Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 79
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: Things progress from unpleasant to less pleasant than that. Artie solves problems. Anton’s the wrong colour. Carver is sick of all of you fucks and just wants to go home.
The group chatted as they walked, munching on deepstalker and trying to keep the mood light. Anton considered singing drinking songs again, but Justice hadn’t been too thrilled with that last time, and this part of the Deep Roads echoed.
They followed another glow of green light to another seal, passing into an arcaded dome. The fog lifted to show that they were walking on a sea of skeletons.
"Good thing we already ate," Isabela said, tiptoeing around them, "or that would have just ruined my appetite."
"Messy," Artie muttered, face scrunching as he stepped up onto another dais. The grit of the Deep Roads was getting into his clothes and under his fingernails, and he was ready to be out of here, thank you. "Places, everyone."
The braziers hummed with a familiar surge of magic, and Fenris pulled Artemis back just as another demon appeared, this time right on top of him.
"Holy mother of tits and bits, have we not had enough demons for one damned day?" Carver shouted, racing in to hack at the demon’s leg.
He knew it wouldn’t be the answer it was with lesser demons, but Cormac clenched his fist, and watched the demon stagger in the sudden clutch. "I’ve got it! Move, Artie!"
The demon flickered out and reappeared in quintuplicate. Bethany groaned and brought down a cloud over the round room.
"Clear the deck!" Anders shouted, bringing a tempest to bear — and that was strange. Something twinged in the back of his mind as the lightning left his fingers. What had he done? What had he lost, this time?
This demon was tougher than its brethren, dividing their attention, illusions flickering in and out around the room. By the time Isabela stabbed the last apparition in the eye, they were all considerably more bruised and singed than when the battle had started.
"Please tell me that was the last one," Carver groaned.
"I’d be happy to tell you that," Anton said with a painfully bright smile. "I have no idea if it would be true or not, but I could tell you that."
Anders smoothed some healing into Varric’s shoulder, ignoring the dwarf’s muttering about repairing his favourite coat. He caught himself on Varric’s chest as an earthquake interrupted his concentration.
Everyone turned to look at Artemis, who held up his hands defensively. "Don’t look at me!" he said, offended. "My clothes are on and my hands and Fenris’s hands are where everybody can see them!"
Larius came shuffling towards them out of the shadows as if on cue. "He feels the seals weaken. He knows you are close. You must be ready…" He tottered toward them, eyes wide. "What — who’s that? No, no! They’re here! The Wardens. They listen to Corypheus. They want to bring him the light. Stop them. You must stop them."
Larius fled, as voices came around a wall. "Something’s happening. The prison’s breaking down. But, it’s stood up to tunnelling, before. What could—" A woman in Warden armour appeared with three other wardens following. "You! You have the key! And you’ve come through the seals! But how?"
Anders took one look at the cut of her armour and hissed, "Mage." Which wasn’t to say he wasn’t both a Warden and a mage, himself, but it was the kind of subtle point it was best to be aware of, up front, if one was about to get into an angry tango with someone.
"The Carta said they were close. You must be the ones. I am Janeka. I lead this unit of Grey Wardens."
"And… why are the Wardens so interested in our father?" Bethany asked, back straightening.
"Then you don’t know?" said Janeka, eyebrows arching as she looked from one Hawke to another. "Without Malcolm, this prison would have fallen thirty years ago."
"Let me guess," Artemis said, "it had something to do with this fancy thing?" He shook the glowy staff in the air.
Janeka’s expression was hard as she approached. Artie kept his grip tight on the staff. "The Grey Wardens built this prison to contain one of the most powerful darkspawn we’ve ever encountered," she said, hands cutting the air. "But even the best magic fades. The Wardens need to reinforce the seals."
"And, what, the Wardens didn’t have enough mages of their own?" Anders asked with an unfriendly smile.
Janeka shook her head. "This requires the blood of a mage untainted by… Warden training. The last to perform the ritual was your father."
"In other words," said Bethany, "you needed someone who couldn’t hear Corypheus."
"That’s why the Carta came after us," Anton groaned. "But, why me? I’m not a mage."
Janeka squinted at Anton for a moment. "Aren’t you a little white to be Malcolm’s get?"
"We take after our mother," Carver said, resting a hand on Anton’s shoulder. "Make your point. What do you need with us?"
"We need your help. I have done extensive research on this darkspawn, and I believe the original Wardens were wrong. He isn’t a threat to humanity, he’s our greatest opportunity — a darkspawn who can talk, feel, reason." Janeka sounded enchanted by this Corypheus.
"Sounds like what Solona finally decided about the Architect. But, he wasn’t in our heads, driving us to kill our friends." Anders spoke quietly, just loud enough to be heard by the Hawkes around him. "But, who knows what centuries of imprisonment will drive anyone to. Either way, whatever he was, he’s dangerous now. And if he was in my head, and she’s been here longer…"
Anton groaned, shaking his head. "Why do our family stories never involve embarrassing vacations in Antiva?" he asked. "It’s always demons this, magic that."
"To be fair, we’ve never been to Antiva," Artemis said. "I’m sure we would have found plenty of ways to embarrass ourselves there, if we had." Bethany and Carver gave him identical flat looks, and Artie cleared his throat. "All right. Cormac and I would have found plenty of ways to embarrass ourselves. And bring shame to the family."
Larius came shuffling back around the corner, shouting at Janeka, "Corypheus cares nothing for Blights. He used you!"
"But, I know how to harness Corypheus. To use his magic to end the Blights." Janeka went on. "Don’t listen to this madman, he’s half darkspawn himself."
"There’s no good to come of this," Anders warned. "The Architect is already working to end the Blights, and he hasn’t spent centuries imprisoned and slowly going mad. Let me assure you that is the only thing that comes of being shut up with oneself for extended periods. At this point, even if I didn’t fear for all of Thedas, killing him would probably be a mercy." Anders reflected that there was a time that kiling him would have been a mercy, too.
"Or maybe you’re just enough to drive anyone mad, including yourself," Fenris grumbled. He knew the mage was right, but he wasn’t going to let the invitation for that jab pass.
"It might be worth the risk," Varric said with a shrug. "If he can stop the Blights, we win. If he fucks us, we kill him. We were going to do it anyway. On the other hand, if what Blondie says is true, there are two of these guys and one of them is less crazy than the other."
"Well, we know what dad thought about all of this — obviously enough, given what he did. And however much a cock I may think our father, right this very minute, I’m thinking he wasn’t wrong about this." Cormac glanced among his siblings. "Also, I’m going to point at Anders again. We all saw that. If that’s what it’s doing still asleep and locked up, I don’t really want to see what it can do if we let it out. That is not a cry for help. That — I’ve only ever seen a demon do that." He eyed Fenris.
Fenris pretended not to see that look.
"Corypheus calls her, and she listens," Larius said, shaking his head. "She brought him the Carta, sent them for you."
"So she did that, huh?" Varric said, Bianca creaking as he tightened his grip on her. "Is this true? You poisoned the Carta and sent them off like pawns?" He tried not to think of Gerav, dead at his feet, that idiot.
"The Wardens will do what they have to do to prevent a Blight," said Janeka, not denying this. "I took no joy in it. And now, you must help us." Her tone wasn’t so much pleading as demanding.
"How could you trust a deal with this darkspawn?" Fenris growled. "It is like selling your soul to a demon."
"Do not think me foolish," Janeka scoffed. "I am making no deal. I have a spell which can control Corypheus, bind him to my will."
Anders barked out a laugh. "Really? That’s your plan? Try to control the ancient, powerful creature?"
"I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw in with Loony Larius on this one," Cormac said, shrugging at Janeka. "I’m really not seeing the advantage, and from what my Warden tells me, Amaranthine already has one of these, but less angry and batshit. And I’m really not liking the Tevinter name. Magisters give me a rash."
A tiny, choked sound of amusement could be heard from Fenris.
"We’ll find a way to do this with or without you, Hawke." Janeka addressed Cormac as she might have addressed his father, thirty-odd years earlier. "The prison will be broken. The Blights will end. Come!"
Janeka laid down a wall of fire and retreated back into the tower with her clique. Behind Cormac, Anders blinked and twitched, eyes never leaving the flames.
"With me! We will beat them to the seal," Larius called out, pointing to a different path. They followed him into the tower, up a different set of stairs — and straight into a field of magic.
"Well, shit," muttered Isabela, staring up at the field of energy blocking their way. "Gold and glowy this time."
"Is this better or worse than red and glowy, do you think?" Anton asked.
"Well, I like gold, so…" Izzy shrugged.
"This… this was part of the prison’s defences from centuries ago," Larius murmured, almost reverently. "Old wards… unstable, dangerous. The Wardens had them neutralised."
"And, what, Janeka’s lighting them back up again?" Anton sighed. "Oh joy. Gold and glowy is bad then."
"At least it should slow her down," Anders said, shrugging. "Granted, it’s slowing us down too, but."
"What do we do with them? How do we turn them off or … on… or… whatever gets us through and not her?" Cormac looked around the room, hoping for a switch.
"The first one is simple," Larius said, reaching under one of the lighting sconces. The golden glow over the doorway faded, and they moved quickly to the next room.
"Do not touch anything!" Larius cried out, as he recognised the room. "The old defences are active again. Very unpredictable, very dangerous."
As Cormac and Anton examined the pillars — set with way more sconces than were actually lit — a group of dwarves rushed in from another entrance. "There! Those are the ones Janeka wants dead!"
"Can I not go one day in the Marches without someone ordering my death?" Anton complained.
"Why would a bunch of dwarves do Janeka’s bidding?" Anders asked.
"Janeka shared knowledge of Corypheus with the Carta. When she releases the Master, we will be rewarded," one of the dwarves explained.
"Poor dears," Bethany cooed, fingers taking on a dangerous red glow. "Turn back and we will spare you."
"There is no turning back. We may die here, but we will take you with us."
The dwarves were, unsurprisingly, incorrect. They were coherent and self-controlled enough that Bethany hit them all on her first shot, and they fell to fighting each other, while she and her siblings continued to examine what appeared to be an enormous puzzle. And then one of the dwarves bumped into a sconce, and part of the attached pillar rotated.
"No, don’t!" Larius shouted, diving for the ground, as the pillar segment spun. He sighed as the grinding stopped and the pillar settled into a new position. "Trapped. Carta fools. Always where they don’t belong. This shouldn’t have happened."
"‘Shouldn’t have happened’," Carver muttered. "I feel like that sums up most of my life at this point."
"Like how you shouldn’t have happened?" Anton said. "Bethany was the planned twin."
Carver looked horribly offended but had no argument for that, not when he had three older brothers and only the one twin sister.
"I’m sure there’s a way out, Loony," Varric said, his smile more shaky than reassuring as he helped Larius to his feet. "Even with Junior, there’s enough brains between the bunch of us to figure it out."
Carver threw out his hands. "Hey!"
"Don’t take it personally, Carver," Artemis said, patting Carver’s shoulder as he looked about them distractedly. "Teasing you is good for morale." Torches. Spinning torches at regular intervals. It put him in mind of Chateau Haine, of the room with the pressure plates in front of the vault. There was a pattern, here. There had to be a pattern.
Artie walked over to the closest column, walked completely around it once, and then pushed the torches on their track clockwise. Metal squealed as it moved, but then one torch lit with an orange glow, connected to another pillar with a thin stream of magical fire.
"Well, that looks patently dangerous, exactly as promised. Streams of fire! Because, yes, my day needed more fire and burning." Anders shivered and sat down by one of the walls, checking to be sure his head was below the sconces. He just needed to keep breathing, and maybe he wouldn’t set anything even less necessary aflame. On the other hand, the steady wall of panic seemed to be holding off Corypheus pretty well. He couldn’t hear anything in his head past the rushing in his ears. Trapped underground, in an ancient tower, with an intelligent darkspawn that wanted to possess him. That was edging up into the realms of his worst nightmares, and he’d had some wicked nasty ones.
"Hey, Artie? Be careful. I’ve lost enough beard today." Cormac stroked what was left of his beard and studied the engravings on the pillars.
Anton steered Isabela over to where Anders sat. "Let’s go sit with the healer, Izzy. Looks like he’s got the right idea. Head down, and out of the way. Let the mages handle the freaky mage shit."
Varric stood in the middle of all of it, looking around at the engravings high above him. That was the benefit to being a dwarf, he figured. Everything dangerous was over his head. Literally.
"What’s the worst that could happen," Artie asked as he poked at another pillar and another set of torches, "I lock us in here? Oh wait. Already happened." The fire stream shifted, one sconce going out while another one lit. "Hmm."
"You could summon another demon," Fenris suggested, shifting to avoid the next stream of fire. It didn’t feel hot, so maybe it was just an illusion, but he wasn’t about to test that.
"Please," Artie huffed. "Anton summoned two demons by peeing. I think I’m allowed to summon one accidentally while actually trying to help." Really, he’d rather not summon one at all, but there were certain themes to this expedition. "Fen, could you turn the sconces on that column? That one there? Just once."
Fenris looked at him like he would rather not, but Artie smiled sweetly and he sighed. Fenris stayed tensed as he obeyed, ready to spring away in case any part of him caught fire. Surprisingly, nothing did.
"Now, Varric. Turn that one next to you."
Varric exchanged a look with Fenris, who shrugged, and stood on his tiptoes, trying to reach. He hopped once, twice, before he found a lower torch and pushed that one instead.
"Sorry," Artemis laughed. "I just wanted to see you flail a bit."
"Careful, Nervy. Bianca can still shoot you from here."
On they went, Artemis running calculations in his head as he gave instructions, moving one line of torches, then another, until metal ground to a halt with a loud click. The stream of fire turned into a white stream of smoke, and when Artie looked over, the door was open.
"And this is why, gorgeous as I am, you should have been the heir." Cormac slapped Artemis on the back. "My brother with the brains, over here."
"The Hawke was fascinated by the construction. Always stopping to study the carvings. A learned man," Larius remarked, as they left the room.
"Just like dad." Cormac ruffled Artie’s hair, as they walked.
"Dad wasn’t fucking neurotic," Carver pointed out.
"Yeah, but he also wasn’t as good looking, either, may I remind you," Cormac shot back, turning around to point out his own face to Carver. "I got the looks, Artie got the brains. And the force magic. I don’t know what that left for the rest of you, other than the magic ass, and Carver? You didn’t even get that. You’re after mum’s side."
"At least I got the ass," Anton teased, elbowing Carver.