I promise. Look at me. I'm not bleeding. It's... something about the Fade. The Fade is where magic comes from, and we're standing in it. Mouse... Mouse thinks we can command it to let us out, by casting the right spell with enough power."

"Man was not meant for this, Jowan. For any of this," Lily sighed, as Niall stepped up beside her, dripping wet and looking confused.

"It's why I'm trying to get us home! If we just go back, we'll be fine!" Jowan insisted, sucking at the burnt tip of his finger. He'd almost gotten it right, that time. "Everything will be normal again, if we can just get back to Ferelden. We can get a nice farm in the Bannorn. I'll give up magic. We just have to get out of here."

"If it's just a matter of spells, remind me why we haven't tried this?" Niall chimed in, gazing down into the frozen valley with the melted centre.

"You're dead, Niall. You lack that certain... special something," Mouse snapped. "And I've been dead longer. It's a true miracle I can even remember how to get us out of here. Twice the miracle we've been provided with someone who can actually do it."

"Is that what this is?" Niall scoffed, but his gaze dropped to his feet. He dug a toe into the leaves of a dying flower and ground it into ash. "A miracle? If so, the Maker has lowered his standards. No offence to Jowan and Lily, and all your friends in the hot tub."

"The Maker," Mouse spat. "Does it look like the Maker is anywhere to be found in here? In the Fade, the only gods are the ones you make."

Lily bristled, squaring her jaw, but she said nothing. It was easy to lose faith in a place like this. She wondered if, maybe, she was meant to be locked away, kept away from the world. Freed from Aeonar, only to be trapped in the Fade? It felt like the Maker was telling her something... or maybe He was still punishing her for falling for Jowan years ago.

"Why don't you go cry over your destiny some more, Niall, while I help these nice people get out of here? And maybe get you out of here, too? You're so attache