[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 378
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cullen ♂, Meredith Stannard ♀, Orsino ♂, Anton Hawke ♂, Bethany Hawke ♀, Cormac Hawke ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Magebane, talk of an Annulment
Notes: Meredith starts a war. Cullen prepares to end it.
Cullen stood at the door of Meredith’s office, waiting for the bad news. Whatever it was, at this point, it almost had to be bad.
"Have you seen this week’s Gazette?" Meredith asked, placing her own copy of the paper on the desk, folded to expose the headline.
"I hadn’t." Cullen shook his head. He should’ve felt worse about lying, but if he said he knew, she’d have his job, at best. Of course, not knowing was almost as bad, but at least he didn’t appear to be hiding anything from her. "It was off the streets quickly, this week. Popular issue."
"I am characterised as a lunatic on the front page, and ‘the mage community’ of Kirkwall is encouraging people to defend themselves against templar attacks, as if we were wild dogs." Meredith held out the paper, expecting Cullen to come take it, which he did. "The seneschal and that guard captain you like are quoted as reinforcing this idea. Obviously, this foolishness must be purged from the city, as my predecessor tried to do, before me. If Dumar had kept his head, perhaps we would have maintained some control of this idiocy."
Cullen looked over the Gazette, pretending to be reading it for the first time. His wince was not faked, not now that he was reading this, knowing Meredith had seen it, against all their precautions. Her words sank in as he set the paper down. "Purged?" he repeated, barely hiding a stutter. "How, exactly, do you plan to do that?" He hoped her answer wasn’t the one he was anticipating.
But Meredith was calm, the self-assured kind of calm that Cullen found more frightening than her anger. "This just further proves that my concerns are not unfounded," she said. "If the mages are preparing, then so should we. I have already requested the Right of Annulment, and it is only a matter of time before the approval comes through. We had best get everything in order."
Cullen swallowed, took his time responding, hoping the right answer would magically come to him. "Has it really come to that?" he asked.
"Yes, it has come to that!" Meredith snarled, and there was that anger again. "Everywhere I turn, there are blood mages and traitors. I have tried more peaceful means, but the only option left to me is to wipe them out and start anew."
"Tell me what needs to be done, Commander." Cullen held his head up and squared his shoulders. Perhaps once he had an idea of what she was planning, he’d have an idea of what to do about it.
"Count the mages. Ensure they are all in their rooms. Remove anything they might use to write and anything they might write on. I do not want another leak to the Gazette." Meredith eyed Cullen sternly, but he didn’t waver. "I want magebane in all the water, starting tonight. See to it that the Tranquil are instructed not to speak of it, when they deliver the water, and post guards in the halls, lest someone try something stupid. They will pose no threat at all, by the time we are given word to ensure they remain that way."
"Yes, Commander. It will be done." Cullen ran through ideas in his head. Magebane? This was going to be… He remembered Cormac waking up on the coast, and Anders, all those years ago. These mages weren’t warriors, though. These mages had never been permitted practise or even books on fighting or warfare. Without their magic, Meredith was right — they’d be completely helpless. "Is there anything else, or should I get started?"
"I want you to find whoever publishes this," Meredith said, jabbing the Gazette with one finger, "and burn the place to the ground."
Cullen didn’t point out that he didn’t have the authority to do that and that, as far as she was concerned, no one knew where the Gazette was published. "I will see what I can do, Commander," was his obedient answer. "It is about time these miscreants were brought to justice."
His answer brought a grim smile to her lips. "Good," she said as she turned for the door. "And you can start with burning that copy. Interrogate the stonecarver. Whoever it is clearly knows someone involved."
"Yes, Commander," he said, keeping his perfect posture until she was out of sight. Then he sagged, face dropping onto his hands, allowing himself a full minute to lose his composure before piecing it back together again, stepping out of his office to call for Ella.
The plan was simple — Ella was their only Tranquil agent, but she would deliver the water with an incorrect mixture of magebane. Close enough to pass on the taste, but far enough not to cause significant damage to most mages. It wasn’t really enough, but it would keep at least one hall still magical — the hall that had been on the coast, which was mostly Starkhaven mages, anyway. Starkhaven would lead them, when the time came.
The few templars who had stopped trusting in Meredith were easy to convince — what evidence did any of them have of demons? Cullen, himself, had lived through a tower beset with demons, and if he didn’t think it would happen in the Gallows… well, he would know. Thrask, Keran, and Marlein would take the lead, ensuring that they’d be able to evacuate the tower into its cellars quickly and easily. No one would question those orders, as long as they were accompanied by chains. After all, it was much easier to clean the dungeon.
Runners were sent uptown, to summon help from where it was likely to be, and Cullen, himself, went to speak with the First Enchanter. Orsino, after all, was a mage like any other, in the end.
Cullen found Orsino in his office, surrounded by a pile of books and rolls of parchment. It might have been the lighting, but the shadows under his eyes seemed darker than Cullen remembered. "Excuse me, First Enchanter," he said, standing at his full height in the door-frame, "but I am afraid I must interrupt."
"Captain," Orsino replied, quill pausing mid-word before resuming its feverish scrawl until he came to the end of the sentence. "An unexpected pleasure. Do come in." The words were polite, but the tone was suspicious, accompanied by the twitch of one eyebrow.
Cullen shut the door behind him.
"If this is about the Gazette," said Orsino, setting down his quill and sitting back in his chair, "I promise you I knew nothing about it. And I still know nothing about it, despite the narrowed glares the Commander keeps sending me in the hall."
"The Gazette has something to do with it," Cullen admitted, gaze wandering around the room. He’d had few occasions to be in this office over the years. "But not for the reason you think."
"I expect this is serious, if you’ve come to speak to me," Orsino said, after a long pause.
"The Commander … No, let me start somewhere else. I need you to know, first, that I disagree with her, and I will be working to preserve this tower and its mages." Cullen’s shoulders remained just short of square, even as one of his feet shifted uncomfortably against the floor.
"Preserve? So she’s done it, then." Orsino looked grim, skin paler and tighter on his already-thin face.
"The approval is expected to come down, shortly. There’s already magebane in the water, although I’ve done my best to ensure some mages have gotten as little as possible, but… the Tranquil lie poorly. It’s a delicate balance. But, I need your help." Cullen looked over his shoulder, double-checking that the door was really closed. "I’m going to evacuate the tower, if I can. But, through Darktown. I really just need you, and maybe a couple of your students — if you can get them out, which you may not be able to — to make a distraction in the courtyard. Something that will draw the Knight-Commander and as many templars as you can manage out of the building, while I start leading mages out the other way."
"The ‘other way’?" Orsino raised an eyebrow.
"I know you know it’s there. You don’t get to be First Enchanter, without knowing how to keep secrets," Cullen drawled. "Do we have a deal? Do you think you can hold them off, until the rest of my distractions arrive from elsewhere?"
The suspicion in Orsino’s stare softened to something that wasn’t quite curiosity, wasn’t quite amazement. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve, Captain," he said, his lips curling up. "There’s plenty of room for them in these robes. But, Ser Cullen, I admit to being… I admit I have misjudged you."
"Well. Mages aren’t the only ones with secrets," Cullen replied with a shrug of one shoulder. "This armour is roomier than it looks."
"Messere Anton!" Bodhan’s voice was sharp, between loud knocks. "There’s an urgent message from Ser Cullen! Really very urgent — you’ll want to get dressed, messere."
Anton groaned and rolled out of bed, pulling clothing and daggers on, as he moved toward the door. "What’s wrong?" he asked, finally opening it.
Bodhan handed him the note, lips tight.
It took only a moment for Anton to absorb the message. "Cormac!" he shouted, running into the hall. "Get up! Get out here! Get— Just get! Bethy? Bethany? Are you here?"
Cormac burst into the hall, glaive in his hands. "Who do I have to kill?"
"The Knight-Commander." Anton laughed nervously and handed the note to his brother.
"Go. I’ll grab Anders. We’ll be right behind you. I have the distraction he wants, but take Isabela with you, if you can find her. Let Aveline know, and have her keep the guards inside, but ready to go, until further notice. All districts. We will need an army, to do this, and they’re as close as we’ll get, but they can’t watch the amount of law-breaking we’re about to do. In fact, have her send the patrols to start bringing people to the shelters, and then get inside, themselves."
"What’s all this noise?" Bethany asked, dressed just as elegantly as always.
"Evacuate the Chantry," Cormac told her. "We both know Elthina won’t go, but get everyone else out of that building. Bring them to the Rose. Tell them there’s problems with the construction or something, but get them out of there. And then get yourself out. Stay inside, Bethy. In the Rose, in the house, in Artie’s house — stay in one of the shelters. This is what the Gazette was warning about. Now is the time."