[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 392
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cullen ♂, Anton Hawke ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Discussions of the aftermath of the preceding chapters
Notes: Cullen and Anton speak to the mages.
"Yes, you tell her that. Lord Dog is here to relieve you of his friends." Anton’s smile, Cullen had noticed, looked even deadlier in the dim light of Darktown. "You’ll get the money, and the contract, when I know they’re safe."
"I ain’t arguing with Lord Dog, Sean," one of the Coterie guards remarked, to the other.
Sean looked like he might start something, but his lips tightened, and he lifted the heavy trapdoor. "Good to see you again, Barky."
Anton snapped his teeth, as he passed, leading Cullen into what looked like more mining tunnels, first, and then a living section of the Undercity. With most of the torches lit, it was easy to see the excellent masonry and the skill of the carvers who’d laid in the designs along the stone walls. Stories, he thought, of Tevinter heroes, long since lost to the passage of time, and the intentional erasure of so much of what was left behind, when the Imperium was forced out of the Marches. But, here, it remained.
Cullen was so distracted by the story of… well, he wasn’t sure, but it looked like a man making a deal with a dragon, that he almost missed the side passage Anton turned down. Behind ancient doors, there seemed to be an indoor amphitheatre of some sort, well lit, but somewhat foul, in the moment, full as it was with refugees — with mages.
"Templar!" someone yelled from the middle of the crowd at ground level.
"No, no! It’s the Knight-Captain!" Someone else called out, as panic started to spread through the ranks. "He got us out of there!"
Anton whistled sharply. "Hello, pleased to meet you all. I’m sorry we didn’t have time for introductions, earlier, but you can call me Lord Dog. It explains the accent." Anton paused, waiting for a laugh that didn’t come. "I’m proud to tell you that Knight-Commander Meredith has been removed from power, in an extremely permanent fashion."
A soft murmur ran through the crowd at that, sidelong glances exchanged. While the mages, as a whole, looked less likely to bolt, Anton still read wariness in the room, and for all his authority, Cullen felt like a bug being inspected.
"What do you mean permanent?" asked one mage from the back row, her arms folded across her chest as all eyes panned to her. "Did you kill her?"
Cullen’s feet shuffled where he stood. "I… She is dead, yes. But it was her own folly that killed her." More murmurings, and this time Cullen only caught a few whispers, but they stuck with him. "And yes, that… that technically makes me the new Knight-Commander, but as I hope my actions have proven, I am not Meredith." He wished he had his sword in his hands, just to give them something to do. "As you have heard, Meredith called for the Right of Annulment in an alarmingly disproportionate response to her fears. When I tried to relieve her of her command, she retaliated. As much as I… regret that we could not come to a more peaceable decision, I think the city of Kirkwall is better for her absence."
"Meredith wasn’t the only problem," said that same mage in the back. "Alrik was a pustule. But when he died, more came to take his place. How do we know that won’t happen again?" Cullen looked at her more closely, wondering how she hadn’t been made Tranquil yet, with that obstinacy, but — Semele. Right. Her name had been on Meredith’s short list.
"How can anyone know that, really?" Cullen asked. "But, if you report that sort of behaviour, or anything you think might turn into that sort of behaviour, we can get rid of it when it happens. Not everyone is cut out to do what we do, and I would rather the ranks be filled with compassionate people who would hesitate before striking a blow than with the sort of conscience-free tyrants who proliferated under my predecessor’s reign."
"I’m not going back," Semele decided. "You’ll have to kill me."
"No, I won’t." Cullen shrugged. "I’ve come to invite all of you back. You and I know how poorly the public views your gifts, and I would like to use the tower to protect you, while you sleep. People need time to learn that magic isn’t just a weapon, it’s a tool that we can use to help people. That’s what the Chant says, isn’t it? That we’re to help each other? ‘All men are the Work of our Maker’s Hands, from the lowest slaves to the highest kings. Those who bring harm without provocation to the least of His children are hated and accursed by the Maker.’ Well, it’s been a long time since there’s been any of that in this city, and I want to believe that we can start a trend."
"What about the Chantry?" another mage asked. "Aren’t they supposed to be doing that?"
"I have a reliable source who tells me that even the Chantry failed Kirkwall, in the end. And it is the end. The Chantry’s … not there any more." Cullen shrugged, unwilling to say too much about that, yet.
"Some of you travelled through that," Anton reminded them. "That cloud of dust and rocks wasn’t normal Darktown atmosphere."
That garnered a mix of responses, from horror to confusion to grim satisfaction. Despite living in this city, most of the mages had never set foot in the Chantry, had never been able to. And that, right there, was at the heart of what was so wrong with the Circle. "The Grand Cleric was in the Chantry when it… when it fell," Cullen said, stumbling over the verb. There were words for what had happened to the Chantry, but ‘fell’ wasn’t quite it. "While we should mourn her loss, we should also take the opportunity to start anew, to dig up the rotted foundation and rebuild, brick by brick. It is time for the Order to stop making the same mistakes, mistakes that you pay for."
In the back of his mind, Cullen could see Meredith’s face, twisted in outrage at these words. But in front of him, Cullen saw the faces of mages, of people he had sworn to guard and protect, and those faces were turned towards his. They were listening, he realised, and not just because they had to.
"And if we don’t want to come back?" someone asked.
"I have a friend. She has a ship. I am led to understand she’s leaving town at the end of the week. You’re welcome to go where you’ve always wanted, but keep in mind that not all places are going to be as forgiving as this one will be." Anton studied the crowd, pleased as he always was that none of these people were his relatives. But, then again, with the way the Amells turned mage, maybe they were. "That said, I’ve heard good things about Rivain. I’ve heard they like mages in Rivain. Tevinter’s an obvious choice."
"And anyone with family here is obviously welcome to move home," Cullen pointed out. "Just keep in mind that your neighbours may take a while to come around. I’d like to keep the murdering rampages to a minimum, as we get started here — not you, of course. Other people trying to kill you. Meredith took advantage of the fear of magic every Thedosian is raised with and pried it open into a gaping, toothed maw, and I’d rather not have any of you fall into it before we can coax it closed."
"That’s it?" Semele asked with a scoff. "We can just… go home? After everything?"
"After everything," Cullen agreed, but his openness failed to wipe the suspicion from her face. He couldn’t blame her for that. "And you will be welcomed back to the Circle, should you wish to return. Should you choose to stay, now or in the future, you may leave whenever you like. For too long the Circle has been a prison, and you its inmates. I will not let my templars become your jailers."
"And what of the First Enchanter?" asked a shy voice in the front. Cullen looked to find that voice attached to a familiar face. Alain, one of the Starkhaven mages. "Does he know of this?"
Cullen looked around at the sea of faces and sucked in a breath. "I wish that First Enchanter Orsino could be here to tell you this himself, but he has taken his seat by the Maker. He fell defending you all from Meredith’s wrath, so that you could get to safety."
"What the man means to say," Anton translated, "is that Meredith stabbed him to death, as her last act as Knight-Commander. And then we think she summoned demons. Let that sink in."
"That’s ridiculous!" a voice called out from the back. "She wasn’t a mage! If she was a mage how would she have gotten so far into templar ranks?"
"You’re working off the assumption that you need to be a mage to get a demon in Kirkwall, which appears not to be the case," Anton pointed out. "I’ve got some stories about that."
"We discovered she’d fallen victim to a very rare form of lyrium poisoning, which may have made that easier," Cullen offered, diplomatically. "We will, of course, be examining the rest of Kirkwall’s templars, for signs of it."
A man with a long grey beard and a strange hood with ram’s horns stepped forward. "I would like to stay," he announced. "Perhaps I am too trusting, in my age, but I am willing to believe that this young man desires change. Some of you came from Ferelden, I know, after the trouble they had, and what you have told me leads me to believe Ser Cullen is strong and righteous. Is it true, Commander, that you were held by demons?"
"For days. Or so I’m told. I had no sense of how long it was." Cullen shook his head. "That’s… that’s not something I really want to talk about. But, it changed me. It made me forget my duty, and I apologise for that. I was afraid, and I acted poorly. But, my time with mages — with apostates, really — has reminded me of what it means to be a templar. My place is to protect Kirkwall from magical threats — like the inordinate number of demons in this Maker-forsaken place — but it is not to prevent the use of magic."
"Also, he slew a dragon and ate its heart, saving fifty miners from a fiery death. Killed an ancient Tevinter demon that was living under the city, too. I got a friend who’s writing a book about it. I’ll bring copies to the tower, when it’s published." Anton grinned, wrapping his arm around Cullen’s waist. "I’m Lord Dog, most of my family is composed of mages, and I still married this guy. I think that tells you what you need to know about him."
"It’s… it’s true," Alain said, forcing himself to raise his voice. "When Grace… when Grace went mad, he gave me a second chance. I didn’t deserve it, but he did. He’s a good man, the kind that Kirkwall needs right now, and…" Alain looked down at his hands as they twisted in his lap. "Well, I’ve nowhere else to go. There’s nothing for me in Starkhaven."
"Thank you, Alain," Cullen said, tipping his head respectfully. "There is a place here for anyone who wants it."
"For those of you who decide not to stay," Anton said, "please let us help you get on your way. You’ll need more than the clothes on your back and a cringingly conspicuous staff." He hoped for their sakes that they stayed, but he knew that, in their shoes, he wouldn’t, not when a whole world had been kept from him.