[ Master Post ]
Title: Assing it Up – Chapter 9
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Fenris ♂, Cullen ♂, Alain ♂, Ser Marlein♀
Rating: G- (L1 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: A few colourful turns of phrase
Notes: A strange disappearance. Fenris is appreciated by the cats.
The child tugged on the woman’s sleeve and made a few quick hand signs, as they lingered in the alley, observing their prize.
"I know," the woman reassured the child, in hushed voice. "The guard will circle back in an hour. But, just look at it! Don’t you think he’ll be pleased with us?"
The child nodded and tugged her sleeve again, and the two of them picked up the runed bucket with its tightly fastened lid. Heavy, but necessary — they had to cover all of it, to be safe. Within moments, molten lead dribbled down over the thing, spreading across the red smears on the gleaming ground, below. The woman tossed a rune into the spreading puddle and watched the metal suddenly stiffen in the shape of what they’d come for.
She whistled, and a low grinding sound preceded heavy footsteps. They had plenty of time to get back, and the master would indubitably be pleased with this latest acquisition. The woman wondered if the day would leave her time to pick up those Orlesian brass buttons she needed for the week’s work, but the master’s work always came first.
Fenris had the newest chapter of Hard in Hightown open across his lap, and he had every intention of reading it, an intention currently thwarted by the purring sack of fluff sitting on the pages.
"Cat," he said, trying to wriggle the book out from under Purrcy. "Books are not for sitting on."
But Purrcy scrinched his eyes up at Fenris in a way that, Anders had once told him, meant the beast was happy, and the cat stretched out, sprawling even more obscenely across the open book and exposing his belly. With an aggrieved sigh, Fenris rubbed the white fluff at his belly and felt the cat’s chest hum under his fingers.
"There. You have been petted." Fenris finally slid the book out from under Purrcy and set it on top of him instead. Cats, it turned out, made better book rests than bookmarks.
Purrcy sat for all of a moment or three, before he shoved his way out from under the book and clambered onto the chair, next to Fenris, who edged to the side, to make room. These chairs were much too big, anyway. Qunari-sized, he thought. Two of Anders would fit in this chair, so there was definitely room for himself and this cat. But, the cat had other ideas, it turned out, and Purrcy hooked his talons into the sleeve of Fenris’s shirt, for a moment, sizing up the distance before he leapt onto Fenris’s shoulder. A brief fluster followed, in which the book was knocked onto the floor, and Fenris wound up with a cat firmly curled up on his head, claws caught in his hair.
It was about the time Fenris rang for Orana that Purrcy began to knead.
"Yes, Messere Fenris?" Orana appeared in the doorway, struggling to keep the amusement and confusion off her face at the sight of this fluffy ball of orange and cream tugging at Fenris’s hair and licking his ear.
"Ham, if you please. Or pheasant. Something more interesting than my ears," Fenris grumbled, trying to figure out how to reach the book without the cat sliding down his face, claws out.
Orana took pity, crossing the room to extract the cat from Fenris’s hair. "You’re a pretty kitty, aren’t you, Ser Purrcival. Let’s go get you something tasty to eat, so Messere Fenris can read his book."
Purrcy looked up at her with an inquisitive chirp as Orana scooped him up, carefully disentangling kitty claws from Fenris’s hair. As soon as she had him, Purrcy wriggled out of Orana’s grip and climbed up her sleeve to perch on her shoulder, purring all the while. Anything but surprised, Orana balanced accordingly and cooed to Purrcy as she brought him into the kitchen.
"Who’s the cutest kitty? You’re the cutest kitty! Yes, you are!"
Purrcy chirped and purred his agreement with this assessment.
Fenris shook his head and picked up his book again. At least it hadn’t been Assbiter, who, he had discovered, also went by the names Toebiter and Earbiter and… Anybodypartbiter. Judging by the startled swearing Fenris had heard a few minutes ago, that particular beast was probably helping Artemis with his cleaning.
Trying to find his spot on the page again, Fenris ignored how cold his lap felt now.
Cullen looked up at the knock on his open door, only to find one of the mages standing there. "What can I do for you, Alain?"
"I… I think you need to see this, Ser Cullen. You’re not going to believe me if I just tell you." Alain looked rather disturbed by whatever it was, but he didn’t seem panicked.
"Is anyone bleeding?" Cullen asked, standing up and reaching for his sword. "What am I walking into?"
"No, ser, no one’s bleeding. It’s… nothing." Alain paused, then nodded. "You’re walking into nothing, and that’s the problem."
And then Cullen looked confused. "Nothing?" he asked, following Alain down the hall to one of the narrow windows that overlooked the courtyard.
"Nothing, ser," Alain said, gesturing at the window.
Cullen looked down at the bronze-lined stone of the courtyard, which was, it seemed, all visible. "Where in the Void has she gone?" He blinked, blinked again, but the statue that had been Meredith was gone.
"We’re not sure, ser, and that’s the problem. We don’t know who took her or how." Alain shrugged, looking down into the courtyard. "Our rooms haven’t got windows, you know. None of us can see what goes on at night."
And it had to have been at night. There was no other way that would have gone unnoticed.
Cullen realised his mouth was still open and promptly shut it. Now that his brain had processed where she was not, questions involving who and why vied for his attention. Who could have moved her? Cullen hadn’t been foolish enough to touch her — none of his templars had been, as far as he knew — but petrified lyrium was not so easily carried off.
"Did anyone hear anything?" Cullen asked Alain. "Strange noises? Voices?"
Alain shook his head, eyes wide. "No windows, ser," he reminded Cullen. And that, Cullen supposed, was another headache he’d need to address. For all that the Gallows were no longer a prison, it was still built like one.
"She can’t have just disappeared," Cullen muttered, stepping away from the window to head down to the courtyard itself. For a frightening moment, he pictured Meredith returning to life and walking away of her own power, and just the thought had him clutching the wall.
"I expect she’s been stolen, all the same, ser, and that means someone out there’s touched her," Alain pointed out, getting right to another of Cullen’s fears.
"We should’ve moved her, shouldn’t we? We should’ve at least put a cage down or something." Cullen shook his head, as he threw open the door to the stairs. "Do we have anyone with spells that might help? I’m still getting used to all the talents around here. And sharp eyes. If someone was here, maybe they left something."
This city. Every time he thought he had Kirkwall figured out, something else happened. Demons, dragons, crazed apostate revolutionaries bent on getting him promoted, a Dalish baroness, a First Enchanter who put on puppet shows in the Viscount’s garden. Kirkwall.
Cullen called out to a couple of templars as he passed. "Marlein, Weston, with me. Someone’s stolen my predecessor."
"You… what, Commander?" Ser Marlein looked up from teaching a recruit to clean around the rivets in his armour.
Cullen didn’t stop long enough to see her face drain of colour, but he heard her footsteps as she and Weston hurried to catch up. They held their questions until they followed Cullen out onto the courtyard, followed the rivers of bronze to the spot where Meredith had knelt, red lyrium face and body twisted in agony.
"Where…?" Weston breathed.
"I don’t know," Cullen said, finding the exact spot by the scorched patch of stone and crouching to get a closer look. "I don’t know where, I don’t why, I don’t know who." She hadn’t been dragged away, or if she had, the thief had been thorough in cleaning up. Lyrium dragged across stone would have left granules behind, possibly even scuff marks, depending on how… solid she was. And this? This was Kirkwall’s absurdity at its height. Cullen was trying to figure out who had stolen — kidnapped? — his reviled boss, who was now a lyrium statue. "Okay, let’s… try to work this out. Someone carried her. Maybe more than one someones. And no one caught them carrying a statue through the gate."
"It is quite a lot of lyrium, Commander," Marlein pointed out. "You don’t suppose that’s why they took her?"
Weston kept squinting at the ground, as Cullen and Marlein talked, finally crouching and drawing his dagger to pick at something. "I don’t think this is bird shit." He held up the dagger with a smooth, dull bump on the tip of the blade. "I’m not touching it, but I think it might be window lead."
Cullen caught on almost instantly. "If they put window lead on her, those parts would be safe to touch. Safer, anyway."
"But, why?" Marlein paced out the edges of the lead drips. "Who wants a sack-weight of madness? It’s no good as lyrium, and even the regular kind catches up to you in time."
"What if it’s not the lyrium?" Alain appeared almost soundlessly behind them, four other mages in tow. "What if it’s her? Proof of death."
"If I hadn’t seen it, myself, I’d pay for proof," Marlein admitted. "It’s still hard to believe she’s dead."
"Dead and gone," one of the other mages joked. "Why are we looking for her?"
"Because somebody had to touch her to move her, and that means whoever it is has probably gone crazy and is going to do something that none of us are going to like," another mage pointed out.
"What if it’s the Merchant’s Guild?" Weston asked, suddenly. "They’d know how to handle lyrium."
"Yes, but they’d also have let us know they were moving her." Cullen sighed and rubbed his face, crouching next to the indent where she’d been. "The Carta I might believe, and that just gives me nightmares." He would have to talk to Anton about that. From what he understood, Anton knew somebody who knew somebody who sort of knew somebody in the Carta, even if Cullen wasn’t so convinced there were so many ‘somebodies’ involved in that equation.
"Maybe it was just someone with a grudge," Marlein suggested. "Maker knows she pissed off an awful lot of people. Ruined an awful lot of lives. I could see people paying for that, as well, for the chance to smash her into tiny bits."
"It was tempting," one mage muttered, and few nodded in agreement. "I admit, I considered it, and I might have done it, but I don’t trust that red lyrium stuff. Whacking her face with my staff isn’t worth getting lyrium poison or worse. I rather prefer being sane."
But the mage next to him shook her head. "Tempting it may have been, but why not just smack the everliving daylights out of it here? Why take her away? Sounds to me like they’re invested in keeping her intact, whatever it is they’re doing."
"On the bright side," Weston noted, "wherever she’s being dangerous and crazy-making, it’s not in our front yard, any more!"
Alain nodded, looking a bit resigned. "It’s true. It’s difficult having people over, when you’ve got to tell them to watch for the giant, glowing mound of extra-dangerous lyrium out front." He cleared his throat. "Not that I’ve been having anyone over, of course."
"What, are you not paying enough?" one of the mages teased, elbowing him.
"It’s not very nice in there." Alain shrugged. "I’ve stayed because I’d miss you guys, but even without the locks on the doors, it’s decorated like a prison everywhere but the public rooms. I’ve seen nicer rooms in Darktown."
"We’ve got some serious budgetary constraints, right now," Cullen muttered, staring up into the sky and waiting for the universe to strike him down where he stood. Why had he ever thought a promotion was a good idea?
"Well, of course, what with the Chantry and all, but I think we can help. We’ve got some folks down at the Alienage, now, working on their new buildings and all. It’s nice! But, I’m thinking this place could take a little magic. I know we’ve got some mages who do stone magic. It’s got to be easier than trying to cut windows into the walls." Alain rocked back onto his heels and shrugged again. "I’m just saying, Commander, we don’t have much, but we can probably do a little more with it."
Cullen blinked. "Stone magic." He hadn’t thought of that. Why hadn’t he thought of that? "Tell you what, Alain. Work out the details with Keran and have him run them by me, and we’ll see what we can work out." That, at least, was something productive they could do, and he wouldn’t mind some more light in the Tower. Maybe it would dissuade Anton from scaling the walls all the time.
"Are you looking for the red lady?"
Cullen looked up in the voice’s direction to see a man staggering his way. It was a drunken sort of stagger, more of a forward-moving stumble, the man’s hair wild and unkempt. "…yes?" Cullen eyed the stranger, wondering where he’d come from and how he’d ended up here.
"I saw ’em take her," the man slurred, pointing at the scorched patch where Meredith had been.
Cullen straightened. "‘Them’? Who did you see?"
"They took her," the man repeated, nodding enthusiastically. He stretched out his arms and gestured over his head, almost smacking Weston in the face. "There was this… this stone giant! He picked her up and walked off. Wait. An old lady bossed him around and then he picked her up and walked off. And there was someone else too… but mostly the stone giant. Oh! Maybe he was looking for a stone bride!"
Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose. "Stone giant. Right."
"They came out of the sewer," the man whispered, loudly.
"A stone giant came up out of the sewer with some lady, picked up the … statue of the Knight-Commander, and then they left?" Marlein asked, cautiously.
"Well, first she danced around it with a little kid and a bucket. Like some kind of weird ritual. You don’t think it’s blood magic, do you? I bet you it was blood magic." The man nodded sagely, eyes wide.
"Lead?" Weston suggested, and Cullen nodded.
"Probably." Cullen took a deep breath. "We’ll definitely look into it, serah. Can you describe any of these people for us?"
"Well, the stone giant was huge! And made of stone! You know, like rocks!" The man gestured to imply the size of the giant, which was, it seemed, actually gigantic. "And that lady it was with wasn’t young, but she was real pretty. This long, curly red hair and tiny little feet…" He looked like he might swoon.
Marlein looked sidelong at Cullen. "So… we should keep an eye out for a not-young woman with curly red hair and tiny feet?" She kept her voice and expression neutral, but Cullen heard the disbelief in the words.
He shrugged. "I don’t see any other witnesses stepping forward. Could you tell me about this child?"
"I trust he or she had tiny little feet too," muttered a friend of Alain, who tried to shush her through a smirk.
"Was a boy. I think." The drunk frowned at nothing, brows knit. "I dunno. I was distracted by the lady. Oh! And he about this tall." He gestured midway up his chest. "Ish. Against her, anyway. Short blond hair." He nodded decisively.
That was almost coherent, Cullen noticed. He wondered if Aveline would be up for helping him track down a blond boy and a red-haired woman. Like she didn’t already have enough to do.
Weston eyed the drunk up and down. Not a mage or a templar, and he didn’t seem to be shopping the marketplace. "What are you even doing here?" he asked.
Again the drunk frowned out at nothing as he thought about that. "Damned if I know."