May 222015

Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 73
Co-Conspirator: TumblrMaverikLoki
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke , Artemis Hawke , Anton Hawke , Bethany Hawke , Carver Hawke , Anders , Isabela , Varric ,  Fenris
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Demons, blood magic, suggestions of mind control, violence
Notes: More dwarves, lots of dwarves. Some unpleasant realisations about who and where.

Inside looked like the interior of an abandoned mine. Floorboards had rotted and buckled, and sunlight streamed in through holes in the ceiling, but lit braziers and the ridiculous amount of traps said the mine wasn't as abandoned as it looked. So did all the screaming dwarves.

They were cut down as easily as the rest, and Artie nudged Anders for a lyrium potion, the tingle of magic at his fingertips turning into a burn.

"Definitely some weird magic going on," said Varric. "Carta wouldn't just charge us like this. They're stupid, but they're not that stupid."

Anton was off poking at another corpse, this one decayed enough to have not been their doing. He pocketed a few coins and drew out a few blood-smeared sheets of paper. "Weird magic, you were saying?" he said with a strained smile. He twisted to look at their healer. "Anders, you're not going to like this."

"I already don't like this," Anders said, "but do tell me how it's going to get worse."

"This letter was written by a scout sent to evaluate this fortress," Anton said. He skimmed through much of the letter but read a portion aloud: "'Two levels below the surface, we discovered a series of twisting, underground passages, chiseled out of the mountain itself. I commanded the men to set up camp there. Not an hour later, one of the newer men reported voices from the depths…'"

"Underground. We're going underground again, this time with creepy voices in the depths. Oh, tell me again how this is an improvement over the last time we were anywhere near traditional dwarven architecture?" Anders snatched the letter from Anton's hands, leaving the edge of one ancient page between Anton's fingertips. "What, Wardens? Here? Oh, that's fantastic. This shit was partially built by dwarves — and we know how long they would have lasted here — and then expanded by the Wardens. That's amazing. It's true. You can't ever leave the Wardens. I'm in the middle of a mountainous wasteland, and I walk right into an abandoned Warden fortress — abandoned during the Tevinter retreat, for extra points on the excitement scale. Great! I'm walking into a dwarven demon trap that's probably full of ancient Tevinter magic! Because that ended well, the last time I did it…"

"Anders." Cormac's hands settled on his shoulders. "Breathe."

"I'm breathing! If I wasn't breathing, I wouldn't be making any sound!" Anders protested, looking a little whiffy.

Fenris did not look amused. "Are we doing this again? Why are we doing this again? Do we need the abomination with us? We're just here to clear out the Carta infestation."

"No need to be rude, Broody." Isabela wrapped and arm around Fenris's shoulders. "He's the healer. Unless you want to leave the safety of that pillowy ass in Cormac's barely-capable hands, he's coming with us."

Fenris sulked and muttered something about his ass not being pillowy but stopped protesting.

"All this ancient bullshit is making me glad I live on the surface," Varric muttered, leaning Bianca against his shoulder. "What is it with you Hawkes with dwarves and Deep Roads?"

"We could ask you the same thing," Artie said, shrugging.

"I am a dwarf. I have an excuse."

"Fair point."

They ventured deeper into the mines, manoeuvring through half-collapsed tunnels and stepping over rubble. Hushed voices echoed back to them, the words 'blood' and 'Hawke' and 'Master' standing out. The next dwarves they encountered seemed even more crazed than the last, a pale film covering their eyes, and they continued to mutter gibberish about blood and someone named Corypheus.

"That name. I had to hear it a few times, to be sure, but that's a Tevinter name," Fenris pointed out. "It's not common, but it's old. The kind of name that gets passed down a family." He didn't want to think too much about the fact that this fortress had been abandoned since the Tevinter retreat. Blood magic and old names… That was not going to end well. Perhaps it was just an ancient family that had stayed behind in the Marches. Still, mages. Blood magic.

"Are you telling me we might be facing off a magister?" Cormac asked. "What would a magister want with us?"

"We're our father's children," Bethany reminded him. "They did say this was about dad, and no one knows where he was from or what he might have been involved in, before he met mum."

"Our father was not a damned magister," Carver cut in. "No blood magic. No demons. And I never heard him speak anything but Common."

"No, but he still might have pissed one off," Cormac muttered. "He had a bit of a talent for that sort of thing — healing and pissing people off."

"Kind of like you, Anders," Bethany said, with an all-too-sweet smile.

"Can we please not talk about how my … about how Anders reminds you of dad? Because that's just going to make things terribly awkward, when we get home." Cormac looked a little bit ill.

"It's making things terribly awkward right now," Artemis muttered, earning a smirk from Bethany.

They were interrupted by another glazed-eyed dwarf running at them, this one stopping to rave, "The Hawke's blood! The Master will rise. He will be free!"

"Gerav?" Varric asked, pushing his way to the front, mouth hanging open.

"Do you know him?" Carver asked, eyes narrowed. The dwarf did seem to follow Varric's aesthetic, clean-shaven and all.

"Varric?" Gerav asked, coming up short. He blinked, brows knit, as though trying to focus. "N-no one told me you would be part of this. We were just going after the Hawke."

Anton turned to Varric. "Care to ask your friend why the Carta's been attacking us?"

Gerav shook his head as though to clear it, the words that followed sounding like they were pulled through his teeth. "I c-can't say," he struggled. "The Master must be free…"

"Really, Gerav? I thought better of you than this." Varric looked disappointed. "I mean, gutting the occasional competitor for fun and profit, that's the game. But, what are you all even doing here? Worshipping demons?"

"We drink the darkspawn blood. He calls us!" Gerav sounded like he was trying to convince Varric of the most obvious thing in the world.

"Darkspawn blood? How is he not dead?" Anders asked, and then the obvious answer occurred to him, and all the blood ran out of his face. Blood magic. Darkspawn blood. Wardens… "Oh, shit no. Guys, treat the dwarves like darkspawn. I'll try to keep you from having any open wounds, but don't swallow too much blood." He still wasn't sure what would happen, but that wasn't something he really wanted to find out, while underground with a bunch of demi-Warden dwarves.

"How are you not dead? Won't you just die?" Cormac asked.

"It's the only way… to hear the music." Again, Gerav sounded like he was stating the obvious.

"Oh, come on, you nug-licker! Snap out of it. There's no gold in hallucinating!" Varric's fear for his old friend hung heavy under the disgust in his voice — hearing the music, like Bartrand. Could they learn anything here to help his brother?

"Manners, Varric!" Bethany stepped up, hooking an arm through Varric's. "Introduce me to your lunatic friend."

"Hawkes, Hawkette," Varric said, gesturing sarcastically at Gerav, "this is Gerav. He's a greedy, brilliant, son-of-a-nug from the Carta." He turned back to Gerav and gestured behind him at the Hawkes. "Gerav, these are the Hawkes. The ones whose blood you want to drink or bathe in or… whatever. But, if you're after eternal youth, I have to tell you, none of them are virgins."

"No, they are not," Isabela purred, throwing Cormac a wink. "Even Junior's got some swording experience."

"Again, with the swording?" Artie groaned.

Gerav shook his head again, more urgently this time. "The Master is calling," he said. "He needs the blood."

"Gerav… buddy…" Varric wheedled, laughing nervously. "This isn't like you." He pulled Bianca back out, cradling her almost reverently. "Look. I've still Bianca. Never misfired a day in her life. You don't want her to see her papa like this, do you?"

"Varric," Cormac started, resting a hand on his shoulder. "You want to spare this bastard?" It was an honest question. Cormac might not have held it against Varric, if he did — they'd just have to tie the guy up.

"Not if he's after you guys." Varric extracted himself from Bethany and Cormac, raising his crossbow. "Bianca, I think it's time to say goodbye."

The first bolt ended Gerav, but more Carta dwarves swarmed in. Still, barely as many as there were Hawkes, and they were quickly added to the growing trail of bodies. Once they were sure no more were coming, Varric knelt down beside the body of his friend.

"You poor, stupid bastard." He shook his head and rifled Gerav's pockets. "I used to do business with the Carta, back in the day. Gerav was a nutcase then, too, but in a good way. He was trying to design a new kind of repeating crossbow. Bianca was the only one that ever worked. I can't believe he ended up like that."

Varric wasn't sure if he wanted to mourn the idiot or spit on his corpse. Probably the latter, but that took more effort than the bastard deserved.

"Come on, Hawkes and friends," Varric said, once more shouldering Bianca, "let's get this over with."

The portcullis wasn't a good sign. Nor was the massive bronto Artemis could see through the bars. "All this for us?" he quipped, glancing at Cormac. "If I'd known we were coming to a party, I'd have worn my nice trousers."

Anton was already at work on the portcullis's lock, deft fingers working until the lock opened with a click, the gate drawing up. "I'd ask what kind of parties you've been going to," he said, "but I already know the answer to that."

"Break that, would you please?" Anders asked Anton. "As lovely as this all is, I'd rather not leave anyone the opportunity to get us on the wrong side of any gates or doors or … large angry dragons. You know how it is. Get stuck in the Deep Roads once, it's enough for a lifetime." The smile that followed those words was a lot less merry than he'd meant it to be.

"Done." Anton picked up some old tools from nearby, that looked like they might have been left from the original occupation and bent the lock out. He didn't much relish the idea of getting trapped underground again either, although it was more the trapped than the underground, for him.

After a bit more looking around and picking up old, weird artefacts from under centuries of dust, they were intercepted by another dwarf, this one with an enormous moustache and those same nearly-opaque looking blue eyes.

"Hawke. They told me you were going to be trouble." He seemed to be addressing Anton, which was unsurprising, since Anton was the one of them most likely to know and be known by the Carta, in his line of work. "And look, you brought the whole family. How generous. I swore to Corypheus we'd bring him Malcolm Hawke's blood one way or another."

"What does this have to do with our father?" Anton asked.

"The Master wants you. I don't ask why," the dwarf replied, dismissively.

"The Master," Fenris muttered, quietly. "I like this less and less. A 'master' with a Tevinter name."

"So, it's Corypheus who's after us." Anton hooked his thumb in the back of his belt, just under the hilt of a dagger.

"What Corypheus wants, Corypheus gets. From us or from someone…" The dwarf sounded much as Gerav had — as if he were explaining the obvious.

"Oh, Corypheus wants some blood?" Anton scoffed. "Sure! Let me just open a vein… How about a kidney too?" Anton drew the dagger at his belt and rested the blade against his wrist mockingly. "Between the five of us, I'm sure we could spare something!"

"Speak for yourself," said Bethany, "but they're welcome to Carver's kidneys."

"Hey!" spat Carver.

The dwarf ignored them, glassy eyes turning towards the ceiling. "Corypheus, we have done as you command!" he shouted to the room at large — and the room was large, debris pushed aside so that floor acted like an arena, space enough for the bronto. On a platform above, more crazed dwarves loaded their crossbows. "Your sacrifice is here! You will see the surface once more!"

Behind them, the portcullis creaked.

"Bloody blighted ass," Anders remarked, almost conversationally, as the portcullis slammed down again, behind them. Stunning might not work, but sticking people to the floor still did, and he proceeded to do so with reckless abandon, which didn't much help with the crossbows, but it certainly slowed the bronto. Slowed.

Bethany's usual feats of nightmare were useless against these dwarves, and got more and more useless the deeper in they got. Instead, she turned to spirit-fuelled explosives, which weren't nearly as quick, but were easily as devastating. On the other hand, she wasn't doing nearly the damage Artemis was managing, the skinny little git.

And then, it was snowing. "Really?" Carver demanded, shooting a look back at Cormac.

"What? It's a little chilly, but it works! — Whoops, back up!" Cormac waved Carver back as the edge of the blizzard rolled out and licked at the toes of his boots. That slowed down the crossbowmen, but Varric was already working his way through them.

Fenris huffed, standing off to the side and letting his sword rest on the ground. "I'm not going in that," he said in reply to Artie's questioning look, gesturing at the blizzard with a flippant wave of his hand.

"Sure. Leave all the work to the mages."

Fenris growled, and Artemis smiled sweetly, knowing he was cute enough to get away with the comment.

After a few more whirlwind spells and more ducking of crossbow bolts, the chaos came to an end. When the blizzard cleared, it displayed the wreckage it had left behind, a fine layer of snow still dusting the ground and the fallen bodies caught in its midst.

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