[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 374
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Bethany Hawke ♀, Sebastian ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Mice, canon typical violence, demons, mind-control
Notes: Bethany has plans. They include mice, but not demons.
"Are you ready?" Anders asked, as they came to the Chantry steps.
"Of course, darling!" Bethany smiled all too sweetly. "I was born ready. Now, remember. The side door to the chapel is where you want to come in. The robes will give you a little bit of cover, but if anyone gets too close, they’ll probably notice you’re not just pilgrims headed south. And do slouch a bit more, Anders. You’re much too tall."
Anders struggled to be shorter and Cormac struggled equally hard not to laugh.
"You’re the best, Bethy," Cormac said, with a smile.
"I’d better be. I’m the last. It took four of you to work out all the kinks." Bethany straightened her skirts, as they reached the top of the stairs, and as Cormac and Anders vanished around the edge of the building, she swung open the heavy door.
Between masses, the Chantry was the solemn kind of quiet, a quiet broken up into segments by the clack of Bethany’s heels. Bethany kept her head down, hands clasped demurely, as though self-conscious of the noise she was making. She stopped by a Revered Mother fussing over a particularly stubborn candle.
"I am looking for Sebastian," she asked as though she didn’t know perfectly well where to find him.
The Mother offered the candle one last glare before directing Bethany onward. Clergy and penitent alike looked up at the sound of her heels, including Sebastian.
The first of the mice slipped silently from the folds of Bethany’s skirt, slipping into the space between the votive altar and the wall, at her command. As she covered the ground between herself and Sebastian, more mice darted from beneath her skirt, as it bumped the edges of pews and pillars. Finally, the last two darted out and around, crossing in front of her, in the aisle, to stop and chitter at each other.
Bethany shrieked shrilly, hoisting her now-empty skirts, as she leapt onto a pew, apparently to flee the mice in her path. "Mice!" she screamed. "Mice in the Maker’s own house! What is wrong with this city?!"
Sebastian leapt to his feet as three more mice made an appearance at the front of the room, where he’d sat speaking to one of the Mothers. Panic seized him, lips peeling back in a horrified grimace as he tried to climb up the other Revered Mother beside him. "Mice? Mice. Why are there mice? There aren’t any mice. Those are mice. Mice!"
The Revered Mother squeaked louder than any mouse as she teetered, trying to balance Sebastian’s considerable bulk. "Messere!" she tried, voice strained with the effort. "Please get down! Mice are as much a creation of the Maker as any of we—!"
But Sebastian saw another scurry by and cut her off with a sustained and high-pitched shriek. Around them, the prayerful fled for the door, while the Revered Mother from before attacked the mice with the very candleholder that had previously vexed her. In the work of a moment, the Chantry was chaos.
The doors to the Grand Cleric’s chambers burst open. "What is the meaning of this?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard over Sebastian’s shrieks.
"Mice!" Bethany warned her. "Return to your chambers, Grand Cleric, while we deal with this. And do please shut the door before they get in!"
Bethany walked along the top of the pews to get to her fiancé. "Would you like me to take that?" she asked the Mother barely holding him up.
The Mother gurgled her assent, from beneath Sebastian’s struggling weight, and Bethany hefted Sebastian over her shoulder.
"Still lighter than my brother," Bethany decided, after a moment, standing on the seat of a pew and studying the floor. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flicker of red cloth disappearing into one of the upper doors. Good. They’d gotten inside, and maybe Cormac could find the records for that pit of death and sacrifice. She wanted a look at that, herself, really. Perhaps between her and Orsino, they could find a way to lessen the influence, somehow.
But, that was for later. For now, she held out her hand, and let the Revered Mother help her down. The mice were to keep up for an hour, which was the longest she could possibly maintain influence, and even that required a rune that she now slipped into the back padding of a pew. After that, Anders and Cormac would have to find their own way out.
"I was thinking Nevarran, pumpkin. What do you think of—" One of the mice darted out in front of them, and Bethany screamed to shake the rafters, her voice ringing and echoing off the arched ceilings.
The bottom of a candlestick darted out, squashing the mouse into the floor hard enough to crack the marble floors. "Get out while you still can," the Mother said grimly, and Bethany nodded, hoping Cormac and Anders managed to steer clear of her.
"As I was saying…" Bethany’s heels could barely be heard over the commotion now. "Nevarran?"
Sebastian clung to her and whimpered.
They’d led Temmerin to believe they meant to take out the blight-infested tower in the Vimmarks, if they couldn’t get the place under control. It might have been the jurisdiction of the Marcher Wardens, but obviously the taint held more sway than any right-minded defenders of Thedas, in there. If they couldn’t get a grip on it, they’d told him, they’d have to bring it down — hopefully with minimal damage to the surface dwarven settlement or the rest of the Deep Roads in the area. But, what Anders had sent wasn’t a blueprint of that ancient Tevinter tower, but another one entirely.
Now, Cormac held the plans in front of himself, eyeing the patterns one last time — where the runes had to go versus the explosives. This was supposed to be a controlled blast. This was supposed to come straight down, except for some adjustments Anders had made up top, to give the impression of a much larger and broader explosion. Those packets were larger, filled with things that would not only blow the roof off magnificently, but add bright colours and huge gouts of smoke.
As he placed another rune, Cormac really hoped Temmerin was right, and they weren’t about to leave parts of the Chantry on doorsteps in Lowtown. "You think we’ll have time to get into the private archives, while we’re in here? I’d hate to think I’d walked right past those records and then we were the reason I’d never lay hands to them."
The shrieks below them were promising, and in that moment, with Cormac and Justice with him, Anders felt like he could do anything. "Worth a try," he said with a crooked grin. "If we’re caught, we can say something about making sure the infestation hadn’t harmed the archives. If that doesn’t work, I’ll kiss them, and we’ll make a run for it. Kissing people tends to stop them from asking the wrong questions."
And from screaming like that. He couldn’t tell if that was a Mother or Sebastian.
One more rune. One more check against the plans to be sure. Anders could taste his pulse, and, since he was in a chantry and it was fitting, he prayed. He prayed that this didn’t go terribly wrong.
Nevarran food was always a good choice, Bethany had found. It was very difficult to remain distressed while eating Nevarran. She supposed that might explain how it came to be the national cuisine of a nation of necromancers. But, at the very least, Sebastian seemed much less distressed about the mice, by the time they left the restaurant.
"It will all be over soon," he said, holding Bethany’s hand. "The Divine will send a few agents to sort things out, to assist the Grand Cleric, in these troubled times, and then she’ll be safe and this city will settle down. She’s just one woman, the Grand Cleric, and Kirkwall is a difficult place. And with the corruption among the clerics and the clerks, she needs more good help. But, that will come. And then, I will be able to step down, knowing that I have done what I could for the city that saved me, and turn my attentions back to Starkhaven, the city I must save. And you, dear Bethany, will be right there by my side, where you deserve to be."
"Of course I will!" Bethany laughed, watching the streets of Lowtown pass, as they walked, alley after alley, the nightsoil men and their shovels and carts. Beggars weren’t unusual here, or really anywhere in this part of town, so she didn’t quite recognise the danger when she passed the three wild-eyed men, muttering to themselves. "I’ll want a royal wedding, of course. I want the envy of Tantervale. We’ll be the jewel of the Marches, in Starkhaven. You’ll see. And I want the tower brought back. The crowding in Kirkwall is outrageous. We’ll find the money, but I want our mages back."
"Anything for you, my sweet," Sebastian said, looking at her like the stars, the moon, and Andraste herself shone out of her eyes. He was so consumed by the sight that he paid no mind to the shifting shadows or to the fact that these shadows were their only company on this street.
The scrape of blades being drawn, however, was hard to miss, and so was the way they glinted in the moonlight. Sebastian didn’t see her reach for it, but suddenly Bethany’s spear was in the hand not holding his.
"What is the meaning of this?" Sebastian asked, finally letting her hand slip from his so he could reach for his bow. "Speak!"
And, raving and ravening, the men did, murmurings of ‘she promised’ and the words ‘want’ and ‘need’ amidst nonsense.
"Sebastian, my love," asked Bethany, "is it a Tuesday?"
Her spear caught the edge of the knife aiming for her belly, and then it caught the man holding the knife, in the throat.
"Tues… why?" Sebastian blinked in confusion and leapt back from a blade aimed at his chest. This was much too close. He needed distance. Perhaps he should’ve taken Cullen’s suggestion to actually look into proper swordsmanship, but he’d never quite expected to be in this sort of situation. Gritting his teeth, he punched one of the thieves square in the face and snatched the man’s dagger as it slipped loosely from his fingers.
"Look at their eyes. Doesn’t that remind you of something?" Bethany raised the first of the fallen and set him against his fellows. The body still remembered how to fight, and all she had to do was nudge it toward combat.
"Showers of silver!" one of the thieves repeated over and over, as Bethany filled the space in front of her with a spell, and everything stopped moving.
"Young Messere Harimann, perhaps?" Bethany suggested, filling the other end of the street with another spell, but this one didn’t work. "I’m right. They’re still moving. Demons."
"Quarters of gold!" another thief insisted, lunging for Sebastian, only to be cut down mid-motion.
Sebastian didn’t respond, not right away, but the grim set of his jaw said that he’d heard Bethany and understood. "So somewhere in this mess is a demon?" He shook his head. "I almost prefer the mice."
"‘Almost’?" Bethany asked as she conducted the dead.
"They’re smaller. And sneakier." With an arrow folded in his fingers, he punch-stabbed the next fool in the eye. "What do you want?"
"They hunger," said another voice, a new voice, one that filled the alley. When Sebastian looked up, he wondered how he’d missed her, the glowing eyes, iridescent skin, and horns. The demon wasn’t bothering to hide any more. "They hunger for what you have, for what you squander. Your wealth. Your status. They hunger to never be hungry again."
"Stabbing us won’t get them that," Bethany said, shifting her attention. "I’m barely even wearing any jewellery today. Hardly anything that would benefit them, on my corpse or Sebastian’s."
"I’m a Chantry brother!" Sebastian protested. "Vows of poverty and chastity?"
"You seem to be worth more than most of what comes by. The vision of wealth and status," the demon purred, moving easily between the thieves, as she slunk down the alley. "But, what do you want, hmm? I see much bigger dreams in you, Brother Sebastian. The City of Starkhaven? But, that’s already yours, isn’t it? The money to restore its glory, perhaps. The presence to draw its people back into the light. You could turn all the eyes of Starkhaven to the Maker. I could help you do it."
Behind him, Sebastian could feel Bethany changing, somehow, as if she suddenly occupied more space, but she never brushed against him, so he thought it was his imagination, until a hail of bolts lashed out over his shoulder, a constant stream of magical slivers that hammered against the demon. The demon who was really offering some nice benefits… Sebastian shook his head.
"Your offers are empty, slattern!" Sebastian proclaimed, straightening his back and tilting up his chin. "I can do all that on my own, with the Maker and Bethany at my side!"
By the time he’d finished talking, Bethany had hit the demon with that same spell again, making it shriek in rage and agony.
"Pumpkin?" said Bethany, fingers flexing as she started to cast again. "Bow, not words."
"Oh!" Arrows flew alongside Bethany’s magic, and between the two of them, they didn’t give the demon a chance to talk, let alone to cast. Bethany made sure the demon’s living victims stayed down. The last thing she needed was Aveline complaining about more bodies in the streets.
The demon wore down quickly, unaccustomed to this kind of confrontation, and after a few minutes she went up in smoke, the only mark of her presence the clink of her jewellery and weapons — yet undrawn — striking the ground.
"And these people," Sebastian said, glancing around them, "they’re just common thieves, aren’t they?" A chill settled in the base of his spine, creeping up his back. Once again, a demon had called out to — and reached — normal people, regular citizens of Kirkwall without a flicker of magic in them. "How…?"
"Demons aren’t as picky as the templars like to make them sound. They prefer mages, for the obvious advantages, but anyone who will listen is good enough." Bethany waited, watching the spell dissipate on its own. As people began to stir, she crouched down near one of the more awake ones. "Can you hear me? What were you doing out, tonight?"
"… I don’t remember," the woman replied. "I was dreaming. Fountains of gold and showers of silver. As long as I kept a smile on the Lady’s face. Isn’t that silly? What — where am I?"
"You’re in Lowtown," Bethany said in her most soothing voice. "The foundry district. I think you might have gotten a little lost."
The woman looked askance at her, but then she noticed the knife still in her own hand. Swallowing visibly, she set it down with a clatter. "What… what sort of dream was this?"
"A bad one," Bethany said, watching the others sitting up and looking around, a few bruised and bloodied. "But luckily, you got to wake up." Bethany stood to address the injured. The healer would probably still be out, but, "Do any of you need help getting to the clinic? The one in Darktown? Do you know of it?"
"We know of it, messere," said one dazed teenager who bent to help up a man bleeding from the nose.
"This city," Sebastian breathed, running a hand through his hair. He still looked shaken, eyes wide and cheeks pale. "Has the Maker abandoned it?"
Bethany squeezed his arm. "No more than he has abandoned the rest of Thedas," she said, which wasn’t meant to be consoling.
Sebastian looked out over the ragged people struggling to stand. "Please, when you have been to the clinic, come to the Chantry. It is our duty to provide for those in need, and I know we haven’t been doing such a good job of it, these last few years, but it’s time for change. It’s time for the Chantry to perform its proper services for the City of Kirkwall, and I want to invite you to come take advantage of that. If anyone asks, you’re looking for Brother Sebastian. I’ll make sure we can do something for you."
Most of the group eyed him suspiciously, edging away as he spoke. These were people who had never seen the Chantry do right by them — who had never seen the Chantry do anything at all, until the templars started terrorizing people in the streets. He shook his head and offered his arm to Bethany.