[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 196
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cullen ♂, Meredith ♀, Anton Hawke ♂, Cormac Hawke ♂, Artemis Hawke ♂, Bethany Hawke ♀, Anders ♂, Merrill ♀,
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Strongly implied off-camera smut, canon-typical violence, consensual violence, Cormac has shields for a reason
Notes: Cullen is assigned an unusual task. Anders drags his favourite mages into the Undercity in search of a book.
"Ser Cullen! A word." Meredith closed the door behind her as she came in. As usual, Cullen looked overworked and exhausted, the piles of paper on his desk keeping him right where she wanted him, since these unfortunate rumours of him defending mages began. Still, she began to wonder if it wasn’t all part of some campaign to discredit him, given what she’d found in the bottom of her wardrobe, the other day. She held those pages rolled in her fist.
"I have heard some dreadful rumours of late, and I suspect there may be a campaign to discredit you and all you have done for the Order. I have discovered evidence of some particularly disquieting accusations regarding your husband."
Cullen sat back, trying not to look as concerned as he felt. This wasn’t about Anton’s cardplaying, was it? Or — Maker forbid — the rest of his mage siblings? That was it, wasn’t it? Meredith had found out about Bethany and Artemis too, and now she was going to shuttle the whole family off to the Gallows. "And… what accusations are these?" he asked carefully.
"This was left in my office. Planted, I believe." Meredith slammed down the wad of papers she’d been holding. Cullen reached for them warily, unfurling the pages. He read the first line, and his ears turned pink.
Oh Maker. The Arishok and Anton… Cullen had assumed Anton had taken this. "Disquieting. Yes."
"There have been rumours of you taking all sorts of questionable actions, but I turned them aside, thinking this was not the Ser Cullen I recruited out of Ferelden. And then I find this. Someone dislikes you very much, Knight-Captain." Meredith gave him an inquisitive look, hoping he might list names.
"In any organisation there will be some who think they can do better than those above them. In very few cases are they correct. In no cases in which this sort of ridiculous slander is employed are they correct." Cullen shook his head sadly, sweeping the papers into a drawer of his desk. "I’m afraid I don’t know who it might be — not yet. I might have suggested Ser Loren, but…" He shrugged. "An unfortunate end comes to a man who takes his lyrium rationing into his own hands. I’ll see if I can match the writing to anything in these piles."
"I have also heard rumours that similarly disquieting stories may have been circulating with regard to myself. You wouldn’t happen to have seen a particular issue of that garbage-rag, The Gazette?" Meredith asked. "I have been attempting to find a copy of the issue in question, but no one can produce it. I suspect that may be entirely false, but I’d like you to keep an eye on that paper for me."
"You don’t seriously think I read such trash, do you?" Cullen asked with just the right amount of disgust. He dropped his quill and bent to pick it up, pausing to shoot a glare at Anton who sat crouched under his desk, one hand over his mouth to block out the laughter that was making his shoulders shake. "But I will keep an eye out for you, Knight-Commander," Cullen added as he straightened, replacing the quill on his desk. "I thank you for bringing all this to my attention, and I will check with my husband to see if he knows who would be propagating such rumours."
"Perhaps it is the remaining Qunari who were left behind. Or perhaps someone in the Chantry is again trying to start something. I hope I will not discover any of the mages behind this, but it would be a compelling reason to make the circle a little smaller. We are getting a bit large, here. They’re just looking for an excuse to get out of hand." Meredith smiled grimly. "Thank you for looking into this for me, Ser Cullen. Let me know what you uncover."
"Yes, Commander. I’ll let you know what I find." Cullen nodded, and Meredith turned away, heading for the door.
She paused in the doorway. "And Ser Cullen? It’s not ‘take your husband to work’ day."
The door closed before he could sputter out a response.
Anders led the way down the passage from his clinic, checking the walls every once in a while. "So, to answer the question, do you remember that time those templars got kidnapped and that maleficar tried to get Cormac to stab himself? Well, she tried to apologise and sent Cormac a book written by her equally-crazy master. The one we killed. The one I, er … Well, let’s just say she definitely didn’t survive that."
"He means he melted her like that Magister in the mountains," Cormac clarified.
"Not quite that forcefully." Anders actually looked embarrassed by the idea. "So, I tracked down the rest of the books in the set, and they’re all … well, she was possessed, and you can tell. Mad ramblings about power and demons and unleashing the true power of magic upon the world and killing all the templars, blah blah blah. The important thing, though, is that she references an ancient Tevinter book that’s… somewhere down here. The book she got all that unwilling abomination stuff from."
"And you want this why?" Merrill asked, thinking it to be very much unlike Anders to intentionally consort with demons.
"Because she might have been all right, if she hadn’t found it. It looks like she summoned the demon from the book — one of the demons from the book — and fell to its charms, whatever those might have been." Anders knocked on the wall and it made no sound. "I want to get to it before someone else finds it. Justice and I aren’t going to be so easy, even if the demon’s still standing around guarding the book or something." He stepped back and waved Bethany forward.
"That’s not what you think it is," Bethany said, nodding to Cormac, who stepped forward and dispelled the shield easily.
"Interesting combination," Cormac remarked, stepping into the wall. His hand reappeared a few moments later, after a few grunts, with a couple of runes. One more, and the wall stopped looking like a wall. "Light repulsion and an illusion that basically expands whatever it’s set into. A wall that’s not a wall." He handed the runes to Bethany. "The illusion’s a new one. I like it."
"Ooh, that’s clever," murmured Artemis, peering at the runes over Bethany’s shoulder. "I wonder if Fenris would let me use something like that in the house. Secret passageways, and such. Or maybe I could just set one up and not tell him and wait for the flailing."
Anders shook his head, poking his head past where the wall had been a moment before. "I just hope that ends better than the mage floors. I don’t need to reset any more broken bones."
Artie grimaced, rolling the shoulder he’d dislocated on the fall down the stairs.
The not-a-wall led into darkness, which Bethany dispelled with a simple light spell, then to a tunnel and a rickety ladder that led down into more darkness. "Ah. Great," Anders muttered. "I was just thinking we weren’t deep enough underground. Glad we’re fixing that." Sucking in a breath, Anders led them down the ladder, followed by Bethany’s light.
They landed on stone, smooth, cut stone, and Anders looked around to find himself in a tall corridor that put him too much in mind of the Deep Roads.
"This isn’t Darktown any more, is it?" Cormac muttered, glancing around. "This looks a whole lot ol—" Flames shot up around him as he took a step further into the room. "Shit! Thank you, Andraste. I needed a reminder of my own mortality." Cormac caught his breath and checked to make sure none of his clothing was smouldering inside the shield.
"Andraste’s tits aflame!" Anders shrieked. "Fire? Really? I’m in a dark, demon-filled hole in the sewer, and now there’s fire? I don’t get paid enough for this. I don’t get paid at all. Maybe I’d feel better about this if there were money involved, but I really fucking doubt it."
"I’m fine!" Cormac held his hands out. "We’re fine. Everybody just back up toward the ladder. Artie? You know what to do." He crouched down and wrapped his arms around his knees, tucking his head down.
Bethany and Artemis drew back, tugging Anders and Merrill with them. "Oh," said Merrill. "I’m glad Artie knows what to do. Artie, what are you doing?"
Artemis fumbled for an explanation as he gathered magic under his fingertips. "Using my brother to set off traps? Anders, you might want to put up a rock shield just in case."
Before Merrill or Anders could comment, Artemis launched a shove at Cormac.
Cormac whooped as he flew across the floor and bounced off the far wall. "Come on, Artie! You don’t have to be so gentle!" He laughed as he bounced off the walls again and again, setting off two more traps that seemed a lot older than the first one, judging from the amount of dust that accompanied the spikes. Finally, the shoving stopped and he staggered back to his feet, dizzy and coughing. "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Hawkes clear a room." He took a quick bow and waved everyone forward.
"You are out of your Maker-damned mind," Anders grumbled, healing quick to his fingers as he ran his hands over Cormac. "You do know that, don’t you?"
"It’s not the first time that’s been mentioned. Possibly not even the first time this week." Cormac grinned. "Come on, there’s demons. The last thing we need is traps behind us."
"That’s very true," Merrill pointed out. "Running away from demons and into traps would be terrible. I wonder if this one — these ones — know anything interesting. I know you probably mean to kill them, but can I ask a few questions, first?"
"I’d like to say you’d be safe if we kill them, but don’t agree to anything they ask for, in return," Bethany suggested, patting Merrill’s shoulder. "Sell them on answering the first question as a gesture of good faith. You’ll only get one question from each of them, but you probably won’t have to worry about them coming back, because they haven’t gotten you to promise anything. It’s politics."
"Demon politics," Artemis muttered as he followed them, watching the floor under his feet as he walked, even though he’d already swept it with Cormac. "That’s fantastic. Really." He wanted to check Cormac over the way Anders was, but he didn’t trust himself to touch his brother in public. Or at least in front of someone who wasn’t Anders or Fenris.
Once Anders made sure Cormac was in one piece, he led them down the hall, footsteps echoing on stone. He tugged at the door he found at the end or the corridor, frowning when it didn’t budge. "Hm. Maybe we should have brought Anton," he said, jostling it enough to see that it was locked, not stuck.
"Not Anton," Bethany was quick to say. "He’d pee on something and make it worse. Izzy, maybe."
"Ooh, Izzy would have been fun," Merrill agreed.
Artemis exchanged a look with Cormac and sighed. "All right, step back," he said, waving everyone aside.
"Are you going to use Cormac to knock down the door too?" Anders asked wryly even as he stepped back.
Artie was about to refuse outright. Then he gave Cormac a speculative look, only to shake his head and say, "No. I don’t need to use my brother as a battering ram. Not this time." He waited until everyone was back a suitable distance and gathered a similar spell under his fingers. He put more power into this shove, pushed the magic outward from the core of his gut, and the door tore off its hinges. Or, rather, the door tore off with its hinges.