[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 117
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anton Hawke ♂, Aveline ♀, Varric ♂, Anders ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Unhealthily strong nationalist sentiments, bandits, stabbing bandits
Notes: Some troubles with the Bone Pit. Cormac is not thrilled with any of this.
The letters from Hubert had been piling up on Cormac’s desk, over the course of the week. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. It wasn’t that he wasn’t going to do something useful. He just needed to talk to some people, first. Namely, his brother. But, Anton assured him that no one he knew would be stupid enough to hit the supply caravans for the Bone Pit. Everyone knew that was a Hawke venture, and hitting that would irritate Stabby Hawke, Varric (and by extension, parts of the Merchant’s Guild), and the Pirate Queen — and that sort of irritation tended to end in death.
But, now, there was a letter about a lead. Apparently Hubert had uncovered someone who’d been part of the scheme, and thought Cormac might want to come down and talk to the guy. Which he would, but he was bringing Anton, just in case. He slipped a note under Anton’s door, and assumed they’d catch up, before supper.
"You got my letters!" Hubert exclaimed, as Cormac approached, Anton following just behind him.
"You’ve been gone a while. I thought you had everything under control…" Cormac looked expectantly at him.
"I told you I would take care of it, and I did!" Hubert’s chin tipped up. "Now, after a year of raids on our shipments, I have caught one of the culprits! One of our miners, Sabin, has been leaking information. Do you know him? He claims to be from your hometown, in Ferelden. I would like you to get this festering sore to divulge who is behind the thefts. When you are ready, I will bring him to you."
"Sabin? From Lothering?" Cormac looked at Anton, confusion on his face, even as his fingers picked at the edge of his sleeve. There had been no survivors. He’d been so sure no one else had made it. Was it possible? But… he didn’t know the name.
"Don’t look at me." Anton shrugged, a similar look on his face. They understood each other, what this would mean.
"I would not expect you to remember every pisspot from your past," Hubert said, waving dismissively. "But, he brags to his fellows that he grew up with you, in Lothering."
"Then he’d have far fewer pleasant things to say about any of us," Cormac laughed. "Bring him to— Anton, where do we want this guy?"
"Bring him to the docks. Warehouse nineteen." Anton shrugged again. "I have to pick up some cargo, later, anyway."
"Excellent idea," Hubert said with a conspiratorial grin. "I will get him now."
A few hours later, they met Hubert at the appointed warehouse. The lighting was dim, sunlight dampened by filmy windows, but amidst the crates of product, Anton could make out the figure of a man tied to a chair.
"Here is the dung pile I caught leaking next week’s shipment schedule," Hubert sneered, flicking his hand at their prisoner. The man, Sabin, lifted his head at they approached, eyes wide and skin ashen. "He won’t tell me who he’s working with!"
Before they could address Sabin, Hubert grabbed the man’s blond hair by the roots and wrenched his head back. "Who else has been screwing me over?" Hubert roared, flushed with pique. The back of his hand cracked against Sabin’s cheek, knocking his head to the side. "Tell me, you rutting mongrel!"
"You know," Anton sighed, "he can’t talk with a mouthful of broken teeth."
"Please, messere, don’t hurt me!" Sabin cowered, looking up at the brothers. Well, looking at Cormac, really. And there was a sign. "I knew you since you was young, in Lothering. Your mum’s family and your pop — Maker grant him rest."
"You know me so well, who’s the man standing next to me?" Cormac asked, a hint of a smile at his lips.
"That’s Hubert! He owns the other half the mine! I know Hubert!" Sabin nodded so hard he looked like his head might fall off.
"No, no. The other side." Cormac grinned and cocked a thumb at Anton. He knew exactly how full of shit the man was, but he needed that out in the open, and by Sabin’s own admission. "Nice try though."
"I don’t know! It’s been years!" Sabin looked panicked.
"That’s my brother." Cormac pulled over a crate and sat down on it. "And mum’s family wasn’t from Lothering."
"Pathetic." Hubert spit in Sabin’s direction, but only succeeded in landing a gob on Cormac’s shoulder. "I leave this bastard in your capable hands. Get me when he is ready to talk."
Cormac flicked a dismissive hand after Hubert, and kept talking to Sabin. "So, here’s the thing. You’re in a very bad spot. You’re in an even worse spot, claiming to be close to us, because we’re not really that popular, in some quarters."
"I protest! The Qunari, the Viscount, and the Merchants’ Guild all love me!" Anton grinned and leaned on Cormac’s clean shoulder.
"So, my brother’s going to ask you some questions, and you’re going to tell us the truth. Sounds simple enough, right?" Cormac reached up and jerked the handkerchief out from between two of Anton’s buttons and wiped off his shoulder.
"Whatever you say, messere," Sabin answered, eyes wide and earnest. "So maybe we didn’t know each other, but… I am from Lothering, I swear!"
Anton exchanged a glance with Cormac, his expression carefully neutral. He suspected the man was lying, but everyone did in his line of work. Best to assume everyone was lying, really. Especially in Kirkwall. "What made you betray your employer?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest.
Sabin looked down at his hand, twisting it against the robes. "Before the Blight," he said, "my family had a good life in Lothering: clean home, fertile lands, friends…" He sucked in a breath and turned damp eyes up at Anton. "In Kirkwall we lived in a hovel. People spit on us. And some days we went hungry."
And Anton could sympathise with that. He could. Sharing Gamlen’s… living quarters with the rest of his family hadn’t been his favourite time. Maker knew he didn’t miss sleeping on the floor, and it wasn’t like he could take the moral high ground, with the way he’d earned much of his coin.
Anton rubbed his forehead. "Right. Well. Sabin, I don’t want to deal with this any more than you do, so help us help you. The sooner you talk to me, the sooner we can all leave. Preferably without any bruising, but that’s between you and Hubert."
"Soon as I tell Hubert what he needs to know, he’ll kill me or throw me in prison!" Sabin protested, wringing his hands. "My life’s not worth much, but my family… I only wanted to give my wife and son a better life."
Cormac looked up at Anton, who raised his eyebrows and tipped his hand out. Hubert did seem to be a little more violent than sensible, and maybe Sabin would be worth more alive and owing favours.
"I’ll deal with Hubert. Just give us something to go on," Cormac offered. If it went wrong, he’d blame Anton. Brothers…
"Oh, thank you messere! I’ll talk!" Sabin looked thrilled by even this tiny change.
Anton nodded and went to fetch Hubert. He was standing just outside the door, talking to a woman with a grim smile and worn leather armour. Hubert’s poofy sleeves billowed as he gestured.
"Messere Hawke," said Hubert, "this is Lilley of the Coterie. Given the importance of stopping the cargo robberies, I have enlisted a…" He shrugged."…consultant."
"Consultant?" Lilley scoffed. "Sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night."
Anton’s face was still carefully, pleasantly neutral. Coterie. That was the last thing he needed right now. Why had Hubert dragged them into this mess?
"Well, dog? Are you ready to bark now?" Hubert demanded of Sabin.
"I’m going to strongly advise you to tone down the anti-Fereldan sentiment," Cormac said, quietly, picking his nails with the corner of Anton’s handkerchief.
"Why?" Hubert did not seem entirely thrilled with the idea. "Dog Lords are all the same. Lying, stealing filth."
Cormac stood up and turned to face Hubert, jabbing a finger into his chest. "That’s Lord Dog Lord, to you, you whinging piss-eared Orlesian."
"Of course I didn’t mean you! Why, you’re hardly Fereldan at all! You have a title in Kirkwall!" Hubert cowered in the shadow of Cormac’s shoulders.
"My brother sleeps with a mabari and a dagger in his bed. We’re as Fereldan as they come, and don’t you forget it." Cormac barked and clicked his teeth just shy of Hubert’s nose. "Now, where were we? Ah, yes, Sabin was going to tell us a story." He sat back down, attention on the extremely nervous man in the chair.
"There’s an ambush planned tonight, at Dietrich Crossing," Sabin sputtered.
"Tonight? That barely leaves you enough time to intercept them! You had best leave immediately!" Hubert sounded annoyed again.
"We’ll protect your precious shipment. Just make sure you have the Coterie’s payment," Lilley cut in. "Want me to deal with this runt? I’ll drop him in a ditch on the way out. Free of charge."
"Yes, take him with my blessing! I assume my partner will not object—" Hubert began, gesturing broadly, pleased to be free of all of this, at last.
"Your partner thinks this is why you keep losing money on this venture." Cormac stood up, again, and pressed two sovereigns into Hubert’s palm. "It’s more than the price of a dowry goat, and it should be more than the price of a crook. I will deal with Sabin."
"Er, yes. Yes, of course." Hubert backed away.
"Anton, go get Aveline and Varric. I’ll grab Anders and meet you at the market gates," Cormac said. "Just want to clear a couple thins up, here."
"Anton— Anton Hawke!?" Lilley drew her sword, but Anton was already elsewhere.
Cormac sighed and slapped a barrier on her. It wouldn’t do any damage, but it would keep her from moving, which was the important thing.
"No, no, no! The cargo!" Hubert cried.
"Take your Coterie consultant and get out, Hubert. We’ll handle it." Cormac’s hands glittered. "You lay off my brother or you die. Those are your choices," he told Lilley.
She sheathed her sword and eyed him suspiciously, but he lowered the barrier.
"Whatever it is you think you’re doing, go do it. We’ll be behind you." Cormac watched until both Hubert and Lilley had left. He assumed Anton had also left, during that unpleasant several seconds, and he took a seat before Sabin, again. "So, you’re from Lothering, are you? Did anyone else get out? I’ve been looking for a guy… Turlin? Turpin? The farm at the top of the hill. Turpin, I think the family was. His name I don’t remember. Barmy or Gormy or something…"
"Gantry? Gantry Turpin?" Sabin’s eyes widened a little. "He… he didn’t make it. They got him, and I just kept running. Maker, I don’t think any of the Turpins made it."
"Gantry! That was his name. Thank you. It’s been driving me mad." Cormac shook his head. "Pity the man didn’t make it. I liked him."
"Wait, you— You’re the mad Rivaini with the knife! No matter how many times he told that story, I never once believed a word of it! I used to tease him about how far in his cups he must have been to dream something up like that!" Sabin was back to abject horror, leaning away from where Cormac sat.
"He talked about that?" Cormac laughed. "Maker, even I didn’t talk about that. But, yeah, I’m the crazy Rivaini with the knife. And he was good with that knife." He held out his hand and stood up. "Come on, I’ll walk you out. You talked to Hamlen, with the Union, yet? He’ll make sure you get a fair shake. We have lunch, every couple of months and talk equipment and pay raises. Don’t take what Hubert’s offering. Take what Hamlen can get you."
Sabin avoided the hand, but nodded and followed Cormac toward the door.
Anton appeared behind Cormac’s other shoulder, after a few moments. "Knives!?" he hissed.
"A knife. Wasn’t one of yours." Cormac shrugged.
By the time they caught up to Lilley, the bandits were already ransacking the caravan. Anton saw the corpses in the road and swore, already reaching for his daggers.
"We’re too late for your men," Lilley informed Cormac, "but we’ll make the rotters pay."
"Anders," Anton said, "see if any of the poor sods are still alive. We’ll handle the bandits."
Anders nodded, already making for the first body while Aveline covered him, her shield up and sword drawn. She cracked the closest bandit across the face before he could finish reaching for his sword. "Hey!" she roared as Anton and Lilley slipped into the shadows. "This is my city, you blighted fucktarts!"
Back beside Cormac, Varric nocked his crossbow, snorting a laugh. "‘Fucktarts’?" He shook his head, glancing at Cormac. "She’s been spending too much time at the Hanged Man."
Cormac laughed and unleashed a terrible storm, lightning and snow pouring from the sky onto the bulk of the bandits. "Donnic getting her to come out more?" he asked, as if he hadn’t just brought down a blizzard on a dozen men.
"More like he’s driving her to drink, I think. I don’t see him so much, but I’m seeing a lot more of her. At least she’s usually smiling, which is a nice change." Varric started taking shots at anything that came out of the storm. "What’s with bringing in the Coterie?"
"Hubert’s an asshole. Said he’d handle it, paid a lot of money to some extremely unpleasant thugs, and got stiffed on the deal. We’ve still lost the whole crew, by the faces Anders is making, over there." Cormac shook his head and lashed out with a bolt of lightning.
"Shit, I know whole crews that would’ve done a better job for half the cost of even getting a meeting with the Coterie." Varric shook his head.
"Man’s got a thing about Fereldan parsnips. Keeps forgetting he went into business with one. Me, I think he should’ve paid my brother to see to the problem. We’d be up eight men and three weeks of damages, easy."
After a bit, the storm blew over, and the pile of bodies, beneath, was revealed. Anders shook his head and shrugged at Cormac. None of them had survived. Anton stepped out of nowhere, and Lilley punched him in the teeth, knocking him back.
"What did I say about my brother?" Cormac roared, indigo blazing around him, as he faded out.
"You usually say he had it coming," Varric pointed out.
"He’s got some Coterie problems," Cormac muttered, to Varric.
"He did have that one coming," Lilley said, eyeing Cormac and the indigo glow he’d turned into. "And now I feel better." She held her hands palm out in a gesture of surrender but didn’t look the least bit remorseful.
Anton staggered to his feet, tongue probing at his split lip. "Damn Coterie," he muttered, turning his head to spit blood. Anders’s hand glowed blue, and Anton’s lip healed over. "Thanks."
Anton glared at Lilley, but she was busy poking at the bandits, nudging one corpse with her foot. "Wait," she said, tugging off the corpse’s helmet, "I recognise that lout."
"Yeah?" Anton asked. "Are you going to punch him too?"
"I already did," Lilley replied. She shook her head, straightening. "He’s in the Coterie. One of that damned fool Brekker’s men."
"The Coterie is behind this?" Anton said, exchanging a look with Varric. "Well, that’s just a whole new level of stupidity even for you."
Lilley shook her head. "We got explicit orders not to," she scoffed, looking insulted. "Hubert’s been good on his payments."
And this? This was why Hubert should have let the Hawkes handle this from the beginning.
"If Brekker ordered this," Lilley went on, "the rest of his life will be very short and painful."
"Brainless Brekker from the south side?" Varric asked, stepping up to get a closer look at the corpse.
Lilley nodded. "He always had more balls than sense, but his lackeys are loyal, so if this guy’s here…" She spread her hands for the obvious conclusion.
"I think it’s time my brother and I introduce ourselves to Serah Senseless, then," Anton quipped, stepping back, to stay behind Lilley. "I think he needs a lesson in following the directions." Not that Anton had ever beeen any good at following the directions, but he didn’t tend to screw up quite this badly. Hitting the same caravan, every trip, for a year? That was just asking to be caught.
"I know who to lean on to get answers. Find me in the Undercity." Lilley nodded, before a smile darted across her face. "Of course, we might have to start calling you Hapless Hawke, depending on how you get there…"
"Whatever sacrifices you feel you need to make, I’ll be more than happy to accept," Anton warned, stepping past her, finally.
Later that night, they did, in fact, find Lilley. Or rather, they found her corpse.
"Oh look at that," Anton said drolly. "Such a shame, really. Struck down in her prime."
Aveline clucked her tongue and smacked him upside the head. Anton made a face at her and knelt next to Lilley’s corpse. Her body was still warm, still bleeding from the knife wound to her back.
"Shit," he muttered. "Looks like this just happened."
Varric reacted before the others, Bianca snapping up and pointing over Anton’s shoulder. Anton drew his knives as he stood and turned in one fluid motion, spotting the armoured figure standing behind him. Coterie, judging by that armour, the same as Lilley’s.
"Don’t let them get away!" she shouted, and more Coterie appeared, hemming them in.
"You more of Lilley’s ‘friends’?" Anton asked the woman he was suddenly staring in the face.
"Lilley was ours. She was working for you. Now she’s dead. You get one chance. Did you kill her?" The woman looked angry — justifiably so, if she was, in fact, a friend of Lilley’s, but Anton knew that meant he could keep her off balance, if it came to blades. An angry opponent was usually a dead opponent, except in the case of mages.
"I didn’t kill her, but someone did. Someone who might have been more interested in … well —"
Cormac cut Anton off, mid-sentence. "Interested in me than in her."
"Explain yourself," the woman commanded.
"This is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing," Anton explained. "We’ve got caravans coming down from the mountains. Lilley was hired by one of the partners to guard those caravans, but one of the ‘bandits’ we found at the scene is one of Brekker’s boys. Last thing we heard from Lilley, she was looking into it, and we were going to meet her here, tonight."
"Obviously, that did not go as planned," Cormac pointed out, "but I’d be looking at Brekker."
"Brekker, hmm? If you’re lying, I’ll find you," the Coterie woman promised.
"We’re not lying, but you’re welcome to find me anyway," Varric said with a grin. "I like a girl with talents in the lightfingered arts."
Aveline slapped him across the back of the head, without looking.
The Coterie woman’s lips twitched in something that might have become a smile, but she had other things to deal with. "Men, we have to get to the bottom of this. Now." She walked out, and the rest of her crew followed.
"Why do I feel like we’ve just stepped into the middle of someone else’s war?" Cormac asked eyes darting to Varric and then Anton.
Anton’s smile was thin. "That’s getting to be a familiar feeling," he said, remembering Petrice’s body falling to the Chantry floor, a Qunari bolt between her eyes. "But while we’re already muddying the waters, why don’t we pay this Brekker a visit? You said he was from the south side, Varric? I don’t suppose you’d know where we’d find them?"
"Me?" Varric said dramatically, a hand on his chest. "Familiar with someone of such ill repute? Really, Anton."
"If I roll my eyes any harder, they’re going to fall out of my head," Aveline muttered, earning a twitch of a smile from Anders.
"Well, I haven’t had any dealings with Brekker personally," Varric said, "but I know a guy."
"You know a lot of ‘guys’," Anders said, eyes narrowing.
"You better believe it, Blondie," Varric said, grinning. "Just like I know this other guy. He’s a Warden apostate, you see, who likes to heal children and cuddle kittens…"
"Oh, ha ha."
"But we’re not talking about that guy. We’re talking about Brekker, and I can tell you his hideout is close by. Stupid of him to leave Lilley’s body so close by, actually. Almost like he’s asking us to knock on his door." He indicated a set of stairs with a nod of his head and then led them in that direction.
"Well, let’s not keep him waiting!" Cormac urged, smile bright and staff at the ready, as he began the descent. The man with the shields was always point.
They made it to the bottom of the stairs with no difficulty, but a nearby group of thugs spotted them and were spotted at the same time. Anders promptly stuck them to the ground, and Cormac followed with a stun.
"I don’t expect we really need to kill them," Anders said. "They’ll be out of our way for long enough to sort this situation. And if it doesn’t go our way, then we’ll smack them twice as stupid on the way back. Show them why mages are feared."
"I’m pretty sure ‘fear’ and ‘mages’ usually go together because ‘death’," Varric pointed out.
"I’m feeling merciful, today." Anders shrugged.
Varric led them up another flight of stairs and into a twisting passage.
"Down those stairs, up these stairs… Andraste’s flaming knickers, who designed this place? It’s crap!" Cormac complained.
"Well, that’s not very nice," sneered another thug. A thug who, judging by the fancier armour, led this band of thugs. "I don’t come into your home and insult your stairs."
"That’s because our stairs make sense," Anton said. "I take it you’re Brekker?" He flexed his grip on the knives in his hands but smiled as though he were simply making small talk.
"And you’re those lice-covered refugees," Brekker replied, his smile just as fakely pleasant.
"Lice," Anton scoffed, glancing at Cormac. "Could you imagine if we had lice? Artemis would have a fit." To Brekker, he said, raising his voice so it would carry, "I’m only going to say this once. You need to leave the Bone Pit alone."
Brekker scoffed and traded looks with his men. "You’re making demands of me? You own half a stake in that mine, and you think you’re somebody, huh? Some Fereldans don’t have the courtesy of knowing when to bloody die."
"Oh, allow me…" Cormac purred stretching a hand past Anton and clenching his fist, as more Coterie thugs rushed forward. The sight of their leader folding up like a cheap market stall was enough to put an appropriate fear into some of them, and they turned and ran.
"Ah, good. Smart ones!" Anders stuck the rest of them to the ground. "Surrender or die! The choice is yours! Choose wisely!"
Few of them made the wise choice, and Varric started picking them off, as they struggled to continue their charge. Anton and Aveline took care of the rest.
"I expect that solves your problem, brother!" Anton wiped his daggers on a corpse and sheathed them, before picking through the dead men’s pockets.
"And possibly yours as well." Cormac grinned and stretched his fingers. "I can’t imagine clearing out this discipline problem the Coterie was having will go unnoticed."
"As little as I like the Coterie," Aveline muttered, "I cannot imagine that what would come up from its ashes would be aught but worse. At least we’ve taken out the ones who can’t even play by their own rules."
"Let us go inform my whiny Orlesian partner that the job is complete, and we have once again solved the problem he couldn’t figure out on his own." Cormac was still all smiles as he wrapped an arm around Anders, leading him away from the bloody mess still dripping down the stairs.
Aveline returned to her office to update the files on the Coterie. Not that much was in them, but this would be a good place to start adding things, she supposed. The others went to meet with Hubert, in the market.
"I found the thieves responsible for the cargo thefts and put them out of business." Cormac’s smile was a little sharper, now, but not so wide as to be threatening.
"Excellent! With that resolved the mine’s profits will soar!" Hubert swung an arm jauntily.
"Yes, and the next time it comes to this? Tell me, immediately. We’ll be even more profitable if we don’t spend a year sorting it out and paying off the Coterie for protection that doesn’t actually help." Cormac’s eyes hardened over the smile that lingered, still.
"Yes, yes, of course. But, for now, partner, just visit the workers, occasionally. You have a knack for keeping them happy." Hubert nodded, as if this were some strange Ferldan magic that he knew nothing of. Which it might as well have been.
"Possibly because I ensure their safety and pay them what their work is worth," Cormac muttered, turning away and clapping Anton on the back. "So! Mine inspection, this weekend. You in? There might be dragons!"
"If there are more dragons in that hole, I am definitely going." Anton nodded. "We have a mansion. We have a whole estate. I can keep a dragon, if I want one, right? Who’s going to tell me no?"
"Bethany," Cormac replied, with a grin.