Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 47
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Anton Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Aveline ♀, Fenris ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Politics, religion, violence, lunatics shit-talking the mental competence of madmen
Notes: The Arishok has a certain fondness for Anton, so when the shit hits the fan, he summons his favourite Hawke to clean it up.
This time, it was afternoon, when Anton found himself standing at Fenris’s door, tarts in hand. "I love what you guys have done with the place," he said, when Fenris answered the door, half-dressed and annoyed, as usual, but less armed since the house had come into his possession.
"Artemis has … opinions. I know nothing about these things. I let him do what makes him happy." Fenris managed to look somewhat put-upon, like a freshly-washed cat.
"Good. He needs somebody to make him happy." Anton grinned and offered the box of pastry. "And I need someone who speaks Qunlat."
The sounds of hammering and clattering and voices swearing in thick Fereldan accents could be heard from elsewhere in the house.
Fenris squinted at Anton as he took a pastry. The Hawkes didn’t need to bribe him, but he wasn’t about to tell them that, not if they were going to keep bringing him the apple tarts he liked.
"Qunlat?" he asked. "Why would you…? What did you do?"
"Nothing, honestly!" said Anton, pressing his free hand to his chest. "Nothing illegal, anyway. Recently."
Something slammed behind them, and there was even more emphatic cursing. Fenris’s ears twitched in annoyance. "Whatever it is, I’ll come," he said. "I need to get away from this racket."
"Excellent. We’ve got a meeting with the Arishok in two hours. You should probably close your pants." Anton grinned and leaned against the wall, waiting for Fenris to get dressed. He knew his brother was probably somewhere involved in all that thumping and clanging, but he also knew that disrupting Artie at a time like this would probably get someone killed. Most likely himself. And the dog wasn’t even here to laugh about it.
The Arishok was large even by Qunari standards, and he loomed like a gargoyle on his throne, his horns glittering with gold. Anton stopped at the base of the stone steps, and Anders, Aveline, and Fenris fanned out behind him.
The Arishok saw them and waved away his attendant. "Serah Hawke," he said, sitting straighter.
"Messere," said Anton with a polite bow of his head and his most winsome smile. He wondered if that smile worked as well on Qunari. Likely not, since the Arishok was still clothed.
"Last we met," the Arishok boomed. "I did not know your name. Did not care to. You have changed your fortune over the years. The Qunari have not."
"Is this how Qunari exchange pleasantries?" Anders muttered out of the side of his mouth. "Charming."
Fenris shot him a glare and shushed him.
The Arishok settled himself, before addressing the problem he’d summoned Anton to deal with. "I offer a courtesy, Hawke. Someone has stolen what he thinks is the formula for gaatlok. You will want to hunt him."
"Someone stole from the Qunari? That’s a talent. And an incredibly stupid individual." Anton whistled.
"Profoundly. The stolen formula was a decoy. Saar-qamek, a poison-gas, not explosives. A small amount is dangerous enough to your kind. But if made in quantity, perhaps by someone intending to sell it…" The Arishok shrugged expressively, or as expressively as could be expected from a man whose face might as well have been carved from stone.
"You have any idea who’d be that bleeding stupid? I’d be happy to solve this problem for both of us." Actually, Anton would be happier to be as far from this problem as he could get. Poison gas was just not on his list of things to do in this lifetime. And it certainly wasn’t on his list of ways he wanted to end it.
"I can think of such a one," said the Arishok. "A mutual acquaintance of ours."
"Oh! Yes, that annoying dwarf. What was his name?" Anton tapped his forehead trying to remember.
"Jarvis?" Anders suggested, head tilted.
"Javaris," Aveline supplied. "Javaris Tintop."
Anton beamed at her. "Yes, him." To the Arishok, he asked, "Do you think he took it?"
"I cannot say for certain," the Arishok rumbled. "But if he did, would he be cautious? Or would he assume success and make enough to threaten a district?"
"I didn’t take him for the mass-murdering type, personally. But, either way, if he’s got it, we’ll stop him from killing too many people. Or as many people as we can." Anton grinned, boldly. "And with that, we take our leave! I shall return to you, when we have found your thief, and stopped him."
"Panahedan, Hawke. It will be interesting to see if you die." The Arishok did something, at last, that could be described as smiling, if one were not a native speaker and had only a business dictionary on hand.
"Ataash varin kata," Fenris muttered, following Anton out.
Framed by an elf, the disgraced Carta dwarf had told them. Framed by an elf, to drive him out of Kirkwall and get his assets out on the market. So, back they went, to the city, with a new target in mind, and much less time in which to attend to the problem. They were, in fact, too late, or so the guard at the mouth of the alley told them. The gas had been released, and people were vomiting themselves to death, in the worst cases, and in the slightly better cases, simply being driven mad by it. Aveline dismissed the guard, telling him she’d handle the situation herself, and for a long while, they just stood, staring into the green fog at the other end of the alley.
"Well," said Anton, grimacing. "It can’t be any more toxic than the swill they serve at the Hanged Man."
"What drink have you been ordering?" Anders asked.
"The alcoholic kind," Fenris rumbled. "And he’s not wrong."
As they were talking, Aveline untied her kerchief and tied it around her face. The others followed suit with whatever they had on them, except for Fenris, who grudgingly borrowed a scrap of cloth from Anders. This was one of those rare instances where tight leather was less than useful.
The gas was leaking from a set of barrels, spread out to opposite corners of the alley. "This doesn’t look like someone was trying to sell the stuff," Aveline said, kerchief bobbing and muffling her words.
"No, but the way they’re placed, it’s where you’d put them if you expected them to explode." Anders pointed to the barrels and the major support structures near each one. "Whoever did this may not have been expecting gas, but they were expecting to destroy this part of town, either way."
Anton was sitting on top of the nearest barrel, by the time Anders finished talking. "I can get it closed, but I can’t get it to stay. See if you can find a latch somewhere, or at least a really big brick. Looking at it, the thing’s probably shaped like this." He made a shape with his hand that matched what he was seeing on the side of the barrel, where it met the lid.
Fenris grabbed the first shiny thing he spotted, in the wave of rank green mist. No, broken bottle. Pickled fish tin. There! "Like this?" he asked, tossing it to Anton.
Anton caught it and whooped. "Point goes to the elf in the tight pants!" he said as he fiddled with the latch until the barrel snapped closed. "Ah, there we go!"
The others followed suit, combing the ground for glints of metal. It was difficult to see in the thick mist, and Anders tripped over the second latch. "Found one!" he called out, righting his clothes and his dignity as he picked up the latch. He and Aveline struggled to close the second barrel while Fenris and Anton worked on a third. By the time they got to the fourth barrel, the mist had cleared enough for them to see their feet.
Anton was still sitting on the lid and wrangling it closed when an elf stalked towards them, the blade in her hand taller than she was. Anton wondered what it was with elves and giant swords.
"Easy, lady. We’re just trying to figure out what happened here. Did you see any of this? Do you know who did this?" Anton moved slowly towards the elf, hands raised. "Come on, let’s get you out of here, before the gas gets to you."
"Is that… Serah Hawke? You have enemies." The elf smiled in a way Anton was a little to familiar with. It reminded him of that smile Cormac got, right before people started imploding. "I’m glad it’s you, really. Those poor people. You are a much better target!"
"Oh, great. More nutjobs trying to kill me. Just what I was missing in my day." Anton rubbed his face, with one hand, making a grand and obvious point of it, while his other hand drew the dagger that was sheathed up under his sash, concealing it with his forearm. "You got a cause, or are you just here to fuck up my day for giggles?"
"Qunari take my people! My siblings forget their culture then go to the Qun for purpose. We’re losing them twice! So I get some help from your people. We’ll take the Qunari thunder and cause some accidents and make them hate it. But this…. This is all wrong." The elf looked somewhat confused and put out by the gas, and Anton suspected it might already have gotten to her. The guard had mentioned people going mad. "It can still work. They are hidden in your city. They’ll enrage the faithful and make sure the Qunari are blamed. Me, I’m finished. I just need a few more bodies. A few more!"
She lunged, drawing her sword, and Anton sidestepped, lashing underhand with the dagger, against her leading arm. "Why does everything in Kirkwall turn into killing people? What ever happened to just some nice stealing shit and freeing slaves?"
"I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that ‘stealing’ part," Aveline said, drawing her sword.
The elf side-stepped out of range of Anton’s dagger and swept her massive sword in an arc Anton barely dodged in time. Elves. Damn elves and their disproportionate weaponry.
And, because the Hawkes were a Crazy Magnet, the sword-swinging elf was not alone. Thugs stepped out of alleys with swords in their hands and clearly with a death wish. Fenris and Aveline stepped to the fore, taking the brunt of their assault while Anders sniped with his magic from behind.
A shock of lightning jolted the Lead Crazy, her muscles seizing and jaw clacking shut. It left just enough of an opening for Anton’s knife, and he made good use of it, sliding the blade between her ribs.
A quick glance around assured him that most of the crazy had been handled, and a well-aimed toss took care of the last of it. And, yes, that was it. The vapours had mostly cleared, and the breeze was slowly dispersing the few pockets that remained.
"Who the shit does that?" Anton demanded, walking over to get his other dagger out of somebody’s neck. "Seriously, what is the point? Where does this actually help? I mean, I heard her, but… She wants to preserve elven culture, but she won’t go to the Dalish for help? Instead, she decides to wipe out a bunch of the saddest people in the city, and blame the Qunari? That’s how to start a war, and you know what you lose in war? Culture. Artefacts. A great many things of value, and Andraste knows, I’ve helped liberate some of those things."
Aveline sighed and glared, again, but Anton went on.
"No, I’m not sorry. It won’t burn, if it’s not in the building when the fire starts. It won’t be destroyed, if the conquerors can’t find it. Have I been a looter? Absolutely. But, if the shit goes up on the market, it’s not lost forever." Cleaning his daggers, Anton sheathed them, and began to search the bodies of the dead. "So, she starts a war. A war she won’t even involve herself nor her people in, directly, over the personal decisions of some of her people to choose a different religion to her own? No one’s being forced. There’s no harm to any individuals. And she starts a war. That’s just … Who does that?"
Anders thought of the slaver mess in the Hawke cellar, thought of Cormac and his righteous rage, and for once saw a family resemblance between these two. "Forcing her views on someone else," he said. "She’d fit right in with the templars."
"Oh good," Fenris sneered. "We haven’t had a mage rights diatribe for the last ten minutes, and I was starting to worry. Do go on and tell me how this is all about you." Elf or not, Fenris felt no kinship with the Dalish. He was content to ignore them, so long as they weren’t poisoning districts on ‘his’ behalf.
"It’s not about me! It’s about everyone!" There was a flash of blue in Anders’s eyes, quick enough that Fenris almost missed it. "Cruelty is cruelty, and it’s always the innocents who get caught in the crossfire!"
Fenris was about to say something biting about ‘mages’ and ‘innocents’, only to stop short when he thought of his mage, of blue eyes and nervous fidgeting. Instead, he grit his teeth and let Anders have the last word.
"Well, hello, Justice," Aveline said flatly.
"Knock it off! All of you! This is fucked up enough without us getting into it with each other. The gas makes people crazy — crazier than they already are — so I don’t know if this is you nutbars just being your usual nutbar selves, or if this is you being your extra nutty nutbar selves, because poison gas, so let’s get out of the enclosed space, and get some Maker-damned air. Yes? Yes." Anton gestured toward the mouth of the alley, with a flourish, headache creeping up on him. He was still hoping to avoid barfing himself to death, which would be the perfect bullshit end to a fantastically shitty day.
"So I was wrong about our thief." The Arishok didn’t seem too upset about it or about the lives the poison gas had cost. Anton was still fighting off a headache, and he could feel it in his temples as he fought to stay civil.
"Looks like it," he said.
The Arishok sat back, wooden throne creaking under his bulk. "They say we were careless with our trap," he said. "That this is our fault." And there, finally, was a trace of emotion in that stone face: irritation. "But even without the saar-qamek, there would have been death. This elf was determined to lay blame at our feet."
Just as the Arishok was laying blame at hers. More finger-pointing.
"I admire conviction with a focus," the Arishok went on, "but your kind are truly committed to weakness."
"You judge us by our Tal-Vashoth," Anton pointed out. "I do not judge you by your people’s failures. Do not judge me by mine. The weak will fall where they may, and it is the duty of those who would rule to help them up."
Behind him, Fenris sucked in a sharp breath, and Anton could see a faint blue glow start at the edge of his vision.
"We accept those who submit to the Qun. The weak naturally seek the strong." The Arishok nodded, close to accepting Anton’s explanation of things. "It doesn’t matter. We did not come equipped to indoctrinate. I am here to satisfy a demand you cannot understand."
"You’ve been here an awfully long time. That ship not working out for you? Or have you decided to become missionaries. I can understand the appeal. Kirkwall’s a lovely place, once you get past the stench of dead fish and the neverending torrent of bandits and cutthroats." Anton was becoming less and less pleasant, as the day wore on.
"It will take as long as needed. No ship is coming. There is no rescue from duty to the Qun. I am stuck here." The Arishok’s gaze remained steady, judging everything it took in.
"Stuck?" Anton echoed, brows furrowing. "With the amount of time you’ve been here, you could have built your own ship. You still can. We’ll help you gather the wood. The elf here is mean with an axe." He pointed at Fenris with his thumb over his shoulder. "He’s also mean without the axe, but I’ve had enough of elves trying to decapitate me for one day."
Lip curling, the Arishok narrowed his eyes at the group. "You misunderstand," he said. "I am bound here. Filth stole from us. Not now, not the saar-qamek. Years ago." Clawed hands clenched the wings of his throne. "A simple act of greed has borne me here. We are all denied Par Vollen until I alone recover what was lost under my command!"
The stone face became a mask of anger as the Arishok surged to his feet, looming even higher over them. "That is why this elf and her shadows are unimportant. That is why I do not simply walk away from this pustule of a city! Fixing your mess is not the demand of the Qun, and you should all be grateful!" His voice rose until he was shouting, spittle flying and words echoing off stone. Anton’s ears rang with them.
Grateful? Anton was tempted to show him just how grateful he was, but Fenris laid a hand on his arm, keeping him in check. Anton bit his tongue against a snide comment.
The Arishok closed his eyes and slumped back into his throne. "Thank you, human, for your service," he said wearily. "Leave."
Anton bowed like he might to some Orlesian noble, all the sarcasm and loathing he needed present in the motion alone. "Good day, ser."
Fenris led Anton away, muttering quietly as Anton still seethed. "Maraas shokra. Shok ebasit hissra. Ataas shokra nehraa anaan esaam Qun." A quiet sound of bitter amusement grated out of Fenris. "Maraas imekari. This is not as it is meant to be. He is not here to clean up the city’s messes, but he expects we will clean up his."
"Ever-inclusive Kirkwall," Anders threw in, cheerily enough to peel paint. "We fuck everyone equally."