The day that Anders had ceased to identify as a woman, was the same day the Templars had come for her.
Her mother had hauled her from the small kitchen in their tiny, thatch roofed house, her eyes wide and frightened. She’d pushed Anders towards the corner of the main room where Anders’ pallet was, and began to roughly strip off her clothing. She had been twelve at the time, and hadn’t understood her mother’s fear. When she was stripped naked, her mother had thrown open a large trunk and rummaged through it, hauling out pieces of ratty clothing.
Her mother’s silence had infected her, and Anders had stood shivering in the cold of the room while her mother took a strip of linen and wound them over her budding breasts, flattening what little flesh she had there. A plain tunic had gone over her head, and her mother had instructed her in hurried tones to slip into a pair of britches. Where her mother had gotten the clothing, Anders would never know. It wouldn’t be until years later that Anders would realize that her mother had been waiting for this day, and had prepared accordingly.
She had taken a pair of shears that Anders’ father had brought from a peddler once. They were fine and meant for delicate work on the fabrics her mother used to make their clothing. They were her prized possession, a frivolous expense that they couldn’t afford at the time, but Anders’ father had gotten anyway, just to see the delight in his wife’s eyes. She would use them to make rough spun clothing for Anders. With scraps of fabric she had taught Anders how to sew, her small fingers carefully making each stitch for dresses for her doll Molly. Anders had been horrible at it, but her mother had sat patiently with her while she had worked.
Those shears had been used to cut away at Anders’ long, blonde hair, the same hair that her mother use to take such delight in brushing every night, gently braiding the shining strands. Her mother’s hands had shaken as she had lopped off Anders’ hair in uneven clumps that had fallen around her face. Tears had trickled down Anders’ cheeks as the strands had fallen to the hard packed earth. Her mother had told her that a woman’s hair was her crowning glory, and now her mother had taken that from her.
Anders hadn’t understood.
But she was a good girl, and had stood silently as her mother worked, gathering up the hair in hanks and throwing them into the central fire in the middle of the room. The acrid smell of burnt hair had filled the room, and Anders had wrinkled her nose in disgust.
It wasn’t until her mother had reached for Molly that Anders had cried out in dismay.
Her father had bought Molly for her during a trip to Hossburg. Molly had been her only friend in their remote village in the Anderfels. She and Molly had gone on adventures together, told each other secrets. But as Molly burned, Anders had known that nothing would ever be the same again.
Her dresses had come next, torn apart at the seams and thrown into a scrap pile in one corner of the room. When she had finished, her mother had grabbed her by the shoulders and knelt down in front of her.
“I’m sorry. The Templars are coming for you. You must not let them know you’re a female. Do you hear me? Do not let them find out. I do this so that you can be safe. I have heard… stories. Do not tell them your name. You must be a boy from now on. Do you understand me?”
Even as Anders had nodded, she had not understood. It wasn’t to be until she would hear a woman’s screams her first night in the Circle that she had known what her mother had done for her.
“I thank the Maker your father is in Hossburg,” her mother had whispered. “He would get himself killed trying to stop this.”
As the Templars had broken down their door, Anders’ in her mother’s arms, her mother had leaned close and had whispered Anders’ name softly.
It would be the last time anyone would call her by her true name.
Anders had learned quickly how to hide, how to evade and deflect. Humor worked best, throwing people off her scent and flustering them until they no longer knew what it was they had originally been asking. It became second nature to her, but had the disturbing side effect of endearing her to others. Men and women were drawn to her infectious humor and witticisms. There were times when she had forgotten herself, when she had so entrenched herself in her lies and her persona that she no longer knew where one ended and the other began.
But she had stayed safe, even if not completely undetected.
Circles the world over were not a place for secrets, not if you were a mage. But Anders had become good at watching, at understanding who were the types to become suspicious and who were oblivious. But it was never the other mages or the Templars that gave her cause for concern. People saw what they wanted to, and Anders had perfected the callous youth that she had become.
Instead, she lived in fear for a week once a month.
When she first started her menses, she had been prepared. Her mother had explained to her long before the Templars came what to expect, and what to do about it. She had been twelve at the time and her body had been on the verge. Hiding the rolled up scraps of cloths had become something of an art form for her. Stealing them from other girls and slipping them back into the laundry. She learned how to get blood out of clothing, and what herbs to take in order to ease her pain.
While other girls got to rest during their time, Anders had to endure and hide.
Finding out her proficiency for healing had started out as a necessity. One of the enchanters had noticed she had been spending time reading some of the more obscure books in the library on healing, and had taken her aside.
Anders had used it to her advantage, stating that she only wanted to help others with their pain. It wouldn’t be until much later that Anders would come to realize that she really did have a talent for it.
But secrets never lasted and Anders would become complacent in her role. It would cost her in the end.
“Why must the abomination come with us?” Fenris groused. He, Anders, Sebastian, and Hawke, had met on a sand covered path at the Wounded Coast.
Maker, but Anders hated the elf. It was if someone had rolled all the Templars into a ball and sculpted out an incredibly handsome elf from the mess. He was so damned pretty to look at, until he opened his mouth and some of the most hateful words Anders had ever heard spewed from his lips.
Unfortunately he wasn’t the only one.
Sebastian Vael raised an eyebrow at Fenris and gave him a speaking glance. Great, now the two bigots were partnering up to create Team Asshole. When Anders had first seen them, she had been momentarily struck dumb. Good looking men like that couldn’t possibly exist, right? It had almost made her drop her façade in order to have one or both of them.
That had been until they had started to speak.
Sure their voices sounded like sex and forbidden things, but that only lasted as long as it took for Anders to actually hear what they were saying.
Justice felt that she should forget her salacious thoughts, and she concurred. The few times she had slept with someone and revealed the part of herself that had remained hidden for years, it had not gone well.
And these two, were definitely not worth it.
Pain sliced through her at the thought. It had been months since she had slipped a knife between Karl’s ribs, taking from the world the only person that truly knew her. Taking from her the one person that knew her every secret.
Anders might be surrounded by friends, but she was alone.
Hawke raised the dark slashes of her eyebrows at Fenris. “The abomination happens to be my friend. If you don’t like it you can go home.”
This was one of the many reasons that Anders adored Hawke. Marian not only stood by her friends and was fierce in her loyalty, but she was in credibly beautiful as well. She had dark skin and high, sculpted cheekbones that Anders would have killed for once. In fact, all of Marian’s friends were beautiful or handsome.
Anders did not include herself in that assessment.
Her hair hung at uneven lengths to her chin, and she had scraped most of it back off of her high forehead to tie it on back of her head. The years had seen her grow as tall as most men, a trait that she had gotten from her father. Her breasts on the other hand, whether from binding them for most of her life, or something she would have always had, had never grown very large. Karl had told her they were a wonderful mouthful, and he hadn’t needed more than that.
Her eyebrows were thick for a woman, but perfectly fine for a man’s. She’d never touched them with a pair of tweezers, and a razor had never scraped down her legs. She had no real desire to do any of these things. Not because it would have given her away, but because the little girl that would have delighted in them had long been gone. In her place was a woman who saw them as frivolous.
Maybe Aveline would have understood it, but Anders was never going to have that conversation with her. The guardswoman was everything that Anders wanted to be, a woman who was in charge of her life, and didn’t care what others thought of her. She didn’t feel the need to play up to people’s notions of what was female, or what was male. Aveline had always been, and always would be, herself.
Anders envied her in that.
“Anders is a mage and we are going after mages. We need him to help talk them down,” Hawke told Fenris.
“You didn’t tell me that when you came by my house to get me.” Fenris crossed his arms over his chest.
“Nor me,” Sebastian added.
“If you don’t want to come, then don’t come,” Hawke said again. “I’ll go and get Izzy and Varric instead.”
Anders gave a mental wince. Isabela… She knew, Anders was sure of it. She didn’t miss the way Isabela looked at her with speculative eyes, or how the pirate asked her pointed questions about the Pearl in Denerim.
It had happened during one of Anders’ escape attempts. She had fled the tower to Denerim and ended up hiding out in the Pearl. The whores there had been grateful to have someone to see to their various medical needs, that they had let her stay for free.
One of them had been more than grateful.
Anders didn’t know if the Lay Warden had told anyone else there her secret, but she was sure that Isabela had found out. Anders had to have a talk with her in private, and soon.
Bored of the conversation and the inevitable bickering, Anders tapped her staff on the ground, lodging it in the sand. “Are we going? Those mages won’t save themselves.” She grinned at the glare Fenris sent her way. “I’m sorry, am I not supposed to say that we’re saving mages from Templars? How shall I put it to make it more palatable for you?”
Fenris snarled at Anders as he rose to the bait. “I am not the one that needs things made more palatable. You are the one that is the abomination who thinks that Tevinter is sweetness and light. I’ll go, but only to make sure you don’t get Hawke killed with your stupidity.”
“I’ll go too,” Sebastian declared. “If only to keep an eye on you.”
“Wonderful,” Anders muttered. “Another lovely day at the Wounded Coast
“The mage is wounded,” Fenris observed as he watched Anders slide down to the sandy ground. The Templars had taken their leave, and he was still bristling that Hawke had blatantly lied to Thrask in order to help the mages inside the cave flee.
Why was he friends with this woman? She had no real sense of self preservation. She consorted with an abomination and a blood mage. Her sister was an apostate. But as he watched Marian kneel down next to Anders and pull his hand away from his bloody side, Fenris knew.
Marian Hawke cared about people, and Fenris wanted to be a part of that, even just a little bit. He wanted to know what it was like to work towards making this world a better place, what it was like to give second chances, the way that Marian had given Fenris his second chance. He knew that when Danarius finally came for him, Marian would not hesitate to be by his side.
How could he do no less than to return the favor?
Anders’ normally pale face was bloodless, his eyes wracked with pain. Fenris refused to feel pity for the mage. He was the one that had had inserted himself in front of Sebastian in order to block an incoming spell, taking the brunt of it.
Sebastian was a different story, though. The brother went down on his knees in the sand and helped Marian to pry Anders’ hand away from his side. Blood had oozed through his fingers, and they slipped over Sebastian’s wrists as Anders tried fruitlessly to push the other man away.
“I’ll be fine, I just need a moment,” Anders said, his eyes in a panic.
“Let the mage heal himself, Vael.” Fenris tapped an impatient foot on the ground.
“You saved my life,” Sebastian told Anders. “Why did you do that?”
Wait… Did the mage just blush? Fenris carefully moved closer to get a better look. There was no mistake. A hint of red had crept on Anders’ cheeks. Fenris didn’t know whether to feel sorry for Anders or to deride him for being so foolish. Even if the good brother was willing to break his vows, it wouldn’t be for a man.
“Because then Fenris would be lonely being the only one calling me names,” Anders snapped. He slammed his hand back over his wound and closed his eyes. Magic filled the air, and Fenris was sure he was the only that felt it. His lyrium brands were sensitive to the pull of magic, and they lit faintly in response.
Anders exhaled in relief and color returned to his skin. Fenris had never noticed it before, but Anders had the smooth skin of an elf, or a woman, his jaw bare of even the slightest hint of stubble that plagued most humans. Sebastian was smooth skinned as well, but Fenris had seen the brother meticulously shaving in the morning.
Anders dropped his head back against the stone of the cave opening in exhaustion and blew out a breath. “Okay, so this time they were blood mages, but I still say that they were the exception, not the rule.”
Laughing, Marian stood and helped Anders get to his feet. “I was wondering how long it would take you to get to that. You had me worried for a moment.”
Anders closed the door to Isabela’s suite behind her. It had been dark by the time they had returned from the Wounded Coast, and she’d hurried to the clinic to change into clean clothes before rushing out again.
That had been a close one. If Anders hadn’t acted quickly enough, Sebastian and Marian would have pulled open her robes to tend to her, and bared her before the perpetually grey sky of the coast. That would not have ended well. Her identity as a man kept her safe on many levels. If something went wrong in Kirkwall, she could easily slip out of the city as a woman, while the Templars looked for the male mage. Not that she was planning on leaving anytime soon, but she had to be careful now that the mage resistance was starting to take shape.
Isabela glanced up at her when she entered. The pirate was lounging back in her bed, and she lowered the book she’d been reading to sit up. “Well, well, well. And what brings you here?”
“As if you don’t know,” Anders replied. She walked forward until she stood next to the bed.
“Well if you’re not here to seduce me, then I am to assume you’ve come to try and find out what I know, and how I know it.” She grinned up at Anders, a spark of mischievousness in her eyes. At Anders’ look of dismay, Isabela laughed. “Oh, don’t look like that, Honey. I won’t tell anyone that you have some extra baggage on your chest.”
Anders slumped heavily on the edge of the bed. “Why? What’s in it for you?”
Placing a hand on Anders’ cheek, Isabela turned her head to the side to face her. “Nothing, except the knowledge that a woman does what she must in order to survive. I know that feeling. Have I ever told you the story of my first husband?”
Anders blinked. She had expected Isabela to lord her knowledge over her, to ask for something in return for her silence. She felt guilty that she had thought so little of the pirate. “No.”
“I was married when I was sixteen to a man my family chose for me. I hated him. He was cruel with his words and his fists. One day I’d had enough. One day he did something that I could no longer look past or forgive.” Isabela titled her chin up, as if daring Anders to judge her. “I made friends with a handsome Antivan Crow. I seduced him. Then one night I asked him to kill my husband for me. I’ve been free ever since, and I allow no one to control me the way he did. You, me, Hawke, even Man Hands and Kitten, we’ve had to forge our own paths. We’ve had to do things that others might consider wrong in order to survive. So no, I don’t want anything from you.”
The sincerity in Isabela’s eyes, her softly spoken words as she vowed to never reveal Anders’ secret was what broke her. A tear slipped down her cheek, and then another, until she was sobbing in Isabela’s arms, telling her everything. Words escaped her lips that she had never spoken of before. For the first time she talked of Karl and what she had lost when he’d died.
In that room, a bond was forged between the two women, born of a common past.
Despite popular opinion, not all Grey Wardens liked to tromp through the Deep Roads.
Anders was no exception.
It wasn’t just the darkspawn that made the place the Void on Thedas it was the depressing decay of what had once been a great civilization, the grime covered skeletons of massive buildings that the dwarves would never get back.
It was damp and dark.
Some places were freezing, while others were intensely hot from rivers of lava that flowed a bit too close for Anders’ comfort.
Then there were the memories, of horrors hatching from cocoons and a broodmother gone insane.
Granted, there were some Wardens that liked the blighted Deep Roads, but Oghren had been so drunk most of the time, it had been more of a case of handing him his axe and pointing him in the right direction. Aedan had liked it too, but the Warden-Commander had seen it as his duty. There had also been Sigrun, someone who Anders missed fiercely. Sigrun had also seen it as her duty, never leaving the tenants of the Legion of the Dead behind.
Anders pushed back the guilt at the thought of the people that had once been her family. Towards the end, they had all known about her. It had been difficult to hide when they were neck deep in darkspawn blood and dismembered tentacles. It had taken one blow to Anders’ head, and then her secret had been out while she’d been knocked unconscious. She’d awaken to find her robes had been torn down the middle while Aedan and Nate had attempted to make sure she wasn’t injured elsewhere.
Nate hadn’t been able to look her in the eye for weeks without blushing.
Actually, that had kind of been worth it. Needling Howe had been a favorite pastime of hers. The man had just made it way too easy.
Speaking of needling…
Fenris seemed to be making it his mission to get in any dig that he could into Anders. It was the most time the two of them had ever spent together, and it didn’t look to be ending soon. Anders would wake up to Fenris’ scowl, and she would go to sleep each night with it. She was capable of ignoring it at first, but as hour after hour dragged by, day after day, the elf began to get under her skin.
She could blame what she did to him on the Deep Roads, on the darkspawn she could feel scrabbling around in her mind, on the memories of the Mother and the Architect, of the close quarters and being constantly on the lookout in a way she hadn’t been in years.
But in reality, she was just sick of his shit.
The next time he called her ‘abomination’ instead of her name, Anders had had enough. She purposefully hung back from the rest of the lumbering caravan, walking slower and slower. The elf was predictable in his paranoia, and she watched as he slowed down as well, his eyes darting behind him to where Anders was meandering behind the rest of the group. She gave a furtive glance that was so exaggerated and ludicrous, that she had a hard time holding back her laughter. Quickly, but not fast enough that Fenris couldn’t see her do it, she ducked down a small side chamber.
Using the butt of her staff, she quickly traced a glyph on the floor that Velanna had taught her once. Charging it with magic, she darted into the shadows, an easy enough feat with the light of the caravan steadily moving away.
Come on, you bastard, she thought. Take the bait. Oh? What is the mage doing? Why is he looking so suspicious? I should go look because I’m an ass and think the worst of him. I bet the abomination is dancing naked in poor Hawke’s blood, summoning his demon friends.
She heard the scrape of a boot on the cavern floor and closed her eyes just in time. Bright light flashed green and then orange behind her eyelids, and she heard Fenris cry out in surprise.
With a whispered word and a small trickle of power, a light flared on the tip of her staff. She carefully opened her eyes, letting them adjust. A grin spread over her lips as Fenris’ snarling face came into focus, the elf caught in the glyph of paralysis.
“Oops.” Anders didn’t even bother to sound contrite. Her voice had always been a little bit deeper than other women’s. Karl had told her that it was husky, and reminded him of a woman that had been well pleased by her lover. She had used that to her advantage. It didn’t take much to deepen it slightly, giving it the sound of a man whose voice was perpetually in the midst of change.
“Free me, mage!” Fenris struggled, his feet planted to the ground, his legs locked in place. The glyph was a small one, and would only hold him below the knees.
But it was enough.
Anders looked behind her and then to the sides of the cavern. “Mage? You must mean me. You do know my name, correct?”
Fenris opened his mouth to retort, but Anders wasn’t done yet. “What’s my name?” She slammed her staff on the ground. The ball of light at its tip bobbed frantically, sending their shadows to dancing against the cavern walls. “It’s not abomination. It’s not mage. It’s not any of the other lovely names you call me in Arcanum, which I know how to speak, you fucker! Say my name and I’ll let you go.”
“Go to the Void,” Fenris hissed. “Your spell won’t last forever, and when I’m free, I’ll kill you. I’ll leave your corpse for the darkspawn to find.”
Anders had been expecting this, so she wasn’t surprised that Fenris didn’t capitulate. She could have admired the elf’s unwavering convictions, if it wasn’t for the fact that Fenris’ beliefs were utter shit. She tilted her chin up and stared down at the elf. They were both of a height, and Anders wondered how the elf would react if he knew he was as tall as a female.
But Anders wasn’t ever going to find that out.
“Fine, then I hope you can find your way back to the caravan by the time the spell wears off. Too bad. For some reason Hawke actually likes you. I can’t imagine why, since you insult her sister with every vile word you spew.”
“Bethany Hawke is nothing like you, mage,” Fenris spat. “She would never resort to blood magic and demons the way you have. Don’t even compare yourself to her.”
Anders widened her eyes comically. “Oh? So you’re admitting that there are mages out there worthy of your esteem then? It’s almost as if we aren’t all alike and shouldn’t be lumped together. Imagine that…” She tapped her chin with her index finger as if she was pondering some great revelation. “Why, it would be like if I said every single elf should be locked up, because of an elf I met once who had a nasty tendency of pulling people’s hearts from their chests.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Like a crazed murderer.”
“I own up to what I am and what I am not, while you hide behind Hawke’s benevolence,” Fenris hissed. “I would kill a thousand mages if it would prevent another like you from doing harm.”
Rage swept over Anders. It was always the same with him. There was just no talking to the elf. What had she expected? What had she hoped to accomplish with this farce? She strode over to him, her booted feet stomping on the stone floor.
Getting into his face, she could feel his warm breath on her cheeks, and see how the bridge of his nose had crinkled in rage the closer she got. “My name is Anders. I am a human being with thoughts and feelings, just like all mages are. You’re no better than the Templars. You try to dehumanize us, calling us abominations, demons, maleficar, Tranquil…” she hissed out the last, almost choking on the word.
The grin that curled Fenris’ lips was pure malevolence. “I call you fool,” Fenris’ brands flared to life, “and dead.”
Too late did Anders realize her mistake. In her anger she had gotten too close to the volatile elf. She tried to stumble back, but Fenris was so much quicker than Anders. He wrapped one arm around her waist, drawing her in close as he plunged his hand into her chest.
Her staff clattered to the ground, dropped from nerveless fingers. Her eyes widened in horror, her mouth opening and closing as she gasped in pained breaths. Oh, Maker, she could feel his fingers on her heart, causing the organ to stutter under his grip.
Their eyes locked for the barest moment before Fenris jerked his gaze down in astonishment. Maker, help her, but she followed his line of sight. His hand had disappeared through part of her left breast. Hesitantly, Anders lifted her gaze to meet Fenris’ enraged eyes.
“You lying bitch,” Fenris said between clenched teeth.
When Justice came, Anders willingly let him have her body.
Fenris couldn’t believe it. Anders had been lying to them all. When his hand had sunk pass breast tissue, too soft and full to be a man’s, Fenris had known that Anders had been lying to them all along. Anders was no different than any other mage. They lied and schemed to get what they wanted. They twisted the truth until you didn’t know what was wrong and what was right. Bethany might not be like the rest of them, but given time, even she would succumb to temptation.
He watched as cracks appeared along Anders’ face, hallmarks of Justice. Little things made sense now, small inconsistencies that he didn’t think the others had noticed. Fenris had because he’d been watching Anders, waiting for the moment when the mage showed his true colors.
Fenris’ patience had paid off.
He stood his ground as Justice opened his eyes. Lyrium blue eyes flashed with an inner fire and Fenris didn’t even as much as flinch when the demon turned his gaze on him.
“You will not kill her,” Justice intoned.
“And how will you stop me?” Fenris taunted. “I can crush her heart before you even so much as move. You do not scare me, Demon.”
“I am no demon!” Justice cried.
Fenris had heard Justice say as much before. Fenris knew blood magic. He knew the things that could be summoned from the Fade, horrors that even some magisters feared calling forth. He’d seen demons pit sibling against each other at a magister’s bidding, the two slaves tearing each other apart with their bare hands as the demon had fed and the magisters had laughed.
Justice didn’t frighten him.
“You inhabit a mage’s body, controlling him—her—at your whims. Do not tell me you are not a demon.” Fenris watched with pleasure as Justice growled in impotent anger. “I’ll kill her now and drag her corpse to Hawke. Show Hawke your perfidy. What did the two of you hope to gain by this farce?”
“You were a slave once,” Justice accused. “What would you have done to escape your tormentors?”
Many things. Fenris pushed aside the thought. There was no comparing him and Anders. Fenris had been born into bondage the night he had opened his eyes to blood and pain. The mages in Thedas were cosseted, the ones in Tevinter revered. Anders didn’t know slavery. She didn’t know what it felt like to have everything taken from you and then dangled before you like some sort of bait. He knew what the mages said of the Circle, of the Gallows, but Fenris didn’t care. Free mages turned corrupt without the threat of the Templars. Tevinter was proof of that.
A small voice whispered in his mind, telling him that he was being blind and letting his bitterness turn him into the greatest of hypocrites. The thought disturbed him more than he wanted to admit.
“There you are. We were worried. I—Holy shit! What the fuck are you doing?”
Fenris didn’t break eye contact with Justice as he heard Hawke hurry over to them. She grasped Fenris’ forearm with both hands. “What the fuck, Fenris?”
When Anders’ staff had fallen from her fingers, the light had gone out. The cavern was only illuminated by the bright glow that Justice and Fenris gave off, casting everything in a surreal, blue light. Still, Fenris didn’t miss the angry flash of Hawke’s eyes in his periphery.
“Ask him,” Fenris snarled.
“Are we really going to play this game?” Hawke asked, her voice weary. “Let go of Anders, Fenris.” She leaned back to glance over Fenris’ shoulder. “Beth? Can you do something about this glyph?”
Fenris felt the tug of magic and then his legs were freed. Instead of releasing Anders, he took a step closer to her. He took his eyes off of Justice long enough to flick his eyes over to Marian. “Did you know that Anders has been lying to you? To all of us?”
“This ought to be good,” said Varric from behind him.
“Do not!” Justice cried.
“I’ll do as I wish,” Fenris told him before continuing on. “Anders is a woman,” he pronounced.
There was a beat of silence in the cavern, the drip of water from an unknown source the only sound.
“I know,” Hawke whispered, almost too low for Fenris to hear her. “Now let her go.”
Fenris turned his head towards her. “What do you mean you know?” he asked her incredulously.
Hawke rolled her dark eyes. “Come on, give me some credit. It wasn’t too difficult to pick out. But it’s none of our business. If Anders wanted us to know, he would have told us.”
“I bet it was Rivaini that found out first and told you after the two of you…” Varric gave a delicate cough.
Hawke wrinkled her nose. “Why not just tell everyone? All right, it was Isabela that told me, but only because she thought I needed to know.” She narrowed her eyes in warning at Fenris. “Now I’m glad she did. This isn’t your concern, Fenris.”
“Not my concern?” Fenris couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Didn’t they understand? Didn’t they see it? Mages lied. They manipulated. He would be damned if he allowed Anders to harm those he thought of as his friends.
He jerked his hand free none too gently. The fire in Anders’ eyes died and she slumped towards the ground. Hawke lunged forward and wrapped her arms around the mage, preventing her from slamming into the ground.
Hawke looked up at Fenris, her eyes full of accusation. “I thought better of you, Fenris.”
That hurt more than Fenris cared to admit. Hawke was the only real friend that Fenris had. He found that her opinion mattered to him. He willingly had followed her into the Deep Roads without hesitation, just because she’d asked. Her condemnation sliced through him, surer than one of her daggers.
“Hawke…” He reached out a hand towards her, still bathed in the glow of lyrium. “I…”
“I’m trusting you with her secret,” Hawke said softly. “Don’t use it against her. Not for her sake, but for mine.”
Fenris’ hand dropped to his side. If anyone else had asked him that he would have laughed in their face. But this was Hawke. This was the woman who had rushed to help him for no monetary reasons, no gain of her own. He had tricked her and put her life in danger, but still she had hurried to Hightown in order to fight a magister because he’d asked it of her, a former slave that she had just met.
Fenris had done many things in his life that were dishonorable, but turning down a request from someone who would lay down her life for him without a second thought wasn’t one of them.
“You have my oath that I will not speak of it to another. But do not think that this will be the end of it.”
Hawke sighed and brushed a few strands of hair back from Anders’ forehead. “I know…"
One month. They had been back in Kirkwall for one month. It wasn’t nearly long enough to forget how fucked up the expedition had become. Anders had unfortunately not been very surprised when everything had gone pear-shaped. The Deep Roads were full of things dark, dangerous, and better left locked away under several tons of rock and earth. Why people insisted on going into them, she would never know. Why she kept going into them, was an even more puzzling question.
Oh, right, friends. Maker, help the kind of friends that Anders seemed to make.
If only Bethany, Hawke, Fenris, and Varric finding out her secret had been the worst thing that had happened. Anders would have actually been seriously content with that. But no, red lyrium idols, Bartrand’s betrayal, being lost in the fucking Deep Roads for weeks… The creatures they had fought, Bethany succumbing to the taint, actually looking for Grey Wardens instead of hiding from them. It had been one piece of nug shit piling on another.
Anders had never been so happy to see Kirkwall and Darktown in her life—anything to get away from what had happened in the Deep Roads, anything to get away from that fucking elf.
She should have known that her secret would have come out eventually. Anyone that got to know her beyond the superficial found out. It’s why she had always worked so hard to keep others away. But she had let her guard down, and look what had happened.
She didn’t give one fuck that Fenris had sworn never to tell a soul what he knew. The bastard would find a way to do it without breaking his word eventually. Or he would just decide that his word didn’t mean shit when it came to an abomination.
When the last patient left the clinic, Anders blew out the lamp and slipped back inside. She shut the door behind her and narrowed her eyes at her unwanted guest. Fenris had shown up a week after they had been back, instilling himself in a corner of the clinic.
He was there every… fucking… day… Anders couldn’t get rid of him without starting a commotion that would draw unwanted attention and scare away her patients. Usually the elf left before the last patient had been seen, but this evening he had deigned to tell her that he was going to escort her to Hawke’s.
Maker, damn it!
He didn’t speak beyond a few, terse syllables, and now he wanted to walk with her to Hawke’s party. Yes, Anders was glad that Hawke had her mother had gotten their estate and moved in. Yes, Anders was excited to see the place with a few of Hawke’s friends that she had invited, but not if it meant having to walk all the way to Hightown with Fenris.
She crossed over the hard packed earth of the clinic floor, towards a large chest hidden behind some crates. Taking a key out of a pouch at her waist, she unlocked the chest and flung it open. Pulling out a bundle of clothes, she straightened and snapped the lid shut, turning on Fenris.
“Seriously, is there any good reason on Thedas for you to be waiting here?” she asked the silent elf who sat cross legged on the ground. “I’ll get to the party under my own steam.” With a flick of her wrists, she snapped at the clothing, shaking out any dirt that had accumulated.
“I was informed by Hawke that if I am to be here, then I was to make sure you made it to the party,” he replied with no inflection to his voice. He wasn’t even looking at her, but staring down at the bottom at one of his feet in disgust.
I’m sure they’re pretty nasty, Anders thought. Walking around Darktown with no shoes. What in the Void is he thinking?
Anders laid down her clothes on one of the crates. Reaching back, she pulled her hair tie free and raked her fingers through the mass with a happy sigh. Male or female, she didn’t care who you were. It always felt good to let your hair down. With quick motions, she began to braid the chin length strands. It wasn’t going to end up as beautiful and as intricate as Hawke’s braids, but it would do what she needed it to.
Fenris glanced up then, his hand pausing over his foot. “What in the Void are you doing?”
She grinned at him and let her voice go to its natural octave. She had found that it had unnerved him whenever she had done that in the Deep Roads. “Braiding my hair. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“You know how to?” Fenris blurted out. He wrinkled his nose and she didn’t even bother to hide her delight at his discomfort.
“I’m sorry, am I not allowed to know how to braid my own hair? Is that too feminine for you? I’ll have you know that a very handsome elf taught me the skill. He told me that I would never know when I would need to use it.” That wasn’t completely true. Her mother had taught her, and Zevran had only retaught her how to weave the blonde strands in an elegant, but quick way. But braiding her hair had been something between mother and daughter. She would be damned if she ever told Fenris about that part of herself.
“Besides,” she continued on, tying the end off with quick jerks, “it’s my hair, I can do what I wish with it.”
Fenris narrowed his eyes. “What are you up to, Mage?”
Anders’ fingers went to the clasps of her coat and slipped it off her shoulders. Her hands grasped the bottom of her tunic and she lifted it up just pass her waist. Pausing, she raised an eyebrow at him. “Up to? Why I’m getting undressed. Maybe you should go ahead to the party and give me some privacy.”
The two of them locked eyes, and Anders noticed how the light from the lanterns scattered around the clinic turned the elf’s eyes into chips of emerald. Andraste’s tits, he was handsome. Anders couldn’t call Fenris beautiful, that would denote some beauty of the soul she didn’t think he had.
Fenris’ spine straightened and he crossed his arms over his chest. She watched his chin set in a stubborn line.
Now you’ve done it, she thought to herself. Maker, why did I think it would send him running? An inner voice chimed in that she was screwed now. If she gave in and fled to the small back room that served as her living quarters, the elf would have won.
“Fine!” she cried. With a yank the tunic went over her head and sailed on top of the crate, slipping off the side to land in a puddle on the floor. She was more exposed than she had been in years. Her flesh prickled under Fenris’ unrelenting gaze, her heart hammering in her chest. Reaching behind her, her fingers found the knot that held the wide strip of linen that wound around her chest, pulling it free. She was thankful that Fenris couldn’t see the way her fingers trembled, fumbling on the cloth.
Their gaze never broke, not for an instant, as she unwound the linen, rolling it into a compact ball as she went. She hesitated on the last bit that covered her breasts. “Last chance, elf…” she whispered.
Fenris only tilted his head to the side in a gesture to continue.
Gritting her teeth, she pulled the last of the cloth away, tossing the ball towards the crate. Fenris’ eyes left hers then and flickered over her bared breasts. She felt her nipples tighten under his scrutiny, but she told herself it was only the cool air.
“Asshole,” she hissed. As she turned her back to him, she could hear his dark chuckle.
“You were the one that started it, Mage.”
That he was right didn’t do anything for the heat that crept up her throat and cheeks. She had gambled and had lost, but Fenris wouldn’t have all of her. Lifting one foot at a time, she pulled off her boots and socks, setting them on the ground next to her. Her britches came next and those she kicked over to the side. She could practically feel Fenris’ eyes on her bare back and ass, and she shivered at the thought.
Glancing down, she smoothed a hand over her lower abdomen. It had been hidden under the waistband of her britches. Her fingers tripped over the silvery lines and slightly loose skin. No, he wouldn’t see everything. Isabela knew, and Anders had made sure that she hadn’t told Hawke about that at least. She didn’t think she would be able to stand it if the others knew.
Some things were best forgotten.
She stretched out her hand and grabbed the underclothes and slipped into them. The corset gave her some trouble at first, but when she realized that she didn’t need to have the laces in the back, it went much smoother.
Isabela had told her that breathing was not the point.
The dress… Oh, Maker, she would never let Isabela pick out something for her again. When she’d told the pirate her plan, Isabela had winked at her and told Anders to leave everything to her.
Anders was starting to think that might have been a mistake.
It was a deep blue gown, cut much too low for Anders’ comfort. She wasn’t use to feeling the air on the top of her breasts like she was now. And Maker! What in the Void had happened to them? They were propped up and seemed to be about to burst from the dress on every inhalation.
The slippers went over her stocking clad feet. Now this was just ridiculous. They would be ruined by the time she made it to Hightown.
Smoothing down the dress, she let out a cleansing breath. Fenris was not going to hold her secret over her. She wasn’t about to spend who knows how long waiting for his move. She was taking it out of his hands, disarming him completely.
Anders was comfortable in the clothes she usually wore. This gown wasn’t her. The braided hair with tendrils softly framing her face wasn’t her. But it was one night, one night to out herself and to take the initiative. After that, she could go back to being herself.
It was going to be worth the discomfort and the inevitable questions to not have to live in fear.
Raising her chin, she turned and faced Fenris. The elf’s lips parted and a strangled sound escaped him.
“You’re staring at my tits,” Anders pointed out. She tapped at her cheek. “My face is up here.”
Yeah… This was going to get irritating real quick.
Fenris stomped through Hightown, leaving Anders in his wake. The fool woman wasn’t able to walk very quickly. She picked over every cobblestone in those useless slippers. Fenris refused to look back at her. He’d snuck enough glances this evening, and he had promised himself that he was going to stop.
His mind was having a hard time with what she had done. It couldn’t seem to match up the mage that he knew, with the stumbling woman behind him. What she was doing felt wrong, on so many levels. Her back and shoulders might be straight, but Fenris hadn’t been able to miss the apprehension in her eyes as they had left the clinic. Guilt had stabbed at him then. He had done that.
He knew precisely why she was doing this. A part of him wanted to applaud her for the nerve. The other wanted to call her several kinds a fool. At least when she had been a man, she had been herself, trading him barb for barb. The dress seemed to be more a disguise than the britches had been.
What he saw as a lessening of Anders, a dimming of her personality, and it bothered him on a visceral level.
It made him angry.
He despised the mage. Why should he worry if she why she was doing this? He recalled Justice’s words to him. He had been able to think of little else since he’d heard them. They’d slipped inside his skull, curling around his brain.
What would you have done?
So many things. Things that had him waking each night, a scream dying on his lips. He saw the bodies of the Fog Warriors, as he cut through the only people that had cared about him before Hawke. He saw his sword drenched in their blood, each drop a condemnation. He hadn’t killed them for his freedom. He had killed them because he hadn’t known how to be free.
In a dim corner of his mind, the part that he rarely acknowledged, he knew he was jealous of Anders. She knew how to be free. She fought against what she had saw as her oppression.
He wanted to tell her to go back to the clinic and change, to stop this madness, to return to herself. But his lips thinned into a tight line, and he stayed silent, his stubbornness rising to the fore.
And damned himself in the process.
Fenris slid his eyes away from Anders as she moved by him to enter the Amell estate. More than seeing what she had done to herself, Fenris couldn’t look at her without remembering smooth skin tipped with rosy nipples. To his dying day he would deny that his cock had stirred at the sight. Wild thoughts had flashed through his mind. Things that he had immediately had felt disgusted with himself for.
Would she have backed down if he had climbed to his feet and stalked towards her? Fenris didn’t think so. She would have raised her chin in defiance, staring him down. Fenris knew he would have had to push her to get a reaction, to see her cower. His eyes had run over the sinuous line of her spine, ending at the rounded globes of her backside. No, he would have had to back her up against the crates she had stood next to, caging her with his arms. He would have to lean in close so he could see her eyes widen, her breasts crushed against the hard metal of his breastplate. Still she wouldn’t have quailed. Fenris would have had to brush his mouth over hers, their breath seesawing out between parted lips, the heat between them—
Fenris growled and shut the door behind him a little too hard. Damn her for putting these thoughts in his head. The woman was a mage with little sense of self preservation. She revered the magisters for fuck’s sake, and Fenris wasn’t about to use the magisters’ games in order to finally put fear of him in her.
He might have done questionable things in his life, but not that—never that.
The voices that echoed from the main hall came to an abrupt stop. Fenris sighed and forced his legs to carry him into the room after Anders.
“Told you that the dress would look perfect,” he heard Isabela say as he walked into the room. Of course the pirate had been in on this. Fenris didn’t think that Anders would have chosen those clothes herself.
The Amell estate was large, but not as massive as some of the mansions in Hightown, including Fenris’ own. But it had a homey quality the house that Fenris squatted at lacked. Hawke’s mother had taken pains to make the place as warm as possible. A great fire roared in the central fireplace. Candles flickered in a chandelier overhead, sending light into every corner of the main hall. A lush rug had been spread out in the center of the room, and against every wall were tables that held food and drink.
All eyes in the room were centered on Anders. She had paused near the fireplace, the flames turning her hair to a bright gold. She looked from one person to another, and when no one said a word a smile curved her lips. “Questions?” she asked.
Aveline arched an eyebrow at Anders. “If you insist on wearing dresses from now one, I think it would be wise not to have the whore be the one to pick them out.”
“You know, Man Hands, I could do the same thing for you,” Isabela offered.
Aveline visibly shuddered. “No, thank you. My idea of a nice gown isn’t one that shows so much, that it makes the women at the Rose blush.” She turned back to Anders. “You look very pretty.”
“You think so?” Anders smoothed down a nonexistent wrinkle. “I think I look ridiculous.”
“You should have seen me when I married Wesley.” Aveline’s eyes went distant in remembrance. “I was convinced that everyone was going to point and laugh at me. It felt—“
“Wrong,” Anders finished.
Aveline smiled. “Exactly. I did it for Wesley, but told him never again.”
“I think you would have looked very nice, Aveline,” Merrill said. “Although, I’m very confused now. Is Anders a woman now? Was he always one?”
“Just for about five days a month,” Anders chimed in. “But we don’t talk about that.”
“Oh!” Merrill grinned, her eyes twinkling with laughter. “Is that how it works? Couldn’t you have done something to stop it? I know there are some women who use a certain herb that—”
Hawke placed her hand firmly on Merrill’s shoulder. “We don’t talk about that,” she stressed.
Were they just going to pretend that this wasn’t the huge revelation that this was? Fenris leaned against the wall near the door, his arms crossed over his chest. He tapped a finger in an uneven rhythm against his elbow in irritation. This was what Anders had counted on. Hawke gathered those that others deemed as outsiders. Few of them had anything in common with the other except their friendship with Hawke, and that they didn’t fit in anywhere else. Fenris should have seen it coming. Was it Isabela that had pointed that out to her, or had this been Anders’ idea all along? Why was Hawke not acting as surprised as Fenris had thought she would…
Fenris’ eyes narrowed into angry slits. Damn her… Hawke had known about this. That’s why she had told Fenris to walk with Anders to the party. She hadn’t wanted Anders to make her way through Darktown dressed like that. if Fenris had known that, he could have pointed out to Hawke, that just because Anders was wearing different clothes, it didn’t mean that she had lost her ability to protect herself. One look at the women in this room would have proved Fenris’ point.
He had known his fair share of strong women. Some of them capable of making others quake in fear from the mere mention of their name. Hadriana immediately sprang to mind. Danarius’ apprentice had risen high in Minrathous, and she hadn’t gotten there by playing nice. The slaves in Danarius’ household had learned quickly to stay out of here way when she’d been in residence. Fenris especially she had taken great delight in tormenting. He firmly believed it had been her twisted version of jealousy. She had seen the way that Danarius had—
Fenris sucked in a sharp breath.
Anders was no Hadriana, Fenris knew that. But the mage was one step away from it, teetering on the edge of sadistic madness that the demons engendered. As he watched the others smiling at her, Varric calling out a joke to Anders, and the mage’s resulting laughter, he knew that this wouldn’t last. One day Anders would go too far and be unable to be brought back from the brink. She would topple into the abyss with her arms wide open, pulling those that considered her friend in with her.
What drove him mad, what had him snapping at her every chance he got, was the infuriating fact that none of them seemed to be concerned about it. Sebastian was, but he didn’t want to risk his friendship with Hawke in order to do something about it. In this, he and Fenris were the same. The elf had hope that Hawke would wake up and see what she had literally invited into her home. Anders certainty wasn’t going to save herself, so why weren’t the others trying?
Fenris jerked his eyes away from her. And since when did he start thinking about saving her, instead of outright killing her when the time came?
Since he’d been forced to spend weeks with her in the Deep Roads, fighting side by side with her for hours on end. That kind of experience has a tendency to bond people in the strangest ways. They had saved each other’s lives countless times in the dark. Fenris would be a fool to pretend that it had never happened. It’s what had driven him to the clinic each day since they’d been back. He had wanted to see Anders in an environment she felt comfortable in. He had wanted to see if the care that she had shown to Hawke, Varric, Bethany and Fenris himself had been all just an act. She’d eased the pain of Fenris’ wounds time and time again, when she’d had every reason to let him suffer.
Fenris’ thoughts were cut off, skittering once more to the back of his mind when the front door opened, letting in cool, night air. He peered around the threshold to see Sebastian walking into the main hall.
This was going better than Anders had thought it would. Her friends were taking everything in stride, none of them prying or asking why. It was so freeing. Well, it would have been if Anders could breathe without feeling like a giant spider had its mandibles around her ribs. She agreed wholeheartedly with Aveline—never again.
The little girl that would have loved dressing up, having her hair done, and being admired was gone. Anders had stopped mourning her long ago. She’d had loving parents who had done everything for her. Her mother had given her the gift of protection that had lasted for years. Her parents had shaped her to be the defiant woman she was today. Her father had taught her how to fight, how to hide, and when to run.
The Anderfels were one of the most inhospitable places on Thedas. Years of Blights had corrupted the earth, making it almost impossible to eke out a living except for a few places. The darkspawn still roamed, clawing up from the ground to raid on small, isolated villages. War had also left its mark on the land and the people. The Anderfels had been conquered, liberated, and reconquered by the Tevinter Imperium. There was no love lost between the two nations. It was also the home of Weisshaupt, the seat of the First Warden. He might only ever be interested in politics in the Anderfels, but he still commanded great respect in a country, where how well you fought to survive in the harsh land were what mattered. Her father and mother had been quintessential representations of the Anders. The village they had lived in had been remote, but not too far away from the capital of Hossburg. Her father had been a blacksmith, constantly going to and from Hossburg to sell his wares and to buy new supplies.
Was it any wonder that Anders had fought against the Circle from the moment she had entered it? It was in her blood to fight, to stand up for herself, to escape her oppressors.
Someone tapped on Anders’ shoulder, and she turned her head away from her conversation with Aveline to glance over. To give him credit, Sebastian Vael didn’t look surprised. Instead, he seemed genuinely concerned and a fissure of apprehension raced down Anders’ spine.
“Anders,” Sebastian said as he politely inclined his head. “Would you be so kind as to come with me for a moment?”
The room fell silent and she could feel every eye in the room on her, waiting to see what she would say. “Sure, why not?”
No! No, bad. Sebastian Vael was the wild card in her plan. She had actually begun to think that he wasn’t going to able to make it. Vael was a study of contradictions. He was the wild prince and the devout almost-brother. He was both of these things, yet neither at the same time. Occasionally, Anders had thought that she and Sebastian had a bit in common when it came to dual personalities. But where Anders’ was all on the surface, Sebastian’s went much deeper into his psyche.
But she had come knowing that none of this was going to be easy. She would let Sebastian have his say, and then move on. She hadn’t come here to ignore any questions that might come her way. Evade, yes. Ignore, not really.
Sebastian led her to the empty dining room, telling Anders without words that he had been in the house a few times before. Anders turned to shut the door behind her, but a sense of self-preservation had her leaving it open a crack.
The dining room was small in comparison to some of the houses in Hightown. But it was still grander than anything that Anders had seen in a long while. The dining hall in the Vigil was massive. It could hold almost all of the Grey Wardens in residence at one time. But it had been so long since Anders had left, that she knew that had probably changed by now. Aedan had been keen on rebuilding the Wardens of Ferelden.
Sebastian stopped by a chair made out of dark wood that was lacquered and polished to a shine. He pulled it out, and Anders had to contain her bark of laughter. Maker, help her, so this was how it was going to be. But after seeing her in a gown, years of courtly manners emerged for Sebastian. Did he do this to Hawke and the other woman as well? Anders was willing to bet he did.
Playing up to the ridiculousness of it all, Anders sat down as demurely as she was able. The stiff corset under her dress forced her spine straight. As if her mind hadn’t already been made up, she promised herself never to wear one again. Isabela might think pushing her proportions into an hourglass shape was worth the pain, but Anders didn’t. If she couldn’t even get respite when she sat down, then that was a deal breaker.
Sebastian took the seat opposite from her and folded his hands on the glossy surface of the table. Anders had to wonder if Hawke had servants now, or if her mother had hired people to get the place ready. She knew that Bodahn and his son were living with Hawke, but she was hard pressed to picture Bodahn polishing the table.
Anders folded her hands in her lap, gripping the skirt of her dress tightly in her fingers, unseen under the table. She gave Sebastian a placid smile, waiting for him to speak first.
He didn’t disappoint.
“How long?” was his first question.
“Since I was twelve,” she answered honestly. If he wanted to know what his precious Chantry had driven her mother to do, then she would tell him. “My mother cut my hair as the Templars rode through the village. She had seen them coming and knew they were there for me. She made me swear never to reveal that I wasn’t a male.” She waited his inevitable follow up.
Maker, but those beautiful, lyrium blue eyes of his were so earnest, as if he genuinely cared to know. Maybe he did, but Anders knew better than to trust him.
“Because the Circle in Hossburg had a reputation. Young girls were easy prey for Templars that did not want to be stationed in so remote a region. Hossburg took the bitter, the Templars that had disciplinary problems. Everyone knew it. My mother did to protect me.”
Sebastian looked taken aback. “Surely if someone had reported it, something would have been done. Maybe your mother was mistaken.”
Anders leaned forward, as if she was imparting some great secret. Maybe to Sebastian it really was. “It was true in Hossburg. I thanked the Maker every night that my mother loved me enough to do what she did. I continued to thank him in Ferelden when I was sent there with no notice or explanation. Even when it became clear that being perceived as male would not save me, and I had to rely on my own skills to protect myself, I still thanked him for what she did.” But her mother could not save her in the end. Anders had never been raped, but the Chantry had taken everything from her anyway.
She could feel the dagger in her hand, slipping passed Karl’s ribs to pierce his heart. No, in the end they had won, but Anders was not finished with them yet, still not defeated.
“This is what the Templars do,” she said, pressing her point. “They drive mages and their families to things they never would have thought they would do in order to survive. This is what you advocate for every time you close your eyes and ears to what’s going on around you.”
Sebastian shook his head, the light from the chandelier above them catching his sleek, auburn strands and highlighting them with brilliant fire. “Not all are like that. There are good people in the Chantry, Anders. I would never—“
“You might not, but for every good man in the Chantry, there are ten Templars that think nothing of hurting a young mage for their own pleasure. The Circles are nothing but Divine sanctioned slavery.” Anders made a frustrated sound in the back of her throat and slapped her open palms on the table. “They take children from their parents, ripping families apart. They frighten young men and women with the threat of death, Tranquility, or bodily harm. The Tranquil are nothing but soulless automatons, doing menial labor that the Chantry profits off of. They will never be paid, they will never be freed.”
Anders knew she was starting to rant now, but she couldn’t stop the torrent of words tumbling from her lips. For the first time Sebastian was looking at her, was paying attention to what she was saying. She realized the hypocrisy of it. As a man, Sebastian had found it easy to ignore her, but as a woman, he was attentive. It enraged her.
It made her incautious.
“Have you ever heard the sound of a newborn baby crying for its mother? It wails and wails, yet the mother cannot go to it. She does not even know if it’s a boy or girl. She carried it under her heart, felt its movements pushing against her ribs. That’s what the Templars do. That’s what the Chantry does. Now tell me what kind of god would allow something like that and still be called loving? What kind of human being could advocate for that?”
She ended her tirade on a rasp. Sebastian stared at her, stunned into speechlessness. “If what you say is true…”
“Ask them,” she challenged him. “Ask them what happens to the children of mages in the Circle.” Anders drew in a cleansing breath. She had revealed too much and now she needed to get Sebastian’s mind off of it, before he could ask more questions.
She flashed a grin at him. “Now, I think there’s a party out there to go to.” The last thing that Anders wanted was to go out to the main hall and smile, pretending as if she hadn’t ripped open a part of herself to a man who had said in no uncertain terms, that she belonged in the Circle where the Templars could deal with her properly.
But she fixed the smile on her face and rose to her feet anyway. Just one hour. Just one hour to pretend that everything was all right, and then she could go back to the clinic, back to the her that she knew.
Fenris moved away from the door that he had been standing near, his head cocked towards the crack that Anders had left open. A muscle in his jaw jumped as he clenched his teeth. Come the morning, he was going to have to make some inquiries.
Knight-Captain Cullen had been less than helpful. The man hadn’t been very forthcoming when Fenris had asked his question. He had been evasive when Fenris had asked about what happened to the children of mages born in the Circle.
He was hiding something.
Fenris didn’t know what he had expected to find. Maybe some sort of denial, some sort of explanation as to why Anders would make up such a horrifying tale. She had to be exaggerating, as she did everything that concerned the plight of mages. But Cullen’s reluctance to give Fenris any sort of answer had a small pit open up in the elf’s stomach. One that only grew wider as he got off at the docks and made his way towards the Hanged Man. Fenris knew with each step he took towards the tavern, that the pit was going to be dark and deep the more he looked into this. What he was going to find at the bottom he didn’t know.
He just knew that he had to find out.
It was the middle of the day and yet the Hanged Man was as crowded as always. Fenris picked his way through the main room, stepping over ever present messes on the floor with an ease born of repetition. If he was in luck, Varric would be alone. He absently touched the pouch full of coins at his waist as he made his way up the short flight of stairs that led to the rooms in the back. He had come prepared in case he wasn’t able to find Cullen.
The door to Varric’s suite was wide open as usual, and Fenris walked straight inside. Varric sat in a throne like chair at one end of a massive table, a secret king ruling over his kingdom. Parchment was spread out over the table in front of him, and Varric glanced up as Fenris approached, setting down his quill. “Broody! What brings you here to see me on this fine afternoon? What will people think to see you out in broad daylight? Might ruin your mystic.”
Fenris ignored Varric’s teasing as he was starting to learn to do, and withdrew the pouch from his waist. He tossed it on the table and it gapped open, sovereigns spilling out to gleam in the candlelight. “I need you to look into something for me, and I need your silence about it.”
Varric’s hand reached out to hover over the coins before clenching into a fist. He sat up straighter in his seat and tilted his chin up. “What are you up to, Elf? For that kind of coin, it’s something big.”
Walking over to a chair right next to Varric, Fenris sat down and leaned close to the dwarf. “What I say does not leave your lips. It does not spill out of your quill. If I find out that it has, I will come and get my money back, and I will take it with interest. Your heart might do nicely.”
It was a testament to how well Varric was beginning to know him when he rolled his eyes in response. “First of all, I’m shocked you would even think I would betray a secret. Second of all, if I was crazy enough to betray you, I’d make sure I was far away by the time you found out. Third of all, that’s not going to happen, I like it here. Ever since Hawke showed up, Kirkwall has gotten interesting. Granted, there are a lot more dead bodies, but it’s still interesting.”
Varric folded his hands on his stomach and sat back. “Go ahead, Elf. Why all the secrecy, and the money and threats to make sure it stays that way?”
“Do you know what happens to the children born in the Circle? The ones created between two mages? I need to find out.”
Varric’s eyebrows shot up to almost his hairline. “Have to say, I wasn’t expecting that. I was beginning to think you had gotten caught doing something particularly depraved at the Rose, and needed help covering it up.”
His eyes narrowed shrewdly. “You’ve never cared about what goes on in the Circle before. This sudden interest you have… It wouldn’t have to do with our friendly neighborhood apostate, turned female friendly neighborhood apostate, would it?”
Fenris’ lips curled in a sneer of derision. “That’s none of your concern.”
Grinning, Varric raked the loose coins back into the pouch and jiggled it in his hand, weighing the contents. “Broody, for this kind of coin, you can dictate all the terms you like.”
But Fenris didn’t miss the calculation in the dwarf’s eyes.
Anders hated that Sebastian Vael knew where the clinic was. Every time he’d shown up in the past, Anders just had to look out the door to make sure there wasn’t a battalion of templars behind him.
Because one day it was going to happen, she just knew it.
It had been a week since the party, and things were finally getting back to normal. Or as normal as Anders’ life could get. She saw patients at the clinic during the day, and brewed healing potions to restock her supply in the evening. Hawke was busy doing the whole noble thing in order to make her mother happy, so things had been relatively quiet on that front.
So when Sebastian Vael walked into the clinic, Anders knew she should have realized sooner that her life didn’t work that way. She seemed to attract trouble the way mages attracted demons.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best analogy.
The first free chance she got, she grabbed Sebastian by the wrist and hauled him to the minuscule room she slept in. She shut the door firmly behind her after she lit a lamp that smoked too much set on a crate in the corner.
“You should have waited until I was done for the day,” she snapped in irritation. “The people who come to see me are poor. What are they supposed to think when you walk in dressed like,” she waved a hand to encompass his gleaming armor, “that… They’re getting help from an apostate and Andraste is staring at them from your crotch.”
“You seem to have a fascination with my… crotch…” Sebastian pointed out.
Anders threw her hands up in annoyance. “Well if your groin is what brought you here, I’m going to tell you what I told Isabela—the first time I’ll heal it, you’re stupid enough to catch something again, and I’ll just point and laugh.”
Sebastian turned an interesting shade of red. It made him look even more boyishly handsome. How he could possibly still blush after the things that Anders had heard he had done when he was younger, she would never know.
“I gave what you told me a bit of thought,” he said after he cleared his throat. “I asked some questions and prayed on the answers I received.”
Of course he did, Anders thought derisively. Can’t think that maybe the Chantry is wrong without it imperiling your mortal soul.
“And?” she prompted. “That drove you all the way to Darktown?” She sighed and straightened her coat, smoothing down the feathers on the shoulders. Not because it required it, but because she needed something to do with her hands. Sebastian’s penetrating gaze was making her fidgety. The dress she had worn to the party had been stuffed back into the trunk. If she never saw it again she would die a happy woman.
“What drove me to Darktown was a question I have. One I think only you can answer,” he replied.
“Oh?” Anders didn’t like the way he was looking at her, as if he had her all figured out. “And what would that be?” Apprehension had her heart slamming in her chest, a thumping, frantic rhythm.
“I think that sometimes people go through the trials that the Maker has set for them in life, and come out wondering at his existence,” Sebastian answered. “They lash out because of it, railing at a god they think has abandoned them in their time of need.”
“What are you talking about?” Anders whispered. But she knew—damn her incautious mouth. She knew. She wanted to stop Sebastian, to seal his lips shut, trapping the words in his throat. But she was paralyzed with horror as his lips parted.
“When did they take your child, Anders?”
Anders wanted to scream, to denounce him the way Sebastian had thought she had railed at the Maker. And he was right. Anders had cried until there had been no more tears left, had begged until her voice was raw and her knees bloody from kneeling in the tower Chantry. It was then that she had known there was no Maker, no god that she wanted any part of.
Instead, she gave Sebastian a crooked grin, forcing the brittleness from her eyes. “Are you serious? That’s what you came up with? I hate to disappoint you, but nothing so tragic. I saw it often enough. Tell me, did you even ask if it was true?”
He stared at her with penetrating, unblinking eyes. “I did…”
“And what did they say?”
“I had to ask the Grand Cleric. The Templars I talked to would not speak of it. She told me that that the Chantry felt it was far kinder to take the children. If something were to happen to them, if their parents were to succumb to temptation and have to be…” Sebastian blew out a breath. “No child should have to see their parent killed.”
“So you think that’s excuse enough for ripping a child from their mother’s arms?” Anders accused.
Sebastian looked away then, his gaze far off. “No, I can’t say that. But that is no reason to think that the Circles do not serve a purpose, that each measure to ensure the safety of mages and those in the rest of Thedas are wrong. Andraste said—“
“Oh,” Anders drawled, “I know what Andraste said better than you. It was drummed into my head and into the head of every mage child from the moment they enter the Circle. Her words have been used to pardon the excessive rules the Chantry has laid down.” This was pointless. Had she really thought she could change his mind?
Sebastian shook his head and his eyes drew back to her. “Let me help you, Anders. You are an intelligent woman. Let me help you to find a way to drive the demon from you. There is so much you could do if only—“
“If only I wasn’t me,” she finished for him. “You wished to turn me into the Templars when you thought I was a man, and now you wish to help me? If you can’t see how corrupt the system is, then we have nothing left to talk about.”
Sebastian reached out for her, cupping her cheek in his hand. She felt his callused fingers against her skin. “The world isn’t black and white. You ask me to see a side that is every bit as harsh as you claim the Chantry is. Have you ever even tried talking to the Grand Cleric?”
Anders opened her mouth to grit out a reply when the door opened.
“Anders, your assistant told me you were in here and…” Hawke trailed off. “Oh my…”
Anders jerked away from Sebastian in horror. “Hawke!” She knew her smile was a little too bright. She glanced over to the figure behind Hawke.
Fenris’ eyes glittered dangerously as he took in how close Anders stood next to Sebastian, and the prince’s still outstretched hand.
It was only supposed to have been a quick jaunt to see the dalish, nothing too strenuous. But that had been before the Tevinter slavers had shown up on the way. That had been before Anders had watched Fenris slam a man’s head into the ground, snarling at him for answers. That had been before he had heard a name that had him cursing in Arcanum, and whirling on Hawke to tell her that they needed to go and quickly.
That had been before they had found an old slaver’s cave and fought their way through it, Fenris’ face becoming grimmer with each opponent he had felled.
That had been before Anders had watched him break an oath and rip the heart from a magister that he had sworn he would set free.
Before Fenris had said those eight words that still rang in Anders’ ears.
What has magic touched that it doesn’t spoil?
Anders had known then that the hate Fenris had for mages was absolute. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known it before, but to see the anger in his eyes, the way he had snapped at Hawke, had driven home that basic fact. The kind of hate that Fenris had inside him was all encompassing. Anders knew that hate well, she knew what that kind of anger could do to a person.
Look at what it had done to her.
She had known a fear of Fenris then. If she didn’t watch herself, he was going to turn that hate on her one day. If she thought his derision was unbearable now, she knew it was nothing compared to what he was capable of.
A line had been drawn with those words, Fenris on one side, Anders on the other. There could be no compromise, no understanding between them. She knew that now.
Her boots skidded to a halt when she reached the top of the stairs that led straight to the clinic. Fenris sat on the ground near one of the doors, one of his legs bent at the knee, his arm dangling over it. Anders breathed in a fortifying breath as she forced her legs to move.
Fenris tracked her approach with unblinking eyes. “Took you long enough,” he said as he got to his feet.
“What are you doing here, Fenris?” When the elf didn’t answer, Anders heaved a sigh and unlocked the door to the clinic. “You know that Hawke is looking for you, right?” she asked as she walked inside, Fenris trailing after her. The door shut behind him with an ominous click, and a shiver raced down her spine.
This was the man who had ripped the heart out of a woman’s chest after he had told her he wouldn’t kill her. Anders had seen how dead his eyes had become after he’d done it, his face splattered with Hadriana’s blood.
She removed her staff from her back, unhooking it nonchalantly, as if she were about to set it aside. “What are you doing here, Fenris?” she repeated. She turned towards him in the middle of the clinic, her staff held deceptively loose in her hand.
“I want to hear you with my own ears. I want you to tell me after what you saw in the caves that mages aren’t a danger.” Fenris strode towards her, his hands clenched into fists at his side. “I want you to look me in the eyes, and tell me that you aren’t planning to turn the rest of Thedas into another Imperium.”
Anders brought her staff up in front of her as he approached. “Why should we be punished for what happened hundreds of years ago? Why should be pay for the sins of the magisters?”
“And what more must happen for you to see that the path you are on will only lead to ruin!” Fenris shouted as he stopped directly in front of her. This close, Anders could see the snapping green fire of his eyes. “Hadriana was a torment. She denied me my meals, hounded my sleep. You would set more like her out in the world. This anger is a sickness inside me, and I can never get rid of it. They put it there.”
Anders knew all about anger, and how it could twist a person. Justice was no longer the friend she had once had in Amaranthine. Her own rage had changed the spirit, warping him into Vengeance. She knew about the sickness inside, clawing unseen around her soul until everything she said and did was tainted.
“You thought killing her would help stop it,” she breathed. “It doesn’t, Fenris. It…” She lowered her staff. “People like her are evil. The magic didn’t make her that way, she did.”
Fenris snorted. “Now you sound like Vael.” Some of the tension slipped out of him and his shoulders visibly relaxed. “I… I almost didn’t kill her. I wanted to keep my promise.”
“Not going to lie, but she was a bitch and deserved killing,” Anders replied. “But it’s… It means something that you at least wanted to. It means you aren’t as consumed by anger as you think you are. You are capable of mercy.”
Fenris abruptly turned his face as if struck. “I did not… I did not come here with the intention of arguing with you. I have something… for you… that is.” He reached into a small pouch at his side and pulled out a series of tightly folded parchment.
He looked at her then, shoving them into her free hand. “These belong to you. Rest assured that only Varric and I know of this, and it will never pass our lips.”
He turned, his shoulders hunched as stalked towards the door. He paused, his hand hovering over the latch. “Be careful with Vael. I don’t know what… the relationship you have with him is, but he…” he made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and jerked open the door, striding through it.
“What?” Anders asked the door as it clicked shut behind him. Her face bewildered, she glanced down at the parchment in her hand. His fingers began to tremble as she saw a familiar scrawl over one of the documents. Her staff fell forgotten from her hand, and she fumbled as she unfolded the parchment.
It took Anders several tries before her mind caught onto what she was actually reading. The letter drifted to the floor as she tore open another one, her heart hammering in her chest as she read.
There were three letters and two documents, and by the time that Anders was done with each of them, she found herself kneeling on the floor, clutching the last one in her hands. Tears spilled down her cheeks and a broken sob escaped her lips, torn from her unbidden.
Fenris practically fled to his mansion in Hightown. He had gone to the clinic hoping to quickly give Anders what Varric had found. Just this morning, Varric had come by his mansion, handing over several documents. What had started as a simple inquiry had quickly escalated. Asking about mage children in the Circle, had led to a Templar that had been more than forthcoming when he’d seen the kind of gold that Varric had been willing to spend. The Templars in the Gallows had been tightlipped for a reason. Over a year ago, a mage newly come to the Gallows had begun asking his own questions. When Varric had heard who that mage was, he had taken it upon himself to dig deeper.
Karl Thekla’s belongings were still in a storage room in the Gallows. Varric had paid another templar to fetch them for him. Among the old robes and a few tattered books, had been a small chest. Inside, Varric had found the papers.
Fenris had had to ask Varric to summarize the documents for him. It had grated to do so, but the dwarf didn’t even bat an eyelash as he’d complied.
Two letters had been written to Anders, but never sent. The other had been addressed to Denerim in Ferelden. Varric had admitted that the ones for Anders seemed innocuous enough, but he was sure they had been written in some sort of code. The one that was to have been sent to Denerim, had been plain.
Only half finished, it had asked a Mr. and Mrs. Narran pointed questions about their son. When paired with the two remaining documents, the meaning had been clear.
Fenris snarled, the skin at the bridge of his nose wrinkling. A noblewoman taking an evening stroll with her maid through Hightown let out a frightened shriek when she saw him, and quickly darted down the street away from him.
Anders hadn’t been meeting Karl in the Chantry in order to talk about the mage resistance. Her former lover had finally tracked down their child and was going to relay the information to her. Someone had found out what he was doing and had silenced him for it, Fenris was sure of it. Hauling Anders in, a known, wanted apostate, would have just been icing on the cake.
The Templars were skittish now to talk about anything that had to do with the children born to mages in the Circle. It was no wonder the Knight-Captain hadn’t wanted to speak to him.
Fenris unlocked the door to his house and strode inside, kicking the door shut behind him. He flipped the locks out of habit, before turning to head towards the stairs.
As he had waited for Anders in front of the clinic, Fenris’ mind had been a whirlwind of emotion. Each thought had crashed into the other, until he had been so entrenched in his anger that he had immediately set into Anders when she had finally showed up.
He paused at the top of the stairs and glanced down at his hands. The sharp tips of his gauntlets caught the light of the moon pouring through a hole in the ceiling. Seeing the life go out in Hadriana’s eyes should have made him feel something. Instead he had felt numb and unclean. As he had made his way back to Kirkwall alone, he had felt the weight of the documents in their pouch against his hip.
Why should he tell a woman who was one step away from Hadriana where her child was? Why should she have that? But as his bare feet had sunk into the sand of the Wounded Coast, Fenris knew exactly why.
Anders was not Hadriana, and she needed something in her life worth living for.
And Fenris… Fenris was not the soulless monster that he sometimes through he was. A slave still to Danarius’ cruelties, twisting him until there was nothing left but what his former master had shaped. If there was hope for Anders, maybe there could be some hope for him as well.
Fenris rearranged his cards and sighed. Fasta vaas, he was going to get fleeced by Isabela and Varric again. Why he continued to come to the weekly card game at Varric’s room was beyond him. His eyes flicked over the top of his cards. Varric had his own cards close to his chest, while Isabela leaned over him, displaying her admittedly impressive cleavage in order to distract the dwarf. Unfortunately for her, Varric was on to her now and he leaned back, taking his cards out of Isabela’s sight. Aveline’s eyebrows were drawn down sharply as she glanced over the cards fanned out in her hand. Hawke was the only one that hadn’t even bothered. The moment she had looked at the cards she’d been dealt, she’d immediately folded.
Fenris allowed a small smile to quickly cross his lips. This was why he came. It wasn’t about money for any of them, not even Varric and Isabela. The weekly games were a way to them all to come together, when they weren’t being shuttled about Kirkwall on a newest quest of Hawke’s. No one had to worry about looking over their shoulder for a dagger in the back. They didn’t have to wonder what they were going to find around the next corner, what new horror was going to try and kill them.
During the games, Merrill didn’t have to sit alone in the alienage, dwelling on what she had given up. Aveline could let go the pressures of her position. Each one of them had their own burdens that were left at the threshold of Varric’s suite.
Fenris glanced at the water clock on the other side of the room. Vael, Merrill, and Anders were late. It didn’t surprise him that Sebastian and Merrill hadn’t arrived yet. Merrill was constantly getting lost on the way to the Hanged Man. Sebastian had his duties to the Chantry and occasionally couldn’t make it at all.
Anders never missed a chance to play a game of cards. He gazed at the empty seat at the table that was perfectly situated so that Anders was right in the middle of everything. She sat in that same spot every time, having claimed it as her own. There she wouldn’t miss a single word spoken, inserting herself in conversations with bad puns and droll quips. At first, it had driven Fenris insane, and the two of them would argue when the elf would try to get the mage to shut up for once and let him concentrate. But that had been before he had realized what game night was really for, when he had been gathering coin instead of conversation.
“The mage is late,” Fenris pointed out.
“Which one?” Varric asked idly. “You’re going to have to be specific, Broody.”
“The one who doesn’t have a care for her own well-being,” Fenris replied. Coming to a decision, he drew two cards and slapped them face down on the smooth tabletop.
“Still going to have to be more specific…” Varric dealt Fenris two new cards.
“Please don’t encourage him,” Isabela pleaded with Varric. “Next we’re going to hear, ‘The one the Templars should lock up,’ or ‘The one that deals with demons.’ Just ask him what her name is so we can move on.” Isabela gave Fenris a hard glanced before her eyes darted away.
Fenris sighed. Isabela had not been pleased with him since the moment that Anders had shown up to Hawke’s party wearing that damned dress. Anders had made her own choices, yet Isabela seemed to hold him personally responsible. A small voice whispered that he still blamed himself for that, and he silenced it ruthlessly.
The door to Varric’s suite banged open and a harried Anders came rushing in. She slammed it shut behind her, throwing the bolts. “Code: Blue!” she shouted as she ran over to Varric’s bed and partially out of sight of those gathered at the large table. “Or was that Code: Red? I don’t even fucking know. Just help me move this blighted thing!”
Fenris was seated at the end of the table and more able to see what was happening. He leaned back in his chair, the wood creaking, and peered in the room.
Anders had her hands wrapped around one of the massive posts that made up Varric’s bed. She grunted as she pulled, throwing her body into it and yanking hard. “Varric! Code: They Are Fucking Coming! Get your ass in here and help me!”
Varric’s chair squealed on the floor as he abruptly got to his feet, his cards falling forgotten on the table. “Shit,” he muttered. He hurried by Hawke, Aveline and Isabela.
The three women got to their feet as one.
“What’s going on, Varric.” Hawke moved after him with Aveline not far behind.
Fenris stayed seated, but he set his cards face down on the table. Isabela walked over to him and perched on the corner of the table, her hands braced hind her for balance. The two of them watched as Varric’s bed was slid over, revealing a small rug underneath and two chests.
“It was Code: Yellow,” Varric explained as he panted from exertion. “Because Anders said that Templars were cowards.”
“It was a year and a half ago!” Anders practically shouted. She whipped back the rug to reveal a trap door. Grasping the handle, she pulled and it swung open with a creak. “They came to the clinic. I’m pretty sure they saw me so I need to go.”
“Wait, Anders!” Hawke placed a hand on Anders’ arm when the mage put one foot into the darkness below. The two women locked eyes, and Hawke gave her a grim smile. “Come to my place when you can. You can stay there until we know it’s safe.”
Anders gave Hawke one of her crooked grins. “Aw… Won’t Isabela get jealous?”
“Shit, no.” Isabela gave Anders a wink. “We can have a little bit of girls’ time together.”
Anders laughed. “Tell me that after the Templars have come through here. I’m sorry for leaving this mess, but I really need to go now.”
And then she was gone.
Before he knew what he was doing, Fenris strode over to the trapdoor. He saw the top of a ladder peeking out of the dark, the wood scarred in some places, smooth in others, from years of use. He glanced up and met Hawke’s eyes. “I’ll go and make sure the fool mage gets to your house.”
Anders tapped the butt of her staff on the ground and the tip flared brightly. A ball of condensed light hovered above the carved silhouette of a nude woman standing on her toes on top of Anders’ staff, her arms outstretched towards the sky as if beseeching the Maker.
Anders had always thought that Hawke had given the staff to her as a bit of a joke. But it was a damned good staff.
She heard the trapdoor slam shut above her, and then the sound of the ladder creaking in protest as someone else descended. A bare foot slipped into the light of her staff, followed by another. She took a step closer and lifted her staff high. Fenris appeared, her staff casting his shadow in stark relief against the sewer walls. He glanced down at her and then let go, landing gracefully in the muck below.
Some of it splattered on Anders’ breeches.
“Well, thanks for that,” she drawled. “Come to lead the Templars right to me?” Even as she made the accusation, she knew she didn’t believe it. If she had, she would have ran the moment she realized who had followed her.
The two of them had not spoken to each other since the night that Fenris had given her some of her heart back. They had seen each other, but no words had crossed their lips. It was as if they had a taciturn agreement, to not even acknowledge each other and the things that had been said.
Anders had found that she was perfectly fine with that.
She had given the documents to Isabela to keep safe. Isabela had known about Anders’ child. The night that Anders had confronted Isabela about her secret, she had cried in the pirate’s arms, telling her all. She had told her about Karl, about finding out she was pregnant, and how she had tried to keep it a secret for as long as possible. How the Templars had found out, locking her away for a year. They had known that she would run, as she had so many times before. That cold, dark year with nothing but the growing life in her womb to keep her company, and a lone cat that had found his way to the dungeons. They had taken her baby in the dark, still covered in blood and the secretions from her womb. For several months after that she had laid alone in the dark, her belly empty and her heart numb. She’d had no help when her breasts had filled, becoming painful without a child to feed. It had been another reminder of what she had lost. In the end, Anders thought she had gone a little insane, becoming convinced she could hear her baby crying for her.
When she’d been released Karl was already gone, and Anders had made her last escape. Too many in the tower had known that she was a woman at that point. Maybe not some of the mages, but the Templars had known by then. They had stolen her baby, Karl, and her sense of safety.
The first time she had seen Knight-Captain Cullen, Anders had held her breath, waiting for the moment when he would point his finger at her and reveal her secret. But his eyes had only slid over her before fixing on Hawke. Whether he remembered her or not, she didn’t know.
She had told Isabela about it all, sobbing tears that she had once thought had been long dried up. When she had finished, Isabela had whispered in her ear her own tale, stroking Anders’ hair. The day that she had run to an Antivan Crow, was the day she had been able to rise from her bed after her husband had beaten her so badly, she had lost her own child.
Anders had known then that Isabela understood her pain, her grief. The documents would be safe with her, the documents that had been given to her by an elf that had proclaimed time and time again how much he loathed her.
She didn’t understand. If she hadn’t recognized Karl’s handwriting, she would have thought it was some cruel trick on Fenris’ and the Templar’s part. She still didn’t know how he had gotten a hold of them, only that Varric had been involved. Why? Why had he done it at all?
Without another word, Anders turned her back on him and began making her way through the tunnels. The path would lead her out to the Wounded Coast where she had a bolt hole waiting that consisted of a cave with the bare minimum for comfort. It would have to do until she could get back into the city and to Hawke’s estate.
The silence stretched between the two of them as Anders picked her way through the tunnels, her staff the only light. The deeper they went, the danker it became, until she wrinkled her nose in a fruitless attempt to ward off the stench of decay and mold. Her boots had quickly become soaked, and she was sure that with Fenris’ bare feet, he was worse off than she was. But he didn’t speak a word, bearing it in stoic silence.
Anders came to an abrupt halt and turned towards him. Fenris stopped in his tracks, water swirling around his ankles.
“All right, I give up,” she told him. “Why in the Void are you following me? I don’t hear Templars and my heart still seems to be in my chest, so you’re not here to led me into a trap or kill me. So…” She waved her free hand and made a prompting motion.
“If I wanted to do either of those things, I would not have given you the papers,” Fenris growled. His voice seemed louder than it was in the near silence of the tunnels.
“Oh…” Anders opened her mouth a few times, but no other words came. For once she was rendered speechless. So now he decided that he wanted to acknowledge what he’d done. Just wonderful… Excellent timing.
“I… uh… never got the chance to… uh… thank you, she fumbled. She guessed they were just going to go ahead and do this now. Varric knew what he had been doing when he’d told her about the trapdoor and where to go to get out of the tunnels. If the Templars had followed her, he had assured her that he would be bale to send them looking elsewhere. Anders had hoped she wouldn’t need to use it, or to ask that of him.
Now was as good a time as any if they had to do this. No one was going to be coming after them anytime soon.
Fenris glanced away, staring off into the darkness. “I do not need your thanks. Varric came across the information by chance.” He looked back at her, his eyes glittering in the bobbing light of her staff. “Why have you not left yet?”
Her hand tightened on her staff at his question. She opened her mouth to tell him that it was none of his business, that she owed him no answers. But she snapped her jaw shut. She did owe him, more than he could possibly know. It grated on her, that this elf who despised her had given her answers she had been searching years for. That she could not deny him the answers that he sought in turn.
“I can’t,” she replied honestly.
Fenris blinked once, the only physical reaction to her words. “I was under the impression that your lover and you were searching for your child. If not to go to him, then why even look?”
Anders sucked in a calming breath in order to stop the abrupt retort that came to her lips. “It’s not that simple. You know what I am. How can I…” She blinked rapidly to halt the tears that sprung to her eyes. She refused to become a weeping, wailing thing in front of him. “Karl and I wanted to know that he was all right. That he was loved. I did not even know,” she cleared her throat when she noticed it had become raspy, “that I’d had a boy. If it turned out that he had been a mage, or was not loved and cared for, we would have… we would have taken him and ran. But things… things changed. Karl is dead and I—“
“You took that thing inside you,” Fenris finished for her.
“I can’t leave Kirkwall.” The words were ripped from her in her persistence for the truth. “I have things that must be tended to here.”
Realization dawned on her then, brighter than first stepping out into the sun after weeks in the Deep Roads. “You thought that by giving me those papers I would leave didn’t you?” she accused.
“I thought it would spur you to actually help yourself,” Fenris shot back. “Apparently I was wrong.”
Any retort that Anders would have given was abruptly cut off when she heard a heavy splashing from up ahead. Anders and Fenris exchanged a quick look and the mage muttered a softly spoken word. The light on her staff went out, and she heard Fenris moving towards her. He gripped her arm and hauled her back until she felt the heels of her boots hit the wall behind her. She flattened herself against it, Fenris next to her.
When the elf’s lips brushed her ears, Anders suppressed the shiver that ran down her body. “They’re up ahead. It is not the Templars who were chasing you,” he whispered. His warmth breath ghosted over her skin, and she was thankful for how dark it was, that he couldn’t see her.
“Something else then,” she whispered back. He was too close, and she dared not turn her head towards him. She felt him shift next to her and heard the slide of his sword leaving its sheath, the whisper of steel against leather.
“Wait,” she hissed. “We let them pass. I don’t want a trail of bodies showing where I went.”
If she could see him, she was sure that Fenris would be rolling his eyes at her. “You’re foolish,” he said, but he settled back next to her al the same.
A light appeared at one end of the tunnel and Anders shrank back. Not a cave spider or one of the multitudes of creatures that could inhabit the tunnels. She stared at the light as it came closer, and then closed her eyes in resignation when she heard the familiar clang of chainmail and plate. She knew that no matter where she went in Thedas, she would always dread that sound.
She gasped and her hand flung out next to her, her fingers tripping over the crumbling brick. When her fingertips met empty air, she let out a sigh of relief. Without giving it another thought, she grabbed Fenris’ arm and pulled at his unyielding body.
“Come on,” she whispered franticly. She felt him give and she slid along the wall to squeeze herself into the opening she had found there. Fenris pushed himself in after her. If she had thought that he had been too close before, it was nothing compared to the way his body pressed against her now, every last lithe and armored length of him.
Anders felt his warmth seep through the layers of her clothes, his breath against her cheek. Maybe once she would have made some sort of quip about how compromising the situation was, but she was keenly aware of who was with her.
Just as she was keenly aware of her own body’s reaction.
Maker, how sad was she? The moment someone got close to her, her body went into overdrive. She felt surrounded by him, his scent filling her nostrils, steel and leather. She gritted her teeth, telling herself over and over that Fenris was an ass, and that it had been a long time since anyone had been this physically close to her, his body pressed tightly to her own. She knew that she had only to move her face an inch to the left and her lips would be on his.
She conveniently forgot that at one point she had been weeping in Isabela’s arms and hadn’t felt the clawing urge she felt now.
She pushed her thoughts away from Fenris, and how his arms were on either side of her, caging her against the rock wall in a parody of a lover’s embrace, a stolen, passionate moment. She could feel the flat of his blade against her left hip, a reminder that they were in danger and the light was coming inexorably closer, barely seen reflecting off the water through the crevice they had squeezed into.
Voices reached her and she strained to listen.
“Please, Ser,” a woman wailed. “I just wanted to see my mum. No one ever told her where they were taking me.”
Fenris stiffened against her, and she knew he was listening too, that he had heard how frightened the woman was.
“Now, now, Ella.” Anders shivered at the sound of the man’s voice. It was ominous with no small amount of smugness. “So you admit your attempted escape. You know what happens to mage girls who don’t toe the line around here, don’t you?”
The woman began weeping uncontrollable, horrible sobs. They felt like a punch in the gut and a bit of Anders’ heart tore at the sound. She knew fear like that, she knew what it felt like to plead desperately, uselessly, with those that did not care.
Anders made a strangled sound in her throat and Fenris leaned closer to her. “Don’t,” he whispered. “If you don’t wish them to find us, then remain still.”
Anders nodded her head vigorously, brushing her cheek against Fenris’ smooth, elven skin as she did.
“Please no,” the woman wailed. “Don’t make me Tranquil! I’ll do anything!”
Anders’ body trembled with the need to move, do fight, to do something to stop what was happening. Already she could feel Justice trying to rise to the fore. Her hearing dimmed and then became sharp again as she fought the spirit back. Her breath seesawed through parted lips.
Fenris curled his free hand around her neck, his gauntlet digging into her skin. There was no attempt to choke her, but more of one to ground her. If she had been able to, Anders would have thanked him.
“You need to calm down,” he breathed into her ear.
“Can’t…” Anders bit her lip to stop a whimper from escaping.
“That’s right,” came the malevolent voice, “once you’re Tranquil, you’ll do anything I ask.”
Anders’ body shook with the strain of keeping Justice back. She turned her face towards Fenris’. “Help me…” Her lips moved over his, a kiss that was not a kiss.
“Ser Alrik,” another voice called. “We should just take her here. We can always have her again later.”
That name… That blighted name. How long had Anders been trying to gain proof of his crimes? How long had she been trying to gain her vengeance for what had been done to Karl. There would be no stopping Justice now. He knew her pain, her anger, intimately. He understood just how much Anders hated Ser Otto Alrik.
He was Vengeance and if Anders would not take it, then the spirit would.
“Don’t let me hurt her,” Anders’ rasped to the elf, pleading.
And then she knew no more.
Fenris was blown back to land with a small splash in the center of the tunnel. Justice stepped out of the crevice they had been hiding in, enveloped in blue fire and fury. Several Templars and a young woman stopped to stare.
Fenris could still taste Anders on his lips, could still feel her heat against his body, the scent of elfroot and lyrium clung to his skin. He hadn’t known what to do for her when she had begun to lose control. He had understood it, though. He had felt her fury as his own. These Templars were depraved, abusing their power like a magister toying with a slave. No one deserved that.
Fenris shot to his feet and charged with a cry of rage on his lips.
He caught the first Templar off guard, arching his blade towards his throat, and sending his head flying to land with a splash. Some of the Templars were holding torches, but Fenris didn’t need them to see. Justice burned brightly, a flame more righteous than the Blades of Mercy emblazoned on the Templars’ armor and shields.
Fenris’ brands ignited, adding his own ethereal light. He became partially insubstantial, a deadly ghost who wielded a blade that cut deep.
The battle had barely begun before it was over. Fenris’ face and hair was splattered with blood, and he pulled his sword from the last Templar, letting the body fall where it may.
He turned to see Justice hovering over Ser Alrik’s partially submerged body, his head turning this way and that, as if searching for more.
“They will die!” Justice intoned. “I will have every last Templar for these abuses!”
“It’s over,” Fenris told him. “They’re all dead.” He dipped his sword in the water, cleansing the steel of blood.
“Every one of them will feel Justice’s burn!”
This was what Anders had been trying to warn him about. The demo—spirit had tasted blood and he wanted more. Fenris began striding towards him, to haul Justice away to where Anders could regain control, by force if he needed to. He wasn’t afraid of Justice.
“No, get away from me, Demon!” The woman cowered in the water, her eyes wide with fright as she gazed on Justice.
Justice whirled on her, his staff raised. “I am no demon. Are you one of then that you would call me such?” he accused.
“Anders!” Fenris called to her, hoping to reach the woman inside, to bring her out. “She’s a mage, you’re trying to protect her.”
“She is one of them! I can—“
“Go!” Fenris shouted to the woman. “Run. I care not where you go, back to the Circle or elsewhere. Just leave.”
The woman scrambled to her feet, sending water flying. She took off as he reached Justice, the sound of splashing trailing off in the darkness of the tunnel.
He grabbed Justice by the arm and hauled him around to face him. Justice’s fire did not burn as it licked up Fenris’ arm. The warmth of it sank into his brands, bleeding into the lyrium.
“The song,” Justice moaned. “I hear the song.”
Fenris didn’t know what he was talking about, but he felt, rather than heard, something. Warmth zipped up the lyrium lines in his skin, igniting his nerve endings. Blood roared in his ears, and for a moment, Fenris swayed. Something had changed in Justice. He had touched the spirit before, but never had his essence fired his brands like it was now.
Fenris felt himself harden at the pleasurable warmth and he snarled at Justice, denying his body’s reaction. “Retreat, you have done enough,” he snapped.
“I…” Justice let out a cry and clutched at his head, dropping his staff in the water. He bent over double as the cracks in Anders’ skin began to recede, a physical shutting out of Justice’s fire. The light winked out in Anders’ eyes and she dropped to her hands and knees in the water.
“Oh, Maker…” she said in a broken whisper. “What did I almost do?”
Fenris stood over her and sheathed his sword. “You did nothing.”
Anders looked up, stricken. A few of the torches that the Templars had carried had not yet gone out. “Why would you lie to me now? Where are your recriminations? I deserve them.” She slammed her fist in the water, sending droplets to soaring. “Do you see why I can’t go now? Do you see?” Her face twisted in grief.
Slowly she climbed to her feet. Her britches were soaked and so were the bottom half of her quilted jerkin. “I need to leave,” she whispered, and Fenris knew she was speaking to herself. “I can’t go to Ferelden, Orlais, Nevarra, or the Anderfels. Maybe Antiva.”
Don’t say it, Fenris thought.
“There’s also Rivain,” she continued. Her eyes darted around the darkness, as if she were seeing something not there.
“Don’t say it,” Fenris commanded.
Fenris snarled and reached out for her, pushing her until her back slammed against the decaying wall of the tunnel. “You will not go there,” he growled into her face. “Do you have any idea of what they would do to you? If you think the Templars have taken everything from you, if you think you know despair, then the magisters will show you what true agony of the soul is like. They will rip you apart until you beg for death.”
“Fenris…” she whispered in dismay. “I—“
“No.” He felt the clawed tips of his gauntlets rip into the feathers at her shoulders. “Anywhere but there.”
Nothing was as Fenris had thought it was. As he had listened to the Templar taunting the mage, Fenris was reminded of all the times he had been spoken to in that same exact tone. He had heard his own pleas in the woman’s voice, his own cries for mercy that had been ignored.
What would you have done…
If a demon had come to Fenris at his worst, if one had whispered to him and told him that for the price of his soul he could have his vengeance on every magister in Tevinter, Fenris could no longer lie to himself.
He would have done it—and gladly.
He had never asked Anders why she had passed herself off as a man. He had never bothered to find out why she hated the Templars so much, whys he had escaped from the Circle time and time again.
He had never asked why she had let a spirit inside her.
He had assumed it was because Anders was reckless, foolish. That she was no better than any other mage and craved power. When he had seen that Anders had not left for Ferelden like had thought she would, he had become angry.
He had honestly thought that giving her the papers would have sent her immediately packing and on the next ship to Ferelden. He had felt that the fact that she seemed to stubbornly cling to her damned clinic and her place in Kirkwall, that it was a sign that he had been wrong about her, that she was indeed like the magisters, sacrificing everything in order to obtain power.
Fenris knew that he was blinded by his hatred of mages. But he had begun to see that maybe Anders was different. If she truly was using Justice in order to gain power, why was she still in Darktown sleeping on a hard pallet on the floor? Justice was formidable, Fenris could admit that. If Anders and the spirit decided to turn their combined, destructive forces loose, there was little that could stop them.
She confused him incessantly.
On one hand she helped people whenever she could, sacrificing her time and energy to run her clinic, help Hawke and do her part in the mage resistance. On the other hand, she was incredibly naïve when it came to Tevinter and the magisters, and as to why the Circles as they were in the rest of Thedas were necessary.
He never could seem to place Anders in the labeled box he had set up for her and it drove him mad, until he didn’t know where his mind was where it concerned her anymore.
Anders watched the conflicting emotions dance across Fenris’ eyes. Her body shook under his hands as grief and self-recrimination took hold. “I can’t stay here,” she whispered. “You saw what I almost did to that girl. If it wasn’t for you, I would have killed her.”
There were times when she fought Justice and his hold on her, when she could climb the fog inside her just enough to see what the spirit was doing with her body, and hear the things he said. It was getting harder and harder to do that, and it frightened her when she would have no memory of what had happened, spots of nothingness in her mind. She was losing control of Justice, and she knew it.
One of the torches gave in to the seeping water and was snuffed out.
“But you did not.” Fenris leaned in close, purposefully getting into her space. She felt the heat of him against her once more, pressing the soaked fabric of her britches into her thighs.
“But I could have! Oh, Maker…” she sucked in a shuddering breath, inhaling the scent of steel and leather. Underlying it all was the tang of blood. “One day I’m going to go too far. One day I won’t be able to stop him if he…”
She didn’t have to say who he was—they both knew.
“There are some days that I wonder why I should even bother fighting him anymore,” she admitted in a ragged whisper.
Fenris snarled at her, his lips curling in the near dark. “Then are as much of a fool as I thought you were. How can you claim to want to fight for freedom when you won’t even fight for yourself?”
Anders reared her head back as if struck. The back of her head pressed against the crumbling brick behind her. No one had ever asked her that. In all the time she had known Hawke and the others, none of them had ever voiced that one, simple question.
It rocked her that it had been Fenris of all people to be the one to do it.
No one could ever accuse the elf of not saying what he thought. He might hold parts of himself back, but he was free with his opinions in most things.
“And who will I go to for help if I wanted it?” She shot back, anxiety at the truth making her words harsh. “The Chantry? The Templars? Maybe I should go to Nevarra and the College of the Magi. Waltz right in and tell them what I am. That would go over beautifully.”
“Why not your Warden friends?” She didn’t miss the way that fenris drew the words out slowly, as if she were a child that needed to be told something as simple as possible. “Unless they would kill you for being an oath breaker…”
Anders snorted. “Please… The commander would be just as likely to pat me on the head, hand me some Grey Warden robes and send me back into the Deep Roads.” She knew she wasn’t telling him the truth. She didn’t know what Aedan Cousland would do. What she did know, was that she had run from him and the Wardens at the Vigil. Despite her reasons why, Aedan would not be happy if he saw her again.
“Would you willingly go back into the Deep Roads?” she asked him in a bid for levity.
“If it meant that I could truly be free, then yes.” Fenris’ answer came quickly, as if he’d had no reason to give it any thought. “Maybe the truth is what I thought it was in the beginning,” he accused. “Maybe you wish to keep your… spirit… Maybe you wish to lose yourself to him.”
Then, as if he knew exactly how to drive the dagger home, impaling it deep in her heart, he said, “Maybe you never wished to truly see your child.”
Anders’ vision swam, and it had nothing to do with Justice, but everything to do with her sudden rage. “You’re an asshole, you know that? You push and push, and I don’t know what in the Void you want from me. Don’t act like you know me, Fenris. You don’t.”
The feathers in her shoulders rustled as Fenris’ hands gripped her tighter. “I know you better than you would wish I do,” he hissed. “I know that you blame the Templars for everything in your life, for taking you from what could have been, and forcing you on a path you would not have chosen for yourself. I know that some days you just want it to stop, the anger inside you, the rage, and sometimes it seems as if you really are the monster that others call you. I know that no matter how much you explain it to the others, they will never truly understand what it is like to have so much taken from you, and been powerless to stop it.”
“You’re not just talking about me, are you?” Anders asked, her voice a whisper. “You…” She knew it then, she knew why Fenris had given her the documents. Because he had heard the wails of a baby being taken from its pleading mother. He had seen families ripped apart as they had been sold like livestock. He understood what it was like to have others look at him from the corners of their eyes, waiting for the day that he would finally snap and be unable to be called back from the brink.
Fenris knew almost unrelenting hate.
A tear slipped down her cheek, unbidden. She closed her eyes, as if she could block out the truth of his words the same way she was removing him from her sight. “We need to get moving. But first we need to search the bodies. Isabela would never let me hear the end of it if I didn’t at least take some of their stuff.”
When Fenris let go of her and moved away, he took his warmth with him. Anders shivered in the cold. She opened her eyes and pushed away from the tunnel wall.
Fenris eyed her for a moment and then turned towards the body closest to him, growling a curse under his breath.
She was grateful that not only did Fenris not say another word, but that another torch succumbed to the water, plunging them further into darkness.
The cave that Anders had established as a bolt hole wasn’t anything to brag about. It was like every other cave on the Wounded Coast--filled with sand and, depending on how high the tide was, sea. There had been two deciding factors for Anders about the cave. One, it was free of anything that went skittering in the dark. And two, the mouth of the cave was hidden behind bushes that Anders made sure grew nice and strong. She had a habit of coming out to check on the cave once a month, and check that none of her supplies had been stolen, or that anything had moved in.
It wouldn’t have ended well if she had found out either of those things had happened while she’d already been on the run.
Anders lit a lantern with a small flare of magic, setting it on one of two trunks towards the back of the cave. She rest her staff against the rocky wall, and bent down to undo the ties of the bedroll that had been waiting for her.
“You know what the messed up part about this is?” Anders asked idly. Neither of them had spoken since they had exited the tunnels to see that night had fallen on the Wounded Coast. Anders had initially been relieved, but silence tended to grate after a while. There was something about it that instilled her with the urge to fill the empty space up with words, meaningless or not.
When she’d been alone in solitary, she had taken to talking to herself. She’d told stories to her stolen child, telling him about the Anderfels and—
Anders noticed that her hands had stilled, and she gave herself a mental shake. While thoughts of her child had always been with her, lately it was getting harder to dismiss the memories as she once had. She was beginning to think that maybe Fenris giving her those documents had not been the kindness she had initially thought it was.
“This place is actually better than where I sleep in Darktown--fresh air, no Carta or chokedamp. If I didn’t have to worry about raiders or qunari, it would be perfect. Oh, yeah, and the crushing boredom. I would make a terrible hermit.” With a snap she rolled out her bed. She sighed and smoothed her palms over the thinly stuffed fabric.
“But hey, I might have lost my clinic, but at least I have cave, sweet cav—“ She let out an undignified yelp that she would deny to her dying day when Fenris wrapped a hand around her upper arm, tighter than that blasted corset had been, and roughly yanked her to her feet.
“So you are going to continue with this charade of pretending that what happened in the tunnels didn’t.” His brands flashed in his agitation. She was blinded for a moment when the light receded and her eyes adjusted back to the dimness of the lantern.
Anders’ nerves were too raw for this now. She had finally cornered Ser Alrik, had seen his broken corpse at her feet. But the exaltation she had been expecting wasn’t there. Instead she only felt shame at what she had almost done to that girl. She had been a mage, yet Anders had almost killed her, Justice had almost killed her. How could Anders profess to want to help mages, when she couldn’t be trusted to not inflict upon them the very same terror that the Templars instilled? For as long as she lived, Anders would never forget the terrified sound of Ella’s voice as Anders had swam up through the fog that Justice had laid over her mind.
This wasn’t what they were supposed to be doing. Her and Justice, they were the force that led mages to freedom, not—
“What the fuck do you want from me?” Anders cried. “You and Vael, with your questions. Do you know how many times he’s come to see me lately? Neither one of you ever had two words to say to me that didn’t involve how much of a horror I am. Now I can’t get the two of you off my fucking back.”
“Vael’s coming to see you,” Fenris hissed between clenched teeth, “because he knows you don’t have a cock between your legs. It makes all the difference to him. He’s an exiled prince who had been raised since birth to treat women in a certain way. He’s a would-be brother of the Chantry, where women are the ones in power. You’re a damsel in distress now.” His eyes flashed in the flickering light of the lantern. “I also think he wants to fuck you.”
Even if she wanted to, Anders wouldn’t have been able to stop the laughter that erupted from her throat. “Seriously? Have you seen me? And then more importantly, have you seen him? I’m not the kind of woman that men break their vows over.”
Something strange passed over Fenris’ face. “You underestimate yourself.”
Anders snorted. “I really don’t. In fact, I usually overestimate myself. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m not some beauty that men write sonnets about, but I’ve been known to have more than a few men and woman trip over themselves to have me. Princes, though… Not so much. A man that looks like Sebastian Vael could have anyone just by crooking a finger in their direction. The problem is that handsome bastard knows it.”
If Fenris wanted to argue about if Sebastian Vael wanted to screw her, then Anders was all for that. It was better than the direction he’d been heading when the argument had first started. If there was one thing that Anders did well, it was deflect lines of questioning that she didn’t want to go down.
Except Fenris was just as good at it was she was.
“I do agree with Vael in one aspect.” His stare pinned her in place, as sure as the grip on her arm. “You need help, Anders. Before you succumbed to Justice, you asked me to not let you hurt the girl. How many times have you inadvertently harmed someone you were trying to save? How many times have you lost control of yourself?”
Anders’ mouth went dry at the rapid-fire questions. “I have never—“ she started.
“Do not lie to me,” Fenris growled.
“Twice,” she whispered in resignation. “Once when… when I was in the Chantry and found they had… made Karl Tranquil. The first time was when Justice I had initially… merged.”
Fenris’ teeth flashed white against his dark skin as his lips pulled back in a snarl. “Then you knew from the beginning that you were dangerous,” he accused.
“I knew that a Templar had been let loose among the Wardens,” she shot back. “I knew that Justice was the only one that would help me when I found myself about to be hauled back to the Circle, despite the fact that I had been conscripted in front of the fucking King of Ferelden. The Warden-Commander was gone, and my friends were either ignorant of what was happening, or in the Deep Roads. I knew that I had tasted freedom with the Wardens, and I would be damned before I lost that again.” She ended on a shout, the words ringing in the confines of the cave.
“But once you gained your freedom you did not seek your friends out. You did not seek a way to separate yourself from Justice,” Fenris pointed out none too kindly.
Anders lifted her hand and ran a finger over Fenris’ chin, tracing one of the twin lyrium lines there. “I’m not the only one that has kept a power that they didn’t want in order to prevent becoming captive again.”
Fenris snatched at her hand, stilling her fingers. His nostrils flared. “Don’t touch me.”
She gave the hand on her arm a significant glance. “You’re such a fucking hypocrite. I can’t touch you, but you can manhandle me. “
“I’m not Vael to treat you kinder because I know you’re a woman,” Fenris snarled.
Anders took a step closer to him, her face twisted in anger. “Then what do you want from me? Do you want to fuck me like you think Sebastian does?” She had said it as a taunt, the words thrown carelessly in the heat of her anger.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Fenris squeezed her fingers, but he didn’t let go.
“I think you do,” Anders shot back. She laughed, and this time it lacked any mirth. “Maybe I’ve had magic tits all this time and didn’t know it. One flash and I could bring the Templars of Kirkwall to their knees. You’ve been acting strangely towards me since the night of Hawke’s party.”
She was right. Fenris knew that she was right. Not about why it had happened, but his reasoning for pushing her the way he was.
He wanted her.
He wanted her to seek help for herself. He wanted her to abandon this foolish quest that the demon had set her on. Ever since the Deep Roads, he had watched her more carefully than he had in the past. He would catch these rare glimpses of the woman inside, her true self without the shadows in her eyes. It was there when she laughed and told a joke, in how she cared for her patients in the clinic, making sure that the poorest of Kirkwall were seen to at great cost to her own time and energy.
She was a talented healer, daily ripping people from the grip of death and sending them back home to their grateful families.
Fenris wondered briefly if he would have been as attracted to her staunch need to help if she were a man.
Anger had Anders’ eyebrows drawn down sharply, her crooked grin slightly mocking. She never backed down from him, giving as good as she got. Fenris wanted all that passion under him. Male or female, it didn’t matter. It was that passion he was attracted to, that primal need to be free.
Isabela had it, and Fenris had once entertained taking her up on her offers to sleep with him. But with Anders it was different. The mage knew what it was like to have everything stripped from you, to have yourself laid bare and felt the cold fingers of indifference on your soul.
He could threaten her and she would laugh in his face.
He could try and argue with her and she would raise her voice just as loudly.
Fenris didn’t want to tame that passion, but claim some of it for his own. He wanted to see it stem from a different source.
But he would be damned if he told her any of that.
When he didn’t respond to her taunt, Anders continued on. “You’re the last man I would ever sleep with.”
Something inside Fenris snapped at those words. There had been a heat building up between them since Fenris had first entered the tunnels, since even before that.
She was lying and he knew it.
He took in her panting, parted lips as she berated him, the spark in her eyes that anger had given her. In that moment, she was beautiful in her indignation.
He used the grip on her hand to yank her towards him. She was caught off guard and stumbled forward. Gripping the back of her head with his other hand, he held her in place, crushing their lips together.
For the barest of moments, almost lost in the haze that began to descend from the kiss, Anders stiffened. But it was the faintest tensing of her muscles in surprise before she started to respond. Fenris didn’t bother hiding a knowing smile from his lips.
At first they each vied for dominance of the kiss, their tongues chasing each other in and out of parted, wet lips. But then they fell into a rhythm, a heated give and take. Fenris stole the moans that escaped her mouth, breathing them in. Anders nipped at his panting lips, rewarding him for each groan he elicited from her. The kiss went on and on, until nothing else mattered, until there were only Anders, Fenris, and this isolated cave, the crash of the sea echoing through the stone cavern, a counterpoint to the lewd sounds of the kiss.
Fenris found that he had backed Anders up against the wall, one hand molded over where he knew her breast could be found under her many layers of clothing. He made a frustrated noise and broke the kiss. The two of them stared at each other, gasping for breath, their lips red and swollen.
Anders slowly licked already saliva slicked lips. “This is—“ she began.
“Shut up,” Fenris rasped. His fingers went to the clasps of Anders’ quilted jerkin, sliding the leather straps through brass rings.
He shoved his hands under Anders’ tunic, and she dropped her head back against the wall, a moan escaping her at his touch. “Have you met me?” she muttered.
Fenris inserted his thigh between her legs and leaned into her. He took her earlobe between his teeth, biting down. “Then if you must speak, say my name,” he whispered harshly.
He pushed his hands under the tightly wound linen that bound her chest, the sharp tips of his gauntlets scratching slightly over her nipples.
Anders’ hands snapped up, and clutched at Fenris’ shoulders as she cried out his name in surprise and pleasure, arching into his hands. He could feel her tight nipples stabbing in his bare palms, and he grinned against the curve of her neck. “That’s what I want to hear,” he growled.
The reality of having Anders writhing under his hands was so much better than what he had thought it would be. Her legs parted farther in her abandon, her hands all but kneading his shoulders like a contented cat stroked in just the right way. She ground her cunt against him, riding his thigh the way she might ride his cock, her hips undulating.
Fenris’ erection strained in his breeches, a persistent fullness that ached. He rocked against her and their lips met once more, crashing together with teeth and tongue.
This wasn’t what he had started out to do, this all-encompassing heat, this need for more of her. Her taste, her touch, her scent, and the way she cried out his name, begging for more.
But neither of them did things by half. They hated strongly, they took their few friendships seriously, and they believed in what they did passionately.
The moment Anders had moved her lips over his, returning the kiss with a heat of her own, there could be no going back for either of them.
He could tell that Anders was close by the way her breathing began to stutter, her thighs tightening around his own. He rutted against her roughly, and her palms slapped to the wall behind her for balance as she rose up on her toes.
“Harder,” Anders moaned, demanding more and more from him. Fenris complied, helpless to do otherwise as the need rode them both, their oncoming climaxes spurring them on. Their kiss became uncoordinated as they ground into each other, seeking more of the delicious friction.
Anders abruptly cried out, a strangled sound that was part curse, part Fenris’ name. Her body stiffened, her thighs clamping down around his legs as she came, shuddering from the force.
Fenris squeezed his covered cock between them, his mind blanking. He lowered his head to her neck, his teeth biting onto the column of her throat as he orgasm, his cock pulsing wildly and wet warmth spread in his breeches.
They stood like that for some time, both gasping for breath. Blood roared in Fenris’ ears, and he breathed in deep the scent of lyrium and elfroot that underlined the musky scent of sex in the air.
It was the scent of lyrium and sex that did it.
Memory assailed him, buffeting his mind. Hadriana’s hands on him as Danarius watched, his master’s eyes avid. They didn’t have to give him the drug anymore to make him compliant. His body knew now what was expected of him.
Fenris jerked back from Anders, stumbling away from her. “No!” he yelled, as if he could stop the memory Hadrina from touching his past self. “I do not want this.”
Without Fenris there to support her body weight, Anders collapsed to the floor on legs gone weak. She her breasts had begun to hurt as her body remembered itself, tiny scratches that had felt wonderful at the time, now stung. “You were the one that started this,” she pointed out none too gently.
Why had she thought that he wouldn’t do this to her? Because his kisses had been intoxicating, seducing in their intensity.
“You don’t understand,” he growled.
“I understand perfectly,” she told him through clenched teeth. “I understand that now you’re going to tell me that this was a mistake and you never meant to touch the abomination. How filthy you must feel.”
Fenris’ hands balled up into fists. “You have no idea of what it is like to feel filthy.” He glanced away from her towards the mouth of the cave. “I need to go.”
“Oh, yes, go,” she replied snidely. “Go before you make the mistake of touching me again.” She was proud of herself for keeping the hurt out of her voice.
He gave her a long look, one that Anders couldn’t read before turning to leave. He paused as he reached the entrance, looking back at her over her shoulder. “I’ll tell Hawke where you are.”
Then he was gone.
When the first tear slipped down her cheek, it only made Anders angrier. “Don’t worry!” she called after him. “I won’t tell anyone! It wasn’t anything to brag about!” Her voice bounced around stone walls worn smooth from the sea.
Burying her face in her hands, she let the sobs come.
After this it is going to diverge from the game. Not that it already hasn't, but the timeline for things is going to be different. ^_^
Anders couldn’t even look at him anymore.
She had moved in with Hawke after staying two days on the Wounded Coast. Hawke had told her of a tunnel that ran from Darktown to a locked door in the basement of the Hawke Estate. Anders had a key now, and came and went as she pleased.
That being said, she was rarely there, spending most of her time at the clinic. It took a week to get it back to its former glory, but the Templars had not destroyed as much as Anders had feared. They also seemed to have moved on for the time being, but Anders was more careful now.
It was when Fenris had told her that she wasn’t being careful enough that they had their first fight, screaming at each other in the main hall at Hawke’s. She had told him that it had been a fine time to act as if he gave a damn about what happened to her. Fenris in turn, had accused her of being stubborn and foolish.
The fight had ended when Fenris had stormed out of the house, Anders yelling and calling him a ‘little prick’ as he went.
Their next several meetings had ended just as badly.
Eventually, Hawke made sure that they were never around each other. Fenris never came by the estate, and Anders never went with Hawke if the elf was going to be there. There were days when Anders felt guilty for it. She could see the strain it was having on Hawke to keep her friends apart the way she was.
So Anders made it easy for Hawke. She threw herself back into her work at the clinic and with the resistance. She took on increasingly daring attempts to free mages, even going as far as walking through the Gallows in the middle of the night, to help a mage escape that was about to be made Tranquil.
She never told Hawke what she was doing. She couldn’t involve her, and she didn’t want her friend to worry. Hawke worried enough as it was.
Time rolled by, and Anders felt like she was slipping away along with it. She lied to her friends, she lied to herself--small untruths that culminated in a perpetual state of always wondering when she would be caught out. Secrets she was used to, but not keeping them from people she had come to care for and trust. It became a daily struggle. Hide what she was doing with the resistance. Hide what Justice was doing to her. Smile and laugh, nothing’s wrong.
But something was very wrong.
There were days when she would have no memory of the things she had done and said. The times that she found blood flecked on her clothing were the most horrifying of them all.
At one point there had been blood under her nails and the tang of it on her tongue.
Justice was killing, and Anders was helpless to stop it. She would spend days listening for any bit of news, of any sign that there had been a body found. She would pray that it wasn’t an innocent, but how could she ever truly be sure?
She had begun writing as a way to organize her thoughts, since she felt she could not speak to anyone of what was happening to her. But even that was taken from her eventually, her hands forming words of sedition. Parchment with scrawled writing that was not her own piling high on a desk at Hawke’s estate.
But even worse, were the times when she didn’t think anything was wrong. Justice’s thoughts bled into her own, until she no longer knew where the divide was. There was a saying that the mad did not know they were inane. That thought haunted her more than any other.
Those of Hawke’s companions that had always been happy to speak to Anders before, now avoided her. She would find herself going on ranting tirades, and it was as if she were floating above her own body, screaming at herself to stop, this wasn’t her.
But it was her those times. That she had a memory of them meant that she had been the one to form the words that tumbled from her lips.
When she was self-aware, she hated that she had become this twisted thing. She didn’t need to wait for the Calling to drive her to madness, Justice was already doing that for her. A spirit of the Fade had no notion of human needs. He was Justice, the physical embodiment of an ideal. Anders’ anger had changed him, giving him emotions that were far more potent that anything felt from a rotting corpse.
The two of them were destroying each other and they were barely aware of it anymore.
“Something’s wrong with Anders,” Hawke said as she glanced at those gathered around the main hall. They were all there, called to the Hawke Estate in the middle of the day when Anders would be at the clinic.
Merrill sat on the floor, Dog rolling on his back so she could scratch at his belly. “Is she sick? Can’t she just heal herself?”
Hawke gave her a fond smile. She stood in front of the great fireplace, her back to the flames. “Well I’m hoping that we can, since I don’t think she can heal herself. But we need to be quiet about this. Anders can’t know we talk about it.”
“I’m getting more complaints from the Templars about a mage resistance,” Aveline added. “But whenever I talk to Anders about it, she either changes the subject, or rants at me about mage freedom. The Templars will eventually try and put pressure on the Viscount, and then it’ll be out of my hands.”
“Talking to her is impossible.” Varric leaned back in the chair he had commandeered and folded his hands over his chest. “Blondie use to be pretty funny. Now it’s mages this, Templars that. Makes me wonder who I’m speaking to.”
“I’ve noticed that as well,” Sebastian said. “She and I use to have… interesting conversations. Now she won’t even let me through the door of the clinic.”
Fenris felt his hands clench into fists, and he forced himself to relax. He had barely seen Anders in the past year, but he knew that Vael had gone weekly to speak to her. Each time the former prince spoke of Anders, Fenris had to stop a snarl from curling his lips. It wasn’t his concern what the two of them did—it never was.
He had told himself time and time again that it was better if she hated him. He had been foolish in getting too close to her. He had reveled in their fights, goading her on in her anger. He had tried not to think how beautiful she was with the spark of defiance in her eyes, and instead had focused on getting her to despise him.
He was comfortable with her anger, her hate. He knew what to do with it, how to respond. He had thought he would know how to respond to her desire, but he’d been horribly mistaken. Fenris was broken, he knew that now. How could he ever think of touching a woman when there were those memories to contend with, scraping across his mind and bleeding his emotions? At one point, he had thought to take his money and go to the Rose, to see if it was just Anders, or if another woman would elicit the same reaction. But he hadn’t been able to do it. Buying someone, even if it was just their time, so they could pretend they enjoyed his touch, was too much like what he had been through. The men and women at the Rose were not slaves, but he was still paying for the use of another’s body.
He knew that Hawke kept him and Anders apart, and at first he had been grateful for the excuse not to see her. But as time went on, he realized that he being a coward, hiding from Anders and the truth of what had happened between them. Because deny all he wanted, something had happened besides the mere physical—had been happening for a long time now.
He missed her. There had been days when Fenris had found himself walking to Darktown to finally have it out with her, only to turn around. He had wanted her to hate him, but he wanted her as well.
It was a fucked up dichotomy and it was driving him mad. He missed her that ridiculous smile, her admittedly witty jokes, and the way she would become impassioned when she spoke of something, standing her ground.
But there were certain things that could never be hidden, and Fenris had become aware of Anders’ rapid decline over the past several months.
He blamed Anders for being so fucking stubborn and not listening to him.
He blamed himself for leaving her when she had needed him.
As he listened to the others talk about her, finally seeing what he had known all along, Fenris became angry. He had told them for years that Anders had needed help, that she was becoming unstable. They argued back and forth on what was to be done with her while she wasn’t there, going off of information none of them had.
Sebastian angered him most of all, suggesting they finally turn Anders over to the Chantry.
“That’s perfect,” Fenris finally interjected, some of his rage leaking into his words. “They’ll just kill her and take her off our hands.”
“I don’t wish to see her dead, Fenris,” Sebastian said carefully. “I just think they would best know how to help her. She has a demon inside her. Do any of us know how to get rid of one?”
Fenris gritted his teeth. “Have none of you ever listened to a thing she’d ever said? She babbled constantly about the Grey Wardens. Let them take her back. It’s where she and Justice met anyway.” His eyes met Sebastian’s in a blatant challenge. “Unless some of you don’t wish to see her gone from Kirkwall…”
“Excuse me?” Sebastian asked, incredulous. “Just what is that supposed to mean?”
Fenris strode towards him, unleashed rage evident in every movement. He had become cold towards Sebastian, and although he knew it was unreasonable, he couldn’t get the thought of the former prince and Anders out of his head.
Had she gone to him after Fenris had left her? Had Vael comforted her in his arms? Had she even been hurt enough to need comforting? The questions had never left him, stagnating into poisonous bile.
“It means that you would rather see your lover turned over to the Chantry rather than letting her be sent to people that wouldn’t kill her on sight,” Fenris growled.
“I am not—“ Sebastian started.
“This just got interesting,” Isabela said with a grin.
“—her lover,” he finished. “Is this why you barely speak to me anymore? I thought we were friends, Fenris.”
“I…” Fenris realized his mistake then. He glanced away, unable to look at the hurt in Sebastian’s eyes. “My apologies. I was under a mistaken impression.” Maker, what was he doing? He had let his lurid thoughts run rampant, instead of asking Sebastian outright. But Fenris had never had real friends before, people that expected him to think the best of them the way they did of him. He found he was still ill equipped for it, struggling to understand the minute ins and outs of what a true friendship entailed. His short time with the Fog Warriors had not prepared him for this. He’d been like a child with them, while in Kirkwall, he was a bumbling teenager.
Even having the ability to go and ask someone for the truth out of friendship had been lost on him.
Guilt ate at him.
He was feeling guilty about so much lately.
“Send a letter to the Warden-Commander of Ferelden. He’s in Amaranthine,” Fenris finally said. “No one can help Anders while she’s here. The Templars will kill her, and so would any mage with the capability to do what we need. The Wardens aren’t beholden to the Chantry. Maybe they can convince her and Justice to leave Kirkwall and get the help they need. Neither of them will listen to any of you—if they ever did in the first place.”
He couldn’t stay here anymore, with their eyes on him, speculating as to how Fenris would know so much, or why he would even bother to speak up. He hardly knew himself anymore. That wasn’t true… He did know, but he refused to even contemplate it.
No good could come going down that path.
“I’ll do it,” Hawke said. “I’ll write a letter. Amaranthine is a few weeks by sea from Kirkwall. It could take a month, if not more, before we get a reply. We’re going to need to keep Anders out of trouble until I get an answer.”
“If you ever get one,” Varric pointed out. “Although there aren’t many former Grey Wardens around. They might come quickly to drag her back.”
“Keeping Anders out of trouble is a tall order,” Aveline added.
Hawke straightened her shoulders. “Well then. We’re just going to have to have someone with her at all times. We can take turns.”
Merrill made a face. “She’s not going to like that.”
“That’s just too bad,” Hawke replied. “I’ll let all of you know when you’re needed and for how long. I’ll come up with a schedule.”
When Fenris turned to leave, Hawke called after him. “You too, Fenris. If this is going to work, we’ll need everyone.”
Fenris closed his eyes, his back to the room. What had he told Hawke long ago? That there came a time when he had to turn and face the tiger? Boastful words when he’d been partially drunk on good wine and equally good company, but it didn’t negate their truth.
It had been a mistake to leave Anders the way he had, a mistake born of cowardice. Fenris didn’t like to think himself a coward, but here he was.
He cared for the stubborn, foolish mage, and he needed to finish what he had started.
“I understand,” he threw over his shoulder. “You know where to find me.”
Fenris saw Anders for the first time in hours when she ushered out the last patient and snuffed out the large lamp in front of the clinic. From his vantage point across the way, all he had to do was look around the corner from the second level to have a clear view of the clinic doors.
Hawke just said to keep an eye on her, not that he had to talk to her.
Fenris blew out an irritated breath. He was making excuses. He was keenly aware that Anders wasn’t going to let him waltz in like she had in the past. She would want to know why he was there, and why he was forcing his presence on her. No, it was better to watch the clinic and follow her discretely if she left.
They’d been watching her for three weeks now, and this was the first time that Fenris had been asked to help keep her out of trouble. Hawke had sent off her letter on a fast ship that Isabela had recommended, but none of them were sure how quickly they would get a response--if they would get one at all. Eventually Anders would realize that something was going on. She wasn’t stupid and she had already begun asking Isabela why the pirate was spending so much time in the clinic during the day. The longer they kept this up, the more of a chance that Anders would catch on.
What would she and Justice do when they found out that Hawke had sent for the Warden-Commander of Ferelden?
They would run to Tevinter, Fenris knew it. They would escape to the one place where they wouldn’t be hunted, where they thought their ideals would be lauded. The magisters would take one look at her defiant nature and her healer skills, and they would clap a collar around her neck. They would break her because she would fight them. They would strip everything she was and make her long for a Tranquil’s brand to escape the pain.
Fenris wasn’t going to let that happen. The thought of Anders in magister’s hands was enough to set his brands flickering in rage. No matter the cost, he was going to make sure she stayed in Kirkwall long enough for the Grey Wardens to come.
Fenris felt the tips of his claws digging into the bare skin of his inner arms and he forced himself to relax. He liked to make plans. Knowing what was going to happen from one day to the next made him comfortable. He’d had known so much insecurity in his life, that chaos set him on edge. It’s how he managed to keep out of Danarius’ hands this time around. Plans within plans. If he thought Danarius would do one thing, Fenris would have a contingency for it, plus three more.
But when it came to Anders, he was thrown off his course.
There was a scuff of a boot in the dirt behind him and Fenris whirled around, his brands flashing, his hand drawn back with his fingers curled to strike.
“It’s just me.” Sebastian held his hands up, his eyes wide. “I thought you knew I was here.”
The tension leaked out of Fenris and the light of the lyrium died. “Apologies. I was…” So in his own head that he hadn’t heard someone come up behind him until they’d been close. Dangerous for anyone in the volatile Darktown, more so for a hunted man.
“Is Anders still in the clinic?” Sebastian asked.
“Yes. If she leaves, I’ll know it.” Fenris glanced at the closed doors of the clinic and then back at Sebastian. “I wasn’t aware that Hawke had asked you to come as well.”
“She didn’t,” Sebastian admitted. “I thought to come and see if you needed help.”
“Thank you. I…” Fenris drew in a fortifying breath. “I do not deserve your kindness after what I thought of you. I should have known better and I’m sorry.”
“I…” Now it was Sebastian who hesitated. “May I ask you something?”
Fenris didn’t like the look of trepidation on Sebastian’s face, as if he was afraid of the answer that the elf might give him. “I wish us to be friends again. Anything…” As soon as the words left his mouth, Fenris knew he was going to regret them.
“Are you in love with Anders?”
Fenris’ gaze fixed to a point over Sebastian’s shoulder, anything to keep from looking the man in the eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. She’s an incredibly foolish mage. One who makes even more foolish decisions. She thinks her disguise will keep her safe, but it has done nothing to protect her from herself.” Once the words started, Fenris couldn’t stop them from tumbling from his lips, a torrent of sentences that crashed over Sebastian.
“She could be so much more than she is, but she refuses to even contemplate it. I’ve seen some of the most powerful magisters in the Imperium, but I have never seen one like her. How many has she brought back from the brink of death, only to refuse payment for it? Half of Darktown owe her their lives. Each one of us owes her our lives. Yet she squanders what she has on this misguided notion that she and the demon are doing what is right. Freedom is all well and good, but at what cost? The demon is going to devour her if she doesn’t do something stupid and get herself killed first.
“How could I possibly think of ever loving someone that would have such a blatant disregard for her own safety and for the safety of those around her?” The last was said on a shout, the words simmering in the air between them, an almost tangible thing.
“Maker…” Sebastian breathed out in a rare curse. He reached out for the elf. “Fenris, I…”
Fenris dodged the outstretched hand and turned his back on Sebastian. “No. The answer is no. Please do not bring it up again,” he said as he tried to pretend there wasn’t a hint of pleading in his voice.
“All right,” Sebastian said softly. “I won’t—“
Movement out of the corner of his eyes had Fenris holding up a hand in a bid for silence, cutting Sebastian off. He peered around the corner to see Anders leaving the clinic, locking the door behind her.
“Where is she going?” Sebastian whispered.
“I don’t know,” Fenris replied. “But we’re going to follow her.”
Anders never saw the two men that trailed after her.
Nor did Sebastian and Fenris notice the shadow that followed them.
She should have known it was going to happen. The rescue had been going so perfectly. The caves had been clear of spiders and smugglers, making it one of the easiest escorts that Anders had ever done. She had been communicating back and forth for a month with three mages in the Gallows. She had been able to direct them in how to escape to the caverns, telling them precisely where to meet her. It was Anders’ job to give the mages, food, coin, and a way out to the Wounded Coast. It sounded a lot simpler than it usually was. The lyrium smugglers were territorial with the caves, and they didn’t take too kindly to a group of mages tromping through. If it wasn’t the smugglers, it was the spiders, spinning their webs to trap the unwary. Too many of the mages she helped rescue didn’t know how to protect themselves. Or if they did, they had never actually faced a massive spider bearing down on them. Occasionally she would get a mage that knew what they were doing when it came to battle, but those times were rare. Usually Anders was on her own, the sole barrier between the new apostates and the terrors of the caves.
So when they had almost reached the cave exit without encountering anything, Anders should have known better than to relax her guard.
Calm before the storm and all that.
Anders didn’t know what was worse, the spiders that had dropped from the ceiling just before the exit, or the smugglers that had come rushing out towards them at the same time. If Anders didn’t know any better, she would have thought that they had done it on purpose.
The screams of a smuggler as he was pierced to the ground by a spindly leg, told her otherwise.
The mages she was with were all young, barely out of their Harrowing. Two men and a woman, who Anders suspected was a lover to one of the men. She hadn’t asked. The less they all knew about each other the better.
Anders slipped her pack off her back and shoved it into the woman’s hands. “I’m going to clear a path to the exit,” she told them. “When I say go, you run. Don’t look back and don’t stop until you reach the ship. The captain will take you to Ferelden.” Other than Tevinter, Ferelden had become friendly towards mages. Anders had been sending mages there for over a year now. If they were caught, at least the Circle in Ferelden would treat them a damned sight better than what was happening to them in the Gallows.
“Remember,” she added, “if you think you can handle it, go to Vigil’s Keep In Amaranthine. There are Grey Wardens there that might let you attempt the Joining.”
She said the same thing to each mage she helped free. Some of these mages could do great work with the Wardens, and Anders liked to think that Aedan had been inundated with new recruits because of her. She felt only a little guilt when she pointed the way to the Wardens. It wasn’t an easy life, with a certain chance of death by darkspawn no matter how you looked at it. But just like the Circle of Ferelden, the Wardens were a better chance than these mages had now.
The woman pushed back her dirt streaked, blonde hair. “What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” Anders assured her. She turned her back on them to forestall any more questions. She didn’t need to fight them all, just hold them off long enough for the others to escape. She could do this. She was Anders, apostate mage, former Grey Warden. She’d fought broodmothers, dragons, and the Mother. She was a force to be reckoned with.
You just keep telling yourself that, she thought. Maybe you’ll come out of this alive.
She had always thought it was amazing what a little bit of bravado did for bolstering courage.
Anders pulled her staff free and spun it over her head. Flames erupted along her hands, and with each pass of her staff the flames grew, until her whole staff was engulfed in fire. The fire was of her own making so the heat didn’t touch her, but she could feel it eating the air around her.
“Get ready!” Anders shouted. It drew the attention of two of the smugglers and they rushed towards her, swords drawn. Sweat dripped down her face from the effort of holding her power back, strands of blonde hair darkening and sticking to her temples.
“Now!” She slammed the butt of her staff into the ground, loosening the restraints on her magic. A wall of flames shot out, an inferno that crashed into the smugglers that had been heading towards them, incinerating them to ash and blackened bones. It rushed towards the exit of the cave, obliterating everything in its path. Spiders screeched in pain, a terrible sound that rebounded off the cavern walls. Some of them didn’t die immediately and only caught fire, their crooked legs skittering around the stone and dirt ground as they burned.
The three mages had moved as soon as Anders had shouted. Thank the Maker they had listened. She’d had others in the past that had not listened to her, and had died for their trouble. They hurried through the smoking hole Anders had made in the fray, their hands linked together.
Not one of them looked back.
Anders raised her staff and more power collected over the polished wood. Ice crackled as Anders swept her staff in an arc, catching a spider and a smuggler as they had turned to follow after the mages. The smugglers snarling face was frozen in a ricktus of blood rage, his body enveloped in crystalline ice.
But the massive spider broke free.
It turned on Anders, its long and many legs eating up the ground as it raced towards her. Anders stumbled back, waving her staff franticly. Alternating bolts of ice and fire smashed into the spider. A leg was shorn free, but it still kept coming, its fangs outstretched and dripping poison.
Between the spider’s legs, Anders could see the three mages disappear out of the caverns. She felt a momentary sense of relief before the spider barreled into her, its fangs jabbing deep into her chest. Anders was barely cognizant enough to keep her grip on her staff. She threw her head back and screamed as pain tore through her, her heart pumping poison laced blood through her veins. Her vision filled with an iridescent blue as Justice attempted to rise to the fore, the spirit struggling to take control and save them both. But the pain of the poison hampered them. Anders would have given anything to fall into darkness and let Justice take over. But her nerves felt like they were on fire.
Maker, this was an ugly way to die. She almost lost control of her bowels, but refused to give in, holding onto that at least.
She couldn’t stop screaming. Her voice had become raw, the strangled sounds coming from it broken and wretched. Anders rolled pain wracked eyes towards the spider. With what little energy she had left, she jabbed the tip of her staff in the creature’s many eyes. The outspread hands of the carved figure on her staff tore through two of its eyes, popping them like a burst wineskin.
The spider shrieked and jerked back its fangs. Anders’ back slammed into the ground as she was dropped, taking what felt like the last of her air. With the fangs gone, tainted blood pumped from the gaping wounds in her chest. It plastered her tunic to her skin as blood soaked the material.
The spider rose up above her in an aggressive stance on its back legs. Anders had one thought as it hissed at her.
I refuse to die like this.
She wasn’t going to become another nameless corpse in the tunnels. Bones left for passersby to point at and wonder who she was once—if they bothered to wonder at all.
Come on, Justice, she thought franticly. You don’t want to inhabit another corpse, now do you?
Cracks appeared on her hands, the light within them dim, but there all the same.
Right before she succumbed to blessed oblivion, she could have sworn she saw an arrow lodge into the thing’s head.
Fenris and Sebastian had lost Anders in the tunnels. She had been quick, and the next thing they knew, they had lost sight of her.
It had been the pull of magic, something large and powerful on Fenris’ brands, that had shown them the way. They had rushed into the cavern to see a massive spider, much larger than the smaller, dead ones littering the cave floor, hovering over Anders, ready to strike.
Something inside Fenris had snapped at seeing Anders on the ground, the spider a menacing presence above her. His brands flashed bright in his rage, his sword in his hands and his feet running over the ground, a cry of anger on his lips. He was dimly aware of the twang of arrows being loosed behind him, peppering the spiders’ body.
The thing screeched and turned towards the assault. Fenris didn’t stop his momentum, meeting it head on. His blade came down on a leg, hacking it off with ease, his brands adding to his strength. The spider swayed to the side, bringing its head close. With his lips pulled back from his teeth in a snarl, Fenris rammed his sword through its head and twisted, before jerking the blade up and out. Blood and brain matter sprayed out, catching Fenris in the face, clinging to his hair. The spider shuddered and rolled over on its back, snapping arrows off as it twitched and died.
Fenris dropped his sword from nerveless fingers and turned towards Anders.
She was standing in front of him.
Blood coated her front, pumping sluggishly from open wounds. She tilted her head to the side, inhuman blue eyes staring back at him. “I need lyrium,” Justice intoned. “Anders needs to be healed.”
Fenris couldn’t tear his eyes away from the leaking gashes. His hands began to tremble and he closed them into fists. “I don’t have any—“
“You’ll do,” Justice interrupted. Quicker than Anders could ever be when she was herself, Justice’s hand snapped out and grasped Fenris by the throat. “Give me your song, elf.”
Justice crushed their lips together, Anders’ fingers tracing over the lyrium brands on Fenris’ throat, smearing blood along his skin. A slow hum began in his ears, an answering pulse in Justice’s light. The kiss was inelegant, but hungry. Fenris found himself swaying towards Anders, deepening the kiss. He could smell the metallic tang of blood, thick in the air around her. His markings and Justice’s light synched, becoming the thrum of Fenris’ heart. He moaned, pushing closer to Anders, giving her and Justice everything they needed. He could feel his lyrium reaching out, wrapping around Anders, and intermingling with the mage’s own connection to the Fade.
Justice abruptly pulled away, leaving Fenris panting and aching. Fenris shuddered with unfulfilled need. Maker, he had forgotten how volatile kissing Anders had been. Or more, he hadn’t wanted to think on it. Each time he had, he had been keenly aware of what he had lost.
Fenris jerked when Sebastian’s hands came down on his shoulders. “Fenris? Are you all right?”
“Fine,” Fenris rasped. The two men watched as Justice’s fingers went to the bottom of Anders’ blood soaked tunic. Justice yanked the sticky material up over Anders’ chest. The linen she used to bind her breasts had fallen away, severed by the spider’s fangs.
“Excuse me,” Sebastian automatically murmured as he turned his back on her.
But while years of conditioned courtesy had Vael giving Anders some sort of privacy, Fenris ran his eyes over her, his heart in his throat. Justice placed Anders’ hands over the wounds. His light intensified, almost too bright to look at, but Fenris made himself watch as Justice began healing Anders’ body.
Justice dropped his hands to his sides. “Step back.”
That was all the warning that Fenris and Sebastian had before Justice dropped to his knees. There was a horrible wrenching sound and he vomited. Black bile pooled in the dirt, the poison exiting Anders’ body.
Justice flicked his eyes up. “She will be weak for a few days. As will I.” The fine cracks along Anders’ skin suddenly sealed shut, and Anders’ rolled her warm brown eyes in the back of her head. Fenris cursed and rushed forward, catching her before she fell into the sick in front of her.
He clutched her to himself, tension still radiating off of him, stiffening his shoulders and spine. Too close. That had been too close.
“Damn it, mage,” he whispered harshly. He leaned down and pressed a quick, desperate kiss to her clammy forehead. He heard Sebastian suck in a breath and Fenris glanced up at someone who he considered one of his rare friends.
“I lied. The answer is yes,” Fenris whispered.
The shadow detached itself from the cave wall and slipped back the way it came.
“Please,” Anders shouted. “You and I both know that Fenris argued to leave me in the damned caves. I’d be willing to bet he complained to Sebastian as the two of them carried me back to Hightown.” Anders’ voice lowered, doing a half-assed mockery of Fenris’ speech patterns. “Leave the abomination, Vael. The spiders are doing us a favor.”
Fenris and Sebastian’s eyes met, and Fenris was the first to look away. The two men stood on the landing outside of the door to Hawke’s bedchamber. They had brought Anders to the estate an hour before dawn. The sun had long since risen and only now had Anders awoken.
Fenris forced his hands to relax, his claw tipped fingers digging gouges into the wood of the banister. He stared absently at the main hall below, watching the mabari roll on his back, his tail wagging while Sandal scratched at his belly.
Fenris hadn’t wanted to stay in the room while waiting for Anders to awaken, but he hadn’t wanted to leave until she did either. Sebastian had stayed outside the door with him, the two friends standing in silence.
When Sebastian spoke, his voice was quiet. If they could hear Anders and Hawke arguing through the closed door, it only stood to reason Fenris and Sebastian could be overheard in turn. “You do not do things the easy way, do you?”
Fenris’ eyes jerked away from the first floor and narrow at Sebastian. “Just what is that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what it sounds like,” Sebastian whispered. He leaned back against the banister, eyeing the closed door in front of him. “She is not your biggest fan.”
“Grow up, Anders,” Hawke shouted back. “You almost died. I told you to stop helping the resistance. What were you thinking? Oh, wait, I’ve got it. You weren’t. You should be a little bit more grateful and thank the Maker that Fenris and Sebastian came to save you. In fact, forget the Maker, you should thank them.”
“Remind me not to make Hawke angry,” Sebastian murmured.
“She cares about Anders,” Fenris replied softly. “Hawke doesn’t want to give up on her.”
“And neither do you.” Sebastian gave Fenris a knowing look. “I would have thought that with Anders being a mage you would not be—“
“Don’t you think I know that?” Fenris hissed. “I keep waiting for these feelings to fade, but they do not.”
Fenris closed his eyes. “Over a year now.”
Sebastian sucked in an audible breath through his nose. “If it has not faded in all that time…”
Fenris opened his eyes, his mouth set in a grim line. “I must admit I’ve urged her on in her hatred of me. I can offer her nothing. I’m a former slave living in a stolen mansion that threatens to come down around my ears. We will never agree on the plight of mages. I won’t endorse what she and the demon wish to accomplish.”
“But you will suggest a way to separate her from Justice,” Sebastian pointed out gently.
“If I cannot help her, then I will find someone who can--before it’s too late. I’ve seen Justice kill. I’ve seen the despair in her eyes. The demon will consume her completely one day, until the clinic no longer matters. Until her friends are nothing but people who are either there to help or hinder her.”
“It’s already started.” Sebastian clapped a hand on the juncture between Fenris’ shoulder and neck. “We’ve all noticed it. She’s changed.”
“So I’ve heard…” Fenris glanced over his shoulder towards the door. “If the Wardens do not come soon, I must get her to Ferelden.”
“She might not thank you for it,” Sebastian said carefully. “Some people cannot be helped unless they want to be. It’s one thing to tell the Wardens where she is. It’s another to force her back to Ferelden yourself.”
Fenris gave him a self-deprecating smile. “I would welcome her hate. Better that than to see the light go out of her eyes and her heart in my fist.”
“You would do that?”
Fenris met his eyes, his own gaze harsh and unyielding. “I would kill her rather than have her be consumed.”
The door slammed behind Hawke, a final volley in their fight. “Now who needs to grow up!” Anders shouted after her. She fell back against the pillows of Hawke’s bed.
Smart, Anders. Why not just piss off what few friends you have left?
She had woken up to see Hawke hovering over her. Hawke’s look of relief had quickly changed to one of exasperation and anger. She hadn’t spared Anders even though the mage had been close to death, tearing into her for not only being so stupid as to go into the tunnels without any real aid, but to have also ran the risk of freeing more mages.
Hawke’s recriminations rang in Anders’ ears. All right, maybe she had been extremely foolish, but someone had to do it. Mages were dying in the Gallows, and no one seemed to want to help them.
She felt Justice’s presence in the back of her mind, prodding at her thoughts and feelings. No one was helping them because no one cared. What were one or two mages to the citizens of Kirkwall? Nothing but apostates that needed to be locked away, kept out of sight.
Anders’ hands clenched into fists, balling up the sheets. Hawke had forgotten where she had come from. She was the daughter and sister of apostates, but she allowed what was happening in the Gallows to go unchecked. Anders’ lips curled in a sneer. That is, unless someone asked her to look into it for coin. Then Hawke went tromping off to help mages that could have used the aid earlier. Maybe if Anders was rich like the Viscount, then Hawke would pay more attention to what she had to say. Maker knows that Hawke didn’t seem to give a damn otherwise.
Her eyes snapped closed and she took in a sharp breath. No… This wasn’t Hawke’s fight. Anders pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, until she saw bright, swirling spots behind her eyelids. Hawke cared about her. She was a good woman, who went above and beyond to help others. She had taken Anders in when she’d needed it. She had done so much for them all.
Maker… What kind of person was she to think such horrible things about--
Anders swallowed heavily. Were they even her own thoughts, or did they belong to Justice? Fuck… She couldn’t seem to tell the difference anymore.
She lowered her hands to gingerly touch at her chest. Hawke had told her that Fenris and Sebastian had saved her. That Justice had healed her. She vaguely recalled telling Justice that he didn’t want to inhabit another corpse. Had he saved her for his own ends, or was there still a spark of her old friend inside her somewhere? Damn it… When had things become so screwed up? It had seemed so simple. Justice had needed a body, and Anders had needed a way to escape.
Fenris and Sebastian should have just left her to die.
Anders lurched into a sitting position. No. If she hadn’t given up when she had been left in the dark, mourning the loss of her child, she wasn’t going to give up now. A wave of dizziness had her closing her eyes and flopping back down on the bed.
She hadn’t seen Fenris in over six months. Whether it was by his own design or Hawke’s, Anders didn’t know. At first she had been relieved to be spared the elf’s constant condemnation, but as time went on, she had found that she had missed him.
It was insane. He knew more about her than most people, and had seen her at her worst. But she couldn’t forget the heat of his kiss, or his touch on her skin.
Which just made it worse.
Fenris had used her to get off and then left her, his disgust plainly on his face and in his voice. In her moment of madness, she had actually thought that maybe the two of them could find some common ground. Out of everyone, Fenris knew what it was like to have everything stripped from you. She didn’t have to explain with him. With just a few words, he instinctively understood the kind of horror bondage entailed.
When he had kissed her, Anders had felt a strange sense of relief. That maybe here was finally someone who understood her. Who knew the bad and good in her life, but had still wanted to touch her, speak to her. She hadn’t had that in so long. Not since Karl.
She hadn’t realized just how much she had craved it.
That need had made Fenris’ leaving all the more painful.
It had also made her angry, bitter, frustrated, and sadder than she would have thought. The feelings hadn’t left her the way she wished, leaving with the same ease as Fenris had.
But as Justice was fond of telling her, whispering in her mind with thoughts that were not her own, what use did she have for affection?
Love and lust did not help those that needed saving. They were distractions from their goal. As it was, Anders had been systematically pushing those around her away. First out of fear of being found out that she was rapidly losing control. But it had a different taste to it now. Leaving parchment scrawled with the never ending manifesto that she and Justice were writing, had become some sort of test that the others had no chance of ever passing. With each glazed eye when she spoke of the plight of the mages, with each excuse not to read her writings, they failed time and time again.
Justice wished to cut them out of their lives completely, leaving Anders alone with what she had become.
Would it make any difference at this point?
Anders sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. For the first time she noticed that she wore a set of night clothes that were not her own. She absently touched the soft material and gingerly placed her feet on the rug beneath her. Carefully she stood, her legs wobbling at first. She waited until she felt steadier and then took a cautious step forward, then another. She made it as far as the small desk to one side of the room and Anders gratefully slumped down to the chair in front of it. She pushed her hair out of her face with shaking hands. All right, so maybe she hadn’t been quite ready to get out of bed just yet. But it was better than lying on the soft mattress with her chaotic thoughts.
She smiled to herself when she noticed the state of the desk. Crumple parchment were scattered over the surface, while spilled ink droplets threatened to stain the wood. Hawke had never been the most organized of souls. Anders had seen the way her pack had always seemed to bulge with whatever she happened to catch sight of, trinkets more suited for the trash heap.
As Anders’ gaze ran absently over the mess, her eyes caught on a familiar word written several times and crossed out. Her eyebrows drew down sharply and she picked up the crumpled parchment, unfolding it and smoothing it out on a bare spot on the desk.
An almost soundless oath escaped her lips.
Anders snatched up another piece of parchment and unfolded it, slapping it down on the first. Her eyes darted over the letter that had been started, but discarded. Yet another letter. Then another. Until Anders was trembling, practically tearing one of the letters between her fingers.
Why would Hawke do this to her?
Suddenly, it all made sense. Why for the past several weeks Anders had been inundated with visitors and invitations. Why she never seemed to have a moment alone.
She felt the sharp knife of betrayal stab into her back, slipping through ribs and pushing into her heart.
How had Sebastian and Fenris found her so quickly? Had they been following her? On Hawke’s orders no doubt. The two of them would do almost anything Hawke asked of them, even keeping their silence about Anders and Merrill.
With a cry of rage Anders swept her hands over the desk, clearing it of the damning letters. But the burst of anger was not enough. Blood roared in her ears, and she could feel Justice stirring, swarming to the surface.
“Betrayed,” Anders whispered in a voice not her own, but not quite Justice’s deeper tones either.
The door behind her burst open and Hawke came rushing in. “Are you all right? I heard…” She trailed off and her eyes widened when she saw the mess on the floor. “Anders, I can explain.”
Anders slowly pushed to her feet, her movements languid and inhuman. “You would hand me over to the Wardens of the Grey?” She didn’t need to look down at her hands to know that fine cracks had appeared in her skin. She and Justice spoke as one voice.
Although Hawke stood her ground, her chin tilted up to let both Anders and Justice know that she wasn’t afraid of them. “You need help, Anders. I think they can give it to you.”
“Why would you think that?” Anders shot back.
“Because I told her.” Fenris strode into the room, Sebastian at his side. He placed himself just in front of Hawke, a silent gesture of protection that put him in Anders’ line of sight.
“I’m surprised that you didn’t suggest the Templars instead,” Anders sneered.
Her eyes flashed an iridescent blue. “Your true intentions finally revealed.” The cracks on Anders’ skin grew. “You almost distracted her from her purpose. We will not have that. You dangled the location of her child in front of her, and then you touched her with debauched intention. For a time she was under your spell, but no longer. You will not dissuade us from our path.”
“Fenris?” Hawke whispered.
“Not now, Hawke,” Sebastian whispered back.
“It is done, the Wardens are coming,” Fenris growled. “You can either give in to the inevitable, or you can be dragged back to Ferelden in chains. Whatever you think my intentions are, know this—I have been a truer friend to her than you have. I do not seek to use her for my own ends.”
“But you seek to enslave her. You threaten to drag us in chains. You are no better than your former masters, claiming you know what’s best.” Justice took a step forward and titled Anders’ head to the side.
“Are you not doing the same?” Fenris shot back. “You took away her choices the moment the two of you merged. Do you think she likes frightening young mage girls?”
Justice reared back as if slapped. “That was a mistake.”
Fenris snorted in derision. “A mistake? How many times have you made such a mistake since then? How many have you killed using her hands?”
Anders’ face twisted in a rictus of rage. Justice raised his arms, blue fire erupting on his hands. “I am Justice. I am one of the First among my Father’s Children. I seek to balance the scales. You would have them weighted down until they fall, crashing to the filth.”
There was a loud banging on the front door, echoing through the cavernous house. Hawke cursed under her breath. “Maker, mother is going to come out of her room and want to know what’s going on at this rate.”
None of them moved while the pounding continued. Justice and Fenris stood with eyes locked. They could hear Bodahn hurrying across the main hall to the entrance, and flinging back the bolts to open the door.
“Sorry… everyone is resting. …no… Can’t let you…”
Boot steps pounded on the stone floor.
“Sers, you can’t just barge in here! You must stop or I’ll have to fetch the guard,” Bodahn cried.
“Go for it,” a deep voice replied. “While you’re gone, Serrah Hawke and I will just have a little chat.”
Justice’s eyes widened, flashing back and forth from a warm brown to an iridescent blue. “Aedan…”
Fenris felt a mocking smile slip over his lips. “Make your decision, Justice. You’re out of time.”
Anders’ eyes flashed back to blue. “No!” Justice lunged for Fenris, but the elf was ready for it. He braced himself, catching Anders by the upper arms and taking them both to the floor. Justice and Anders were both weak from the attack of the spider. It was too easy to pin Anders to the rug, forcing her arms out to the side.
Anders’ lips peeled back from her teeth in a snarl. “I will see you all dead for this.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, demon,” Fenris replied, his voice deceptively silky.
Fenris flicked his eyes up when he heard a commotion at the door. Three men burst into the room, skidding to a halt when they saw him and Anders on the floor.
A tall, imposing man strode over to them. His dark, shaggy hair was shot through with grey, his dark eyes hard. He wore half plate that clanked with each step.
In a burst of strength, Justice ripped one of his arms free and slapped a hand over Fenris’ chest. There was a flash of power and then Fenris was sailing across the room to crash against the wall. Fenris gasped for breath as he got to his hands and knees.
Justice scrambled to his feet and stared down the man in front of him. “You should not have come, Warden Cousland.”
“No, see I think coming was one of my better ideas.” The Warden placed his hand idly on the pommel of the sword strapped to his waist. “What the fuck, Justice?”
“You were not there,” Justice accused. “You did not see what they were doing to Anders. The Templars would have taken Anders if not for me.”
“Fuck you. Even if they had dared to take one of my Wardens, they wouldn’t have held him for long. Damn it, Justice. I thought the two of you knew me better than that.”
“Warden-commander Cousland?” Hawke ventured.
“Call me Aedan.” The commander looked back at her over his shoulder and grinned. He jerked his head towards the man behind him. “That’s Warden Nathaniel Howe and Zevran.”
Fenris frowned when he saw only a human male in the tabard of the Grey Wardens. His eyes darted around the room, looking for the other person that Aedan had spoken of, and that Fenris could have sworn he had seen rush into the room as well.
But there was no one else there.
“I’m Marian Hawke.” She nodded at Sebastian next to her. “This is Sebastian Vael.” Hawke glanced over toward Fenris. “That’s Fenris.”
Aedan slowly turned his head back towards Anders. “Nice to meet all of you. Seems I came at the perfect time. Mind telling me what in the Void is going on?”
Fenris got to his feet, wincing as the movement pulled at was more than likely cracked ribs. “The simple answer is that Anders is being consumed by Justice. We seek your help in parting them.”
“Simple, huh?” Aedan snorted. He shook his head at Anders. “Andraste’s tits, Justice. We thought the two of you were fucking dead.”
“We mourned you,” Howe added.
“Did you?” Justice asked. “Did you mourn us, or did you just mourn her touch?” Anders’ lips set in a small smile. “Do not look so shocked, Aedan. They have known for a long time that Anders is not what she seems.”
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Aedan snapped. “What the fuck are you doing, Justice? You can’t stay in Anders’ body. If you think the Templars were after her before, that’s nothing compared to what it’ll be like when they find out she’s got an extra passenger. Shit, what happened to wanting to go back to the Fade? You don’t belong here, Justice.”
Justice spread Anders’ arms wide. “We have work beyond the mere need to return to the Fade. Anders and I have a calling.”
“Uh huh…” Aedan said, disbelief lacing his voice. “And what would this calling be?”
“They seek to free the mages of Thedas,” Fenris answered for him. “Anders was gravely injured last night while escorting mages she had freed from the Gallows.”
“You’re shitting me.” Aedan laughed but the sound lacked any mirth. “Justice, Anders told you she didn’t want any fucking part of that. Why would you—“
“Anders sees the need now. She has freed herself from selfishness and our goals are now one.”
Aedan laughed again. “Anders? Anders has freed herself from selfishness? Are we talking about the same mage who’s first words to me were ‘I didn’t do it’ while standing among a pile of dead Templars? The same Anders who told me that one of the Templars made a funny gurgling sound when he died? because I’m going to tell you right now, that people can change, people can grow up, but there is a fundamental part of their personality that will always be there. If I know anything about who Anders was, she would never have allowed you inside her if she had known that you would be wearing her skin. Faith never did this to Wynne.”
“That’s because Faith has always been weak,” Justice said with no small amount of derision. “I was with you when you met your Wynne in Amaranthine. I could see Faith in her, but my sister was small, reduced.”
“And you’re nothing but a fucking, big bad Fade spirit. I’m sorry, Justice, but I can’t allow you to stay in her. You need to go home.”
An elf with golden skin rose up behind Anders an open vial in his hand. He grabbed Justice by the Jaw, forcing Anders’ head back while shoving the vial under her nose. “I’m sorry, my friend,” the elf said in a heavy accent.
“No!” Justice gasped, breathing in the fumes of the vial. The light in his eyes went out, returning to a soft brown.
“Aedan?” Anders whispered before her eyes drifted shut. The elf wrapped an arm around her waist, catching her as she slumped forward.
Fenris didn’t like them.
His dislike was somewhere below loath and above ambivalence, and he couldn’t decide where exactly that lay. He stood in a corner of the dining room, his arms crossed over his chest, and watched the two Wardens stuff their faces with Hawke’s food while the blonde elf flirted outrageously with anyone his eyes happened to land on.
If he didn’t need them in order to help Anders, Fenris would have walked out of the estate by now. He didn’t know what he had expected when he had thought of a Grey Warden, or of Warden-Commander Cousland, the Hero of Ferelden, but it wasn’t this. In hindsight, he should have known better. Until this point, Anders had been the only Grey Warden that Fenris had ever come into contact with. It seemed that she was a shining example of the order.
Fenris also wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be comforting or not.
He watched as Aedan downed a tankard of ale in a way that would have put a dwarf to shame. To his credit, when he slammed it down, he wiped his mouth with a napkin that had been sitting in his lap.
At least that was something, right?
Hawke and Sebastian seemed awestruck. They sat across the gleaming table from the visitors. Fenris snorted when Vael asked Aedan yet another question about the Grey Wardens.
The blonde elf—Zevran—glanced up sharply at the sound. “You’re from Tevinter, aren’t you? Seheron if I am not mistaken, but you have spent a great deal of time in Minrathous.” He tapped on his lips. “I could hear it when you spoke. Your accent is all over the place, but Tevinter in origin.”
“Your point?” Fenris asked him in Arcanum.
Zevran’s lips spread into a wide grin. “No point,” he replied, “other than to get you to says something instead of glaring at us. You don’t want us here, do you?”
The table fell into silence, and it was only then that Fenris realized that Zevran had spoken so the others could understand him. A muscle in Fenris’ jaw ticked as he clenched his teeth in irritation. This was exactly the kind of thing he did not miss from Tevinter. Little games with words were an everyday fact of life. One either learned how to play, or was crushed under the slippered feet of their betters. Hadriana had always taken such delight in toying with Fenris, trapping him so no matter how he responded, he would be punished in the end.
But Fenris had a way out now that he’d never had before.
“Don’t attempt to embroil me in a game of words. I will not play them,” he growled. “You are here to help Anders, not to make friends. Yet you sit here, stuffing your faces while Anders is tied to the fucking bed like an animal.” That had not sat well with Fenris. Giving lip service to seeing Anders in chains if it would help her and actually bearing witness to it, had been a dose of reality that he hadn’t been prepared for. He knew what it was like to wake up bound to a bed.
It was terrifying.
The smile that had been on Aedan’s face dropped away. “Zevran has given her a dose of magebane. We’re hoping that it will cut off her connection to Justice the way it does a mage’s access to the Fade. If that doesn’t work, then we’re going to have to fucking think of something else. It’s a long trip to Vigil’s Keep, and I would rather not have Justice destroy the ship that’s going to take us there while we’re on it.”
“You just don’t want to have death at sea be the reason for your demise,” Nathaniel Howe added dryly.
“Too fucking right,” Aedan shot back. “I’ve got a date in the Deep Roads several years from now that I mean to keep.”
“So it’s true then,” Hawke whispered. “Anders had mentioned it before, but I didn’t think…”
“What? The Calling?” Aedan clucked his tongue. “Anders has been telling secrets.”
“Maybe she didn’t feel any need to keep the secrets of those that had abandoned her,” Fenris murmured.
Aedan twisted in his seat to face Fenris. “Look, do you want us to help her or not? Because you can just keep your little comments to yourself. Anders is a Warden—one of my Wardens. Maybe it’s because there are no Wardens in Tevinter, but you should know that we never abandon our own. “
“Then why did you let a Templar into your Wardens?” Fenris could feel his anger rising and he tamped down tightly on his ire. This had nothing to do with Cousland and those he had brought with him, and everything to do with the realization that they were going to take Anders from Kirkwall.
Fenris was never going to see her again.
As with the chains, he had not been prepared for it. He had barely seen her this past year, but she had always been close by. Close enough that Fenris could have walked down to Darktown whenever it had pleased him. Close enough that he could hear from others what she’d been up to.
He was going to lose that.
What had he wasted in his pride and cowardice?
Fenris turned his head away and examine a portrait of one of Hawke’s illustrious ancestors. “I apologize. It does not matter. Just tell me if you can help her or not. That is all I wish to know.”
“That’s what we all would like to know,” Hawke added softly.
“Truthfully?” Aedan started. “I have no fucking clue. But if I can’t do it, then I know people who might be able to. There was… a boy during the Blight who had taken a demon into him. Zev and I, along with others, were able to free him. If it can be done to a demon, there has to be a way to free Anders. Until then, we need to focus on how we’re going to get her back to the Vigil. If the magebane doesn’t work…”
“She’ll fight you,” Sebastian said. “They both will.”
Aedan grinned at Nathaniel and Zevran. “All my friends try to kill me at least once.”
Nathaniel rolled his eyes. “I think it’s becoming a requirement now.”
Anders jerked at the chains that held her down as she reached once more for the Fade.
Both efforts were futile.
She laid back and tried to still her racing heart. Her memory was a blur of angry words and encroaching darkness. She wished she could say that she didn’t remember what she had said, but it would have been a lie that she no longer found easy to tell herself.
Maker, Aedan was here. Hawke had done it--she had asked him to come, and like the proverbial bad copper, he had shown up, Nate and Zevran in tow. The magebane she could feel coursing through her system made her mind a bit fuzzy, like a warm blanket was not only on Justice and her connection to the Fade, but partially obscuring her thoughts as well.
How long had it been since she had felt so alone in her thoughts?
Anders turned her head and squinted at a large padlock near her right hand. Her arms had been pinned to her sides, the slender chains wrapped around her and under the bed. She flipped her hand over and was able to touch her little finger to the keyhole.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on the blanket over her connection to the Fade. She didn’t need much, just enough power to unlock the blighted lock. But it was no blanket, and it felt like lifting the mental equivalent of a mountain. Sweat broke out on her forehead, her breath panting through parted lips.
“Come on,” she whispered. “You’ve done this before. Easy as making Fenris mad by mentioning the magisters.”
The Templars had done much in order to prevent Anders from escaping the Tower. She’d had to become creative in order to escape the locks, doors, and anything else they had used to bar her from freedom.
Magebane had been used multiple times.
It was a poison like any other. Too much and you risked injuring the victim. Too little and it wouldn’t work as planned. Enough over a course of time and it became less effective.
But it had been a long time since Anders had been exposed to it. She gave up and relaxed back against the mattress. All right, so that was out. She was just going to have to be cleverer than them. She could do that, right? A former Crow, two Grey Wardens, a slave that managed to escape from his master, a woman who had lost everything and built herself up in Kirkwall, a would be brother of the Chantry who…
They had trapped her as neatly as Pounce had once trapped a mouse in the dining hall of the Vigil. Anders just had to hope there was a better end for her than the poor rodent. Pounce had played with the mouse, terrifying it before he had granted his prey a merciful end.
Anders stared at the canopy above her, her eyes absently tracking the smooth weave of the fabric. Alone for the first time in a long time with her own thoughts, she asked herself one simple question—did she want to live?
That’s all she had ever wanted since the moment the Templars had dragged her away from her sobbing mother. That and to be free. She felt a tear slip down the side of her face and she blinked rapidly. Justice was going to kill her. She knew that. There was no other end for them. If he didn’t consume her, then she would die because of their actions, Justice taking her corpse for his own. Either way, she was going to die.
She didn’t think that Justice wanted that for her, but they both had become so blinded to anything else except for their goal. She had become just as twisted as he was.
The next question was just as simple as the first. Did she trust Aedan enough to place her life in his hands?
There had never been any question that she did. Aedan had saved her from swinging. The Templars would not have granted her a quick death, her neck snapping from the drop. No, they would have seen her choking, flailing at the end of a rope, her lungs gasping and clawing for air. Rylock had wanted her dead, and Aedan had saved her twice from the Templar’s clutches. She would have stayed with the Wardens for the rest of her life if it hadn’t been for…
She squeezed her eyes shut, sinking into memory without shying away from the truth. She had blamed Aedan for what she and Justice had done, but the truth was that Anders hadn’t been thinking. She had made yet another rash decision that would forever alter her. She could have fled to a thousand other places in Ferelden to await Aedan’s return, letting him deal with the Templar he had let into their midst. But she hadn’t, and her hurt at his leaving her to fend for herself had made her foolhardy.
So did she trust Aedan?
She had trusted him with her life on countless occasions, following him time and time again into the darkest pits of the Deep Roads, battling at his side against creatures that still gave her nightmares. She’d had plenty of chances to leave, but she hadn’t.
She had stayed, throwing her lot in with a man who sacrificed for her just as she had sacrificed for him.
The thing about Aedan Cousland was that he didn’t believe in the impossible. If he was told he couldn’t do something, he found a way to do it anyway. It’s how he had ended a Blight in a year’s time, a feat almost unheard of. Most Blights lasted decades, some hundreds of years.
If anyone could help her free herself from Justice, it would be him. He wouldn’t give up on her, just as Hawke hadn’t.
It came to Anders then that maybe if she looked at it from another angle, she was luckier than she had thought. Hawke had cared enough about her to send for someone who could help her, and Aedan had cared enough to come.
Anders turned her face to the side and wiped her cheek on her shoulder, soaking the fabric. She was going to do it. Put her life in Aedan’s care one more time and take a leap of faith. She was dead no matter which way she turned, at least this way she had a chance, no matter how small.
A small bubble of laughter escaped from her lips. Had Nate really come? Well, this was going to be awkward.
When Zevran came to check on her, she was ready for him. She lay passive on the bed, watching his silent movements as he crossed the room. She had used to think it was hilarious when he would sneak up behind people, startling them with a tap on their shoulder. The amount of times Oghren had spilled his ale into his beard…
Zevran found a chain-free space at the edge of the bed and perched on it. He brushed his hair off of one shoulder and flashed her a smile. It had never ceased to amaze her that he and Nate could have the same hairstyle, but each of them pulled it off differently. Zevran’s seemed more deliberate where his strands fell, while she had always suspected that Nate had pulled his hair back solely out of function.
“Hello, my dear. I’ve come to see if you are… more yourself.” He crossed one leg elegantly over the other and somehow managed to look like he was seated on spindly Orlesian furniture taking tea with the Divine, not on a bed with a volatile mage chained to it.
“More myself than I’ve felt in a while,” she answered honestly.
“Ah…” He gave her a nod of approval. “That is good to hear, yes? I am sure by now that you must know why we are here, no?”
“You missed my wit and couldn’t stay away from me any longer?” Anders ventured.
Zevran let out a bark of laughter. “While both of those things are true, you know that is not the only reason. We’ve come to take you and Justice home.”
“Oh?” Anders asked archly. “And how am I supposed to go with you if I’m chained down? Unless you plan on stealing Hawke’s bed. I wouldn’t object, it is rather comfy even with the chains, but Isabela might not be too happy with you.” It was so easy to slip into old patterns with Zevran. Their banter use to drive the others insane and they had reveled in it.
“So Isabela is with the lovely Hawke,” Zevran mused. “Now if only Aedan was inclined to share me I could join them in—“
“Nope!” Anders laughed. “Hawke has as much interest in extra bits below, as Aedan has in extra bits above. You’re out of luck.”
“Ah, well… We can’t have everything. No matter how much we want it all. Now, are you ready to go down and talk with the others?” He winked at her. “Your elf is very intense, no?”
“Excuse me? Did you steal some of Oghren’s special brew and bring it with you? He’s not my elf, far from it.” She watched as Zevran removed a key from a pouch at his waist and went to work on opening the padlock.
“If you say so,” Zevran replied lightly.
“I do say so,” Anders retorted. She sat up and stretched as the chains were removed. Her limbs felt light, an effect of the magebane.
When the last chain fell free, Anders swung her feet over the bed and touched down gently on the rug. “He’s a dick. You should hear the shit he used to say about me in Arcanum. I know Arcanum, the ass.”
“Use to?” Zevran carefully wound the chain up neatly in his lap, his fingers sliding over the links.
Anders got to her feet and slowly stood. “I don’t see him much anymore--which is for the best, really. Did you know he actually had me fooled for a while there that he and I could get along? But it was nothing but a sick joke on his part. He tried to humiliate me.” Another habit of hers—telling Zevran things she wouldn’t have ever told another. She didn’t know how he managed it. A normal conversation with him would have her saying things that revealed far too much.
“Hm…” Zevran hummed. “Was he any good?”
Anders whipped her head around to stare at him in horror. Maker, when would she learn with him? “I… I…” she sputtered. “I hate you.”
Zevran laughed. “No you don’t, my dear. But I should warn you, that Aedan is currently below subtly grilling the dour Fenris--or as subtle as Aedan gets. The goddess Hawke let it slip that he was with her and you in the Deep Roads. She told a thrilling tale of your elf wading in darkspawn blood with that impressive sword of his.”
“No…” Anders whispered in dismay. “He wouldn’t. Zev, I admit that I’ve had some problems lately—“
“—and that I need help that I should have gotten a long time ago, but Aedan can’t be seriously thinking to… to…” She fumbled for the right words, her mind unable to complete the sentence.
“To recruit him?” Zevran finished for her. “Oh, yes he is. The Wardens get so few outside of Ferelden that have actual experience in killing darkspawn.”
“Unless you count the Anderfels,” Anders groaned. As much as she missed the land of her birth, Anders had always been well aware of how the Anders people were. Blights, Tevinter, and a myriad of other incursions had created a land of harsh conditions and equally harsh people. It was a point of pride to become a Grey Warden in a country that was still blighted and darkspawn roamed. The First Warden, the head of the entire order, had his seat in the Anderfels, in a fortress called Weisshaupt. He was the true ruler of the Anderfels, the king a powerless figurehead.
When she’d been younger, she had dined on stories of the Grey Wardens and their adventures. They had seemed larger than life, until she had actually become one and had realized the truth. The Wardens were filled with people like any other. It was less grand than the stories had led her to believe, especially when she had felt the fetid breath of a darkspawn in her face, while terror had raced through her.
“Well, if he doesn’t die in the Joining, Velanna will kill him within a day. He hates mages and can’t seem to keep his opinions to himself.” She walked over to a chair that had her clothes neatly folded on top. Hawke must have fetched a new tunic from Anders’ room. The blood stained and shredded one she had worn was gone.
“I have been to Tevinter. I am sure he has reason to hate mages, no?” Zevran said from behind her. “Besides, I do not think he hates all mages.” He chuckled as if he had just realized something that amused him. “Oh, my… I will have to speak to Isabela soon. This is more entertaining than I had thought.”
“What is?” Anders slipped out of her nightclothes and picked up a fresh roll of linen. It wasn’t like Zevran hadn’t seen her naked before. She wound the roll around her chest tightly from years of practice and then pulled her tunic on. It felt good to be back in her own clothes, as if she was on even ground now.
Once dressed, she turned to Zevran and found he had given her his back. “How badly is Aedan going to yell at me?” she asked.
Zevran glanced over his shoulder. “How angry was he when the Architect kidnapped all of you?”
Anders swallowed heavily. “Raging…”
Thank you so much for the comments and kudos! I'm sorry I am so bad to replying. >.
There were several stages to Aedan Cousland’s anger. Most of the time, he jumped right from perfectly calm to yelling—or killing. As much as Anders would like to blame Oghren for that, she knew that the surly dwarf had only taught Aedan how to harness his temper into something that could do a lot of damage to those he considered his enemy. Aedan’s temper was a failing. Never mind the curses that tumbled from his lips on any given occasion, or the distinct lack of patience when it came to diplomacy, it was his temper that had gotten him into trouble time and time again. Anders had wondered if he had always been like that, or if what had happened during the Blight had changed him, made him less prone to put up with things. He was a great friend to have, but piss him off and he would become overbearing. The Wardens had found it best to let Aedan rant and rave until he got it out of his system. Privately, Anders felt that he would have fit right in with the Wardens of the Anderfels. All they would have to do was watch the way he tore through a pack of darkspawn, a maniacal light in his eyes, and they would have worshipped the ground he walked on.
So when Anders sat down at the table across from him, his arms folded over his chest, his dark eyes tracking her every movement, she knew he was in one of the more terrifying stages of anger.
He was simmering.
It raised her hackles when she saw it. If Aedan wanted a fight, then she would give it to him. She might have decided to let him help her, but she would be damned if she was going to be bullied even more into it than she already was.
She flashed a grin at Aedan. “So how’s Pounce?” She knew it didn’t matter what she said, Aedan was going to be pissed either way.
Nate sat on Aedan’s right and Zevran had taken the seat on the left. Nate lowered his face to his hands. “Anders…” he mumbled into his palms.
Aedan didn’t as much as blink, but there was a flash of anger in his eyes. “Pounce is with Nate’s sister. Your blighted cat is perfectly fine. We gave him to her after your funeral.”
Anders swallowed. “Uh… I…”
“Sigrun was devastated,” Aedan continued on. “Mind telling me who we fucking buried? Because it sure as the Void wasn’t you.”
She could feel three pairs of eyes boring into the back of her head. Anders didn’t have to look over her shoulder to know that Fenris, Hawke, and Sebastian were watching the exchange avidly from behind her. “One of the fucking Templars that the asshole you let into the keep brought with him,” she snapped. “An exchange of clothes and then I burnt the corpse. By the way, half-plate is heavy. I don’t know how you walk around like that all the time. It’s like—“
Aedan slammed a fist down on the table, the sound thundering in the room. “Damn it, Anders!”
Slapping her palms flat on the table in response, Anders partially lifted out of her seat and leaned forward. “Don’t you start on me, Aedan. You weren’t there. You fucking weren’t there! He followed me for weeks, waiting for me to screw up so he could drag me back to the Circle. When he grew bored of that, he decided to go ahead and bring in other Templars. They had cornered Justice and me—the apostate and the demon. Kristoff’s corpse was damaged badly and I had nothing left with which to fight them. We had no choice! I complained to everyone about that asshole. No one would listen to me. All of you knew how I felt about Templars and they thought I was exaggerating.
“I followed you, Aedan. I followed you down into the pits. I did it because I believed in you, in what the Wardens did. You were my family and you threw me to the wolves when my usefulness was done!”
Anders couldn’t stop the torrent of words. Years of pent up anger came pouring out. She had decided to let Aedan help her, but how dare he berate her for something that he could have prevented. “I was trapped then, just like I’m trapped now,” she hissed. “You knew the Templars had a hard on for me. You knew it but you let him in anyway. Don’t judge the choices I made in order to stay alive, before you look to your own decisions.”
Aedan rose to his admittedly impressive height, his armor clanking. He put his hands on the table, mimicking Anders’ stance as he leaned forward. “And what will you do to stay alive this time, Anders?” His voice dropped into a low whisper that was still loud enough for everyone to hear. “I haven’t abandoned you.”
“What about Justice?” Anders whispered back. “I’m the one who corrupted him. This isn’t his fault, Aedan. He was a Warden once too. He was one of yours. He didn’t ask to be brought into this world.”
All the while Anders sent delicate fingers reaching for her magic. She felt vulnerable, as if she had been sent in the middle of the Horde completely naked except for a raw meat necklace. Each time she came up against the barrier of the magebane.
“Let me have my magic back,” she added. “Let me try and talk to Justice. If you’re giving me a choice at all, it should be both our choice.”
Aedan shook his head. “He won’t leave you willingly. If what I have seen is any indication, he’s going to fight it. I can’t risk that, Anders. If you have corrupted him, maybe leaving you will bring some sense back into him. He wished to go back to the Fade. Can you tell me honestly that he still desires that?”
No. Justice had stopped speaking of it the moment the two of them had merged. Her hands curled into fists on the table. “I trust you, Aedan, but I won’t let you drag me back to Ferelden like this. I’m defenseless. What am I supposed to do if we’re attacked along the way? Strike a pose and stun our attackers with my beauty and wit? I’ve tried that before, it doesn’t work.” She tapped on her chest. “Give me something, damn it. You’re telling me I have to leave years of work behind on your say so. What will happen with my clinic? Have you even seen Darktown? The people there need me. The mages of Kirkwall need me.” She knew she was pleading and she hated it.
“Merrill could take over,” Hawke offered from behind her.
Anders’ head snapped around. “Excuse me? A blood mage… You want to put a blood mage in charge of my clinic? I don’t think so.”
Hawke placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her dark eyes. “Merrill was supposed to be the Keeper one day. I would be willing to bet she knows enough about healing to get by. Besides, what’s so different about an abomination tending to them and a former blood mage? Why do you get to have a chance to show Kirkwall how wonderful mages can be despite what you’ve become, and Merrill can’t? You talk the talk, Anders, but you don’t walk the walk. I would be willing to bet she would even take over for you with the resistance.”
“Wonderful,” Fenris muttered. “The resistance will crumble within days.”
“It would solve a problem or two,” Sebastian agreed.
“Why do I get the feeling that you aren’t endorsing her because you think she’ll do a good job,” Hawke asked. “Merrill is smarter than you give her credit for. Maybe you two should spend some time with the dalish. You don’t seem to understand the kind of training and dedication Merrill has undergone in order to one day be Keeper. “
“See?” Aedan said. “Problem solved. Your patients will be taken care of.”
“Oh?” Anders replied snidely. “Well that’s just all right then. Now we can join hands and go skipping off back to rainy Ferelden. It’s all been taken care of. Why I don’t seem to have to make any decisions on my own. Thank you, Aedan, for making up my mind for me and not forcing my hand. You are, and have always been, the epitome of leadership.”
Aedan slammed a fist down on the table again, heedless of the gouges his gauntlet made on the polished wood. “Do you want to live or not? Because if I’m trying to deal with someone who wants to die, I’ll kill you right now and save us all the trouble.”
“Hey!” Hawke said in an outraged cry. “That’s not what you’re here for!”
“He’s bluffing,” Anders threw over her shoulder. “Aedan wouldn’t kill me even if I attacked him first. I would have to go after Zevran or Nate for him to be pushed that far.” Her eyes met the steely gaze of the Warden-Commander’s. “Isn’t that right, Aedan?”
“You threatening them, Anders?” Aedan asked, his voice sharp.
“No. I would never do that. Only proving a point. I know you as well as you know me. I know that you genuinely care what happens to me and Justice. I know that you mean it when you say that you wish to help us. Just as you should know I don’t take to being trapped very well. It makes my decision to trust you that much harder.”
“Are you trusting me?” Aedan held her gaze unblinking.
Anders licked lips gone dry. “I’ll trust my old friend, not my jailor.”
Aedan pushed away from the table with a snarl and paced. “Can you guarantee that you can keep yourself and Justice under control until we can get you both to the Vigil?”
“Nope,” she replied baldly. “But I can promise that I will try. I… I don’t want to be like this anymore. You don’t know…” How could she explain the loss of memory and the needless deaths at her hands? How could she prove the Templars wrong when she was becoming—had become—the very thing that they feared.
Fenris spoke up behind her for the first time. “You have the King of Ferelden’s ear, do you not? I have heard that there have been some changes to the Circle there, maybe once Anders is… cured, she could start anew there.” He gave her a pointed look when she turned to face him. “Legally.”
He was echoing her thoughts, as if he knew her as well as she had claimed Aedan did. It was unsettling that he could read her so easily. “Since when do you care?”
“Since he was the one that told Hawke to contact the Wardens,” Sebastian interjected. “Probably saving your life in the process—again.”
Hawke buried her face in her hands. “And we were doing so well there. Thanks, Sebastian,” she mumbled.
“She had to know, Hawke,” Sebastian declared. “Not everyone is against her like she thinks they are.”
Oh, no… No, no, no. this was not happening again. Anders wasn’t going to owe Fenris yet again. She already owed him for saving her from the giant spider. “You seem to have a habit of collecting debts,” she told him sharply.
“Have I ever told you that you were indebted to me?” he replied. “Those are your words, not mine. Do you think me so incapable of doing a deed because I wish to, and not for what I can get out of it?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Anders drawled. “Maybe it’s all the times you’ve belittled me and the time when you stuck your fucking hand through my chest. I’m sure those are pretty good signs that someone doesn’t like me.”
Fenris opened his mouth--to give a scathing reply no doubt--when there was shouting in the main hall.
“What now?” Hawke said in exasperation. “Thank the Maker I sent mother out earlier. She already has enough questions.”
Zevran and Nate rose to their feet while Aedan drew his sword. The assassin took a few steps back and seemed to melt into the shadows, disappearing all together. Out of instinct, Anders reached behind her for her staff when she remembered herself. Not only was it still upstairs, but it would be useless with the magebane still coursing through her veins.
The door to the dining room slammed open and the tension leaked out of Anders when Isabela came striding into the room.
“I’m going to die!” she shouted.
With a whispered word, the shadow drew its magic back, pulling it from the stones of the Hawke Estate. The shadow’s magic had allowed it to listen well, clarifying what it had already guessed. If they were going to make their move, it would have to be soon. The coming explosion, aided by the shadow, would do nicely.
Fenris felt a light tug on his brands, signifying the use of magic. It was faint, like a whisper heard some distance away. As Isabela explained in a panicked rush that she had to retrieve something and she needed Hawke’s help, Fenris brushed the feeling aside.
It was more than likely Sandal enchanting something for Hawke. Stepping into the Hawke estate he would feel the pull of magic on the lyrium in his skin. Whether it was from Sandal or from an artifact that Hawke had managed to pick up, the feeling was still the same.
Magic and lyrium went hand in hand. He knew it was what drew Justice to him, although he wasn’t quite sure yet on the details. Fenris had never needed, or wanted, to know much about demons other than how they and blood mages used each other.
He eyed Anders as she interjected her own opinion on what Isabela was telling them. It seemed he was going to have to learn, and soon.
Kirkwall had exploded into chaos and Fenris could think of only one thing—Anders was defenseless.
She had been left at the Hawke Estate with the Wardens and Zevran, but Fenris didn’t know any of them. He didn’t know what was truth in Aedan Cousland’s prowess in battle and what was legend, exaggerations to make his tale that much grander.
Isabela had betrayed them, had betrayed Hawke, taking a relic that she had no business keeping and running off to leave them to clean up her mess. If Fenris ever saw the pirate again, he was going to make sure he paid her in kind.
The screams of the dying rang through the streets of Kirkwall as they fought their way to Hightown from the docks. Barriers had been put up at strategic intersections, funneling everyone, human, dwarf, elf, and qunari alike. Fenris had once told Hawke that most Imperium cities were built with the ability to corral rebelling slaves in case of rebellion, and Kirkwall was no different. Whether it had been the city guard to put up the barriers or the qunari remained to be seen.
Fenris would have put his coin on the qunari. They were being pushed towards Hightown, like wild eyed lambs to the slaughter.
Except the qunari weren’t going to slaughter them--not at first. No, they would try to convert, and those that rejected the Qun were destined for a long and painful death.
Maker, take Isabela.
If Fenris didn’t get to her first.
Hawke had already forgiven her. The moment she had read the letter that Isabela had left on a corpse in a broken down alley, explaining how she had to leave and take the relic with her, the very same relic the Arishok had been searching for all these years, Fenris had seen the sad acceptance in Hawke’s eyes.
That’s what love does, he had thought. It’s not that Hawke is turning a blind eye to what Isabela has done, but she knew what she was getting into from the start. Am I any different with Anders? I know what Anders is, yet I…
But Fenris wasn’t in love with Isabela, and he wasn’t nearly as forgiving of the pirate.
Sebastian, Fenris, and Hawke burst into Hightown. The three of them were drenched in blood, their faces smeared with ash, creating gruesome masks. The courtyard entrance of Hightown was normally filled with vendors hawking their wares. It was empty now, the setting sun casting a gloomy pall over the stalls pushed over to lay forgotten in the panic to escape the qunari.
Just ahead, they could hear fighting, the clash of steel against steel echoing in the silent courtyard like thunder. Without speaking word, the three of them rushed towards the stairs, Fenris taking them two at a time. The courtyard fell silent once more before he could reach the top.
When he crested the steps, he saw why.
The bodies of several qunari were strewn about, blood spreading in a slick pool on the smooth stones. Standing amongst the corpses were the Grey Wardens.
“Faata vass! What is the mage doing here?” Fenris strode over to them, anger in each step. “You were supposed to be protecting her!” He stopped inches in front of Aedan, crowding into the commander’s space. He was tall for an elf, but Aedan towered over most men. That didn’t stop Fenris from getting right into his face, his lips pealing back in a snarl.
“Why did you leave Hawke’s? It’s dangerous out here. Take him back!” Years of referring to Anders as male and months of doing when he was in public, had conditioned Fenris to watch his words where others might hear.
“I can take care of myself.” Anders had had a lifetime of that conditioning--her voice had dropped to its lower timber. She shoved her hand in a bulging pouch at her waist and withdrew a roll of linen and a health potion vial. “I’m still a damn good healer, even without my magic. Besides, I have two Grey Wardens and a former Crow to keep anything nasty off of me. Aedan’s a walking, talking, screaming, and cursing shield.”
Aedan rolled his eyes. “Did I ever say that I missed having Anders around? Because I’m thinking of revising that statement.”
Anders grinned, her smile slightly crooked. “You love me. Who have you been getting to heal you lot since I left? Velanna?” She snorted. “Or did you find some other hapless apostate to join?”
“Velanna.” Nate cleared his throat. “She hasn’t been too happy with that.”
“You,” Fenris snarled as he whirled around on Anders, ignoring the byplay, “should be safe in Hawke’s estate where you belong!”
Anders shoved the bandages and vial back into the pouch. “You’re erroneous thinking that I can’t take care of myself is starting to become a nasty habit. Why don’t you take that big sword of yours and go slaughter some qunari. You might feel better.”
“You,” Fenris started, taking a step towards her. He stopped, snapping his mouth closed when Sebastian clapped a hand on Fenris’ shoulder and squeezed, bypassing the spikey guard.
“I think that the Wardens and Anders should take one side of Hightown, while you, Hawke, and I take the other. We can meet at the Viscount’s Keep.” He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you think that Anders can take care of her—himself? He’s very capable.” He stressed the last two words, his eyes boring into Fenris’ in an unspoken message.
Fenris huffed a sharp breath and glanced away. Logically, he knew that Anders was safe wherever the commander was. He wouldn’t let anything happen to her. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that if he wasn’t with her, then she wouldn’t be getting the protection she needed, as if the Hero of Ferelden, the man who had battled an Archdemon and lived, was incapable of protecting her the way that Fenris would have.
It was ridiculous.
He knew what Sebastian was trying to tell him—that he needed to stop treating Anders as if she was a child, teetering from one danger to another, who would come to harm without his guiding hand. She was a grown woman who had weathered things that would have reduced men twice her age to blubbering fools.
If he was going to gain her regard at all, he had to treat her as he would want to be treated..
Fenris turned his back on Aedan and gave Sebastian a small nod of thanks. Sebastian squeezed Fenris’ shoulder once more in reassurance and let go. It grated that Fenris seemed so inept to Vael, that the man felt he had to intervene, but he couldn’t deny that he was thankful all the same.
Now Aedan had to prove to Fenris that the elf’s trust in him to keep Anders safe wasn’t misplaced.
Anders couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched. It felt like an itch between her shoulder blades and no matter how much she scratched she could never quite get rid of it. At first she had thought it was the adrenaline of battle, stringing her nerves tighter than Nathaniel’s bow. But as time went on the itch grew, until the sensation crawled along her skin, scraping her raw. She could’ve sworn that she was seeing shadows that weren’t there, shifting darkness in her periphery that disappeared when she turned.
There was no time to bring up her concerns during the endless battle. The waves of qunari and the thugs that were using the chaos to loot and sow destruction were relentless. They slogged their way through Hightown, saving those that they could.
Anders’ quips had become less and less frequent as time had gone on. The grim task of killing had rendered her silent. It was as if she had never left the gruesome battle of Amaranthine, and the Mother’s Children and the Architect’s darkspawn were deep in heated battle, crushing the city and innocent people between them like crashing boulders.
With each person they were moments too late to save from the pandemonium Aedan had become grimmer, his face splattered with blood, his once shining armor rent.
Shifting shadows were the least of Anders’ concerns.
By the time they had reached the Viscount’s Keep, Anders was exhausted. Her body still felt the strange numbness that the magebane engendered, the feeling of being not quite in her own skin. The dead qunari strewn around the steps that led to the great doors of the keep told them that Hawke had already been there and gone inside the yawning doors. Arrows with the distinctive fletching that Sebastian used were peppered in the corpses, giving them the look of sprouting flowers in a bloody field.
They hurried inside the keep, Zevran moving on silent feet and sprinting inside first. The bodies of qunari and the city guard lay where they had fallen, the stench of blood heavy in the air. Anders picked her way towards a series of stairs that led up to the second floor, a place where she had gone many times over the years with Hawke. Instead of the constant chatter of nobles and the city guard that use to echo in the cavernous keep, there was a horrible silence.
Reaching the second floor, Zevran was already waiting for them. He gestured to the tall, slender doors that led to the Viscount’s throne room. The closer they drew to the doors, the more they could hear voices calling out in frightened shouts, desperate pleadings that raised the hair on the back of Anders’ neck.
The four of them glanced at each other and then they were running, Aedan’s long legs eating up the distance, bypassing Zevran. He pushed his way inside, Zevran and Nate disappearing into the room after him.
That’s when the shadow made itself known.
For hours now, Anders had been turning her head this way and that in order to catch a glimpse of that damned shadow. It had eluded her at every instance. But this time it solidified, peeling away from a dark corner to take form.
Anders sucked in a shocked breath. Her hand went to her back out of habit, reaching for her staff before she remembered herself. Her fingers curled into a fist before she gritted her teeth and pulled her staff free anyway. She might not be able to cast a spell, but she could still brain whatever in the Void that thing was.
It had a humanoid form, but it was enveloped in shadows, a dark ghost stepping from beyond the Fade. It had no discernible features, no signs to tell if it was male or female, elf, dwarf, or human. It just was and it frightened her.
“Look,” she told it, “I don’t even care why you’re following me. So why don’t you just be a good little smoke… ghost… thing… and let me turn around and run like crazy after my friends. Hm? I don’t have time for this.”
Its mouth opened and—Maker, help her—it was pitch black inside, an emptiness that seemed endless. “My master wishes to speak with you. You will come with me.”
“The fuck I will!” She took a step back and then she turned. All she had to do was make it through the doors where the others were. In the chaos of her thoughts and the frantic beating of her heart, a thought slipped through clearly.
It had spoken Arcanum.
There was a displacement of air that ruffled the feathers at her shoulders. The thing rose up in front of her, blocking her path.
“You will come with me,” the mouth hissed.
“I said,” she raised her staff with both hands, “the fuck I will!” She swung the hardened wood towards its head. It sunk into the floor, her staff flying by an empty space. Anders didn’t think twice and she ran towards the doors.
Her body was abruptly jerked to a halt, arms wrapping around her waist. Darkness crept along the edge of her vision, smoky tendrils that began to envelope her. She opened her mouth to scream, her eyes widening desperately towards the partially opened doors in front of her. She could just barely make out the crowd inside, could hear the din of battle taking place.
Shadows slipped between her parted lips, choking off her cries for help. Her vision grew darker as she struggled to breathe.
“Master wishes to meet you,” the thing said again, a rattling croak that sunk claws of fear into her heart.
Why me? Why would it take me?
It was the last thing she thought before the darkness became absolute.
Fenris watched as Hawke ran winding laps around the two giant pillars that stood on either side of the throne room, the Arishok thundering after her, his massive sword raised high. This wasn’t a duel--it was a fight for survival. The Arishok had been given his name because he had proved himself in battle. He was a great warrior amongst the Qun, an unparalleled tactician.
He had gone insane.
There was bloodlust bright in his eyes as he rushed towards Hawke. The years of living among the people of Kirkwall had taken their toll. He could not be reasoned with any longer. When Fenris had opened his mouth to ask that he duel Hawke in order to end this madness once and for all, he had been taking a gamble that there was some part of the Arishok that was still Qun.
Fenris was not reassured that the qunari had accepted.
“If Hawke dies, there will be nowhere that I won’t find you and kill you,” he murmured to Isabela. That she had returned with the relic, did not exonerate her in Fenris’ eyes.
“I made a mistake,” Isabela hissed back. “I wanted to live. Haven’t you ever done something stupid because you wanted to live?”
Fenris snorted as he watched Hawke whirl around and slash at the Arishok, slicing him open before darting away. “That may be so… But I’m allowed my anger. A lot of people have died tonight.”
“And I’m going to have to live with that,” she whispered. “You can hate me all you want. It’s Hawke that I’m going to have to make this up to--if I ever can.”
They watched in helpless silence as Hawke and the Arishok fought. Hawke was using the Arishok’s rage and size against him, slipping in and out from under his guard to give him a hundred small cuts. It was working, but not without cost. Hawke had a nasty gash over her right eye and it was bleeding and obscuring her vision.
She was weakening, but so was the Arishok.
When the Arishok punched through the side of her body with his sword, lifting her up like meat on a spit, it was Fenris who grabbed Isabela’s arm and prevented her from rushing to her lover’s aid.
Hawke screamed, blood dripping down the qunari’s weapon, drenching the steel. The Arishok dropped her pain wracked body to the floor, pulling his sword free, blood flying over his snarling face when he raised his arm high.
That’s when Hawke took her chance.
She spoke no word as she lunged forward, plunging her daggers into his neck and twisting. She wrapped her long legs around his waist in a macabre parody of a lover’s embrace. She pulled her daggers free and plunged them in again and again and again, until the Arishok let out a gurgling breath, falling backwards and taking Hawke with him.
The moment his body crashed lifeless to the ground, people swarmed over them. Fenris got to her first, followed by Isabela and Sebastian. Hawke was crouched panting over the Arishok, her hands trembling on the hilts of her daggers, still embedded in the ruin of the Arishok’s throat.
Fenris glanced up, his eyes meeting Aedan’s. “We need to get her out of here. Where’s Anders? Hawke needs some potions before we can get her home.”
Aedan blinked. “He’s not with you?” He used his towering height to glance around the room, teaming with panicked nobles and departing qunari. “He was right behind us. I thought that he had… I thought that he had gone to the other side of the room to watch.”
He gripped Zevran by the arm. “When was the last time you saw Anders?”
Fenris didn’t hear the assassin’s reply over the roaring of blood in his ears. “You lost him?” he drew out between gritted teeth.
“He could have given us the slip, no? He did not want to come back with us and—“
Zevran was cut off when Fenris pushed past him. He paused by Aedan’s side and turned on him. “No wonder he ran from you if this is the care you give him.”
With that he rushed from the room, his heart in his throat.
Sorry this took so long. I had family stuff to attend to. ^_^
Anders didn’t come to with a soft gasp of surprise. Instead, she woke up with a scream on her lips, her right arm snapping to swing a fist—only to wrench her shoulder painfully when her arm twisted in the chains that bound her.
Her breath seesawed in and out between parted lips, her eyes darting around a brightly lit room. Wherever she was, it wasn’t some rundown hovel in Darktown, a bare warehouse in Lowtown, or the docks. She was chained to a chair, the roaring fireplace sending light to skittering over the highly lacquered wood. Heavy steel chains were wrapped around her waist, making each breath hard to take in, her ribs unable to expand properly. Her forearms and wrists were bound to the arms of the chair, her ankles tethered to the legs, the sharp corners of the precisely cut wood digging into her bootless calves.
She took in the rug with the fine gold threads woven into it that would have sent Hawke’s mother to swooning over want of it, the tall bookshelves filled to overflowing on every wall, and how the candles that were lit around the room were made from more expensive wax and didn’t smoke like tallow. Where ever she was, the owner didn’t skimp on creature comforts.
Anders on the other hand, wasn’t comfortable at all.
She shifted as much as she was able, the hard, high back of the chair digging into her spine. Her coat might have added a buffer, but they had taken it along with her pouches, staff, and boots. She sighed and her head dropped back against the chair. Squinting up at the ceiling, she went over her options.
It seemed she’d been doing this entirely too much lately—waking up to find herself bound in chains, unable to do much but stare at the ceiling and think. Frankly, it was beginning to annoy her. If she was going to be tied down at least it should be because she was about to have a good time.
She didn’t need a sign from the Maker to tell her that she wasn’t going to be in for the kind of fun she was thinking of.
Once again, she was without her magic, defenseless, bound.
Except this time, she really didn’t care if she hurt the ones that did it.
“You picked the wrong mage to fuck with,” she said to the empty room. Her head dropped forward. “Unless Isabela has acquired shadow monsters, and she and Hawke are playing an elaborate, kinky game with me, you should just save yourself the trouble and let me go.”
She switched to Arcanum and did what she did best, what helped her to survive solitary even if no one could hear her—she talked. “So the blood mage part is obvious. What with the shadow creature and all. What I can’t figure out is if you’re a magister or not. Mages in Thedas don’t speak Arcanum unless they’re casting. The only ones that do are from Tevinter. Which by the way, I’m seriously rethinking my urge to visit your lovely country. Granted, the wine is nice and some parts are sunny, but not too hot. The problem is the whole slave thing. Oh… and it’s filled with blood mages.
“You people really screwed over the rest of us, you know that? You’re living the life in Tevinter while mages are locked up for your crimes. How is that even remotely fair? And why do blood mages always seem to be insane? I’ve never met one that wasn’t. Well… I guess Merrill isn’t. Hawke thinks that I should treat her more kindly, but I’m having a hard time with that. I want to shake the shit out of her. She’s so powerful and has so much knowledge of dalish magic, but she uses it for that damned mirror. So I guess she does qualify for the insane part. Insane genius, maybe?”
The silence grew and she gritted her teeth. It had been hours since she had been given the magebane. All she had to do was buy enough time for her to reestablish her connection to Justice and then she could free herself.
“Did you know I once saved the life of a Bann? You didn’t? Let me tell you the story then.” Anders launched into the tale of the first time he had escaped from the Tower. She talked about the months of planning that finally culminated into an escape that had gone unnoticed for days. She spoke of making her way to Amaranthine in order to catch a ship, going into minute detail the realities of living on the run. She told of hearing horses rushing towards her on the road, never mind that she shouldn’t have been on the road in the first place. Of how a severely wounded Bann Ferrenly was chased by a dozon bandits, their horses thundering towards her. She talked about how she had not only killed the bandits, but had healed the Bann. It had been foolish on her part, but she hated bullies and the man was half dead.
Then she spoke of his gratitude, and how he had given her a pendant in thanks.
“I put the necklace ion Sigrun’s pillow before I left the Wardens. She always liked that story and I wanted her to have it. Oh?” she said to the empty room. “You don’t know Sigrun? Well if she isn’t the cutest, most blood thirsty thing you have ever seen.”
She talked about Sigrun, rambled about Velanna, and made jokes about Oghren. She never mentioned Nate, Aedan, or Zevran. The names of those currently living in Kirkwall didn’t pass her lips. Anders didn’t know how long she spoke. It was enough time that her voice had become hoarse and her throat dry. But still she carried on. Let them think her a fool, an annoyance.
But she had grossly underestimated her captors.
Every light in the room went out at once.
Anders was plunged into darkness so absolute that it felt like the only thing that was real were the chains that bound her and the chair at her back. A whimper escaped from her and she bit the inside of her cheek to prevent a scream from escaping.
She struggled to breathe as she began to panic, her mind pulling forth images of when the shadow had taken her, robbing her of breath. Then her memories slipped to somewhere older, darker, of when she had been in solitary, left in the darkness and mourning the loss of her child alone.
Anders eyes squeezed closed, as if by doing so she could somehow escape the darkness instead of plunging herself further into it.
She was alone.
No one was coming.
No one was…
She opened her mouth and let the screams come.
Fenris paced the length of Hawke’s bedchamber, his hands clenching and unclenching with each step. It had been a full day since Anders had disappeared and no one had seen her.
“I say again that someone has taken her,” he growled. “She would not have left when there were others in trouble. She has little sense of self preservation, but she has always put herself in danger to help another. If anything, she would not have left before knowing that Hawke was all right.”
Hawke watched Fenris from her bed, propped up against a mound of pillows. Isabela and Merrill were seated on the edges of the bed, while the others lounged around the room. Varric and Isabela had searched the docks, while Merrill and Zevran had gone through Lowtown. Aveline and Sebastian had taken Hightown. Fenris, Aedan, and Nate had questioned their way through Darktown.
There had been no sign of Anders.
“And we’ve told you that you are probably right.” Hawke idly touched her chest where bandages wrapped her tightly under her sleeping clothes. “But with the city still in chaos it’s hard to get answers. If anyone knows how to get lost in Kirkwall, it’s Anders. She knows all the hiding places. It would be difficult enough in the best of times to track where she’s concealed herself.”
“She isn’t concealing herself,” Fenris shot back through gritted teeth. “She’s been taken.”
“I want to help find her, but the guard has enough on their pate with getting the city back under control.” Aveline shifted from her spot near the closed door, her armor clacking against itself. “I can put out a word to keep an eye for her, but there’s nothing more I can do.”
Fenris ignored her. She was only telling him what she had said several times already, repeating herself as if he was incapable of understanding. “Anders wouldn’t have left Hawke. She would have gone to see that Hawke had made it to the Viscount, seen what was happening inside and stayed. She never would have…” He stopped and turned his back on the rest of the room.
Fenris had survived as long as he had by trusting his gut. Right now it was rolling and his skin was crawling, his mind screaming that something was wrong. He just had to make the others understand.
“Fenris,” Sebastian said cautiously. “We’re not against you in this. Whether she was taken or not, we’ll find her. But you need to calm down and believe we’re doing all we can.”
Out of all of them, Sebastian had a way of getting through to Fenris that the others lacked. He was hard pressed to explain exactly why that was, maybe it was the earnest, direct look of his eyes, as if he was silently telling Fenris that whatever the elf told him would not only be between them, but that Sebastian would support him in any decision Fenris made.
Fenris wasn’t a fool--he knew that it wasn’t completely true. There were limits to what Sebastian would tolerate. But his silent support made all the difference.
His hands went lax at his sides and he turned to face the others. “She didn’t take a ship out of the city, the docks are still closed. There was no sign of her passing through in the tunnels she used to slip the mages out of the Gallows and to the Wounded Coast. She also did not leave by the gates--they’re still closed as well.”
“I sent a missive to the Keeper and my own contacts with the mage resistance,” Hawke reported. “Both have responded and neither has seen any sign of her.”
“Rivaini and I shook down our own contacts, no one is hiding her or know of her leaving the city,” Varric added.
“She must be here then,” Nate concluded.
This endless circle of talk was getting them nowhere. Fenris began pacing again, the fingers of his left hand tapping a staccato on his hip. “We’re wasting time here. I’m going to go back to the clinic and look again.” He turned and strode over to the door, yanking it open with more force than was necessary.
“You seem horribly concerned,” Isabela idly pointed out from behind him. “I would’ve thought you would have been happy to have her gone.”
Fenris froze in the doorway. He could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on his back, waiting for his reply. “My concern or lack thereof is none of your business,” he snapped without turning. “It does not help us find her.” With that he left, slamming the door behind him, the heavy wood reverberating from the force.
He missed the look that Aedan sent Zevran’s way and the answering nod the assassin gave in return before he moved towards the door to follow.
When the door opened Anders was a trembling mess. She immediately turned her head to wipe at her tear streaked face on her shoulder. Her throat was as scratched raw as her nerves, the slight tang of blood on her tongue from where she had bit the inside of her cheeks repeatedly.
The light that streamed in from the open door burned her eyes, and she winced and glanced away out of reflex. How long had she been left in the dark, her mind fighting with remembered terrors?
“Are you ready to listen now?” He spoke in Arcanum and his tone was almost chiding, as if Anders had inconvenienced him in some way. “Or do you need more time alone to think over your present situation?”
Anders forced her eyes open, squinting at the figure in front of her. She could barely make him out, the light blazing behind him, drenching his figure in shadows. She shivered. She was never going to look at a shadow the same way again.
“Is this the part where you tell me your evil plan?” Anders rasped. “That’s always entertaining.”
He lifted his hand and whispered a word. The candles and the fireplace flared back to life and Anders once more slammed her eyes shut. The light streamed through her closed lids in hues of yellow and orange, and she carefully opened them back up again. She blinked rapidly and everything began to slide back into focus.
“Do you know who I am?” the man in front of her asked.
“Beard, ostentatious robes that I’m a little bit jealous of, and you speak Arcanum. I’m going to go with magister.” She raised an eyebrow. “And you’re half elven which is a little strange. I thought all the elves in Tevinter were slaves. Yet here you are…”
He grinned and spread his arms wide. “Here I am. And you know little of Tevinter if you think being elven matters when you have power and aren’t afraid to use it.” He dropped his arms, his lips curling into a smile that sent shivers down Anders’ spine. It was the smile of someone who had the upper hand and knew it. “I believe you are acquainted with some property I have lost. My little wolf might have mentioned me a time or two…”
Anders fought to keep her face vaguely disinterested, but she couldn’t stop the way the hair on the back of her neck rose. “Daria? Dravon? I don’t really recall the name. If you’re talking about Fenris, he only mentioned you in passing.” She shrugged as much as she was able. “No one really cared, especially him, to talk about you.”
She knew Danarius’ name the way she knew every name of every cruel Templar in the Gallows that had passed between a frightened mage lips. Anders didn’t forget the name of someone that took delight in subjugating others.
Danarius chuckled. “That I doubt, my dear.” He walked towards her, his robes swirling around his legs with each step. Grabbing her by the chin with his thumb and forefinger, he tilted Anders’ face up, his fingers digging into her flesh.
“I made Fenris what he is. It was my power--my will--that forged him. I’m under his skin and in his psyche. He can’t look at himself without remembering me. He can’t close his eyes without hearing my voice. The entirety of his life as he knows it is in devotion to me.” He leaned down, his lips a hair’s breadth from hers, his beard slightly scratching against her cheeks. “He can’t suffer another’s touch without recalling my own. Fenris has always been mine and he always will be.”
Anders couldn’t look away from him, his grey eyes like a gathering storm, boring into her. It was as if she was laid open and he could see everything that made her what she was, finding her nothing more than an ignorant child.
“You…” she started in horror.
“Me,” he concurred. “Always me. His little rebellion has come to an end. Yet what do I find when I come to fetch him? That another has clawed her way under his skin.” He pinched her chin and she bit back a moan of pain. “There is only room for one of us.
“I know your secrets, foolish mage. Foolish, inept, mage… You believe that you have hidden yourself well, but I have crawled into the shadows of your mind and seen your fears. You play with things that you have no ability to control. A fine example of what a Chantry run Circle teaches. You are ignorant of true power, so I will relieve you of a burden that you as an ignorant child should never have been given. You are weak and don’t understand the gift you have been handed.” His fingers slipped away from her chin, her flesh crawling from the remembered touch.
“You’re talking about Justice, aren’t you?” she whispered in fear.
Danarius’ answering grin was a predator’s smile. “My servant witnessed some of your power in the tunnels under the city. He witnessed the reaction of my little wolf when he came to rescue you. I will have Fenris back. He will come for you because he will not be able to help himself. He thinks himself in love with you. He will want to rescue his fair maiden, but he will find himself clapped back into iron and a shell that was once his would be lover.
“Taking the spirit from you will not leave you unscathed. He’ll get to witness it as a reminder not to run from me. I thought he had learned that lesson before, but he needs another demonstration.”
Anders’ heart pounded in her chest, a thumping rhythm that was loud in her ears. Maker, what a fool she’d been. So many things about Fenris made sense to her now, things that she had only seen through her own fear and bitterness. She knew what it was like to pretend that the horrors that had been visited upon her from her enslavement hadn’t affected her. She knew what it was like to shy away from another’s touch out of fear. But the things that had been done to her didn’t compare to the complete breaking down that Danarius had inflected in Fenris.
I should have asked, she thought in sorrow. I should have asked the way he had asked me. He understood and I didn’t think. Maker, I didn’t think.
“I’m going to kill you,” Anders told him. “You won’t have Justice and you won’t have Fenris. I won’t let you.”
Danarius raised a condescending eyebrow. “You will try, but you will fail.”
How many times had he gone over the clinic in the past day looking for any sign of where Anders might be? Not enough. It would never be enough until Anders was found. He knew every inch of the clinic intimately now. He knew where the floor was slightly sunken towards the right side of the main chamber. He knew which of the cots that lined either side of the room were about to fall apart, and which ones had been carefully repaired. He knew the contents of Anders’ store of what she needed to heal the denizens of Darktown—twelve rolls of bandages, fifteen healing potions. That Anders was low on the herbs she used to craft those potions.
He had even found the cache of books under a loose board beneath Anders’ pallet. He might not be literate, but he knew Arcanum script when he saw it. The looping, elegant letters had been inscribed across the pages. Some of the tomes had been illustrated, anatomical drawings with the skin peeled back to reveal what was underneath and how it all fit together.
Anders would be killed by the Templars for having even one of these books.
The mage owned six.
Fenris had even broken into a small chest in the storage room Anders used as a place to sleep, bashing the lock open with the pommel of his blade. There had been little inside except for an old pillow with faded embroidery and a few letters. Fenris had taken them, unwilling to leave things that Anders considered important unprotected.
He had to believe that he would be able to bring her back so she could yell at him for his invasion of her privacy.
An itch, barely felt, crept its way up his spine. It had been there for days, a low lying crawling of his skin that he had dismissed time and again as nothing more than his frayed nerves. But it was back, stronger than he had felt it before. It was the sensation of being watched and it caused his steps to stutter and then halt.
He wasn’t alone in the clinic.
He didn’t bother to reach for his sword in a wasted action. Instead, his brands flashed to life as he spun on his heels, his hands outstretched and his fingers curling into claws.
A shadow separated from a dark corner of the room, where the large lanterns did not penetrate with their light. But the shadow did not resolve into anything that could be called human, elf, dwarf, or qunari. It remained wreathed in darkness, shadows shifting around it like a gossamer cloak.
Fenris knew what it was instantly.
“Umbra,” he hissed.
If anyone needed proof of how mad and dangerous Danarius was, they only had to look at Fenris and now this creature. They were rarer than what Fenris was, but were used for the same function. They were servants created from shadow and blood magic so dark, few in history had ever attempted them. They were unstable, feral, becoming so enmeshed with the shadows that they eventually would slip away, uncaring of their master’s commands. It was said that a single Umbra could destroy a whole village with no sign that they had ever been there. Fenris was the evolution of the Umbra, a being made of light who had little choice in if they obeyed or not, their body becoming a puppet, their lyrium under their skin the strings by which their master made them dance.
If the magisters of old thought the Umbra were too dangerous, then Danarius was more insane that Fenris had thought.
Fenris know who had tenuous control of the creature. Danarius had talked about creating one often enough, his ego bloated on his success in forging Fenris. But mad ravings were one thing, to actually do it…
The Umbra parted where its lips should be in a smile. “My master wishes to see you.”
To hear Arcanum spoken out of a dark creature’s lips, twisted Fenris’ stomach. He had heard once that to an outsider Arcanum sounded almost beautiful and flowing. But to him, it would always conjure memories of pain and humiliation. It was why he reserved the language for some of the foulest curses he knew, spitting them from between his lips like poison.
“Danarius is a mad coward. Why else would he not come himself?” Fenris didn’t try to hide how he slid his foot back, crouching down in an attack position. He hated how the Arcanum came back so easily to him.
The Umbra laughed, the sound raspy as if it was unused to making it. “My master has another pet to attend to. Her endless babbling amuses him because it is useless.”
Fenris could feel the exact moment when his heart stopped. There was a painful seizing of the organ and it stopped beating before it shuddered back to life, pounding in a frantic rhythm, forcing the roaring of blood in his ears.
“Where is she?” Fenris whispered between gritted teeth. Then louder as his mind caught up to the enormity of what was happening. “Where is she!”
The Umbra took a step back, drifting like smoke across the floor. The tendrils of darkness that writhed around it dipped in and out of the shadows that it passed by. “Our master is generous, is he not? He will allow you to see her before he strips the spirit from her soul. Maybe he will let you keep her when he is done. Master thinks she will be nothing more than one of the wretched Tranquil, but if you are good you might get to have her as a pet.” It laughed again, the sound grating over Fenris’ ears. “Maybe master will give her to me instead…”
Fenris let out a bellow of rage. It took everything he had not to rush the Umbra and tear it limb from limb. He might not know how to kill it, but Maker, help him, he would enjoy trying until he found out what did.
The Umbra lifted a ghostly finger and crooked it at Fenris, beckoning. “Follow me, bright elf. Our master awaits us.”
Anders had tried, the Maker knew she had. When they had come for her, releasing her from the chains that had bound her, she had swung at the armored man on her left, slamming her fist in his jaw. She had bitten back a cry of pain when she had felt her ring finger snap on impact. Pain had radiated down her hand and up her arm. She had turned immediately to the one on her right, swinging again. But her body’s instinct to protect itself and not be hurt again had made the blow softer than she had intended.
She had heard a curse behind her just as the one in front of her had grabbed her by her injured hand. He had squeezed her fingers together and grinned as the unnaturally crooked one had ground against the others. She hadn’t been able to help the scream of pain that had erupted from her lips.
She had still tried, though. She had kicked, bitten, slammed her elbows ineffectually into armored chests. But they had dragged her through the house, taking her down a series of stairs that in her dazed mind had looked familiar.
It wasn’t until they had begun to march her through maze-like tunnels cut crudely from underground caverns under the house that she had realized where she was.
They were in the Harimann Estate.
She thought she had known true fear in the past few hours, but it was nothing compared to what she had felt entering the tunnels if how her heart had kicked up, and how she had struggled, heedless of if she would hurt herself, were any indication. Dark things had once dwelled here, may yet reside here still if the right kind of blood mage with the wrong kind of magic decided to make use of the place.
She had no doubts that Danarius fit the description.
What had happened to what had been left of the Harimanns? Anders had shuddered to think of it, increasing her struggles.
None of it had done any good.
She was too weak—the spider attack, the run through Kirkwall, dodging qunari and Carta, the magebane. All of it culminated to her being more helpless than she had been in a long time. The fear had tasted like acid against her tongue, her throat raw from screaming, her body in agony from fighting. She had never been able to physically fight, not in the way others could. It had nothing to do with her sex, and everything to do with her being a mage. In the years since her magic had first shown its presence, Anders had forgotten what her mother had taught her—how to swing a sword, how to throw a punch, and where to hit. They were basic things that all children of the Anderfels needed to know in order to survive. Women and children were often left to guard villages while the men were away.
But she hadn’t been that girl from the Anderfels in a long time. She was Anders the mage, who threw lightening at fools and laughed her way through life. Maker, she needed that young girl right now.
By the time they had hauled her into the main chamber, Anders knew that she had only moments left in order to escape. In front of a stone alter with a carving of a demon masquerading as a god, with its wide mouth and swirling patterns carved on its body, Danarius stood.
There were runes inscribed into the floor with blood, gleaming wetly against the stone. Anders glanced to her left and saw the unmistakable body of Flora Harimann. She was nude, her eyes wide in horror, her body twisted in a rictus of death. Her chest and abdomen had been sliced open, her entrails scattered around her like refuse.
Anders head whipped back towards Danarius. “I’m going to kill you!”
Danarius laughed and the sound bounced around the chamber. “So defiant! Is that what my wolf sees in you?” He glanced at the guards and jerked his fingers forward in a silent command. Anders increased her struggles, fighting with everything she had left. She managed to tear her arm away from one guard and her free hand gripped around the other’s throat, squeezing with all the might she had left. But with only one hand, she was unable to compress the arteries in his neck like she needed to. The guard sneered at her, revealing yellowing teeth and pushed against her, releasing her at the same time. She stumbled back, stepping unwittingly into the circle of runes.
Magic snapped to life, the runes jumping with fire. Anders took a step forward and slammed into an invisible barrier. She smacked her uninjured hand against it.
They had her trapped.
“This isn’t going to work,” she told Danarius. She cradled her injured hand to her chest. “Even if you do manage to separate Justice and I, he would never bargain with you.”
“He will have no choice but to bow down to the stronger will.” Danarius stopped and glanced over his shoulder. “I see my pets have finally arrived.”
He stepped out of the way and Anders’ eyes widened. The shadow creature slipped into the chamber, melting and reforming from the shadows as it went. Behind him was Fenris, manacled in chains, a collar around his throat. He was unarmed and his armor was gone, leaving him in his tunic and breeches.
His eyes when they met hers were filled with rage, snapping with green fire. His gaze took in her bruised face and the way she was gingerly holding her hand. His head snapped towards Danarius. “Let her go.”
“You’re in no position to ask for anything,” Danarius reminded him. He gave Fenris a considering look before moving away, his robes sweeping around him. “You were always so predictable, my wolf,” he called over his shoulder. “Your sentimentality will always be your undoing. Try as you might to feign otherwise.”
The collar around Fenris’ throat choked him. It had nothing to do with the fit, but the fact that he had donned it himself under his own volition. Would it ever matter how far he could run? Danarius would always find him in the end, dragging Fenris back to the mire he had pulled himself from, the stink of slavery clinging to him.
He hadn’t hesitated when the Umbra had told him to put the collar on when they had reached the estate. The creature could have done it itself, but it had wanted Fenris to suffer the humiliation.
Fenris was going to kill it after he crushed Danarius’ heart in his hand.
His eyes strayed away from Danarius as the magister moved towards the stone altar, flicking over to Anders. A muscle in Fenris’ jaw jumped as he clenched his teeth. “Who hurt you?” he asked her.
Anders held up her injured hand. “Punched one of the guards and broke my finger. You know, when we get out of here I’m going to have to have Aedan teach me how to do it properly. He always made it look so easy.”
And just like that some of the tension eased out of Fenris, swept away by her words. Just hearing her make a joke, something that would have had him grinding his teeth not too long ago, gave him renewed purpose.
“I’ll teach you.” Fenris felt a smile spread over his lips. “That way if you are captured again, you won’t be so useless.”
A startled bubble of laughter escaped her. “I know. How embarrassing is this? I’m a wanted apostate. The Knight-Commander herself would strip in the middle of the Gallows if it meant getting a hold of me. But no, a demented blood mage captures me instead. “
The smile slipped off of Anders’ face and the moment was gone, shouldered aside by the enormity of their situation. “You shouldn’t have come,” she whispered. “He said you would, but I didn’t really believe him.”
Fenris closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again he held nothing back, letting her see everything he had never said to her, had been too afraid to. “I will always come for you.”
Anders’ mouth opened and closed a few times before she glanced at Danarius’ direction. The magister had his back towards them. She gave Fenris a weak grin. “Yeah… I’m just beginning to see that. You sure you want to keep coming after a mage like me? I am a lot of trouble, or so I’ve been told.”
“You’re not nearly as much trouble as I once thought you were,” Fenris told her.
Anders held up her uninjured hand, pressing the back of it to the barrier. Fenris could see fine cracks against her pale skin, blue light seeping out. “I think some people need a lesson in how much trouble I can be.”
The cracks raced up her bare forearm, disappearing into her tunic to reappear again up her throat. For once Fenris did not dread the change that was coming over her. He had never been afraid of Justice, but he had hated how the spirit rode Anders’ body, his voice coming out of her throat in a disturbing mixture of both their tones.
But now he gave Danarius’ back a feral smile.
Anders let Justice’s rage consume her. She didn’t fight it, letting it wash over her like a tidal wave, crashing through her psyche. The magebane wasn’t completely gone from her system, but it was enough—enough to let Justice reawaken and become Vengeance.
She still maintained conscious thought as her body turned towards Danarius. She usually fought him for control, sometimes reluctantly giving it. But now she opened herself freely, letting the merge happen. When she and Justice spoke it was as one. “You dare to imprison us?”
She lifted her inured hand, but it was Justice who grasped it with the other, yanking on the broken finger to set it and sending a surge of healing magic through the bone. Anders laughed with glee, the sound almost hysterical. She could actually see the magic drawing from the Fade, could discern its path into the waking world. Her eyes snapped back to Danarius, tracking the pull of power that swirled around him, invisible to her mortal eyes, but clear to Justice’s. The knowledge was heady and she laughed again. Justice was allowing her to see through his eyes, the way he would see through hers. She had always fought this before, preferring to sink into darkness and ignorance. To know what Justice did was to acknowledge what she had become, she saw that now. Justice in his own way had been trying to protect her from this, from the madness that would ensue.
Now she embraced it.
Danarius finally deigned to turn and look at her, and what she saw chilled her and Justice to their very souls. He looked pleased, his grin predatory. “Ah! I see that he has awakened. I was wondering if I had miscalculated on how long the magebane would take to pass through your system.”
She heard Fenris curse behind her. “You wanted Justice to emerge!”
“Of course I did,” Danarius laughed. “She was amazingly easy to prod into anger, as much as she tried to hide it. I knew the spirit would not allow its host to be so harmed psychically and mentally for long.
“Now,” Danarius flicked his hand in Fenris’ direction, “you need a reminder of who your master is.”
Fenris’ body stiffened. Another flick of Danarius’ hand and the manacles around his wrists fell away, clattering to the stone floor. “Do you remember this, my wolf? I control your body. You might have gotten away from me by chance before, but never again.”
Justice and Anders cried out in rage and threw themselves against the barrier. It shimmered on impact but held firm.
Fenris stood rooted to the spot, unable to move. But his eyes snapped in hatred.
“You look like you wish to say something, my wolf.” Danarius waved his hand. “You may speak.”
“I’m going to kill you,” Fenris spat.
Danarius shook his head. “No, I think not. You will kill someone, but it will not be me.” He pointed over Fenris’ shoulder to the shadow creature that skulked behind him. “Her usefulness is at an end. She will eventually become defiant, and with you returned to me I have no further need of her.”
The magister’s lips peeled back from his teeth. “Your first lesson is this—Take something from me and I will answer in kind. I know you killed Hadriana. Tell me, Fenris, do you remember your sister at all? I had first thought to create another such as you, but decided she would better serve this way.”
Justice and Anders renewed their efforts to break through the barrier, slamming themselves against it over and over. She could see the way Fenris’ eyes widened in horror, how he turned towards what had once been his sister on Danarius’ command.
“Kill her,” Danarius hissed.
Fenris let loose a scream of pain that tore through Anders as his brands ignited and he rushed at the creature.
"The umbra (Latin for "shadow") is the innermost and darkest part of a shadow, where the light source is completely blocked by the occluding body. An observer in the umbra experiences a total eclipse." From wikipedia
Knowing that Anders was watching the full extent of Danarius’ control over Fenris made it all the more horrifying for the elf. Fenris fought the magic that ignited his brands and pulled on muscle, tendon, and bone. Danarius had issued a command and the magic obeyed—Fenris obeyed as he always had.
Two times in his life he had been able to break free from Danarius, but not because he had been able to throw off the shackles the magic and lyrium wove around him, breaking free of his leash. He had relied on cunning instead, seizing his chance before his master could call him back.
Just like with the Fog Warriors, Danarius was proving a grisly point—no matter how far Fenris ran, Danarius would always have control over him. There was no room in Fenris’ life for sentiment. All things came from Danarius’ loving hand and no one else’s.
He would once more force Fenris to tear apart something that was dear to him. Even something as simple as a blanket was not exempt. Once, Fenris had been made to shred a blanket he had been using for months when he had protested it being given to another. Danarius had then used to the strips to bind Fenris and—
The Umbra—his sister, Maker help them all—and Fenris clashed in midair, collapsing to the ground in a flurry of snarls and hands curled into claws. Fenris felt bestial, the magic drawing out his more primal instincts.
Danarius command rang in his ears, a clanging bell that rose louder and louder until he felt like his brain was liquefying in his skull.
He and the Umbra were evenly matched. Light and shadow, neither able to gain the upper hand on the other. The shadows that clung to the Umbra like a shroud, decayed and frayed after years enclosing the dead, shied away from the lyrium light, and jerked from Fenris’ brands as if burned. But the light from the lyrium also cast shadows that writhed at the edge of the brilliance, the Umbra sinking in and out of the dark spaces that Fenris was unwittingly creating.
Behind him he could hear Anders and Justice screaming in rage, their cries punctuated by deadened thumps as they crashed against the barrier over and over in order to break free.
She needs to stop. She’s going to hurt herself. But the thought was swept away, drowned out by the din of Danarius’ will.
The Umbra sensed his distraction and flung Fenris across the room. He crashed against the wall, the back of his head striking roughly hewed rock, the air in his lungs leaving him in a painful rush. He slammed into the ground, his knees hitting the stone floor. His legs gave out from the sudden pain and only the quick slap of his palms on the ground prevented him from breaking his nose as he collapsed. Pushing himself up, he weaved unsteadily on his feet.
That’s when he saw it.
Danarius raised his arms in front of the altar, the sleeves of his robes sliding back as he held them high, and turned towards Anders. In one hand he had a dripping, human heart. Crimson rivulets snaked over Danarius’ wrist. In his other hand he held a long, lyrium rod.
It was the rod that froze Fenris’ heart, the organ seizing in his chest more painful than his wounds.
He wanted to scream it, to shout to Anders, to rush Danarius and knock that fucking lyrium rod from his hand, because that rod was the embodiment of all that Fenris feared for Anders, that one day he would find her in the Gallows, a many rayed sun seared into her forehead, marring her skin, her eyes blank, her voice audible proof that she was a walking corpse, a facsimile of what she had once been. But he could do nothing but watch as Danarius approached the circle and stepped through, his mind screaming while his lips were sealed shut.
Something inside Fenris splintered, a fine crack that grew until it yawned open wide into nothingness.
He turned towards the oncoming Umbra.
Anders could see the magic swirling around Danarius. Black tendrils that were impossibly dark weaved around him in intricate patterns, slipping into the runes on the floor and igniting them. She could see the how and why of it, but couldn’t quite grasp it, her mind shying away from seeing magic being done on a level she was never meant to witness.
But it was the rod that grabbed her and Justice’s attention.
The lyrium rods for the Rite of Tranquility were closely guarded by the Chantry. How he had gotten his hands on one, she didn’t know.
It didn’t matter.
What mattered was the magic that snapped out towards them, writhing lines that sang with dark power. The magic sank into Anders’ skin and she and Justice screamed. It felt like the spell was peeling her skin back, pushing her muscles away, cracking her bones open, exposing their combined soul.
She had never felt so much agony.
Anders wished for death.
She stood rooted to the ground, her head thrown back in a silent scream of pain and terror. She had no lungs with which to draw air to give her cries voice. She had no heart to franticly pump in her exposed chest. She had only the pain and the roar of Justice in her mind.
When the brand came it did not strike her forehead.
She almost welcomed the oblivion of the Tranquil.
The brand seared into her chest over her heart, burning away part of her tunic and the linen that bound her breasts in an instant.
She had thought that the pain couldn’t get any worse.
She’d been wrong.
Her body shook. Her mind shook. Her soul shook.
The world trembled.
Below it all of the agony and the craving for it to all end, she heard Justice whisper to her clearer than she’d had in a long time.
I won’t let him have you. We will have our vengeance.
The world tore, a ripping of all that she was. She felt pieces of herself falling away, saw her life in the frayed strands. She wanted to reach out and pull them back before they were taken from her, before she ceased to be, the muscles in her arms unable to obey her commands.
If this is even a fraction of what Fenris felt when Danarius seared his skin with lyrium, no wonder he hates us so much.
It was her last thought before the blessed darkness took her. Free of pain. Free of fear.
Fenris crashed into the Umbra, taking it down to the ground, his hands around its throat. His mind knew he was injured, but his body wasn’t registering it. He could smell blood on himself and feel the slickness that coated his side.
With a cry Fenris let go and plunged both of his hands into the shadows that encompassed the creature. It felt like encasing his hands in ice, the coldness seeping into his bones.
There was no heart in which he could rip free, just a nothingness that went on and on. He was up to his elbows in the thing, the Umbra screaming.
Then the screaming stopped.
“Do it,” it gasped. “Leto, do it and end my suffering. Give me your light.”
Memories cascaded rapid-fire.
An elven girl with her red hair in braids helping their mother to bake bread for master.
Flicking flour at his face and his resulting giggle.
Their mother’s chiding glance. But she had a smile on her lips, her eyes full of love.
Entering the games to buy his family’s freedom.
The triumph of winning.
The horror of his true prize.
Fenris felt like his skull was being split open as memories filled his mind to overflowing. There was no reason to the images, no order to it all. Some of them slipped from his grasp, the memory escaping back to the darkness of his mind, while others remained, burning brightly.
“Varania…” Fenris choked out.
“Master is distracted,” his sister hissed in the dry tone of the Umbra. “Do it quickly. Give me peace. Give me your light. I’m glad I got to see you. I love you. Do it,” she pleaded.
“I’m sorry,” Fenris whispered. Dimly he was aware that he shouldn’t be talking, that the command to kill had eased from his mind. With a strangled cry, Fenris put all of his will into his lyrium brands. The light of the lyrium burst from him, crashing into the shadows and sweeping them away.
Varania managed a whispered, “Thank you,” before the light engulfed her, leaving behind ash that trickled through Fenris’ fingers.
“No! Stop! I am your master!”
Anders groaned. Did she fall asleep on the floor of the clinic again? Ugh, she needed to take a day off, this was getting ridiculous.
She groaned again and rolled over. Did she get drunk? She felt like she’d been stupid enough to go a few rounds with Varric and Isabela. Her body ached all over and her stomach gave an unfortunate lurch that accompanied the pounding in her skull.
Wait… She couldn’t get drunk. Justice never let her—
Her eyes snapped open as memory assailed her. Her heart kicked up in remembered pain and current fear. She trembled, her hands going to her chest. She could feel the large hole in the layers of her clothing, but stopped before touching her skin.
Why wasn’t she Tranquil? The last thing she remembered was Justice—
“You will obey me!”
Anders head jerked up. The fires had gone out of the circle and she could no longer see the strands of magic in the air. Danarius stood in front of the altar, the human heart dropped forgotten on the floor at his feet, half crushed under a boot. His eyes flashed a brilliant, angry blue, then back to frightened grey.
In his hand he still gripped the rod.
And it was pointed at him.
Danarius grabbed his wrist with his free hand in a vain attempt to push the oncoming lyrium rod from his forehead.
“I am Vengeance! I am Justice!” a voice boomed from Danarius’ lips. “I have judged you guilty and will have our vengeance.”
“Oh, Maker,” Anders rasped, her voice nearly nonexistent from screaming. Justice had saved her. She knew him inside and out the way he knew her. She had let him in at last and he had given himself to her, using parts of himself to keep her free from being Tranquil.
And now he was going to finish it.
Anders didn’t know what would happen to Justice if his host was killed without another body to inhabit. Justice hadn’t known either.
“No,” she whispered. Then louder, “No!” She scrambled to her hands and knees. Her body was weak, her palms slipping on the smooth stone beneath her.
She was too late.
With a cry the brand hit Danarius’ forehead. Anders could hear his skin sizzling, see how his mouth opened in a scream. But what came out was Justice’s voice, muttering the words that would complete the rite.
The light went out in Danarius’ eyes and he collapsed to the floor, the rod falling from his lax hands.
“Justice,” Anders said in a broken whisper. “No…” She half crawled, half stumbled towards Danarius’ limp form. She reached out to touch the magister, her trembling hands hovering over the slow rise and fall of his chest.
“You bastard,” she croaked. She didn’t know if she was talking about Danarius, Justice, or both. Tears welled in her eyes, spilling out over her cheeks, slipping down to meet at her chin, dripping onto her partially bared chest. The brand stung, shocking her out of her misery and horror. She sucked in a shaky breath and glanced down. The Sun of the Maker stood out in angry red and blistered lines over her heart. It was physical proof of how close she had come to oblivion, of a walking death.
A low sobbing came from behind her, piercing through her chaotic thoughts. She jerked her head around, glancing over her shoulder, her breath coming in rapid pants. Fenris was kneeling on the ground, his hands shifting through a pile of ash.
“Fenris,” she whispered. They had to get out of here. Danarius might be incapacitated, but here were still guards in the house that were loyal to the magister, and wouldn’t hesitate to cut them both down in their weakened state. With one last look at Danarius, she snatched up the lyrium rod and pushed herself to her feet. The floor beneath her felt as if it were sliding with each step she took towards Fenris, as if she were on a ship sailing rocky seas. But with each foot in front of the other, the world began to orient itself, until she was running towards the elf.
“Fenris!” She slid to a halt and her legs gave out from under her. She dropped the rod and her hands grasped his bicep for support. “We have to go! Come on!”
With mechanical slowness, Fenris turned his head. His eyes were distant, as if he were seeing miles beyond her to a dark place he could not escape. His gaze drifted over her face, down her throat and over her chest, latching on to the vivid wound the rod had given her. His body jerked as if struck, the muscle under her hands shivering.
“I couldn’t do it,” he muttered in Arcanum. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t save any of you. My sister—Varania—she wanted to die. I had to do it. I had to. I couldn’t stop it and now you’re dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Gone and left me.” The sob that escaped his lips was wretched and broken. If she had seen a glimpse of what Fenris might have one looked like before Danarius had taken his life away from him, she was now seeing the young elf that had spent what time he could remember in fear and agony, exposed beneath the veneer of sharp words and a prickly scowl.
Her heart broke for him.
She cupped his face in her hands, bringing his gaze back up to her eyes. “Fenris. Look at me. We need to go right now.”
His pupils were wide, black eating up the green. “I love you,” he murmured dully in Arcanum. “I won’t let you live like this. I won’t let you…”
She felt her throat close up. “Neither one of us is going to live unless we leave.” That he would do this for her, misplaced or not, told Anders more than words his feelings were true. He knew how she felt about becoming Tranquil and he was willing to deliver her into true death.
Just like he had with his sister.
“You and I are having the longest talk of our lives when we get out of here,” she told him as she let go. Grabbing at her partially burned and torn tunic, she pulled, rending the cloth. She spread the strip on the ground and shoved her hand into the ash, placing a fistful in the center of the fabric. With fingers more sure than they had any right to be under the circumstances, she tied the cloth into a small pouch and shoved it into the waistband of her breeches. The end of the lyrium rod was stuck next to it and she climbed back to her feet.
“Come on, Fenris. Up you go.” She pulled on his arm and he went unresisting to his feet. Slipping one arm around his waist, she pulled his arm over her shoulder and held onto his wrist tightly. “You better hope that you can snap out of it long enough to fight. If not, then I’m going to have to do it and the way I’m feeling right now, I’m going to burn this fucking place to the ground.”
Every step they took away from the chamber wasn’t fast enough for Anders’ liking. Fenris muttered to himself in Arcanum as they made their way back through the tunnels. Torches were still flicking at the walls, casting shadows that made Anders’ skin crawl and her eyes dart sporadically, searching for the monster in the dark.
“You know, if I wasn’t as nice as I am, I would point out that I’m the one rescuing you.” Of course, that wasn’t true. Justice had been the one to truly save them. At the thought she choked back a sob. She couldn’t think about that right now. If she did she would break down as badly as Fenris, fracturing into tiny pieces to be sifted through fingers like his sister’s ashes.
So she concentrated on keeping Fenris on his feet, urging him towards freedom and away from the horror behind them. But she knew no matter how far she took them, that it would never leave them, clinging to them the way the shadows had wrapped themselves around her at the Viscount’s Keep, dragging her down.
Don’t think about it, she told herself.
She counted out the minutes in the beating of her heart, Fenris’ whispered words, and the padding of their bare feet on the stone below. She couldn’t listen to what Fenris was saying, unwilling to revisit her own madness at Danarius’ hands.
“I’m not going to let him win,” she promised Fenris. “You’re strong. He won’t break you.”
But she couldn’t make the same promise to herself.
When they finally came into the basement, leaving stone tunnels and macabre caverns behind, Anders breathed a sigh of relief.
It was short lived.
She could hear the pounding of boots above her and the clang of plate mail. Her heart sped up and she half pulled, half carried Fenris to a stack of massive barrels stacked high on one side of the room. She shoved him into the space between one of the barrels and the wall, moving after him.
“Just like in the sewers,” she whispered into his ear. “Do you remember that? I wanted you so bad at that moment.”
She pressed her lips tightly shut and held her breath. The thundering boot steps came roaring down the stairs to the basement. She slipped her arms around Fenris, ignoring the wet, sticky blood that coated his side. She closed her eyes and pressed her face into his neck, placing a kiss just above the collar still encircling his throat.
We’re not here. Go away. We’re not here.
“The upper levels are clear,” came a familiar voice. “They have to be in the tunnels.”
“Lead the way, Hawke. You said you and Vael have been here before.”
Anders eyes snapped open. Her body began to tremble as relief coursed through her, the adrenaline and fear leaving her in a rush.
“We’re here!” she cried, her voice almost unrecognizable. She slipped out of their hiding spot, pulling Fenris with her.
Hawke, Aedan, Nate, Zevran, and Sebastian all stared at them with astonished eyes.
“Anders! Fenris!” Hawke cried. “Thank the Maker you’re alive!”
Exhaustion swamped her as they were quickly swarmed by gentle hands and glad smiles. The edges of her vision became ringed in white. “I need to stay by Fenris’ side. Can’t leave him,” she muttered before the white encroached on her vision completely.