Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 72
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: Difficulties with dwarves and maybe with demons. Blood magic? Lyrium? How old is this place?
"Varric?" Cormac asked, heading back into the parlour with a punchbowl of cream tea. "Would you like to tell me why I’ve been beating crazed dwarves back from the door, all week? Anton said something about the Carta and that you were looking into it?"
"They didn’t seem to mean to kill your brother, for what it’s worth," Anders noted, setting down a plate of sandwiches, before he dropped into a chair and pulled Cormac into his lap. "Isabela was right about that. It wasn’t a poison, just a knockout drug. Even if he’d had the whole pint of ale, he’d only have been out ten or twelve hours. Long enough to get him out of town, that’s for sure."
Cormac shifted uncomfortably, eyes shooting toward the door. Isabela patted his knee. "Don’t worry, Mage-shoulders. Fenris and Aveline won’t let anything happen to Artie. They’ll be here soon."
"And I’m here, now," Anton said, leaping over the back of the couch to land next to Varric. He helped himself to a cup of tea and a sandwich. "Bethy said she’d be down as soon as she finished this paragraph. You know how she gets when she’s writing."
"Well, there’s two of you here, at least, and all I can tell you is my Carta contacts know nothing about this, specifically. There’s nobody interested in you guys. There is, however, a ranking individual and his men who’ve gone missing, in recent months. It was assumed he’d packed up and moved on to stake out a Carta claim in another city, but if there’s something that looks like Carta and nobody knows about it, it’s probably that guy."
Carver came in from the garden and grabbed a sandwich. "What guy?"
"The guy who’s trying to kidnap your brothers," Isabela answered. "You should probably sit down. Have they come for you, too? Dwarves in poor taste?"
"That’s going to end up on my monument, you know. ‘Murdered by tasteless dwarves’." Cormac leaned forward and got himself a cup of tea, which Anders relieved him of, before it reached his mouth. "Damn it, Anders!"
"Not all dwarves have Varric’s taste," said Artemis as he swept into the room, smile a bit manic, "or his fashion sense." Aveline and Fenris followed at his heels, the elf looking like he was ready to murder something — or had recently murdered something.
"He’s got a point," Varric said, fingers running over his clean-shaven jaw.
"Does this have to do with the dwarf I found in my kitchen?" Artie said, bouncing his staff against the floor in agitation. "Because I found a dwarf in my kitchen."
"Artemis beat him half to death with a broomstick," Fenris told Cormac.
"I was cleaning and I didn’t have my staff! I panicked!"
"Is he still alive?" Varric asked. "I mean, if you only beat him half to death, I got a couple questions I want to ask this jerkoff. Some parts of what I got just don’t quite make sense."
"Rings," Cormac said, before clarifying. "I’m getting you some runed rings, Artie. Even if you don’t have your staff, you’ll have enough to focus. Mostly. Not so sure it’ll do any good for your aim, but hey, Force. You don’t need aim, you just need a direction."
"Orana might be upset about what else he’d hit. Perhaps we should just solve the dwarf problem," Anders pointed out.
"Still. Point stands. Not that he can’t do an awful lot of damage without the help, right Carver?" Cormac grinned at his youngest brother.
Carver stopped, mouth full of sandwich, and glared at Cormac. "Shut up," he muttered, trying not to spit crumbs, "or I will punch you right in your stupid face."
"Boys, boys!" Isabela waved her hands calmingly, as Bethany joined them. "Less punching, more pounding."
"Are you inciting my brothers to unspeakable things?" Bethany asked, getting a cup of tea and taking the seat beside Carver.
"I highly doubt they need to be incited to do unspeakable things," Aveline said, leaning back against the doorway. Artemis glanced at Cormac, then away, turning to straighten a painting’s frame to avoid eye-contact with anyone.
Fenris noted the exchange and cleared his throat, right ear twitching. "Why are there dwarves after the Hawkes?" he said. "Cormac, what did you do?"
"For once, I don’t think this is Cormac’s fault," Anders, taking another sip of Cormac’s tea. "Surprising, I know."
"I think the more important question," Aveline said, "is what are we going to do about this? I don’t think Artemis’s cleaning equipment would survive another attack."
"Neither would my drinking habit," Anton muttered.
"I’d like to say this has nothing to do with me. I haven’t pissed off the Carta in recent memory, and from what Varric’s saying, these guys aren’t actually Carta?" Cormac shrugged in Varric’s direction.
"They’re technically still Carta, but they’re not part of Kirkwall’s clique any more. I’m sure there’s someone still expecting to hear from them, but that someone’s probably in Orzammar. Everything goes back to Orzammar, in the end. Except us. Still, I don’t know where these roaches are coming from, or where they’re going. They vanish off the Carta’s rolls, and then nothing. Maybe up in the mountains, somewhere, but that’s a lot of space. We might need to release one into the wild and follow his ass." Varric grabbed a sandwich. "Hence the question. Is yours still alive, or do we have to wait for another attempt?"
"Didn’t Anton tell me they were drugged, and not poisoned?" Bethany asked. "Maybe we should volunteer to go along, willingly. Just us. And the rest of you follow, just in case."
"Go along with the people trying to kidnap us?" Carver scoffed. "Really? Great plan."
"No, she has a point," Anton said, twirling a biscuit around his fingers. "Whoever they are, they seemed driven, the type that isn’t going to give up after losing a few people. Best to walk into their trap armed to the teeth than to fall into it with our pants down."
Fenris looked at his mage and fought not to bristle. "I do not like this plan," he growled.
"Regardless," Artemis said, "he’s alive. Barely. Currently tied up and locked in the basement. I’d really rather not be chaining up dwarves in my basement."
"I prefer not to chain anyone in the basement. Unless they’re into that." Cormac grinned and tried very hard not to think of his own cellar. "I’m with Bethany, I think. If Varric can’t get this guy to talk, we should probably go with him. At least a few of us. If you don’t like it, Carver, you can just follow us up. Or stay home with a sandwich and your sword. Nothing to me, either way."
"Can we leave my sword out of this?" Carver sounded dreadfully aggrieved.
"I don’t think you’ll be of much use, without it," Fenris pointed out.
"That’s not what I meant! That’s not what he meant!" Carver jabbed a finger at Cormac.
"I dunno, Bark-boy, I think that might just be you," Isabela teased. "A little too much swording on the brain."
"Can we please not talk about Carver’s swording?" Artemis groaned. "Today has been stressful enough without that added trauma."
"Trauma?" Isabela teased. "But Merrill says he’s a master at swording!"
"Yes, that visual image. Trauma."
Anton nodded in agreement, and Carver threw them both rude gestures.
"All right then," said Anton, "let’s introduce the dwarf in your basement to the beardless wonder over here and see what we can find out."
"This place shouldn’t be here," Varric muttered, looking around, as they followed the Hawkes and the suspicious dwarf up the mountain, to some strange ruins. "There’s just a big blank spot on the map, here. This place is invisible."
"Or everyone who ever got this close got killed," Anders muttered, chills creeping down his spine. Justice felt stronger, the closer they got to the ruins. "Some of this looks like recent construction, but under it, that’s been here a long while."
"I don’t like it. Bianca doesn’t like it. I’ve never seen her this suspicious, and she’s twitchy to begin with." Varric kept his eye out for an ambush.
"Oh, I’m sure this is all some terrible misunderstanding," Isabela joked. "Later we’ll all have tea, and we’ll laugh."
"Oh, your name is Hawke!" Varric pressed a hand to his chest and faked surprise. "I thought it was Locke!"
"Yes, we were looking for some other combination of general and ringmaster," Anders drawled.
Up ahead, things got interesting. A voice called out from the gate. "You! You’re all here! The Hawkes — you’ve come!" A black-bearded dwarf greeted them with an amazed smile, as if they were heroes or bards of legend.
"I guess we’re in the right place," Anton said, clapping Carver on the back.
"Everyone!" the dwarf at the gate called out, shaking hands with the dwarf who’d led them. "It’s the children of Malcolm Hawke! They’ve come to us!"
"Malcolm…?" Artemis echoed, eyes narrowing. "What does our father have to do with this?"
There was something… off, in the dwarf’s smile, in the way the light shone off his eyes. Something in the dwarf’s filmy stare made Anders shiver.
"It began with him and ends with you!" the dwarf declaimed. "Blood for blood! That’s what we were told!"
"Wait, did Dad piss off the Carta?" Anton asked, eyebrows shooting up towards his hairline. "I’m impressed."
The dwarf continued his fevered ranting. "You’ve come to us now, and that’s the only thing that matters!" he said as though they were long-lost relatives of his.
"Well, your invitation was so cordial," Artie drawled. "Next time? Send flowers."
"We must have the blood! You don’t understand!" The dwarf raved.
"Blood?" Cormac asked, grinning a little too broadly as he cocked his hip forward. "Well, well. I hardly even know you!"
"Andraste’s bleeding cooch, Cormac, shut up!" Carver demanded.
"We will take it! Corypheus will walk in the sun once more!" The dwarf gestured, and his reinforcements appeared, including the dwarf who’d led them up the mountain.
"Right. So much for conversation, then." Anton drew his blades and stepped into the shadow of the gate.
Bethany smiled and spread her hands. "Sacrifice? How sad. We’re much more enjoyable, alive."
The dwarves before them turned on each other, intermittently clawing at themselves, as the rest of their companions caught up. Through the gate, more Carta dwarves realised there was a problem, and moved to secure their prize.
Artemis focused his attacks on the dwarves farther away, where his force magic wouldn’t accidentally knock his friends and siblings into stone.
"It’s a bit like dwarf tossing!" Artie said with a giddy laugh. One spell hit at just the right — or wrong — angle and knocked a pair of dwarves back into the spiked gateway. Artemis winced at the spray of blood, even at this distance. "Or not."
"Don’t ever mention dwarf tossing again," Varric said even as he aimed and fired. "Or this next bolt will end up in your ass."
"Do not injure my mage’s ass," Fenris growled, one glowing hand caught in someone’s intestines. "I am not done with it."
Carver finished off the dwarves Bethany still had writhing on the ground. "And you complained about my swording," he muttered.
They pushed forward into the heart of the hastily-constructed fort, picking off the remaining dwarves as they passed.
"Something written on that…" Anders muttered, spotting a much older stone pillar. He crossed to it and placed his palm on it, turning around it in a circle. "And there, and there. This place was important."
"That’s dwarven. Get your hand off it, so I can see," Varric muttered, stepping up for a closer look. He whistled. "One watcher, each generation, will be chosen from the Warrior Caste. He will stand guard until his death. No fucking around here… Something about the vigilance of the dwarves keeping the foulness of… I can’t tell if this is a name, or a word I just don’t know. ‘Malvernis’? Keeping the foulness of Malvernis at bay. Blah blah, surfacer sacrifice, sunlight is horrible, signed Paragon Ilona."
Varric paused. "Ilona? I don’t know an Ilona. Well, these dwarves weren’t from Orzammar, at least, which means we’re standing on something that might be older than the Blight. We started losing cities to the darkspawn, between the First and Second Blight. Where the shit are we?"
"I don’t know, and the idea there might be some ancient demon trapped here does not make me any happier about this place," Anders complained. "Demons, and there are dwarves after your blood? If I didn’t know it was impossible for a dwarf to use magic, I’d have some extremely unpleasant suspicions. But, then, once you add something that old into the mix… I’m not sure I want to know what’s possible."
Anton wiped a hand over his face, accidentally smearing a bit of blood along his cheek. "So this place has a history of crazy dwarves," he said. "Good to know."
"A history of something," Bethany murmured, examining the stone from all angles. "How interesting."
"Interesting," Artemis sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Yes, that’s one word for it." He was liking this less and less. "In fact, ‘interesting’ just about sums up our family outings, doesn’t it?"
"That’s why I love your family outings," Isabela said, throwing an arm around Bethany’s shoulders. "I am never bored!"
They continued along the mountain path, under crumbling archways and scaffolding, until Varric motioned for them to stop. "Sweet Ancestors, look at that," he said, followed by a low whistle.
Fenris squinted in the direction the dwarf pointed. "Who would build a fortress out here?" he asked.
"Other than these Carta weirdoes?" Cormac asked. "Probably crazed surface dwarves, trying to contain demons. This is just how I wanted to spend my family holiday! Walking into ancient dwarven demon-traps!"
Varric nudged Fenris away from another pillar, squinting at it. "I’m not sure that thing’s a demon. I don’t know what it is. ‘The Pestilent One’ that ‘devoured thaigs’, turning them into ‘noxious waste’. Turned warriors into pools of slime. Consumed the bones of the ancestors… This thing is not fucking around. Whatever we’re here for, I just hope it’s not this thing. It’s ‘chained in lyrium, stained with the blood of a hundred warriors’, and I really hope that’s an exaggeration, because that’s… there’s a way of writing that, in the old stories, that means those warriors are dead. That’s not just a cut your finger and wipe it, here. That’s a hundred dwarven warriors sacrificed to contain this thing. Lyrium and blood…"
"That’s blood magic." Anders looked completely horrified. "Dwarven blood magic."
"Dwarf mages doing blood magic. Is this day going to keep getting better?" Fenris’s ears twitched in annoyance.
"I’m still not sure they’re mages," Varric said. "All the mentions of rank or status have been warriors. Lyrium crafting is an old tradition, and one that requires a lack of magic to work. Still, I’m not liking it. I’m not liking it at all."
"Does anyone remember the last time we got near ancient dwarfy things?" Isabela asked. "Because I sure do! At least this time we’re not going to get stuck underground."
"Oh, don’t say that aloud," Artie groaned. "You’ve just jinxed it. I know you’ve just jinxed it."
"Maker, I hope not," Anders said with a shrill laugh.
"Relax, Blondie, Nervy," Varric coaxed. "No one is getting trapped anywhere today. That’s what we did for my last family outing. I’m sure we’ll be back by lunch time!"
"You just jinxed that, too," Artemis muttered sullenly. Fenris patted his arm.
The construction looked newer as they travelled on, the stonework repaired and reinforced, adorned with more spikes than Fenris’s armour. A hooded figure ran past, and they gave chase.
"Wait," Anton called as they turned a corner.
"I see it, Stabby," Varric said, holding a hand out to force the others to stop. He knelt down in front of the pressure plate and let out another whistle. "Speaking of stabby," he said, noting the twisted spikes ready to spring up. "That would have been painful.
As Varric cleared the trap from their path, the runner got where he was going, summoning more creepy Carta dwarves from the repaired buildings, this time with huge beasts. Bethany got the first shot, again, and this time, fewer of them fell to her influence.
"Artie? I’ve got trouble. They’re resistant." Bethany had finally stopped smiling.
"It’s in their heads, isn’t it," Cormac sighed, slamming a wall of ice through a group of dwarves. "That’s fucking great. What the fuck is this thing?"
"Rogues," Varric muttered, firing again and again. "I don’t think there’s a warrior down there. Where are the warriors?"
"The cities fell, Varric. Where would still be sending warriors?" Anders laid a tempest down in the courtyard, and a few nearby plants spontaneously burst into flame. "This thing’s been without a guard for almost as long as it’s been here."
Still, they chewed through the dwarves fairly quickly. Where nightmares and confusion failed, force still worked just fine. Carver headed into the fortress, sword still drawn. "Don’t let them get behind us. Come on. We need to make sure we got all of them, or we’re going to get stuck somewhere nasty."