[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 119
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anton Hawke ♂, Aveline ♀, Varric ♂, Merrill ♀, Anders ♂, Carver Hawke ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Complicated politics, trouble between friends, a war begins, lots of stabbing and smiting
Notes: The end of one problem loops back to the beginning of another.
As they headed out, again, Anton picked through piles of rocks and broken armour that had likely been there since the First Blight. "Hey, Aveline, elf-helmet?" he tossed it to her.
"It’s green. Very elfy. I don’t think it would fit on my head, though, and it looks like it’s got spiders in it." Aveline squinted into the helm, holding it at arm’s length.
Cormac flicked a hand, and the cobwebs burst into flame. Aveline dropped the helmet in surprise.
"Nope. No spiders. Had enough spiders, for one day," Cormac muttered.
"Mallet of I hope to Andraste there used to be a statue that was attached to?" Anton asked, not even trying to pick the thing up.
"Nah, that’s just a good warhammer. Best you don’t try to pick it up, though. Your skinny pickpocket arms would pop right off." Varric laughed and slapped Anton on the back, as he passed.
Anton gave the hammer an appraising look. "Care to make it interesting? Ten silver says I can lift it."
Varric turned, walking backward as he considered.
"No," Aveline cut in, calling over her shoulder and not breaking stride. "No bets. No skeletons. No lifting of ancient warhammers. And definitely no staying in these cursed tunnels. Now come on!"
Anton followed, exchanging a look with Varric.
"Too bad," said the dwarf as he turned to walk forward again. "Would have been easy money, noodle-arms."
Back out in the recently-spider-infested part of the mines, the miners waited anxiously, cleaning up the last of the spider remnants.
"You’re not dead!" Jansen greeted them, throwing his arms wide. "And you’re not trying to eat Earl, so you’re not undead either!"
"Nope, not dead!" Anton agreed cheerfully. "But those skeletons back there are." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Well, deader, anyway. Properly dead, this time, complete with fire."
"Did you happen to see Crankovich in there?" Jansen asked, glancing nervously over his shoulder. "No. Don’t tell me. Don’t need more nightmares."
"Don’t worry. I think we set fire to all the nightmare fuel," Varric reassured him. "Pretty good fuel for the flames, too."
"That’s good, that’s good…" Jansen looked over his shoulder again. "Listen, boss, while you’re still up here and all, you think you can do something about these shoddy pickaxes? They break their handles more often than they break rock."
"Ah, Hubert, too stupid to invest in proper equipment." Cormac rubbed his face and groaned.
"I asked Hubert for new ones, ages ago, and he just ignored me! I even found a smith in Lowtown that sells ’em cheap. If you could go buy them for us, maybe we could actually get some work done." Jansen shrugged and gestured to a pile of busted axehandles.
"What’s your man’s name?" Cormac asked. "I’ll go down there and see what I can do."
"I don’t actually recall," Jansen admitted, looking at his feet and tugging at his ear, as he tried to remember. "He’s a smith, though. Can’t be too many of those in Lowtown."
Anton coughed. "Foundry district," he muttered, and Aveline cuffed him up the back of the head.
"I’ll ask around. Send them up when I get a man to make them." Cormac nodded and shook Jansen’s hand.
"Thanks, boss." Jansen turned around and yelled to the milling miners. "Back to work, boys! Last one in burns the corpses!"
"Pickaxes," Aveline said as they took off for Kirkwall. "Now that is the sort of problem a mine should have."
"Unless they’re cursed pickaxes," Anton said cheerfully. "Always a possibility with this mine."
"Maybe if you pee on them," Varric muttered. Anton made a face, and Varric threw up his hands. "Hey, that seems to be a theme! You pee on something you shouldn’t, and it comes to life and attacks you!" He paused to squint at Anton. "Is that why there were undead? Anton, what did you do?"
Anton gestured wildly, apoplectic. "What? Oh, for the love of—!"
"I do not know any of you," Aveline muttered to herself, eyes rolling skyward.
They headed for the Foundry District, agreeing on the walk over that they would stop at the Hanged Man after the pickaxe problem was settled. They also agreed that Cormac would pay. Or at least Varric, Aveline, and Anton agreed. Not that it mattered to Anton, since he’d planned to just lift the coin from his brother anyway.
"Hey, Varric, you’re with the Merchants’ Guild. Who does good business, down here?" Cormac asked, as they headed down the stairs.
"Well, the obvious choice is Smith." Varric nodded and pointed in the direction of an armourer’s stand.
"…Smith? That’s… less than descriptive." Aveline pointed out.
The man in the leather apron appeared to be the one they were looking for.
"You’re the smith?" Cormac asked.
"I’m a smith," the man said.
"Smith your name or your profession?" Cormac asked, catching on.
"Yep." Smith the smith’s eyes sparkled with amusement.
"I’m looking for someone who can do supply quality pickaxes for the miners at the Bone Pit. And that’s the Captain of the Guard with me, so don’t yank my chain. We’ve had a very bad run of pickaxes, lately, and I’m not looking for a repeat." Cormac looked more tired than anything else, and he realised he’d gone since breakfast on nothing but a lyrium potion.
"It’ll cost you." Smith shrugged, apparently unoffended by Cormac’s blunt approach.
"I’d tell you to bill the house, but we haven’t done business before." Cormac picked through his pouches, thick fingered, until he finally gave up and just dropped a fistful of sovereigns into the man’s hand. "What’ll this buy me?"
"Enough. I’ll send ’em." Smith nodded.
"If a man called Jansen comes back with an order for more, bill the house and I’ll take care of it," Cormac said, nodding slowly. "Anton? You lead the way." He clapped his brother on the back and then held on to his shoulder for balance. "Sandwiches and beer. We need sandwiches and beer."
"You know, Anton, I haven’t heard anything from you about the Arishok, yet," Aveline said, squinting pointedly at the rogue in question.
"Oh, crap, I knew there was something." Anton shook his head. "Get me in the morning. Some time after I’ve gotten a sandwich into Cormac." He jabbed his brother in the ribs with one elbow, but Cormac didn’t even flinch. The shields really were eternal.
"Varric heard you say it. I’ll be there in the morning. And that’s my definition of morning," Aveline warned.
Still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Anton followed Aveline as she marched through Hightown and towards the Docks. Her definition of morning was his definition of night, and the sun was only just peeking over the horizon, pale light filling the otherwise empty streets. Empty because most sane people were still sleeping, as Anton muttered more than once.
"You whine more than Mintaka," Aveline told him without a trace of pity.
"Of course I do. Mintaka’s still tucked up in bed."
They approached the Qunari Compound to find the gate closed and a Qunari guard stationed outside. A few men and women of the Kirkwall guard waited on the steps, standing at attention when they caught sight of Aveline. Anton struggled to keep his expression neutral. Were this many guards necessary? Just how bad had this gotten?
The Qunari glanced at Anton but didn’t bow his head and open the door as Anton had come to expect.
Aveline walked up to the Qunari guard, shoulders back and chin held high. "I request an audience with the Arishok," she said. "Along with my companion, Anton Hawke."
Anton smiled politely before smothering a yawn.
The Qunari considered them both and the guards at their shoulders, his face impassive. "He will allow it," he said.
"Shanedan," the Arishok said, slowly, hefting his axe to rest it on his shoulder. He stood before them, at the base of a tall set of stairs, which was unusual, Anton thought. Normally, the Arishok sat, posed so his dispassion and certainty would be clear. Today he looked as if he might be going to war, and Anton sincerely hoped it wouldn’t be with him.
Aveline stepped forward to speak first, craning her neck to look up at the Arishok’s face. "Greetings, Arishok. We come regarding the elven fugitives that took refuge here."
"Irrelevant. I would speak to Hawke about the relic stolen from my grasp." The Arishok’s eyes bored into Anton.
"If it’s a book, I’m afraid one of my former companions has it." Anton shrugged and looked up just as calmly. "But, she’s gone."
"Her part was clear. Your admission … is welcome." The Arishok looked somewhat surprised, the axe coming down from his shoulder, to rest on the ground.
"An issue for another time," Aveline insisted. "We’re here for the fugitives."
Anton shot her a stern look, but she didn’t see him.
"The elves are now viddathari," the Arishok explained,as if speaking to a small child. "They have chosen to submit to the Qun.They will be protected." This last was both a statement and a threat.
"Have they truly converted?" Anton asked. "Or are they simply using you as a shield?"
"They have chosen," the Arishok said, his voice steel, "and so have I." And didn’t that just sound wonderfully ominous. Aveline and Anton exchanged a furtive glance. "You have not hidden the abuses of your zealots, or the corruption of this city. You will understand why I must do this." The Arishok signalled to one of his soldiers. "Let us look at your ‘dangerous’ criminals."
Anton looked back to see a pair of elves being escorted in. They were scrawny even by elf standards, or at least looked it next to their Qunari guards.
"Speak, viddathari," the Arishok told the elves. "Who did you murder and why?"
One of the elves stepped forward, eyeing Aveline’s armour with contempt. "A city guard forced himself on our sister," he said. "We reported him… or tried to. But they did nothing about it, no matter what we said. So my brothers and I paid him a visit."
Aveline bristled, jaw clenching. "That doesn’t excuse murder!"
"Yes, it does." Anton blinked at Aveline. "Are these elves telling the truth?"
"There have been rumours," Aveline admitted. "I will investigate. But, these two still took the law into their own hands!"
"Will investigate? Will?" Anton was beside himself. "You say that like you’re not already investigating it. I went to Cullen about the problems in the Order, because I was sure he didn’t know. And he didn’t. But, you? I didn’t think I’d have to check up on you, Aveline! That could have been you, and the only reason it wasn’t is because you’re a soldier, and nobody’s stupid enough to try."
"Sometimes, it is necessary," the Arishok agreed, "to take the law into one’s own hands."
"Like you avenged the Viscount’s son? It was not right then, and it is not right now," Aveline declared.
"I could argue that one either way," Anton muttered. "Petrice was a public nuisance, and she almost started a war. Nevermind the Viscount or his son."
"Anton, this is the opposite of helping," Aveline snapped, hands clenching like she might punch him if he didn’t shut up.
"Their actions are mere symptoms. Your society is the disease." The Arishok hefted his axe, looking as if he’d made a decision.
"I keep saying that, but nobody listens to me," Anton said leaning toward Aveline and gesturing at the Arishok. "Not that I think the Qun is always the correct answer, but the Viscount’s toothless, the guards are raping people, the templars are killing people, and everyone thinks it’s weird that I invite elves to my parties as guests rather than servants. I invite Qunari, too, but you guys never show up."
The Arishok stepped closer, looming over Aveline. She craned her neck back to meet his stare. "They have chosen," he said. "The viddathari will submit to the Qun and find a path your way has denied them."
"You can’t just decide that," Aveline said, fighting to keep her voice level. Fists clenched at her sides. "You must hand them over."
The Arishok stared down at her, his expression going somehow colder, stonier than usual. Anton looked at Aveline, then around them for the nearest exit.
"Tell me, Hawke," said the Arishok, his stare falling to Anton, "what would you do in my place?"
Aveline looked at him too, the tilt of her brow somehow both pleading and threatening as Anton struggled to answer. He was going to disappoint her, he knew. But then she’d already disappointed him.
"I wouldn’t give them up," Anton said bluntly, honestly, because that was a language the Arishok understood. "They deserve another chance."
"Anton," Aveline breathed.
"Exactly so," said the Arishok, nodding. "I cannot leave without the relic, and I cannot stay and remain blind to this dysfunction." His words were clipped, years of frustration and rage finally splintering his stony mask. "There is only one solution."
"Arishok," Aveline held up her hands, placatingly. "There is no need for—"
The Arishok stopped her with a finger on her lips, and then turned around to take a few steps up the stairs. "Vinek kathas," he said, as he left.
The Qunari along the walls waited until the Arishok had gotten out of range, before showering the group in the courtyard with their spears. Guards fell, platemail no match for the heavy spears, and Aveline glanced around in a panic. Anton reappeared at her other side, slipping out from between a banner and a crumpling Qunari who never even saw him.
"Go, go! Not here, it’s too open!" Aveline shouted, notching a spear, as she batted it aside with her sword, and stabbing the Qunari wielding it.
Anton punched another Qunari in the nose and slit his throat as he staggered. "I’ll give you that," he said, making for the exit and doing as much damage as possible, on the way.
"Hawke!" the Arishok called after Anton, as he made it to the gate.
Anton turned, hesitating, something could have been done. This wasn’t supposed to end like this. He looked regretful as he shrugged expressively, in the Arishok’s direction, but the Arishok’s spear cut off any further conversation, as Anton ducked behind a gatepost to avoid it. He followed Aveline out onto the docks, without another look back.
Aveline and Anton continued running until they made it to Lowtown. Slowing, Anton dared a look around and found the street deserted. Their pursuers must have broken away a few blocks back.
"Can you hear it?" Aveline asked. Her voice was calm, collected, but her face was ashen under her freckles. "The Qunari must be spreading out. They’re attacking the city!"
The sounds of battle were all around them, the clang of weapons and the screams of the dying. "Not again," Anton murmured. For a moment, he was back in Lothering, dogged by darkspawn instead of Qunari.
"What could they possibly hope to accomplish?" Aveline said.
"I don’t think the Arishok is looking to ‘accomplish’ anything," Anton replied. "I don’t think he cares what happens after this." He shook himself, wiping a hand over his face. "We need to find the others. Bethany, my brothers…"
"What we need to do is find a way to stop this," Aveline insisted. "The Qunari are assaulting the city — and fast." Too fast, like the Arishok had planned this. "We should head to the Keep to rally the guardsmen."
"After we find my family," Anton said. And Cullen, he thought but didn’t say. At least he knew Cullen could handle himself. "We’ll have to check the Hanged Man. I bet Varric’s there. And… isn’t the Alienage up this way? Someone needs to tell them what’s happened, if the Qunari haven’t already killed them all. I hope Merrill’s all right. But, my family should all be in Hightown. As long as we keep heading up the bridges, we’ll get to them. Cormac thinks with his ass, half the time, but this is what our dad raised him to do, so you need him. And that’s a terrifying thought. They have the Arishok. We have my brother."
He turned down the Alienage stairs to find a nearly-empty courtyard around the vhenadahl. Bodies littered the ground, but surprisingly few.
"Who goes there?" came a shout from an alley between two houses, and Anton nudged Aveline into the light, as he stepped back.
"Guard Captain," Aveline called. "Are there any survivors?"
Carver stepped out of the alley, sword hanging from one hand. "Aveline? Thank the Maker! The Qunari—"
"We know." Anton stepped out of a shadow and squeezed his brother’s arm. "It’s why we’re here. The Arishok’s gotten tired of this shit and tired of this town, and I’m thinking he’s going to kill everyone and go out in a blaze of glory — or at least he’s going to try. Survivors?"
"Anders got almost everyone out, down the sewer. Sent them to rouse the Coterie — and I’m not sure about the wisdom in that — and to get to his clinic. Darktown’s probably safer than up here, right now." Carver shook his head and looked around at the dead and the damage done. "We have to stop them."
Merrill and Anders stepped out of another alley, spells half-cast at their fingertips.
"Oh! Anton!" Merrill waved and darted across the courtyard. "The Qunari—"
"We were there when it started," Aveline assured her.
"We need to get everyone out of here," Anders insisted, glancing around the empty Alienage. "Lowtown, I mean. This place is shit. Someone lights a fire, and the whole thing’s going up."
"Darktown’s already full of people. You saw. They’ll be fine, Anders." Merrill tried her best to be reassuring. "These people have lived here for years. They know when to run."
"We’re heading to Hightown," Anton said. "The estate — well, estates — and then the Keep. We think that’s where the Arishok is heading."
"Right," Carver said, nodding and hefting his sword. "Let’s go, then."
He and Aveline took point as they raced through the city’s streets, past rubble and corpses and burning buildings. People fled by in the opposite direction, making for Darktown, and Anders spared what healing he could as they passed.
The sounds of battle grew louder as they rounded the corner of the Hanged Man, and they found what looked like a bar brawl gone horribly wrong. Patrons fended off Qunari with broken bottles, though a few Qunari fell with a bolt between the eyes.
"Varric!" Anders called, waving his hand and sticking the Qunari to the ground. Justice sat at attention when more magic stirred the air, magic that wasn’t Anders’s.
"Down!" Cormac shouted, from where he stood on a table, in the back of the room, lashing out with a wave of frost, in one direction, and a wave of electricity, as he brought his hand back the other way.
The locals staggered back to their feet, finding the remaining Qunari much easier to handle, once they were frozen.
Scanning the bar, Cormac’s eyes caught a flicker of blue, near the door. "Anders? That you, over there?" he called across the room. "We’ve almost got this settled."
Carver cut down a frozen Qunari, iced bits of flesh scattering across the floor. "Sure, say hello to the mage lover you see every day and not to the brother you haven’t seen in months."
Anton rolled his eyes and stabbed another Qunari between the ribs. Aveline smashed the last one into bits with her shield.
"You don’t glow in the dark, Carver. You’re a little harder to spot." Cormac jumped down from the table and crossed the room to see who they’d gathered. "You and Merrill doing all right?" he asked, clanking a hand against Carver’s platemail.
"We’re headed for the Keep, right?" he asked Aveline. "If the Arishok takes the city, it’s going to look amazing in the history books. But, we need Bethany. I’m not going in there without the Duchess of Delusions. Not if we don’t know how many Qunari are on the other side of those doors."
Aveline nodded. "We’re stopping by the estate anyway. Maker willing, that’s where she is. But we need to hurry."
Varric appeared from behind the bar, Bianca strapped to his back. "Well," he sighed, "looks like the city’s gone to shit. Anton, what did you pee on?"
"This again?" Anton scoffed. "I’ll have you know that I’ve inflicted my Fereldan horseradish on no Qunari."
"I can vouch that he didn’t pee on anything," Aveline said as she led them back out onto Lowtown’s streets, "not unless you mean metaphorically."
Anton glared at the back of Aveline’s head. "You can be pissed at me later, Aveline. We are not doing this now."
"You’re right," Aveline said, words clipped. "We are not."