[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 367
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Cullen ♂, Carver Hawke ♂, Merrill ♀, Bethany Hawke ♀
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Corpses, talk of revolution, flashbacks, gross flirting
Notes: Unfortunate discoveries, in the wake of demons. The Scholar is found, at last.
Cormac wrapped himself around Justice, nuzzling under his chin, before the spirit could make any unfortunate decisions regarding the two templars. "Head count!" he called across the room. "Anyone down? Anything still moving that isn’t us?"
"Your sister—" Merrill started, helping Bethany sit down, but Bethany waved her off.
"I’m fine. Carver?" Bethany squinted across the room at the gleam of platemail where there had once been a demon.
"Is it Tuesday?" Carver groaned. "Demons in the middle of the day, it’s gotta be Tuesday. You still with us Captain?"
Cullen’s grip on his sword remained firm as he took in the room, wild-eyed. Nothing gave up that easily. No ancient demon would fall so readily. He remembered Solona fighting to free him, all those years ago. But, nothing moved that hadn’t come down there with him. And Pride… Pride was sudden and horrible. It couldn’t have taken any of them so silently, so easily and soundlessly.
With Cormac still whispering in his ear, an awkward position, to say the least, Justice caught Cullen’s eye. "THERE ARE NO MORE HERE, CAPTAIN. THE DEMONS ARE GONE."
That booming voice jolted Cullen, and he blinked, remembering where he was, whom he was with. His hands were still clammy inside his gauntlets. The demons looked gone, certainly, but the stench of death remained.
"Poor man," Merrill said, poking at some fairly recent remains with her staff. "At least, I’m assuming that was a man. It’s a bit hard to tell since he’s been so… well-chewed."
"That is quite disgusting," Carver informed her, walking past to check on his twin.
"Which is why you should thank Cormac for the shields," Bethany told him with a tired smile.
Carver muttered something unflattering that didn’t dent Bethany’s smile in the least.
"How recent?" Cormac asked, not letting go of Justice, who was getting less blazingly blue as Cormac’s hands continued to wander. "Recent as in maybe this guy broke the ward? Or maybe he got in here before us when the ward fell? Or is this some mangled Tevinter demonologist who’s disgustingly well preserved by the fact this room’s been sealed for centuries?"
Bethany made her way over to the remains, moving a bit more slowly than usual, but looking much less fragile. Crouching, she studied what remained of the face and the blood pooled around the body. "Recent. In the last few days, it looks like. Probably not today, but this week. He’s got nice clothes, too. Plain colours, but good fabrics. Probably not noble, but maybe a Chantry brother? Oh, I do hope it’s not that old fool Genitivi," she sighed, picking through the blood-stiff robes.
Cullen finally sheathed his sword and joined the ladies near the corpse. He wasn’t sure how Bethany could stand to be so close to the smell, but she seemed entirely unaffected. But, then, he’d also seen her raise the dead, so perhaps this was one of the side benefits.
"There’s a note!" Bethany exclaimed, studying a smudgy, damp page she’d unfolded. "Oh, dear. He’s here because of the demon. ‘We went to the centre of it all. F. is dead and I am alone and injured. I must go back and put an end to it. The maddening thing is there is still no answer. But the Forgotten One, or demon or whatever it is, must be destroyed. I fear one may already be unbound.’ This poor man tried to fight the thing alone. ‘I foreswear my oaths. The magister’s lore must be burned and the ashes scattered. No good can come of it. And Maker help us if someone does answer what we could not.’ It’s signed ‘The Band of Three’ — isn’t that the name of those people in the Gazette series? ‘The Enigma of Kirkwall’, isn’t it? The one about the undercity and the Tevinter blood magic. Oh, these poor fools, I wish they’d come to us!"
Cormac swallowed hard, his face greying. He knew of them, but he’d never known them. He’d been following their progress via the notes they left, filling in as much as he could with his own research, as he wrote the series. And now he knew what had become of them. They’d tried to bind this demon, and failed. "How many fingers does he have, Bethy?"
Bethany turned over first one hand, then the other. "Five on the left," she said. "And… four on the right. He’s missing a pinky." She shared a look with Cormac.
"So?" Carver asked, shrugging plated shoulders. "What in blazes does that matter?"
"A four-fingered hand-print," Bethany replied. "That was at the bottom of the scroll, the one that led us to that Arcane Horror and his charming friends. This is the Scholar who bound the three horrors."
"So?" Carver asked again, and Bethany rolled her eyes.
"You are hopeless," she sighed. Leaning heavily on her staff, Bethany rose to her feet and handed the letter off to her more interested sibling.
"I wish I knew your name, Scholar," Cormac muttered, accepting the note, one arm still around Anders — he was fairly sure that was Anders, even without looking, because there was no longer blazing blue light to read by, but only the glow off his glaive. "We have done what he came to do, in the end, but I still don’t know what he found that led him here. Some of it— some of it led me, too. They found parts of things, we found other parts. It was coming together, even if I held some of it back. There’s no need for tourists in these demon-crowded ruins…"
"Are you saying you wrote the Enigma series?" Cullen finally asked, after a long pause.
"Shit. I wasn’t supposed to let on, was I? Too late now. The man’s dead, and by this, so are his friends. V. and F.. I didn’t know their names. I didn’t print even their initials. I didn’t want them found, but I trusted them to be reading me — to be reading the Gazette. I thought I could help. I didn’t help enough." Cormac looked infinitely sad, for a moment. Just a split-second hollow-eyed and grey-faced, before a firm smile returned. "But, here we are. It’s dead… or driven back, or whatever happens to demons. It’s not in Kirkwall any longer."
"A piece of everything to ever hold a throne, here or in the black, it said," Merrill mumbled, examining the piles of sceptres, crowns, blades, and bones that ringed the chamber. "But, how did it hold them? How did it keep them? I don’t think these are what it meant."
"Andraste’s flaming knickers," Anders said, after a bit, looking around the room with Merrill’s light, as he held Cormac closer to him. "It’s not the things, it’s the symbolism. They’re tokens of something — wishes, promises…"
"Pride," Bethany ventured. "They’re the pride of their owners. Or symbolic of it. Most people who are rulers are proud of that — most proud of that. Or the ones who were heroes, those are the swords."
The mention of swords reminded Anders that he was still holding one, a faint charge running from the hilt into his hand. "I wonder who this belonged to," Anders muttered, turning the blade over and trying to make out what he could in the dim light.
"Someone very proud of it, apparently," Cullen said. His face was almost pale enough to let off his own light, and he fiddled with his gauntlets, glancing at the door. "Might as well hold onto it. It seems like your, uh… other half knows how to wield it. I’m impressed." And still uncomfortable with Anders’s ‘other half’, but he left that unsaid.
Anders offered him a lazy smile. "Impressed with my swording, Knight-Captain?" he teased, voice dropping to a purr. "My, my. This is hardly the place."
"Don’t," Carver cut him off. "Please don’t. I never want to hear another combination of you, the Knight-Captain, and swording ever again."
"Well, come on, Carver," Merrill coaxed. "You can’t be the only one good at swording!"
In the dark, she couldn’t see the shades of red and purple Carver turned.
Bethany plucked up a few more trinkets of interest, a bent crown inlaid with rubies, a ring that purred with magic. "Enchantment," she informed the group.
"Taking lessons from Sandal?" Cormac asked, finally turning his face from Anders’s robes.
Bethany rolled her eyes and tossed the ring to Cormac, who missed it. It bounced off his shoulder and Anders snatched it out of the air.
"Oh, that’s nice. I like the feel of this one," Anders said, running his thumbnail along the engravings. "Got some weight and definitely a little extra. Let me know when you figure out what it’s for." He tossed the ring back, and Bethany caught it easily.
"Definitely," Bethany agreed. "What about that sword?"
Anders held it up, wrapping his arm around Cormac to do it.
"That looks familiar," Cormac muttered, squinting at it. "That sword is either famous or a really nice replica. Given where we are, I’m betting on famous. Is that Calenhad’s missing sword? Is that why I know it?"
"I don’t know, the work along the guard seems a little Tevinter for that," Anders pointed out, eyeing the dragons. On the other hand, they didn’t look like any of the Old Gods.
Cullen stepped in for a closer look. "It’s Alamarri. Cormac might be right, but I feel like Calenhad’s sword was double edged?" He glanced at Cormac, who shrugged back. "How many years did you spend in Ferelden, and you don’t know an Alamarri sword?" he scoffed at Anders.
Anders raised an eyebrow and tipped his head.
"Right. Sorry." Cullen rubbed the back of his neck.
"That’s an awful lot of staring at my sword, Cullen." A smirk crept across Anders’s face. "You want to touch it? You want to play with my sword a while? Get a feel for it?"
"I… don’t…" Cullen’s face turned red enough to led off its own light. He really wished Anton had come with them… but then again, Anton would probably have made it worse. "Playing with swords is… not… safe?" He cleared his throat and turned back to the doorway before he could see Anders bite back a laugh. "Can we… can we please get out of here? It smells of demons… death. It smells of death."
Cullen all but fled out of the door, pausing outside of it and waiting for the mages — and their light — to follow.
"That?" Carver sighed. "That was part of the ‘please don’t’ I requested earlier."
Bethany ducked her head, trying not to laugh as she caught up with Cullen, linking his arm with hers.
Anders followed, Cormac still tucked under his arm. He swept healing over Carver and Merrill as he passed and then held up his hand, lit in blue. "Cullen. Look back."
Cullen glanced over his shoulder and groaned. "What now?"
"Magic. I’m just going to make sure you’re not bleeding on anything." Anders’s eyes were oddly serious. "So, please don’t smite me."
"What? I wouldn’t—" Cullen sputtered.
Anders healed him and then Bethany. "Yeah, you would. You’d do it without thinking. So would most of your men."
"That’s absurd," Cullen protested, but the feel of magic under his skin had made it crawl, even knowing that it was healing. That hadn’t happened the last time Anders had healed him, and he wondered if it was because he was still shaken up about the demons or if it was because Anders kept … he supposed it was flirting.
"You didn’t warn me, and I didn’t smite you," Carver pointed out.
"You’re doing a mage on the regular. Didn’t seem like you needed assistance figuring out which was the friendly magic. Also? You grew up with three mages in the house. Four. Four mages in the house. I’m pretty sure you know better." Anders shrugged and kissed Cormac’s eyebrow.
And that put an uncomfortable thought in Cullen’s head. Another uncomfortable thought. If mages were their charges, then why did so many templars react to mages as though they were enemies? Why did Cullen?
Well. Cullen knew, but that wasn’t something he wanted to think about with the stench of death still so close and with magic still itching under his skin.
"So!" Anders said, voice gratingly cheerful. "Hanged Man? Post demon-slaying pint or three? Well. Pint. Justice gets grumbly if I have more than a pint. He’s getting grumbly now just talking about it."
"I’m getting more than a pint," Carver muttered. "One of the perks of not having another glowy person in my head."
"Ah, but the benefits are fantastic." Anders laid a hand against the middle of his chest and grinned almost ferally. "On the dim side, there’s this unending compulsion to lick lyrium, quit drinking, and strangle the Knight-Commander."
"Lick—" Carver’s eyes crossed. "That— you—" He made a strangled sound, but Merrill petted him soothingly.
"I might not cry too hard if you strangled the Knight-Commander," Cullen grumbled, gauntleted fingers clicking along the engravings on the wall.
"Is that a fact?" Anders purred.