[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 115
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Merrill ♀, Bethany Hawke ♀, Cormac Hawke ♂, Artemis Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Fenris ♂
Rating: M (L2 N0 S0 V3 D0)
Warnings: A trail of corpses, a near-death experience, a death experience (minor character)
Notes: A varterral, a great deal of grieving, a disagreement turned angry.
Inside, the cavern was surprisingly well-lit, lanterns lining the walls in regular intervals, like the cave had been seeing regular use. The lanterns, themselves, looked old, but not as old as the ruins above. Definitely after the Dales, maybe not even a century. But, they were lit, which suggested someone had been through quite recently, despite the keeper’s warnings.
"Funny how the stone here is white, but down at the coast, it’s black. I wonder where it changes," Cormac murmured, looking at the way the light reflected off the walls, making the caverns seem brighter.
From ahead of them, Anders cursed, swatting at something around his head. Webbing. "Shit! Actual spiders!" he yelped, swinging his staff around as they descended from above. Actually very large actual spiders, in fact, but still smaller than an aravel.
Artemis made a face, swatting at a bit of webbing that caught on his arm. At least these spiders were the squishy kind, a fact he demonstrated by launching one into the wall. It splattered, most of the spider-gunk hitting Anders. "Oh ew. Sorry!"
Anders threw him a resigned look before icing the next spider. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get spider guts out of feathers? Let me freeze them first. Then smash them."
"Oh! Good plan." Anders caught two more spiders in a blast of cold, and Artie smacked all three of them into the wall. It rained frozen spider-bits instead. "For the record, let it be known that I prefer to fight creatures with four legs or fewer," Artemis muttered. "Wyverns. Wyverns are less disgusting than this."
By the end of the battle, the room was a mess of spider webs, vines, and various frozen and not-frozen spider-bits. Fenris had spider-gunk in his hair and a pissy look on his face.
Easing past the rest of them, Merrill made straight for the corpse that lay a little further into the room. "Falon’Din guide you, lethallan," she murmured, kneeling beside the body to remove an amulet from it. "If you see the others, let me know. Keeper Marethari didn’t ask, but it would be wrong to leave them untended."
Cormac and Anders nodded, Anders stepping up to rest a hand on her shoulder. "Whatever you need, Merrill. That’s what we’re here for."
"I’m still not sure what the hunters were doing in here," Cormac muttered, looking around. "Unless you’ve got more uses for spider-guts than I’m aware of…"
"No, we… Fenris was right about the artefacts. The keeper would have sent them in to check, before we had to leave again. Any time we find ruins, we check. Anything we can recover…" Merrill sighed, twisting her staff in her hands.
"But, varterrals are supposed to allow elves to pass…" Cormac went on, looking up the walls to check for more spiders, as they made their way through the room.
"They usually do!" Merrill protested. "I don’t know what would make one do this!"
"Maybe you’re the wrong kind of elf," Fenris suggested. "Not… you, but your clan. I know there were Tevinter magics that could recognise more subtle features than race. Members of a family, priests of the Old Gods… Maybe this is more complicated than it seems."
"Alternately, the thing’s a couple thousand years old, and it might finally be starting to break down. If it’s effectively gone mad, it may not be able to distinguish between elves and everyone else, any more," Cormac speculated, holding his hand out to Anders. "Come away. We need to burn the body before the demons take it."
Anders looked ill. "I don’t … I don’t know elven custom," he said, squeezing his hands as if to work the feeling back into them. "I’ll ward it. Him. Them, I suppose. Wards, and then the clan can do what needs to be done."
Cormac saw it happen and just kept holding out his hand. "Of course, it’s for the keeper to attend to. I wouldn’t want to step on any toes. You’re right."
"Liar," Anders whispered, as he stepped in closer and Cormac’s arm wrapped around him.
They paused long enough for Anders to ward the body, the rest of them keeping respectfully silent. After, Merrill laid a hand on Anders’s shoulder and offered him a watery smile.
"Thank you," she murmured. Anders nodded.
There were fewer lanterns deeper in, the tunnels narrowing, and when they came to a set of rickety stairs, Fenris tested it first, bare feet gauging the sturdiness of each step. The ageing wood held their weight but gave Fenris’s feet a few splinters.
At the bottom of the stairs, he swore and hopped on one foot while Merrill bent over a second body.
"Oh, Harshal," Merrill sighed, rubbing at her eye with the heel of her hand. "Why did this happen?" She unclasped his amulet and slipped it into the pouch with Radha’s. "I’m so sorry. I’ll tell Irena for you."
Anders stepped away from Cormac, to put his arm around Merrill’s shoulders. "No one could have expected this," he said, quietly. "Come on, we’ll do what needs to be done. Won’t bring back your friend, but it’ll keep it from happening again."
"Thank you, Anders," Merrill said, because it seemed to be the thing to say, and she let herself be led away from the corpse.
"I’m really starting to hate spiders," Cormac shouted, from somewhere ahead of them, as another colony descended from the ceiling. This time, he froze as many as he could reach, as quickly as possible. There was no sense in wearing any more spider than strictly necessary. It was over soon enough. Frozen spiders did not withstand the beating dealt out, and shortly, the floor was decorated with melting chunks of spider.
More rickety stairs led them deeper into the cave, and Anders glanced around, nervously.
"There’s nothing dwarven for miles," Cormac reassured him. "It’s just a cave. A cave full of angry spiders and an elven construct, sure, but it’s not the Deep Roads."
"As long as there’s an exit," Anders said, eyes too wide for his laugh to be genuine. "No one has slammed a door shut behind us, have they? No crazy dwarves locking us in?"
"No crazy dwarves," Bethany assured him. "We left Varric back in Kirkwall."
Artemis was about to suggest Anders and Fenris start singing again when Merrill wailed the name, "Chandan!" and fell to her knees at another corpse. This time, her fingers shook as she took his amulet, and Artie wondered if she’d been closer to him. "Tread carefully, lethallin," she said, voice choked. "May the Trickster never find you in the beyond."
This time it was Bethany who wrapped an arm around Merrill’s shoulders. Anders hoped this was the last body he’d have to ward.
Fenris’s ears twitched, hand reaching for his sword as he squinted deeper into the cave. "Footsteps," he said. He called out, "Is someone there? Show yourself!"
A blond elf stepped out of a doorway, ahead of them, looking relieved to find they weren’t giant spiders. "Praise Andraste— I mean, the Creators. I thought I’d never get out of—" His eyes darted to the side and settled on Merrill. "Merrill?" he sounded amazed.
"Aneth ara, Pol. Are you hurt?" Merrill seemed pleased to have found someone still living.
"Stay back!" Pol warned, backing away from her. "What do you want from me?"
"Pol, what’s wrong? I’m here to help!" Merrill looked confused, holding out her hands, palms up.
"Stay back!" Pol snarled, making for the door again. "Don’t touch me!"
"Don’t touch you? Merrill couldn’t hurt you if she tried! At worst, she’d make frowny faces." Cormac squinted at Pol, utterly baffled at this turn of events.
"Don’t be a fool," Bethany sighed. "There’s a varterral in here, somewhere, and it’s not behind us, which means it’s behind you. If you’re going to run screaming from the little scholar, go the other way. At least out is that way."
"She’ll do worse than hurt me," Pol insisted, talking over Bethany. "Don’t you know what she is?"
"Yes, I do, and I still think your chances are better with us than with the varterral," Fenris offered. He knew how to kill a blood mage. He wasn’t sure he knew how to kill a giant spider construct.
"Creators help me! Someone, please!" Pol shrieked, bolting back through the door he’d arrived from.
"Idiot," Bethany sighed.
"Pol, no!" Merrill called, eyes round. To the Hawkes, she said, "We have to catch him. Hurry!" She darted off after the shrieking elf without waiting for them to follow.
"The fool deserves what happens," Fenris said. But he still winced when the shrieking came to an abrupt stop.
The tunnel opened in front of them. They felt it before they saw it, the ground trembling under their feet, and then a massive… something slammed into the ground in front of them, a massive something that turned out to be a leg. More specifically, one of five legs and seven limbs, all belonging to a varterral.
Anders looked up, up at the construct and said, "I think I’d much rather fight those spiders."
"Don’t say stuff like that," Artemis hissed. "We’ll just end up fighting spiders and a varterral." Artie drew his staff and threw a wall of force at the creature. It barely moved. "Well fuck."
"Andraste’s highly-polished ass," Cormac grumbled, laying a crushing prison on the thing’s head. It was much too big for that, really, but maybe if he crushed the head, it would stop moving — or at least stop being able to tell where it was going. He’d meant to try to negotiate with the thing — they were servants of the same god — but opening with force never really led to negotiations, in his experience.
Anders promptly failed to stick the varterral to the ground, but Merrill’s vines did the job just as quickly.
Fenris just stared up at the thing for a long moment, eyes wide and terrified. This wasn’t how the world was supposed to work; he was sure of it. Bigger than an aravel, Cormac had said, and it was. But, there had been no mention of how much bigger. The thing was the size of a high dragon. Dragons were bigger than aravels. He’d fought dragons before. But, this…?
"Mages," he groused, drawing his sword and lighting himself up. He leapt at the thing, hacking at one leg, as he tried to maintain his footing on its foot.
The varterral let out a screech that made Fenris cringe, his ears flattening against his head, and tugged at the vines snaring its legs. The mages pummel