Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 70
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Bethany Hawke ♀, Sebastian ♂, Anton Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Artemis Hawke ♂, Fenris ♂
Rating: M (L2 N3 S3 V2 D1)
Warnings: Demons, violence, desire demons
Notes: Sebastian’s got problems. Bethany’s willing to help him solve them. Demons. Why is it always demons?
Bethany put her quill back in the ink pot and looked over her shoulder as Bodhan cleared his throat.
"Visitor for you," Bodhan said, stepping out from in front of Sebastian. "Do you need anything?"
"Just tea. Bring it to the west sitting room. Thank you, Bodhan." Bethany stood up and crossed to Sebastian, taking his hand, with a smile. "Come, let’s sit somewhere that isn’t full of my work."
"What are you working on?" Sebastian asked, looking over her shoulder, but much too far to see the details. Sketches of statues and engravings were spread across every flat surface in that corner of the library.
"Oh, just some questions about spells and rituals that may only be preserved on the inside of older crypts. None of the texts I’ve been able to get my hands on describe what I’m seeing in these images, but it’s definitely magic." Leading Sebastian down the hall, Bethany continued. "Regardless of my own personal attachments to magical subjects, I really am a scholar of the history of Nevarran tombs. There’s some truly amazing things that I suspect have been lost to the turbulent political situation, a couple centuries ago."
"Necromancy." Sebastian sounded entirely less than thrilled.
"They’re corpses! Corpses don’t mind! We burn the dead, here, but in Nevarra, they find other uses for them. The moral implications of actually performing any of the necromantic arts is really less important than an accurate view of the potential dangers. How do you warn someone away from doing something, if you don’t know what it does? Documentation is extremely important, particularly in magic. Mages do stupid and dangerous things, because no one ever handed them a manual on how to do similar, but less stupid and dangerous things. Shame is not the answer, Sebastian. You, particularly, should know this." Bethany opened the sitting room door. How long had that peculiar dent been in the rug? She led Sebastian to a couch and sat down, beside him. "But, enough about my research. Have you just come to distract me? Perhaps for my own good?"
Sebastian suspected she was better at distracting him, but he didn’t say as much. "As happy as I always am to distract you, Bethany," he said, "I’m afraid that’s not why I’m here."
"So serious," said Bethany, eyebrows arching. "Has something happened?"
Bodhan arrived then with their tea, setting the tray down on the coffee table and pouring two cups. Sebastian took his with a polite smile.
"Is there anything else I can get you, messeres?" Bodhan asked, clasping his hands in front of his stomach and smiling earnestly.
"No, Bodhan," Bethany answered. "Thank you."
Sebastian waited until the dwarf had left before answering Bethany’s question. "I’ve learned who hired the Flint Company," he said, setting his tea back down, untouched. Bethany watched him over the lip of hers. "The Harimanns, a noble family of Kirkwall."
"Ah, yes! The ones who’ve never come to any of our parties! I had wondered. There are rumours Lady Jehane has become quite reclusive since her father died. Poor woman." Bethany sipped her tea and watched Sebastian’s face. "Do you think it was her father? I heard he met a violent end. The timing seems a little too close to be coincidence, but what good would it have done? There’s little direct gain that I can see."
"I don’t know. Money? Power? It’s hard to say." Sebastian turned the teacup around on the saucer with one finger. "I don’t think it was Lord Harimann. I remember him dying before this began. Lady Jehane, however, was always jealous of my family for being royalty, while hers were mere nobility."
"Envious, dear. It’s not jealousy unless you’ve had it and lost it," Bethany murmured across her tea.
"Still, I can’t imagine that pushing her into outright murder. Maybe if her family had lost a title in Starkhaven, but they hadn’t." Sebastian picked up his tea and put it back down. "Envy, then."
Bethany took another sip, brow creased in thought, before cradling the teacup in her lap. "So what do you intend to do?" she asked.
"I plan to speak with Lady Harimann," Sebastian said, "and find out what drove her to this madness."
"Do you really think there can be a peaceful solution to this?" Bethany asked. "She tried to have you killed."
"I have to try," Sebastian said with a helpless shrug. "I don’t want to start a war."
"Technically, if there is a war, she’d be the one starting it," Bethany replied. "But I see your point. Best to find out what you’re dealing with. You, however, should not go alone. Peaceful intentions or not, you are the last of your line."
"I am. I’m sure I can hire a bodyguard to prevent any troubles." The tea finally made it to Sebastian’s mouth.
"Or, I could go with you," Bethany offered. "I’m probably a little more effective than most of what you’ll find for hire, even from the dwarves. I don’t even have to kill anyone. They’ll just have some profound regrets."
"I am once again humbled by your interest in my family’s plight." Sebastian bowed his head. "But, I shouldn’t put you in harm’s way."
"It’s a personal interest in you not getting murdered, Sebastian, dear. And harm should be more concerned with being in my way." A pleasant smile lit Bethany’s face. "If you like, we can take some of my brothers along, just to be sure nothing terrible gets near us."
"Not the loud one, please? I mean to come out of this without having inspired any attacks on my person," Sebastian protested.
"No Carver and no Cormac, then. Anton’s reasonably polite, and Artie can usually keep it down. You’ll be introducing your new friends the Hawkes to your old friends the Harimanns. Just a social call."
"I do enjoy the way your mind works, even if it is terrifying at times." Sebastian smiled warmly over his teacup.
It was a short walk to the Harimann Estate. Anders had agreed to join them at Bethany’s request — something else Sebastian had seemed less than thrilled about — and they stopped to pick up ‘Messeres Fartemis’ on the way. Hightown was, by now, familiar with the Hawkes and their eccentricities, so if they arrived at the Harimanns’ doorstep more armed than necessary for a social visit, no one questioned them. Not aloud, anyway.
Sebastian raised his hand to knock only to pause, brows knit, when he found the door ajar. "That’s strange," he said, nudging the door open with his fingertips and peering inside. The main hall was empty. "The door is open, and no guards are posted."
"Well, then there’s no harm in popping in, is there?" Anton asked cheerfully, pushing past Sebastian into the estate. He was almost disappointed that he hadn’t needed to pick the locks.
The rest of their group followed, spilling into the empty hall, and Sebastian shook his head. "This is not the Lady Harimann I remember," he murmured. "I have a bad feeling about this."
"This woman tried to kill you," replied Artie, "and you’re only now having a bad feeling?"
Room after room passed, with no signs of life. "Are you sure they’re not having a holiday in Orlais?" Bethany asked, rifling through some papers that had been left out.
"If they are, they didn’t announce it. Everyone seems to think they’re still in town, but this doesn’t look right at all." Sebastian pointedly ran a finger through the dust on the desk.
"Well, we can at least check to be sure they haven’t been robbed," Anton suggested. "Lock the door on the way out."
"Robbed is the least of my concerns," Sebastian decided, leading them out of the room.
It was on the stairs into the kitchen that they first heard a voice. "More, you lazy son of a bitch! What’s taking so long?" a woman cried out from amid the barrels of wine below.
Sebastian knew her. "Flora?"
"Why does no one in this house care what I want?" Flora complained. "More wine! Or I swear I will drown you in the dregs!"
"Aw, she sounds like you after the first two bottles!" Anton nudged his brother.
"I’ll drown you in the dregs," Artemis muttered. Fenris bit his lip against a chuckle, and Artemis narrowed his eyes at him and added, "You too."
"She’ll be hating herself in the morning," Anders said, shaking his head at the way Flora swayed and stumbled.
Sebastian approached Flora, searching her face, but she looked through him as though he weren’t there. "She can’t even see us," he murmured. "This is no normal wine."
Anders and Bethany exchanged glances. "There is magic at work here," Bethany said. "I wouldn’t get too close, Sebastian." The air was heavy with it, under the smell of wine, now that she noticed. She took Sebastian’s hand and steered him away from Flora.
"Let’s see what everyone else is up to," Anton said, already padding back up the stairs.
A few rooms deeper into the house, they could hear another voice making desperate demands, as they approached. "More logs. It must be molten. You! More coins. I want every scrap of gold in this house."
"Please, messere!" a young elven woman cried out, as Sebastian stepped into the room. One servant held another at knifepoint, while a nobleman looked on.
"There’s nothing to fear," the noble insisted. "You’ll be beautiful!" He pointed to a pot of molten gold, commanding, "Pour it over her."
"Don’t! You’ll kill her!" Sebastian cried out, to no effect. "He can’t hear me…"
As the servant turned to claim the pot of gold, Sebastian solved the problem by punching him in the face, and the elven woman ran out of the room.
"Perhaps I should be the one…" the nobleman speculated, gazing thoughtfully out the window.
"We must end this madness," Sebastian said to Bethany.
"We must figure out what this madness is, first." Bethany patted him on the arm.
They continued their exploration of the mansion, Sebastian’s distress clear on his face. Bethany had a hand on her spear, and she slipped her other hand under Sebastian’s bicep, thumb tracing circles along white plate.
"I visited this house often as a child," Sebastian said to her. "They could not have concealed such goings on."
Bethany suspected these weren’t the same people he knew as a child.
Up a flight of stairs and past more empty rooms, Sebastian heard a voice through an open bedroom door, a voice making what he thought were sounds of pain until he got close enough. His steps stuttered to a stop in the doorway. "Oh Maker," he swore under his breath.
"Oh," groaned a mostly-naked man on the bed, "lower… lower…" An equally unclothed elf was smearing a line of kisses down his stomach.
"Oh my," murmured Bethany, a hand going up to cover her smirk.
"And that," Anders said, leaning in between the Hawke brothers, "is what Artie sounds like after the next two bottles."
"Things I didn’t need to know about my older brother, part seven thousand, thank you Anders." Anton turned an aggrieved look on the healer. "Cormac’s bad enough, I don’t need to know these things about Artie."
"No! The feather! Use the feather!" the naked man demanded.
"He’s got good taste. I don’t just wear them because they look good on me," Anders added, with a grin, before he straightened up. "Still, that’s … wine, women, and gold — it’s not quite right, but it’s not far off." He nudged Artemis, and voiced the worst possibility. "Desire?"
"Where have you been all my life?" the naked man asked, standing as the elf backed away. "Today I am more than a man! Come! Felicitate me!"
"I promise that’s not the word that goes in that sentence," Fenris muttered.
"He has no idea we’re here," Sebastian marvelled. "I’ve known Ruxton Harimann my whole life! He’s a complete prude!"
"That’s a lot coming from you, Chantry boy," Anders teased. "Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis. Or, I’m right, and it’s demons."
"Where’s your brother?" Ruxton asked the elf. "Let’s ask him to join us…"
Anders looked at Fenris and they both looked away, to opposite sides of the room. This was not a subject that would be coming up. No.
Artemis coughed awkwardly into his fist. "Right," he said with a nervous laugh. "I think we’ve seen enough of this. Do you think we’ve seen enough of this? I think we’ve seen enough of this."
"I agree," said Sebastian, eyes wide in a look somewhere between horrified and amazed. He ushered Bethany through the door in front of him and followed at her heels.
As they left the room, Ruxton’s voice filtered back to them, "I have the manacles right here!"
Anton bit back a laugh, passing a hand over his face.
"Manacles," Fenris repeated, shaking his head.
Artemis hummed, throwing one last look over his shoulder. "Anders is right. He does have good taste."
"What?" squeaked Fenris.
A few more rooms passed before Anders spotted a book on someone’s desk. Flora Harimann’s desk, to judge by the content. "I think this is important," he muttered, paging through it. "Looks like whatever this was started last Harvestmere with the expansion of the house — that carved up hill out there." He pointed out the window. "So, whatever’s going on, perhaps we should be looking at any newer construction? I’m still pretty sure the problem is demons. I’m still pretty sure I’d rather not deal with demons, but hey, saving the world, getting the girls."
He handed the diary to Sebastian and walked out of the room, promptly getting turned around.
"These aren’t the stairs we came up," Fenris pointed out.
"No, they’re not…" Anders sounded confused. "Where did we…?"
"It’s the cellar," Sebastian said, pushing past to examine a corpse at the bottom of the stairs. "And that’s a Flint Company mercenary, from the look of those colours."
The three Harimanns they’d found stepped out of the shadows, and Flora addressed them. "Turn back. There is nothing here for you."
"Keeping it all for yourself?" Anton joked. "I don’t think there’s much left to keep. You’ve already drunk all the wine."
"You shall not pass."
Flora was the first to fall, and everyone looked at Bethany, who shrugged, confused. And then the other two Harimanns fell, demons rising from them all.
"Called it!" Anders seemed much too cheerful for the situation, as he unshouldered his staff, laying down a tempest.
"Oh look, a desire demon," Artemis said, his expression long-suffering as a stone fist launched her back into the wall. "Brings back fond memories of the Fade."
Fenris grimaced at that reminder even as he sliced through a shade, his brands glowing, and Sebastian followed the attack with a flurry of arrows, cursing the close quarters under his breath. Magic rained down on the demons from all sides, battering them where blades and arrows hadn’t already.
The battle was fierce, chaotic, but over in a matter of minutes. Anton stuck a blade through the desire demon’s spine, and she disintegrated in a cloud of ash. He looked around to find the shades in a similar state. "I think fighting demons is becoming our thing," he said, flicking the blood off his knife.
"It’s how our family bonds," Bethany said, hair and clothes still somehow immaculate.
Sebastian gathered up his arrows, a determined set to his jaw. "Let’s see what greater evil these demons were protecting," he said, leading them deeper into the cellar, through a rough-hewn passage. The passage smoothed out, carved stairs and peaked arches becoming apparent, the deeper they went.
"A ruin? This close to Hightown? I remember no such thing." Sebastian’s eyes were more on the increasingly ornate walls than the stairs in front of him.
"One, we’re under Hightown. Technically, this is in Hightown, not near it. Two, you’re from Starkhaven, and this isn’t your house. I doubt the Harimanns let you play in the cellar, unattended," Anders pointed out, just as enthralled by the sudden shift in architecture.
At the bottom of the stairs, they hammered their way through shades and rage demons that rose up from the ground. Still, as Anton had pointed out, it was becoming a thing, and they were quite skilled at it.
"Oh, great. Not just ruins, but demon-infested ruins! Oh, my property values!" Anton complained. "I don’t even want to know what these are the ruins of, if there are this many demons, already.
Demons, more demons, and an Arcane horror, for flavour, before they reached two ladies, deep in conversation. No, Anders reconsidered that opinion, at a second glance, a lady and a desire demon. Maker, but he hated being right, sometimes.
"You must give me more," the lady was begging — no, demanding — on her knees. "Starkhaven will not submit. I put that idiot Goren Vael into the prince’s seat, but the other families won’t heed him." Her eyes were fever-bright as she continued ranting. "I must marry him to Flora and solidify our hold. But I need more power."
"I’ve given you much," the demon answered, voice echoing with the Fade. "Your desires run deep. You’ve already traded your husband and your children. What more can you offer?"
Sebastian’s grip was tight on his bow, leather-wrapped handle creaking.
"Well," said Bethany, stepping forward with her chin tilted high, "at the Blooming Rose, fifty silver’s standard for a whore."
"Do I even want to know how you know that?" Artemis asked, squinting down at his little sister.
"Probably not," Bethany replied. Sebastian opened his mouth to say something, only to close it again with a click when she turned her sweetest smile his way.
"Oh good," muttered Anton, "let’s add that to today’s pile of ‘more information than I needed’."
"You’ll hardly find my services standard," the demon purred, turning to face them.
"Who is this!?" Lady Harimann demanded, rising and turning, just a little behind the demon. "Who are you? How did you get here?" She paused. "Sebastian…?"
Sebastian’s eyes flashed, and Bethany’s hand settled on his arm. Right. Try talking first. Don’t start a war. "You were my mother’s friend! How could you murder her?"
"Such an ugly word, murder," the demon chimed in. "I prefer to say ‘removed the only obstacle between her and her dreams’."
"This was your idea!" Sebastian accused, eyes settling on the demon, and Anders made no move to correct him. He’d find out soon enough.
"I could create such desires, if I wished, but it’s far easier to nurture those that already exist." The demon seemed almost flattered by the accusation. "The desire for power is easy to find. You and your lady-friend both possess it, do you not? You both wish to rise."
"Not this again," Anders sighed, striking out with the one spell he’d least wanted to use, but this had the potential to become a lot more dangerous than he wanted to deal with. The demon’s head bent down, her shoulders pulling in. She struggled to move, choked sounds of pain escaping her throat, as the spell held her in place.
Artemis took one look at Anders, at the grim set of his jaw and the pale sheen of his face, and followed his lead. He threw out a hand, and a wave of force hit the demon, first pulling her forward and then rocketing her back into the ancient altarpiece behind her.
"No!" Lady Harimann roared, pulling free her staff.
"Oh look," Fenris sighed, "another mage." Mages and demons. When had that become his life?
He readied his sword and Sebastian nocked an arrow, but suddenly the woman went rigid, eyes popping wide. It was only then that they realised that the shadow behind her was Anton and that he currently had a knife in her ribs.
Sebastian returned the arrow to his quiver. "I must pray for Lady Harimann’s soul, when I get back to the Chantry."
"Truly? She murdered your family, consorted with demons, and tried to kill you! Sometimes, Sebastian, I wonder at your grace." Bethany shook her head. "Had I the room to be half as forgiving…"
Fenris agreed with Bethany, but said nothing. Mages. How did he continually find himself agreeing with mages, recently? It was a distressing habit, and one he considered expending the energy to break. His own mage was enough. He could agree with Artemis, when he felt the urge come on. The thought continued to trouble him, as they returned to the cellar, proper.
Flora Harimann awaited them. "Sebastian! I am so, so… ‘sorry’ is such an inadequate word. When I think of what Mother made us do, what those creatures made us do…"
"We were friends, Flora." Sebastian sounded a lot less forgiving, now.
"It was like a cloud came down on me. All I could think or feel was what the demon allowed!"
Fenris was a little too familiar with that feeling. He had some sympathy for this poor woman — she hadn’t sought this out. She hadn’t even done life-threateningly stupid things, as far as he could tell. At least he’d walked into the Fade and picked a fight.
"How did this demon come to you?" Anders asked. "Did your mother summon it, somehow?"
"We’ve never had magic in our line," Flora said, shaking her head, her eyes dazed. "Perhaps that made Mother too confident. She thought she could deal with a demon and not fall prey to it."
Artemis avoided glancing back at Fenris, tried not to think about what had happened between them in the Fade.
"Right," said Anders. "It is demons who should be feared, not mages."
"No harm in being wary of them both," Fenris muttered.
"Don’t start, you two," Anton groaned.
Sebastian ignored them, his attention still on Flora. "These ruins were unearthed when we expanded the house," she said, looking about her at the rough-hewn walls. "Mother found the demon inside. I think she had signed her bargain before we even knew."
Bethany stepped forward, drawing Flora’s gaze. "Did your mother order the attack on Sebastian’s family?" she asked.
"She did." Flora nodded. "You… You know mother, Sebastian. She was always so jealous of your parents. The demon twisted that until it was all she could think of. She was determined to seize Starkhaven for herself."
"Don’t blame your mother," Sebastian sighed. "The desire demon made this happen. I’ll pray for her, when I get back to the Chantry."
"I doubt many people will be so forgiving." Flora looked at the ground between them, before looking Sebastian in the eye. "If it takes every last coin my family owns, I will make reparations to everyone we’ve wronged. Starting with you, Sebastian. We weren’t the only ones vying for Starkhaven. If you face more opposition, you have my support."
"It will not make up for what happened," Sebastian noted, pointedly.
"No, that’s true," Flora agreed.
"But, I’ll tell you when I need you." Sebastian looked a good deal less pious and more reluctant with his forgiveness, this time.
"It’s always hard when your friends betray you, even when it’s against their will," Anders sighed, patting Sebastian’s shoulder.
"You say this like it happens to you often," Sebastian said, almost a question.
"Define ‘often’," Anders replied.
Artie could see Fenris’s ear twitch out of the corner of his eye.
They left Flora in the basement, with her mother’s corpse and the memory of a demon. Outside, it was still afternoon, warm and sunny in a way that felt incongruent with the horrors beneath them.
"So," said Artemis brightly. "I could go for a sandwich. Who wants a sandwich?"