[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 325
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Merrill♀, Carver Hawke ♂, Kallian Tabris ♀, Theron Mahariel ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Canon-typical violence, everyone has issues
Notes: Merrill discovers why the spirit has stopped speaking to her. Theron decides he liked not knowing about demons better.
The path narrowed up ahead, and Merrill kept an eye out for Marethari as much as for the demon’s cave. She only found one, and it wasn’t Marethari. Merrill sucked in a breath and steeled herself for what was to come.
"Theron, lethallin, how strange has she gotten?" Merrill asked, in a small voice.
Theron, of course, had no idea what was in the cave, other than some old statues, more spiders, and dirt. "She’s been getting strange since before you left, but compared to the Marethari I knew, when —" He paused. There was no way to put it gently. "— from before, she’s a totally different person. Why? What’s wrong with this cave, compared to any other cave up here?"
"This is where the spirit called to us from. It’s stopped calling, and I wonder what she’s done. Do you think she’s killed it?" Merrill sounded almost hopeful.
"Maybe she just gagged it, to go with the binding. If it was bothering you for so long, maybe that’s why she’s been so strange. Maybe it’s been talking to her." Theron shrugged. His own experiences with magic were fairly limited, and his experience with demons and spirits was non-existent, as far as he knew.
"We’ll go. We’ll ask," Merrill decided, stepping into the mouth of the cave.
"Oh, suddenly I have a bad feeling about this," Theron muttered, the hair rising on the back of his neck.
"Didn’t you already?" asked Kalli, following Merrill without hesitation, one hand on her dagger’s hilt.
"Yes, but… this is a different bad feeling." It was the kind of bad feeling that put him in mind of the last time he saw Tamlen. But maybe that was because he had the eluvian on his mind. He hoped it was because he had the eluvian on his mind.
Just inside, the towers of artfully arranged skulls did little to help that bad feeling.
"Don’t worry, sweetcheeks," Kalli told him, reaching back to pat Theron’s arm. "I’ll protect you."
"Thank you, vhenan," he drawled, positioning himself behind the tall templar as they headed deeper into the cave.
"Something is wrong," Merrill murmured, slowing to a stop in front of what looked like a shrine, a bloated statue at its heart. "This was where the spirit was bound. But now, it feels… empty. This is more than just gagged."
"Maybe it freed itself?" Carver suggested.
Merrill shook her head, brow furrowed. "It would have taken powerful magic to break him free of this prison. You couldn’t just set him loose. Nobody could. Not without doing something terrible." She looked around, twisting her staff in her hands. Where had Marethari gone? "This is very wrong."
"Okay, so, who bound this demon here and why?" Carver asked. "Is it someone we know? Are my brothers involved?"
Theron looked up at the statue towering over them, with its bulging eyes and too many arms. His shoulders stiffened. "That looks Tevinter," he muttered.
"There was a war, long ago, between our people and the Tevinter Imperium. After the magisters sunk Arlathan, our people made a last stand here, fighting on the graves of our elders." Merrill explained. "I don’t know if it was the Elvhenan or Tevinter who bound the spirit, but he was left here from the war."
Theron nodded. "Sundermount, as you call it, was the site of a great battle — the true end of our empire, sacked by barbarians, and the survivors chased to the ends of the world. The varterral’s probably from then or from before. But, this… They had to have been here, fighting us, for years. But, demons do sound like a very Tevinter thing to do. Elves used to talk to spirits, the stories say, but I can’t say I’ve heard much of binding demons for war."
"Well, we’ll catch it and kill it, right?" Carver tried to look more certain than he felt. "It couldn’t have just vanished. We’ll track it down."
"Yes, but he shouldn’t have been able to leave," Merrill pointed out, making her way across the room. "What happened to him?"
"I happened to him." Marethari stepped into the light from the ancient windows, mostly blocked by fallen stone and trees.
"Keeper! Thank the Creators!" Theron looked almost relieved. "We were afraid the demon got you!"
Kalli laid a hand on the inside of Theron’s elbow, gently holding him back when he made to walk towards Marethari.
Merrill looked, if anything, more concerned. "Keeper," she asked in a soft voice, "what have you done?"
"The demon’s plan was always for you to complete the mirror," Marethari said, her voice sad, empty. "It would have been a doorway out of this prison and into our world. You would have been his first victim."
‘Would have been’. Merrill shook her head, her throat closing up.
"I couldn’t let that happen, da’len," Marethari murmured.
"So, the demon is gone?" Theron asked hopefully, eyes just a little too wide. "We have nothing to worry about?"
Marethari ducked her head and turned away. "It’s not gone," she said.
And there was that bad feeling again, that creeping sensation up the back of Theron’s neck.
"I couldn’t fight it in the Fade while it was trapped," Marethari said. "And I couldn’t banish it without making it stronger." She sucked in a breath. "So I made myself its prison. Kill me, and it dies too. Merrill will finally be safe."
"No!" Merrill buried her face in her hands, tears welling in her eyes and spilling down her hands. "You can’t ask…" Her voice shook as she sniffled, wiping her eyes. "I won’t do this!"
"You always knew your blood magic had a price, da’len. I have chosen to pay it for you." Marethari’s voice was accusatory, even as her features remained smooth.
"That wasn’t your decision to make, Keeper," Kalli pointed out. "What will happen to the clan, if you do this? If! Now that you’ve done this. The clan comes first — Isn’t that what you taught me? But, where does this leave our people? We have no halla, and now we have no Keeper."
Marethari ignored the words, speaking over Kalli. "Dareth’shiral."
The room filled with blue light that both Merrill and Carver recognised from Justice — but this didn’t feel as well-meaning as Justice, which was saying something, really. Out of the light, a great monstrous form arose, black and pink and spiked, another voice echoing through the chamber as it turned on them. "Traitor! May the Dread Wolf hunt you for the rest of your days!"
"Shit, shit, shit!" Carver lashed out with a smite, as he danced back from the thing. He braced himself and drew his sword, reminded that this was what templars were meant to do — to fight the evils from the Fade, in whatever form they came, although he really could have done with this one being maybe half the size. On the other hand, as he looked up, he noticed the thing was hunched over. It was too tall for the room.
"Is that what demons are like?" Theron yelped, leaping backward onto the stump of a broken pillar as he drew his sword. "Can I go back to when I didn’t know what they were like? I think I liked that much better!"
"It’ll be a great story!" Kalli taunted. "Isn’t that always the thing with you?" And then she was gone, somewhere in the darkness between things.
Merrill, though, stood still, silent and contemplative. "You taught me how to destroy you," she said, finally, slicing open the back of her hand, and calling the vines up from the cracks in the floor.
"I was trying to rebuild my life!" called out another voice from behind them. A familiar voice, but one that didn’t sit right on Merrill’s shoulders. "Why did you have to come back and destroy it?"
"Pol?" And that was Kalli, startled out of giving away her hiding place.
"Ignore it," Theron called out when Merrill started to turn. His face was pale but determined. "It’s a distraction. Focus on the demon." Sword in hand, Theron charged at the behemoth with a roar.
Kalli disappeared again, shaking Pol’s ghost from her mind, before reappearing behind the demon. But flames rose up from the ground around the demon, and she darted back before she had the chance to land a hit. "Dread Wolf’s flaming ass!" she swore.
Carver tugged Theron back out of range of the flames and pointed his own sword at the demon. The air rippled, his ears popped, and the flames disappeared. But so did Merrill’s vines.
"We’re cursed," called out another voice. "The whole clan. And you brought this upon us."
"The Keeper brought this on us, and don’t you forget it," Theron roared, as Merrill started to falter, tears in her eyes. "She threw you out, she kept us here, and she made a deal with a demon to free it so it could fight you!"
Merrill nodded, wordlessly, hanging back while she couldn’t feel the magic that should have been in her hands.
Carver landed what felt like a solid blow, which surprised him, and ichor fountained from the demon’s side, as the voices stopped, suddenly.
"Hide behind your reason and your compromises, mortal. I will still destroy you!" the demon bellowed, calling forth another spell between its hands, blue and glowing.
"Carver!" Merrill shouted, but he turned too late. The spell completed and the four of them were dragged down under the weight of it.
Carver remembered the story of his brother folding a templar into a little platemail box, and in that moment, he had some sympathy. He could hear the metal whining at the joints, and behind that, Theron praying to Andruil at the top of his lungs. Taking the deepest breath he could manage, Carver lashed out again, smite and cleanse, smite and cleanse — if he stopped fighting, if he just watched it, he could stay on top of it.
"Fucking kill it, Theron! I can’t keep this up, forever!" Carver called out, as the air around his head stopped feeling like a bowl of jam.
Theron didn’t stop praying to Andruil as he hefted his sword, continued praying through grit teeth as he pushed past the creature’s magic, as his sword shoved through the demon’s rough skin. More ichor sprayed from the wound, and the demon’s roar filled the cave.
Then, abruptly, all cut to silence. The air shimmered and rippled, and the demon collapsed in on itself, shrinking again and reforming into another familiar shape. Marethari dropped to her knees, eyes glazed with pain.
Merrill dashed across the cave, dropping to her knees beside her.
"Da’len?" Marethari asked in a tremulous voice.
"You’ve beaten it, da’len." Marethari rose shakily to her feet. Merrill did the same, taking a step back. "You are so much stronger than I imagined. The demon is dead."
"Let’s leave this awful place," Marethari said, smiling softly in relief. "The clan should hear the good news."
Theron shook his head, Kalli at his side. "You told us that the demon was bound to your life," he said. "It would only die with you." He hadn’t put away his weapon, and neither had Kalli.
Marethari looked down at the blades in their hands, at the dagger Merrill drew, and took a step back.
"Ir abelas, Keeper," Merrill said as she approached, cornering Marethari back against the shrine. Merrill struck before Marethari — or the demon inside of her — could protest or beg, dagger biting deep into Marethari’s stomach.
Marethari fell, eyes sad, panting as her hands tried to stop the bleeding. But, it was too late, and she arched up from the ground, limbs hanging loosely, as the remnants of the spirit fled from her body with the whispers of the dead in their wake.
The dagger fell from Merrill’s fingers. "Keeper!" she sobbed, dropping to her knees beside the body. "What have you done? I don’t want this. I never wanted this! Creators, please let this be a bad dream!" Merrill’s voice changed, precise and crisp, like a child reciting a lesson. "I’ll wake up and feel like an idiot, and she’ll scold me for not listening…"
"This isn’t your doing, Merrill," Theron assured her, crouching at her side, to put an arm over her shoulders. "You said she left without making a deal, but I think maybe that wasn’t right. Or rather, you left with her, and then you went back. I think she went back, too. I think she’s been with this demon the whole time. Why else would she have refused to move on? She knows as well as any of us, if not better, what happens if you don’t move on. It wouldn’t let her go, and it almost took us all down with her. It’s not you, Merrill. You were just the excuse it used to get her attention."
"She should’ve had more faith in you," Carver added. "And not that I disagree with the sentiment, Theron, but… how the fuck would you know?"
Theron laughed and looked up at Carver. "It’s my business to know. I’m Hahren Paivel’s apprentice, as I’ve been since I was six. I’m a storyteller, and I know all the legends and the history of our clan and a few stories from the others, and a few stories from before the Dales, as well. I know what this is. I should have seen it sooner, but we do so little business with spirits that when Marethari said she’d turned away from it and told us not to go up the mountain, I just let it go. And when she started to change, I thought she was worried about Merrill. I thought she was afraid to try to move without halla. She wouldn’t say what business kept us, but I thought she might have been trying to make a deal for halla or even for horses. Something she didn’t want us to know, in case she failed, but this spirit— I have seen this spirit, and the truth of things is known to me, as it was written in the past. So it has come to be again, and it is on my eyes that I did not see it sooner."
Merrill’s hand inched towards Marethari’s, only to pull away at the last minute. That hand was still red with Marethari’s blood. "If she hadn’t been so stubborn," she said, eyes bright with unshed tears. "If she had listened to me! She never believed in me."
Her voice shook with sobs, and Carver helped her to her feet, wrapping his arms around her as best he could without the edges of his plate jabbing her. "I’m sorry," Carver whispered against her hair, wishing those two words didn’t feel so empty. Merrill took a moment to rest her cheek against his chest, to close her eyes against the world.
Then she straightened, pulling gently away. "I… I should go to the clan. Someone needs to know, needs to come… take care of her."
"Of course," said Kalli. "We’ll be right at your side."
Merrill smiled gratefully and turned away from Marethari’s body, bloodied hand clutched tight in Carver’s as they headed back out into the light.