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Cinder Hearts

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The feel -- the lure -- of blood magic, all around him...

Tannusen's spell shattered beneath his fingers, and he staggered to the side and then fell, disoriented. He felt the heavy click of the pressure-plate beneath his knees, and he looked up in time to see the raging inferno spewing toward him from the mouth of a statue only a dozen feet away...

He had time to move, to avoid the worst of it. And then he didn't.

Tannusen crumpled, blood ringing in his ears; scarlet fog teasing at his mind... the mage bowed forward into the fire, into the oil on the ground as it lit up, and his world washed white with agony.

He expelled his last -- his very last! -- lungful of air in a laugh, of all things, barely heard over the flames and the sound of his own flesh crackling and peeling before... before...

Thump. Tannusen opened his eyes.

Zevran stared down at him, his gaze unreadable. The Antivan was kneeling beside him on... on the floor? Of a room? Tannusen offered a faint smile despite his confusion, though moving his face hurt quite a lot. Were they still in the warehouse? No... no, there was no call of blood magic in the air. They were elsewhere.

He remembered more while staring into Zevran's eyes. Someone had grabbed his ankle, drug his still-flaming body out of the oil and the fire and around the corner, and blessed cold had touched him from the hiss of a familiar spell. Morrigan had put him out. But who had drug him away from the flames?

As though aware of Tannusen's thoughts, Zevran lifted his hands, wrapped in thick bandages to the elbows. Oh. "Would you care to explain what that was, my dear Grey Warden?" Zevran asked with a sort of blank pleasantness that probably meant he was actually quite angry.

"I believe it was... fire," Tannusen answered helpfully.

Zevran opened his mouth... paused... and then closed it. Twice.

"In fact," Tannusen added, "I'm sure it was fire. I had a pretty good view, you know."

He couldn't help but want to push, poke, measure the other man's responses; see where his mask might crack. It was going to get him killed someday. His smile widened a fraction.

And almost anyone else would have slapped him, punched him in his stupid mouth, or even just yelled at him. Zevran simply rocked back on his heels and stared down at the mage for a moment, and then said, quietly, "Is this how it is to be, then?"

It was more effective than any hit or yell, and the mage felt himself wince. "...There were... there were a lot of blood mages in that warehouse," Tannusen confessed, "casting, chanting... I could feel them, Zev, crawling through my blood, just like the taint..."

And then he laughed, suddenly, bitterly, and raised a bandaged hand to his forehead, covering his eyes so that he didn't have to look at the other man staring down at him, "And maybe that's what it is, right? Maybe I've been tainted, twice. Duncan was an idiot, conscripting me. He should have left me to my execution. Greagoir," and even now, his voice caressed that name, "should have run me through on the spot."

Zevran said nothing, so Tannusen laughed again, short and sharp, and continued.

"I can't believe you all expect me to stop the blight! Look at me, Zevran! I'm a broken little toy with a heart made of cinder and a spine that turns to dust around the hint of blood magic. I can't even control myself, how am I supposed to raise an army and kill an archdemon? You know I'm as likely to bend over for the dragon as I am to kill it, anyway, little whore bastard that I..." Tannusen trailed off as his hand was pulled away from his face, Zevran staring down at him with an unreadable expression, "am..."

"Stop that," Zevran said, only.

"But it's true," Tannusen whispered. "It's the truth, Zev. Everyone in Ferelden is going to die, and ultimately because I was sent to light a beacon instead of some other Grey Warden," he reached up, and touched Zevran's cheek, "You should run. Go to Orlais, where they still have real Wardens. The blight will die there, splutter out like a torch in the wind..."

"You know that I cannot do that," the Crow stated softly.

Tannu shut his eyes, "You're going to die too, Zevran."

"This talk is unlike you," the other man commented, "come, back up here where you can rest, yes?" Tannusen allowed Zevran to help him crawl up onto the bed. Everything felt just a bit... well, a lot crispy, and his movements were slow and halted as a result, the pain testing even his tolerance for torture, making his breath shallow and fast. He knew that he'd nearly died, and felt dread run down his spine. The mage could be seen as suicidal, but he really wasn't. He just wasn't... sane, and sometimes he was less sane than other times.

And all of Ferelden was relying on him, moments of stupidity and all.

"This is too much," he stared up at the other elf again, but this time while Zevran's bandaged hands lifted his head and then re-settled it onto the Antivan's lap. Zevran leaned back against the wall at the head of the bed, Tannusen stuck laying at the odd angle across it that he'd struggled to manage. "Mages live in captivity, we're not even meant to leave the tower without a contingent of templars involved. How am I supposed to lead an army? I didn't even know how to buy supplies until--"

"You are thinking too much while distressed," Zevran chided, "still your mind, my Warden, before it runs away with you." Tannusen opened his mouth to protest further, but he was silenced as Zevran put a bandaged finger under his chin and pushed it shut again with a soft click of his teeth. "Silence," the Antivan tsk'd.

Tannu obeyed this time, but only in favor of listening intently as Zevran began to speak in his native tongue, telling a story to which the words were less relevant than making the mage silent to listen to his voice. That voice could make Tannusen do anything, he thought dimly, shutting his eyes when they started to burn unexpectedly, and Zevran's bandaged fingers began to rub soothingly at his scalp.

"...You're too kind to me, Zevran," Tannusen murmured as he began to drift off to sleep again, coaxed by that calm voice and those knowing fingers, "thank you."

"And I could say the same of you, my Warden," Zevran replied in kind, once Tannusen seemed to be asleep, brushing singed white-blond hair out of the mage's cracked and blistered face.