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Taking Back Kirkwall

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Garrett's nervous energy kept him bustling around the house all day just to have something to do with his hands. Leandra swore she had never seen him so productive. "My goodness, Wits. You should go to concerts every Saturday night, if it means you'll vacuum the living room."

"Can I get that in writing?" he grinned.

Leandra scoffed, but she was smiling. "Your father used to take me to concerts when we lived in Lothering. There was an outdoor stage on the hillside, past the windmills and Barlin's farm." Her eyelids lowered as she reminisced, rubbing the gold band on her finger. She gave a furtive little smile. "You know, sometimes after it got dark, and everyone left, we would sneak into the windmill and--"

Mercifully, the front door opened just then, and the twins blew in. "Hi," Garrett and Leandra called in unison. Carver dumped his soccer bag unceremoniously on the carpet and headed straight for the kitchen. "Yo," he called over his shoulder.

Bethany rolled her eyes as she placed his muddy cleats on the mat, then took her own cleats off and put them neatly beside his. "Hi mom, Garrett. Got the mail." She pulled a bundle of papers and envelopes from under her arm, and tossed a magazine to Garrett. "Look who's on the cover, Gare."

Garrett caught the magazine and unrolled it. Thedas Underground was the only magazine that covered anything he was remotely interested in, unlike the cooking publications his mother clipped recipes from, or the oversized glossy features about cars that Carver left lying around the house. TU was a self-proclaimed "punk periodical," and was Garrett's bible for new album reviews, awesome concert photos, and news about which bands had broken up, reunited, or all formed separate side projects, only to reunite in the end anyway. The articles were oddly inspiring, and Garrett stayed up late into the night reading and rereading them, wishing he could be part of that scene so badly. Well, he guessed he would take one step closer tonight.

On the cover were three guys and a girl, the latter of whom had a shock of pink hair in a high ponytail and a bright pink guitar slung carelessly over her shoulder. Her bandmates were a stout guy with an awesome red Viking-like beard, clutching drumsticks; one skinny dude with a hawk-like nose and long black hair, leaning on a trim wooden bass; and another equally skinny dude with dark blond hair, gripping a glowing bright blue Strat. Above these four musicians was printed a familiar logo in twisting letters: The Wardens.

Just the sight of the TU cover was enough to make Garrett's stomach squirm in equal parts delight and anticipation. He flipped the magazine over as he leaped up from the couch and grabbed Bethany's mud-splattered hands.

"We're gonna see The Wardens tonight, we're gonna see The Wardens tonight!" he sang loudly, twirling her around as she giggled.

"And Dueling Dragons!" called Carver from the kitchen, where the smell of a microwaved Pizza Pocket was emanating.

"Okay Gare, let me get up to the shower before Carver does," Bethany laughed, squirming away from him. "I'm gross and I can't go to a show smelling like a soccer field." She pattered up the stairs and they heard the water running.

Garrett left his mother to ask Carver about the soccer game, and went upstairs to change as well. He'd already changed his shirt twice today - once because he decided it was bad form to wear a Templars shirt to a Wardens show, and again after he vacuumed and got his Dane's Refuge shirt all sweaty. In the end, he chose a well-loved black shirt with the Blackstone Liaisons logo fading on the front. He brushed some dust from his jeans, ran a hand through his messy black hair, grabbed a maroon hoodie and his beat-to-shit Vans.

"Some war paint?" Bethany asked as he passed the ajar bathroom door. She had put on her favorite teal flannel over a Broken Circle t-shirt, and was studiously applying eyeliner.

Garrett grinned. "Sure, why not." It was kind of a silly tradition, but he still enjoyed it. Bethany used to draw a stripe of red paint across his nose when they were playing "mages versus warriors" as kids. The war paint made Hawke feel powerful and confident, and he had asked Bethany to paint it on for many important occasions (with the exception of job interviews).

Bethany finished with her eyeliner, dipped a finger in a small tub of dark red balm, and smeared it across his nose and under his eyes. "Perfect," she declared.

Two hours later, Carver was also cleaned up, they had all eaten dinner, and the siblings were struggling to get out the door. Leandra kept thinking of things to tell them.

"Be good, come home in one piece, for Maker's sake don't make me fetch you from prison. I love you." Leandra gave each of her children an exaggerated kiss on the cheek and hugged them tightly. "Have fun at your punk show."

"It's pop-punk, mom," Carver said, hugging her back.

"Though some of these groups consider themselves post-hardcore, actually--" Garrett began. Leandra laughed and waved her hands dismissively as Carver and Bethany dragged Garrett away.

They squeezed out the door and into Garrett's ancient car. It had been their father's car, and it was a miracle that it was still running. It was dirt brown, of all colors, the seats were threadbare, the stereo crackled, and it tended to drift towards the right unless Garrett was holding the wheel firmly in place and slightly to one side. Garrett loved it. It was one of the only things he could really consider his... until Bethany and Carver got their licenses next year, and they'd probably have to share.

He backed carefully out of the driveway, waving one last time to his mother who was standing in the kitchen window watching them. Then Bethany plugged in her phone and booted up their playlist, and they headed out onto the local road towards the venue.

Garrett heard the opening riff of his favorite Wardens song and felt his face break into a huge grin. "I can't believe we're finally getting to see The Wardens!" he shouted, smacking the steering wheel in rhythm to the crash of drumbeats.

"And Dueling Dragons," added Carver from the backseat.

"The Wardens are the ones who do that song 'Mental Fortress,' right?" Bethany asked idly, flipping the car mirror down to check the perfect side part in her hair. It was still perfect.

"No, that's The Templars," Garrett said. "You're always getting them mixed up."

"Oh, I knew it was The... Something. They're practically the same," Bethany said absently.

Garrett gaped at her, outraged, and Bethany laughed as she gestured back towards the road. "You're gonna hit a mailbox!"

Garrett corrected the steering wheel, his shock turning quickly to babbling excitement. "Okay okay so. The Wardens and The Templars were formed at around the same time, sure, but that's where the similarities stop. See, The Templars' songs are all about suffering and control, and The Wardens' songs are all about vigilance and standing by your friends when shit goes wrong. And The Templars tend to use the same three power chords over and over again, but The Wardens have the most amazing guitarist--"

"Here we go again," Carver groaned.

Garrett ignored him. "--the most AMAAAAAAAAAAAZING guitarist, and he's, like, my age, which is wild. His name is Anders and he's just crazy talented. He writes all of their riffs and sometimes he plays with his guitar behind his head and they do this stage trick with sparks of electricity--"

"Mailbox!" yelled Bethany and Carver in unison. Garrett obediently swung the steering wheel back around.

"Okay, maybe stop thinking about this Anders guy and his sparkly fingers until we get to the show, yeah?" Carver suggested.

Garrett groused but fell into a comfortable silence, and let himself drift back into his thoughts to the tune of Bethany's playlist.

He couldn't say when he had first heard a Wardens song, only that he had listened to them probably every day of his life for the past year. They had one song, "Ostagar," that had some brief radio time during his junior year of high school, but Garrett's favorites were the ones that hardly anyone else knew. "Witch Hunt" was so emotional, full of sorrow for a broken friendship with someone who had disappeared unexpectedly. "Connor's Song" was about someone losing control of themselves to dark dreams and temptations of power. Cousland, the pink-haired lead singer, wrote astounding lyrics and sang them over complex harmonies between her own power chords, Nathaniel's resonating bass, Oghren's driving beats, and Anders' incredible riffs. The lead guitarist composed and played the intricate solos and winding melodies with ease. Garrett had tried to learn some of them from tabs online, but his thick fingers were happier playing simpler chords.

Garrett knew every word to every Wardens song by heart, and had spent more time than he would ever admit watching behind-the-scenes concert footage and looking at concert photos. He even had a small photo of Anders clipped from TU and tucked into his wallet: Anders was holding his signature blue Strat, Justice, behind his head as he played a gig in Denerim. He had sworn Bethany to a blood oath pact of secrecy the one time she borrowed some cash and found the photo.

"There it is!" Carver cried from the backseat, wrenching Garrett out of his reverie. Carver pulled himself forward by grabbing Garrett's and Bethany's headrests, and pointed unnecessarily towards the venue. Spotlights shone into the darkening sky and Garrett felt a thrill run through him. They rounded the corner towards the parking garage and he saw the bright green and gold lights above the doors: THE DEEP ROADS.

*

Later, Garrett was unable to recall exactly how the opening acts had been. They all ran together in his head (despite having yelled at Bethany for having done the exact same thing earlier). Had it been Dueling Dragons, or Scout's Honor, who had the crowd screaming their lyrics in Antivan? And was it Aura of Pain who had the keyboard player practically doing handstands on his instrument at one point? It seemed not to matter.

The last opening band cleared the stage, and Garrett glanced over at Bethany and Carver beside him. Bethany's carefully arranged side part had gotten totally mussed, while Carver's hair was sticking out in all directions. Carver had lost his left shoe twice, and had managed to recover it between sets. They both wore grins as wide as Garrett's, and they all added their voices to the deafening shout when the house lights were lowered and the stage lights began to glow blue.

One by one, The Wardens began to run onstage, and Garrett let out his breath in an "oof!" as the audience surged forward. When he regained his breath, Oghren was seated at his drum kit and Nathaniel had slung the strap of his bass over his shoulders. Anders was next, picking up Justice as carefully as if the instrument were a glass figurine. He was one of the only guitarists in the scene who didn't treat his instrument like shit, and there was something about that that pleased Garrett enormously. He tried not to look at Anders too much, as if the guitarist would be able to tell Garrett apart from any of the hundreds of people packed into the space. Despite being 40 feet away, maybe more, Garrett was actually seeing Anders in real life. It seemed too good to believe.

Cousland was last, her pink hair in a long ponytail that whipped back and forth as she jogged onstage, arms raised in a triumphant gesture. She had a figure skater's build, and wore a blue and silver dress that hugged her figure over tight black leggings. Garrett elbowed Carver, knowing that his brother had some very Cousland-heavy photos of The Wardens tacked above his desk in addition to his Dueling Dragons shrine. Cousland tossed her hair back, grabbed the mic from its stand and looked out at the sea of screaming fans with a predatory grin.

"Join us, brothers and sisters! Join us in the shadows where WE-- STAND-- VIGILANT!" she shouted, voice amplified to a deafening volume, and the audience bellowed the last three words in unison with her. She leapt into the air, and when her feet hit the ground, the band exploded into their first song, "Ostagar."

It was unlike anything Garrett had ever known before, and it put all his previous experiences with this song to shame. He had listened to "Ostagar" a million times before: on his laptop with his really good headphones, the CD turned up as loud as his crappy car stereo would go... nothing compared to this.

The energy from the crowd pressing into him and the band above him was intoxicating. Garrett felt like he would never stop smiling, his voice drowned in the sea of voices that sang along with Cousland. It wasn't just loud; each beat send soundwaves coursing out of the giant amps and straight to Garrett's chest, making his body pulse with the rhythm. It might have hurt, if he weren't so in love with the feeling of losing himself to the music.

"Ostagar" ended and The Wardens played "The Golems of Amgarrak," "Stone Prisoner," and "Witch Hunt." Garrett was drenched in sweat and his voice was going hoarse from singing and shouting at the top of his lungs, but he didn't care. He abandoned staring at Cousland for Carver and the rest of the audience, and finally let his gaze fall upon Anders.

He was so... young. Garrett was struck by the movements of his muscles as he shifted his left hand up and down the fretboard, and his right hand plucked melodies effortlessly from the strings. A few rubber bracelets hung from his bony wrists, and they twitched as he played. The spotlights brought out the red undertones of his dark blond hair. Some pieces had come loose from his ponytail and were flying wildly around his face, brushing the faint stubble on his jaw. Garrett wondered just how old he was. 18? 19?

The crowd screamed when Cousland reached out her hands to them, punching the air in rhythm with the words she sang, but Garrett only had eyes for Anders. The guitarist rarely looked up at the crowd, though he would sometimes glance over at Nathaniel on bass or Oghren on drums and give the slightest nod to signal an entrance.

Heading into the breakdown of "Nature of the Beast," the audience screamed as one. They knew what was coming. Garrett watched, lips slightly parted, as Anders raised the guitar behind his head and started to play another insane riff. The movement caused the hem of his shirt to ride up, exposing a strip of pale stomach and the angular lines of his hipbones above the waistband of his jeans. Garrett swallowed hard.

The huge stage lights flashed white and blue, chaotic and dizzying. A shower of sparks rained down around Anders as he played the complex solo, biting his lip in concentration. And as the breakdown swelled towards its climax, Oghren assaulting the drums as if he meant to destroy them, Garrett could have sworn that Anders' hazel eyes locked with his for just a moment. He held his breath.

...And then, as if the soft, floaty feeling in his guts couldn't get any more out of control, Anders quirked up one corner of his mouth in a ghost of a smile.

This was definitely the best night of Garrett's life.

*

"So kids, how was the show?" Leandra asked as Bethany, Carver, and Garrett filed into the kitchen and flopped onto three stools at the counter. The smell of pancakes and bacon had roused them on Sunday morning despite their aching muscles.

"It was amazing," Bethany beamed, pouring them all orange juice and holding her glass in both hands reverently. Her hair was still a mess.

"Awesome," agreed Carver through a mouthful of pancake.

Leandra smiled down at the frying pan as she poured more batter onto the hot surface. "I'm so glad. And how about you, Wits? Don't tell me you're going to drop out of school and become a rockstar?"

Garrett chewed thoughtfully on a piece of bacon before he answered. The brief splash of water he'd cleaned with after getting home hadn't done much to wash away his war paint, which was slowly flaking away. "I have made a decision about my career, actually..." he said, his voice gravelly from last night's screaming.

Leandra, Carver, and Bethany looked over at him curiously. His mother's brow suddenly furrowed in suspicion.

Garrett grinned at all of them. "I have decided... to write for Thedas Underground."