Title: Pranksters of Kinloch Hold: The Year We Wanted to Forget
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Anders ♂, Alim ‘Fen’Din’ Surana ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V1 D0)
Warnings: Strong suggestions of abuse, Anders is not okay, BEEEEES
Notes: Awkward placement. Number Six actually comes immediately before this chapter, but it stands alone in the Rhapsody series. Note also that Because Rhapsody ™, we break with canon on when Karl was sent to Kirkwall.
"There’s nothing out there," Surana said, shaking his head. "Why does he keep running?"
"Maker, Fen, shut up," Karl hissed — he didn’t call Surana ‘Alim’, any more, nor did anyone else who liked not being slapped; the elf called himself ‘Fen’Din’, these days, as some sort of deranged elvish pun. He turned to look down the hall as he heard the door at the end creak open, and froze at the sight.
It took him a long moment to register what he was seeing. Two templars and Wynne — that was what he saw, first. And then he realised what the templars were carrying. That was Anders, unconscious, if not dead, hair and robes scorched and singed. Karl’s next breath heaved, and he nearly screamed, but the elf’s elbow caught him hard under the ribs, and he curled forward, gasping and choking, as Surana shoved him backward into the nearest room.
"Don’t do it, or they’ll take you, too," Surana warned, and Karl knew he was right.
Wynne’s voice was strident, as she came up the hall with the templars, reaming them about their treatment of her patient — her apprentice — and how the First Enchanter would hear of this.
Karl still struggled to breathe as the group passed them, and Wynne shot him a sympathetic look. She knew. Of course she knew. They’d been careful, but she was Wynne, and she knew everything. But she was also yelling about Anders in the present tense, which strongly implied he was still alive, and that, at least, was something. Probably not for Anders, though, who’d meant to make it out the window or die trying.
He could vaguely make out someone speaking to him, but he didn’t dare turn away from the procession making its way down the hall.
"Thekla, I will fill your ass with bees, if you don’t turn around and look at me," Surana insisted, and Karl finally turned, directly into a solid slap that rocked him back on his heels.
"Pull yourself together. You can either sit here and cry or you can do something useful. I’m pretty sure you can’t do both, and I’m pretty sure useful is going to require more than one of us, in this case. They’re taking him downstairs."
Karl put a hand on the wall, trying to calm the persistent shiver that rattled his entire body. He eyed Surana, hesitant and unwilling to believe.
"Yeah. That downstairs." Surana nodded.
Anders had been in the dungeon before, although never for long. A day or two, here and there, for stupid shit, while Wynne or the First Enchanter argued for him. He’d come back worn and tired-looking, every time, with a faint terror in his eyes, but always joking. Always, always joking, because that was the nature of Anders.
"Do you think he’s coming back?" Karl asked, finally finding his voice.
"If he’s not coming back, I’m bringing him back. I’m not done with him," Surana declared. "And if I can’t bring him back, I’m walking out of here."
"I thought you said there was nothing out there," Karl pointed out. This was the first time he’d ever heard Surana mention outside with any intent. The elf usually insisted that when he could part the walls of the tower with his mind and step out into the body of the Fade, it would be time for him to leave, and not before that. A dangerous line of thinking, but one that had actually made the templars less afraid of him, the poor stupid bastards.
"There will be, because it will be time for me to move on." Surana looked up, gold eyes deadly serious. "You’ll either come with me, or you won’t. That’s not my decision to make."
"If they kill him, I’m coming with you," Karl decided. He’d never felt a need to leave. Certainly the tower had its dangers, but they were nothing compared to what was outside. But, every time Anders ran, he came back with more stories that seemed to belie those assumptions. And with Anders dead, the inside of the tower would be a great deal more dangerous than anything that waited outside.
Surana laughed, an ugly sound that went well with the gleam in his eyes. "If they kill him, he’s coming with me, too."
Karl looked away, watching skeletons of mice clamber out from behind the furniture to scurry over and huddle around Surana’s feet. The elf picked one up, stroking the bare skull gently, with one finger.
"They’re not taking another bird from me," Surana said, softly. "I won’t stand for it."
A month passed, and the First Enchanter had little news he was willing to share. He argued in Anders’s favour, he said, because the boy was an excellent healer. But, the boy wasn’t a boy, any more. He was a harrowed mage, who’d probably just blown his chance to ever become an Enchanter. No circle would trust him, with his record. To some degree, at least, that record guaranteed he would remain a Kinloch Hold problem until his demise or final disappearance, since no other circle would take responsibility for him. That eased some of Karl’s fears.
But, those fears turned in whole new ways when he heard the templars were trying to prove that Anders had used blood magic. That would likely be the end of him, if they managed it. There was little mercy for maleficarum, of which Anders was not one, but the templars had ways of twisting things until they fit. Somewhere in the tower, someone was practising blood magic. That had become increasingly apparent, in recent months, and had been yet another reason Anders had chosen to run, again — to get out before he could be blamed — but instead, he’d walked right into it.
"Tell me they aren’t hurting him," Karl pleaded, the world seeming to distort around him as he stared at the pattern in the rug, breath coming quicker.
"I can’t," First Enchanter Irving said sadly, standing up from his desk to help Karl out of his office. "However much I might wish it to be so. I have seen him but once, since he woke, and then he was still singed from his own flames." He paused, a fatherly arm around Karl, as they stood in the doorway. "I am trying. But, this time, he’s made it so much harder."
Surana looked furious, bones scattered around his part of the room, bits of spells sketched out in charcoal on the walls, as he worked. He looked over his shoulder at the sound of a knock on the open door. "I can’t do it. I can’t get them in."
"Fen, come on, sit down. You’re not eating. You remind me of him, when he gets started." Karl produced a small bag, containing an apple and a few rolls, from the last meal.
"I am not just any wolf, belannaren’lan. I am one wolf, in particular, and if you call me by my name, you will call me by my name." It was an old argument, and one Surana usually found entertaining, but this time, it didn’t even put an angry smile on his face.
Karl threw an apple at Surana’s head. "Anders was right. ‘Elfhole’. Eat something, before I have to save him by myself, because I can’t raise you from the dead."
"I’m already dead," Surana growled, snatching the apple from where it had bounced off his forehead and landed on the bed. "I will eat, though. I need to write less and think more."
Karl studied the walls. "Are you sure it’s not just a ward?" he asked, finally, as Surana chewed at the core of the apple. "It looks like you’re hitting it on every entrance to that part of the cellar."
"I’m not sure of anything. If it’s a ward, it’s not the kind of ward I was expecting. The templars pass through it, but I can’t get anything else in." Surana complained, throwing the stem of the apple onto the bedside table.
"That’s ugly. For us, anyway." Karl shook his head and sat on the edge of the bed.
"They’re going to have a grand time sweeping up all the bones," Surana laughed. "There’s a pile of mice and lizards, where I kept running them along the line, trying to push through. I can’t pick them back up. I got them to cross and just… lost them."
"Runes in the floor, probably," Karl sighed. "To prevent exactly what you’re trying to do."
"Who does that?" Surana insisted. "It’s not reasonable! That’s why I expected it to work!"
Weeks later, the dungeon spontaneously filled with bees, and the templars evacuated until they could get someone in to clear them out. Anders’s hysterical cackling could be heard almost to the stairs, and he treasured the fragment of a hive they built in the corner of his cell, before they were driven out.
Surana looked all too amused, at supper, the night the bees appeared, loading himself up with honey, vinegar, and apples, as whispers of the swarm darted through the room.
Karl sat down heavily and served himself a bowl of soup. "Bees?" he hissed across the table. "Are you mad?"
"They say he’s laughing." Surana shrugged, entirely undisturbed. "The dead return to death. The living can be coerced through and then they’re out of my hands." He chewed another slice of apple, the honey dripping from his fingers. "But, they say he’s laughing. He knows."
"But, what if they know?"
"Bees. Who remembers?"
"He remembers!" Karl snapped, voice strained, but low.
"Do you think so little of him?" Surana asked, gaze measured and cold.
"No, but I fear them that much," Karl admitted, swallowing a spoonful of soup to hide the way his throat tensed.
"He’s Harrowed, just as we are. Demons couldn’t turn him. What makes you think men will?"
Karl hadn’t considered that, and he felt a bit better, until Surana went on.
"On the other hand, if I’m right, they are demons, and we’re all stuck here until we overcome this false prison and shape the Fade in our own image." Surana shrugged and hummed ecstatically, sucking on a vinegar-dipped apple slice. "Either way, he can do demons. He’s done demons."
Karl was mad for news, bribing whoever he could for word of Anders’s condition. The words he heard were mostly displeasing, although it seemed Anders had taken up with the tower’s mouser, Mister Wiggums. The cat, apparently, seemed very protective, despite the fact that Anders didn’t feed him. Karl wondered at that, until Surana reminded him that Anders probably didn’t have anything to feed the cat with.
They tried sending notes down, with the cat, but never got a response. Neither one was willing to speculate on whether that meant the messages weren’t getting in at all, or something worse, but the cat seemed just as pleasant as usual, when they saw him.
Months later, there was no cat, any more. It had been possessed by a demon and killed a few templars. One of them, Karl had actually liked, which was a shame. Likeable templars were such a rarity. But, the Knight-Commander was intent on blaming the possession on Anders — an argument he had at top volume with the First Enchanter, who argued that Anders was so full of magebane he’d most likely stopped dreaming entirely, making contact with demons impossible.
Even Surana looked ill as those words echoed down the hall.
They were returning from supper, Surana still holding a bowl loaded with some obscene combination of cream, honey, and fruit, frozen nearly solid and heaped with spice biscuits. He punctuated his sentences with nearly sexual sounds around mouthfuls of cold, sugary sludge, as he debated the finer points of mechanical necromancy as opposed to spiritual and demonic necromancy with Karl.
They were returning from supper, when Anders was brought back from below. Wynne supported him between two templars, who looked like they’d rather be doing literally anything else. He was filthy and ragged, beard looking like it had been hacked short with a dull knife, dark shadows under his eyes, and what looked to be at least blood in his long, tangled hair.
Anders’s eyes slid off Karl and landed on Surana. "Fuckless," he rasped, something like a smile curling his barely-visible lips. "Honey." He didn’t dare say anything else, not with the templars so close, but he hoped Surana understood.
"I saved you some," Surana said, holding up his bowl and nodding. The bees. Anders remembered the bees.
"You boys can catch up later," Wynne scolded, nudging Anders down the hall. "He needs —"
"I just want to go back to my room and lie down," Anders choked out, words still not quite working for him.
"They, um… It’s not your room any more." Karl shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. "I don’t know where they mean to put you."
They watched the panic swirl in Anders’s eyes. A few short, ragged breaths, and he clung to Wynne. "What—?"
"Doesn’t matter," Karl said, holding out his hand. "We got to it before anyone else did. You can stay with one of us, until they figure out what to do with you."
"The infirmary," Wynne insisted. "You will be staying in the infirmary, until I’m sure you’re not going to die if I leave you alone for five minutes."
"Or you could leave him with us," Surana suggested. "We’ll make sure he doesn’t die."
"He needs a healer," Wynne pointed out.
"But, Enchanter, he is a healer." Surana sucked more sweet cream off his spoon, but held off on the obscene sounds of appreciation.
"Right now, he’s not. He’s practically Tranquil, but without the peace of mind," she retorted, unthinking, and a raw sound of terror wrenched out of Anders.
He clapped his hand over his mouth and whispered apologies.
Karl looked like he might throw up. Surana kept eating, but with shorter, jerkier motions.
"Anders?" Surana left the spoon in his mouth and snapped until Anders looked up. "Anders, what do you want to do?"
Anders shook his head and stared at the floor. "I don’t want anything. I’m sorry. I don’t want anything. I don’t want."
Wynne glared at the two mages before her, as if her eyes alone could slay them where they stood. Karl stepped forward, obviously intending to put his arms around Anders, but Wynne threw a hand out. "No!"
Anders flinched and sank to his knees. "Please don’t. No. Please don’t."
The two templars groaned and looked at each other. "Look, Enchanter—"
"Just go," Wynne told them. "Your orders were to see that he was brought up and placed in my care. He is now in my care. Go report that your duty is done, and I will take care of this."
Surana took advantage of the distraction to slip by all of them and crouched down to press his bowl into Anders’s hands. "I saved you some. We heard you didn’t have enough to feed the cat, but this is for you. You look hungry."
"Elfhole?" Anders looked up and Surana pulled the spoon out of his mouth and stuck it back in the bowl. "You crazy bastard! What are you doing? If they see you—"
"You’re out, roundear. You’re on the floor in front of the Apprentice Dorms." Surana shook his head, eyes bright and serious. "Whatever they told you, they lied. Don’t let them fuck with your world, roundear. It’s your world, and you’re still in it, because they can’t take you out. Don’t you think they would have, if they could? But, they can’t. And now you’re back up here with us. Karl’s right next to me. Wynne’s right next to you."
Anders looked around, surprised again. "How do I know you’re real?" he asked.
"Roundear? Look at me. When have you ever mistaken me for real?" Surana grinned and pointed at the bowl. "Eat that. You’ll know."
Eyeing the bowl suspiciously, Anders took a spoonful of the half-frozen disaster and squinted at it for a moment before putting it in his mouth. It tasted like pain and sand, at first, until that resolved into cold and sweet — two things his body had forgotten how to handle. "Eugh. Yes, you’re real. Oh, Andraste save me from elven cooking." He paused, staring into the bowl, tears welling up in his eyes. "You’re real. I’m here."
Surana was completely surprised by the crushing hug, and it was only Karl’s quick hands that kept the bowl from flipping onto the floor, as Anders completely forgot he was holding it. Pressed this tight against Anders, a few things became obvious to Surana, beginning with the fact that the healer smelled rank — not just a week of unwashed, but much longer, and with an undercurrent of old blood and the sweet smell of decay.
"You need a bath, roundear," Surana muttered into Anders’s shoulder. "You stink like middens."
"I can’t…" Anders started, but the rest of the sentence wouldn’t come. "I know, but I can’t…"
"Of course you can." Karl sat on his heels beside Surana. "We’ll help you. Let go of Dead and Fuckless over here, and I’ll get you wherever you need to go. Unlike the rest of you nerds, I have my own room, now. Private room. Private bath. It’ll be quiet, while we find out where they’ve moved you."
Anders nodded and sat back, letting go of Surana. He nodded. "Okay. Okay, I can do that. Quiet."
Karl handed the bowl back to the elf. "Arms around my neck, pretty boy," he said and waited for that to happen, before he pulled Anders into his arms and stood. It was too easy. Much too easy. In fact, before this, Karl hadn’t been able to lift Anders at all, and this should have ended in comic failure, but Karl found himself standing in the middle of the hall with Anders in his arms, and strength remaining to walk like that. He shot a horrified look at Wynne.
"I know," she said, lips set in a bitter line. "Lead the way."
Surana started in about mechanical necromancy, again, cramming his face full of fruit and sweet cream, as they walked down the hall. He dragged Anders into the debate, as if he hadn’t been gone at all, slipping spice biscuits to the healer, while no one else was looking. The last year had been bullshit — absolute bullshit — but it was over, now, and Anders was home.