[ Master Post ]
Title: Assing it Up – Chapter 12
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Anders ♂, Varania ♀, Fran ♀, Xenon the Antiquarian ♂
Rating: G- (L1 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: A few colourful turns of phrase
Notes: Checking in with our friends in the Anderfels. Also, introducing the Black Emporium.
Elsewhere, along the Lattenfluss river valley, Anders stood at the end of a row of barley, looking terribly tense and a bit sickly. "This sounded better in my head," he admitted, glancing at Cormac, who was laughing so hard he’d fallen to his knees.
"You forgot the important part. You need a barrier, if you’re going to do that. Or at least a sheet." Cormac rolled onto his back, staring up at Anders. "You’re really bad at this farming thing, aren’t you?"
"I was twelve!" Anders protested. "I fed the chickens!"
"Leave it. We’ll get that row last." Cormac giggled, making no move to get up, but he cast a barrier around the top half of the next row. "Okay, same thing, but cast it inside the barrier. Come on, my brother and I used to do shit like this all the time. And hurry up before your dad catches us using magic."
"Your brother has had more practice throwing things around," Anders huffed. Much of that practice had been on Cormac, from his understanding, and Anders was starting to see the appeal. With a steadying breath, Anders waited until his internal litany of swearing died down before casting again, catching the wind in his palms and throwing it at the row of barley. Stalks bent and fluttered in the wind until Anders gathered more, the wind whipping his hair into his face as he threw the barley into Cormac’s barrier, stalks, seeds, and all. It was a mess, but less of a mess than his last attempt.
Anders blew the hair out of his face. "Better?"
"Take the bag down the other end and let me know," Cormac said, rolling off the sack they were supposed to be gathering the grain in, and handing it up to Anders. He pushed himself to his feet and looked down the row. "I think it worked. Anything weird will come out in the winnowing, and I’m pretty sure I can handle the threshing with Crushing Prison. Just need to figure out how hard to squeeze it, so we don’t end up with rocks." He laughed and slipped an arm around Anders’s waist. "I’m thinking trees, instead of grain, when we get our own place. I know trees."
Pressing a kiss to Anders’s shoulder, Cormac let go and patted Anders’s bottom. "Go see if we got it and tell me when to let go of the barrier."
Anders took the sack with one hand and brushed his hair back out of his face with the other. On days like this, he missed the clinic. Healing was something he knew, medicine, bandages, poultices. He could knit a broken bone or seal a wound and see the fruits of his labours immediately. It was worth the time in Darktown, even on days he barely escaped the chokedamp.
Farming, on the other hand, was something he was mostly doing blind, and he’d discovered the hard way that there was such a thing as too much sun and air. At least this recent attempt had proven mostly successful. Once he was ready, he called out for Cormac to drop the barrier and prayed for the best.
Cormac dropped the barrier, watching for anything falling in the wrong places. The idea was to make less work, not more, but there were going to be a few fuckups, before they got the hang of it. Hopefully, nothing too serious. Anders’s father had a quick temper, and while Cormac wasn’t the least bit afraid of the old man, he hated watching Anders fold up under the shouting. It was no wonder Anders’s older brother had left town so young.
He shook his head to clear it, and made his way down the row. "I don’t think we lost much! How does it look?" His eyes lit up as something occurred to him. "Hey, did you pick up any of that Starkhaven magic, before we left? You know, the thing Cullen was talking about, with the paper sorting? I tried to get that Alain kid to show me, but I was always terrible at Creation and useless with Force."
Brows knit, Anders checked the ground and the barley they’d gathered as he answered. "I picked up a bit of it, yeah," he said. "More of the copying spell than anything. Justice wanted my manifesto out there for anyone who would read it. Why? Do you think we could modify a clerical spell for farming work?"
"Winnowing." Cormac grinned. "Automatically identifying and separating the grain from the chaff and straw. If we can do that with a spell, we can do entire fields in a day. No more worrying about whether the harvest will be done before the frost rolls in or the crows get into the fields. I mean, sure, we’ll do nothing but sleep the day after, but we’ll end up taking more grain with less errors, and we’ll do it faster. It’ll shut your dad up, too. We’ll be adding as much to the household as we’re taking out of it, just in the barley we don’t lose to bad processing. I used to work the Bannorn — I know how that goes."
He paused and bumped his head against Anders’s shoulder. "Besides, we just started a fucking revolution for mage freedom. I think it might be up to us to write the book on reintegration. Literal book."
Justice stirred in the back of Anders’s mind, and Anders groaned internally. The thought of having a project was appealing, but after his manifesto, Anders thought he’d done enough writing for a lifetime. Still… "Using Creation and Force for winnowing? That is… actually one of your better ideas. Actually, that’s kind of brilliant, if we can get it to work. I am very much in favour of anything that makes the harvesting go faster." And anything that made his father shut up, if he were honest with himself.
"So, let’s get the rest of this down, and then we can start playing with it. We’ll make this place the Kirkwall of the North. Magic that serves man, and all that." Cormac ran a barrier down the next row. "And that’s something I never understood about Tevinter. If you’re using magic properly, what in the name of Andraste do you need slaves for? It’s stupid and inefficient. And rude." He shook his head. "Politics."
Varania didn’t have much occasion to visit Darktown or much of a desire to, and she followed close in the shadow of her employer, Fran, and her lantern as they passed through winding tunnels turned corridors. Varania tried to keep track of their steps. She had a decent sense of direction and a better memory, but within a few turns, she was lost and reliant on the woman in front of her.
"Almost there," Fran said cheerfully, her smile holding none of the fear Varania felt. But after one more turn, Varania found their way lit by pale candlelight. The ground beneath her creaked and shifted, and Varania clutched at Fran’s cloak, looking down to see that they were on a bridge, the floorboard beneath her loose.
Fran tutted and gestured Varania onward. "I’ll have to have Urchin look at that," she said. "Wouldn’t do to have a customer trip and fall in the wrong direction."
"Customer?" Varania echoed, following Fran along the candlelit bridge. She had said something about needing supplies, but surely there couldn’t be a shop down here…
Fran jiggled the door at the end of the bridge and leaned into it — it popped open with a thump. "Daddy? We’re here! What do you need help with, before I get that cloth?"
Varania blinked into the room — a surprisingly well-lit assortment of … honestly, it looked like any number of magisters’ family heirloom collections. In the centre of the room was a strange statue of a dead man with too many arms. "…Daddy?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, did I not say? This is my father’s store. Welcome to the Black Emporium." Fran smiled brightly and approached the strangely-glowing dais and its statue. "What was it, daddy?"
"What?" The voice sounded like a man waking from sleep, but nothing in the shop moved. "Urchin! Bring me a moist towelette!"
"I’m standing right here, daddy. I’ll get it for you. Don’t bother Urchin." Fran sighed, stepping to the side of the dais which held an assortment of common necessities — lotions and potions and moist towelettes.
"Urchin exists to be bothered," the voice insisted. "Who is that with you?"
Fran took a towelette and daubed at the statue. "Varania, come meet my father! Daddy, this is Varania — she works for me. A very nice young mage. Varania, this is my father, Lord Xenon of Kirkwall, an antiquarian by trade."
"I see," said the disembodied voice Varania was still trying to find the source of. Fran was talking to that grotesque statue, but… no. A few hacking coughs filled the room, and the statue didn’t move for that either. "Come a little closer, into the light. Let me have a good look at you."
Closer. To the statue-thing that spoke without moving. Varania had seen many odd things in Tevinter, but this one was new. "Er… it’s lovely to meet you, messere," she said, stepping more towards Fran than towards Xenon. She considered shaking one of his frozen hands only to decide, with barely suppressed hysterical laughter, that she didn’t know which hand to shake.
Varania’s elbow knocked against something as she passed, and she reached her hands out automatically to steady whatever it was she’d almost knocked over. And wasn’t that odd? She could swear there was stone under her hands, smooth marble, yet when she looked, she was touching air.
Xenon made a vaguely alarmed sound. "Please, do not fondle Andraste!" he admonished.
"What?" Varania continued to grope the not-stone, checking that it was, in fact, still there and not a figment of her imagination. And then it occurred to her, as her hands moved over its surface, that the stone bore a familiar shape. Ears twitching, Varania drew her hands back as though stung. "Sorry!"
"Daddy, you really should consider putting up sign there," Fran said, fondly exasperated.
"Nonsense. Urchin has enough to do," Xenon replied.
"Do you have any more of that Tevinter silk? The nice blue mageweave stuff?" Fran asked, choosing a pineapple scented salve and painting it onto Xenon’s face.
"Of course, my dear. We had a visitor the other day. Turned out to be a Venatori! We fed him to the monster under the floorboards. He made a delightful crunching noise. Are they all like that?" Xenon’s voice canted up with the question. "Either way, he was smuggling it into Kirkwall, and now we have some in stock. You may take some, since I did not pay for it."
"Thank you, daddy." Fran cooed, indulgently, gesturing for Varania to follow her to the back of the room, where storage shelves lined the space behind a table laid out with bizarre bits of enchanted weaponry and armour.
"Venatori? Here?" Varania sounded surprised and a bit uncomfortable with the idea. "That’s … I do wonder why. I have to wonder if they’re not planning to take back Kirkwall, while we’re busy rebuilding."
"Oh, I’ll never know," Fran scoffed, opening the barred door of a cabinet. "Daddy doesn’t ask. He has no use for politics, only for magic. He’s been like this since I was a little girl — I keep hoping someone will find a cure for him."
Varania tried not to stare at Xenon, especially while walking in a room that was, for all she knew, fraught with invisible sculpture. "I don’t mean to be rude, but…" Varania whispered to Fran. "What, exactly, is wrong with him?"
"Old age," Fran said gravely, digging through the fabric she found in the cabinet.
Varania waited for the punchline, but it didn’t come. Last she knew, old age didn’t affect elves that way. Well. She was assuming Xenon was an elf, since his daughter clearly was. "Just… how old, exactly?"
Fran tipped her head to the side as though mentally counting. "300 years, give or take a dozen. He lost count a while back, and I’ve had to make my best guess."
Varania was going to pretend that made sense. Magic. She’d grown up around magic and knew it could twist all sorts of things. "And… at how many years did he grow a second pair of arms? Is that what happens when elves keep on living?" A horrifying thought, considering all the legends of immortal elves. She rather preferred not to picture those elven heroes looking like this.
Fran chuckled. "Oh no. That is the side-effect of another supposed cure that… went a bit differently than expected. No matter. He — ah! Here it is." She plucked the fabric she’d been looking for off of the shelf and tucked it under her arm. "Fade-touched. Perfect. Worthy of our illustrious viscount, don’t you think?"
"Sure," Varania said distractedly, only then noticing a statue next to the cabinet that was, thankfully, perfectly visible. Or perhaps not thankfully, considering its anguished-looking subject. "That… that isn’t Meredith…?"
"What? Of course that’s Meredith. We couldn’t just leave her in the middle of the courtyard like that!" Fran shook her head and rolled her eyes. "People would have come along and started chiselling bits off, and then that stuff would’ve been all over Kirkwall. You’d never have found it all. The city might never have recovered."
"There’s nothing for her to grow into, in there," Xenon drawled from his chair. "At least I assume there isn’t. I haven’t been able to look behind me for two centuries."
"There isn’t, daddy. I promise. Urchin and I made sure of it when we moved her in."
"Why can’t he look behind him?" Varania asked, after a moment studying Meredith and her metal cage. "It’s quite obvious why he can’t turn around, I don’t mean that, but surely mirrors or some sort of axle and hub design for that platform. Surely there are ways to compensate!"
"He has difficulty trusting. It’s just Urchin, Thaddeus, and myself —" Fran started, but Xenon cut her off.
"Difficulty trusting? Who should I trust? Those dwarves who keep trying to tunnel in and steal from us? The adventurers and their quick fingers, with morals that only apply on the surface? No, no. I have what I need," Xenon huffed, and if Varania didn’t look, she could see his shoulders hike with it.
Varania looked around the shop, at the odds and ends, the piles of… stuff she couldn’t quite identify. "You called this a shop," she said. "What is it, exactly, that you sell?" Besides nightmares, she supposed, Meredith still faintly glowing out of the corner of her eye.
"All manner of curiosities pass my way," Xenon said, and Varania pictured him preening. "Some of those — ah, that reminds me. Urchin, have you remembered to feed Chauncey today? I’d rather he not chew on our visitor’s toes."
Varania’s toes curled as she looked down and around warily. "Chauncey? Who’s Chauncey? He’s not invisible too, is he?"
"No, no," Fran assured her. "Just very small. Adorable, really, but his teeth are a bit on the sharp side. Bit off a dwarf’s pinky from what I understand, so I don’t recommend petting."
"Petting?" Varania hoped they were talking about a cat.
"A tiny bear," Xenon clarified. "You may pet him, but be gentle. A magister miniaturised him specially and at great cost. Do not antagonise him. He nips."
Not a cat, then. Perhaps not as bad as what she’d been expecting, but definitely not a cat. A tiny, domestic bear sounded rather cute, actually — provided it was actually domesticated, and not just shrunken. A small wild bear would be a nightmare — which this shop seemed to specialise in. "I’ll do my best not to antagonise Chauncey," Varania promised, glancing nervously around.
"He’s less trouble than an angry cat," Fran assured her, answering the question that hadn’t been asked. "Daddy has all sorts of strange things, from a velvet painting of the Queen of Ferelden’s first husband to a great chest of unanswered invitations. And he does a brisk trade in unusual crafting components, like this silk. Occasionally turns a man invisible. Useful, if a bit unpredictable."
Varania bent to examine a crate that made strange clicking and tapping sounds. The book on top did not appear to be related.
"Death watch beetles," Xenon explained. "From Orlais. They were terribly in fashion for a time, lost favour after Emperor Judicael I’s little hissy fit at that ball in Val Royeaux."
"I see," said Varania politely, though she really didn’t. The book on top of the crate, however, looked suspiciously ordinary, if dense, at least from what she could see. Poking at the cover told her that the book was solid, real, and unlikely to attack her.
"That’s the Emergent Compendium," Fran informed her, looking amused. "I’d tell you what’s inside, but it’s different for everyone."
Varania’s eyebrow twitched up, her curiosity piqued. Since neither Xenon nor Fran told her not to touch it, Varania opened the compendium. It fell open to a blank page, which was odd, considering the size of the tome, but as Varania watched, ink lines appeared, sketching out shapes as though from an invisible hand wielding an invisible pen. The shapes eventually became one shape, a drawing of a boy with big eyes and a large, floppy hat. Strange. Stranger still were the nonsense letters that appeared under the drawing. What language was this?
Something warm and hairy brushed Varania’s ankle, and she jumped.
"Ah, there’s Chauncey!" Fran announced.
Varania watched Fran crouch down beside the little bear, scratching behind its ears. "He doesn’t bite much, do you Chauncey?"
The bear whuffed and nosed into Fran’s palm.
"He… does seem to like you," Varania ventured, still eyeing the tiny creature a bit suspiciously.
"Chauncey’s a very friendly little bear," Fran assured her, ruffling the bear’s fur, before she stood back up. "But, yes, this place is here, and Daddy always has the strangest things. So, if you’re looking for something unusual, just ask. If he doesn’t have it, I’m sure he’ll have seen it at some point."
"Such faith this girl has in me. A true wonder, if far too late." Xenon sounded almost fond.
And Varania did wonder, although she said nothing. How old was Fran? Had Xenon adopted her? That would make so much more sense than the alternatives.
"It’s true," Fran cooed back at her father. She stepped around his dais again, leaving Varania with a bear sitting on her foot. "Is there anything else I can do for you, while I’m here, daddy? I am terribly sorry it’s been so long between visits."
"Nonsense," said Xenon. "From what I understand, the surface has been much more interesting these past few weeks. I don’t think I would visit me either."
"No more interesting than usual," Fran said, "but I suppose that says more about Kirkwall than anything. Thanks again, daddy." She pressed a kiss to what Varania assumed was Xenon’s cheek. "I’ll come back later in the week to see if you need anything."
"Um. Thank you for hospitality," Varania said with an awkward half-bow she knew he couldn’t see anyway. Giving Chauncey’s head an uncertain pat, she walked around the bear to Fran’s side, mindful of any invisible objects.