Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
They were taken at once to the Keeper’s aravel, and more than a few of the clan emerged to watch them. Evidently, Marethari had been awaiting their arrival, Tobias decided, though he wondered if she’d expected him to bring quite so many people with him.
The camp was a different place at night. A huge fire burned at its centre, making shadows and glancing swathes of orange light dance against the packed dirt and the great, dark shapes of the land-ships. Several elves sat on the steps of their aravels, watching the interlopers with quiet, hard-eyed interest. The most striking thing about the scene was its silence. Despite the number of people, the only sound in the camp appeared to be the crackling of the fire. Not even night birds seemed to come this close to the Dalish.
It was the boy’s mother who came out to greet them, her thin frame wrapped up in a dark brown shawl and her face shrouded with worry and anxiety, visible even beneath the faded lines of her tattoos. The shadows cast by the aravels’ sails fell thickly over her, and her eyes—of that very pale, elven green—seemed to leap from the darkness, sharp as blades and wet with unshed tears.
“Serah Hawke!” she exclaimed, reaching out to him with one work-worn, thin-fingered hand. “Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come. Ma serannas,” she added, turning to Merrill and clutching her arm; thanking her for bringing him, Tobias supposed.
“It’ll be all right, Arianni,” Merrill assured, patting the woman’s hand. “You’ll see.”
That sounded like false optimism, but he didn’t like to say so, especially when the woman looked at him, her lips trembling and her cheeks pale.
“You’ve done so much for my Feynriel already, messere. I can’t tell you how grateful I am… how grateful he is. I know it. He hasn’t wanted to see me since he came to the People, but I know. My friends have told me, and Keeper Marethari—”
She stopped as her voice cracked and the tears began to spill, making it painfully apparent just how bad Feynriel’s condition must be.
Arriving just in time for the deathbed scene, Tobias thought bitterly. He forced out an unwilling smile, uncomfortable with the woman’s palpable fear and grief. Merrill put her arm around a now sobbing Arianni, and nodded towards the heavy curtain that hung across the door to the Keeper’s aravel.
Tobias nodded, and moved towards the small rank of steps, Anders at his shoulder and the others following close behind.
“I don’t know what they expect me to do,” he muttered, just loud enough for the healer to hear. “Yell really loudly in his ear? Give him a good shake?”
Anders snorted, but the look he shot Tobias was dark. “If he is unable to control his powers, that might not be the issue.”
Tobias winced. “Mm. Thanks. I was trying not to think about that.”
Inside, the aravel was surprisingly spacious. They really were like ships, Tobias supposed; smooth-shelled, dark husks, windowless and curved like hulls. There was more opulence—more in the way of furnishings, and brightly coloured rugs and hangings, with thick furs on the floor and walls—but he still had to fight not to be reminded of the boat he’d spent so many unpleasant weeks on from Gwaren.
Keeper Marethari stood in the centre of the dim, candlelit space, her white hair bound back and her green robes hanging loosely around her arms and shoulders, with the glint of a golden amulet hidden within the deep, cowl-like folds the fabric formed. A carved wooden screen lay to one side of the aravel, next to a large, heavy, iron-bound trunk that was probably both of human make and even older than the elven woman herself. The light-fingered magpie in Tobias wondered what interesting treasures it might hold, but the majority of his attention was occupied by the slender figure on the bed opposite. He heard Anders draw a long, soft breath between his teeth, and then the feel of it all suddenly hit him… like dark rain under his skin, crawling and pulling.
Feynriel lay motionless—a slip of a boy, with no trace of elven grace or delicacy in his gangly, adolescent limbs—yet his power crackled in the air like the greasy static of a lightning storm. He’d been undressed and placed beneath blankets and furs, his head supported by a large, dark red pillow, and his single braid of blond hair lay pale across the fabric, like a newly cleaned wound.
His eyes were the worst thing. They were open, unblinking… like dead eyes, staring out from a waxy, slack face. Someone had tucked a small rag toy beneath the blanket, so old and tattered that it had long since lost its colour and most of its identifiable shape, yet it was still nestled close to the boy. A toy drum sat on the foot of the bed, discoloured and missing one beater.
Discomfort prickled at Tobias’ spine, and he felt goosebumps rising on his bare arms. Behind him, Fenris padded in through the doorway, his posture guarded but politely reverential—or at least as close to it as he ever got—while Aveline and Varric crowded by the curtain. The aravel was comfortably spacious, after all, but not big enough to accommodate everyone.
“Serah Hawke,” Marethari said, her words quiet but heavily accented. “Thank you for coming. I… did not expect so many.”
She glanced over his shoulder at the others, as Merrill edged her way through, her arm still protectively around Arianni. Tobias shrugged.
“I have loyal friends.” He tried to pass it off with a cocky grin, but the dim little room was choked with the feel of magic, behaving in a way it shouldn’t do, with the dark promise of demons prowling beneath it. The attempt at a grin stagnated and died on his lips, and he nodded at the boy’s unmoving form. “Is he…?”
Marethari shook her head. “His lips still fog a mirror, but that is all. We must act quickly. That is why I sent for you in the manner I did.”
Arianni, still sniffing wetly, left Merrill’s side and moved to her son. She smoothed his hair and tugged at the blanket, as if she were tucking in a sleeping babe. Her fingers brushed against the little rag toy, and her shoulders began to shake with renewed sobs.
“Has Merrill explained the nature of Feynriel’s power?” the keeper enquired, as if it might distract them from Arianni’s private grief. “He is… what the Tevinters call somniari. One who has the power to shape the Beyond. The People once had magics of that nature, and they were very powerful. I believe Feynriel is a throwback to those times; what we call a Dreamer, and he is the first in two ages to survive.”
Tobias furrowed his brow. He wanted to know why it was so rare, but his mind felt slightly fuzzy, and then it was Anders’ voice he was hearing, not Marethari’s.
“So, he’s trapped in the Fade—sorry, the Beyond—and you think he can be reached through his dreams? Guided back here?”
The elf nodded, the wariness in her expression giving way to a cautious willingness to answer.
“I believe so. Arianni has brought his childhood things. We’d hoped his mother’s presence might be enough, that all this might anchor him some, but… no. There is an old Dalish ritual that I think is his last hope. It involves sending someone Feynriel trusts to guide him home.” The keeper tilted her chin, a flicker of pride crossing her face, beneath the tawny, faded marks of her tattoos. “A long time ago, we had the knowing of that—of sending anyone into the Beyond, even those without magic—but so much of our knowledge is lost.”
Marethari winced a little as she said it, as if admitting that truth pained her. She blinked, and fixed Tobias with a grave look that made his stomach clench.
“Feynriel trusts you, Hawke. And—”
“And I’m a mage,” he finished, as the pieces slotted neatly into place. “Which makes this that much easier. Right.”
A thin kind of tension hung on the air in the cramped aravel, as so many different faces turned to watch him. Tobias clenched his jaw. This was definitely going to go down in the diary as one of his more memorable days—and for every single wrong reason known to man.
How in the name of Andraste’s arse cheeks do I get myself into these things? I don’t remember pissing on the statue of any particular god. Never stole from a collection plate, or kicked a beggar… I’m not a bad person. Am I?
Beside him, Anders shifted uneasily, the pauldrons of his coat damp and spiky, like ruffled hackles.
“I’ve heard of rituals like this. They require at least three mages, and a great deal of lyrium—” He glanced sidelong at Tobias, his discomfort evident. “—or some other source of power.”
Marethari’s expression tightened. “There will be no blood sacrifice, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“I meant no disrespect,” Anders said defensively, though Tobias saw the way his gaze shifted to Merrill for the briefest of moments. “I apologise, Keeper.”
Marethari inclined her head and let out a long breath, returning her attention to Tobias. “I believe I can perform the ritual, if you will consent to it. But it must be tonight. Feynriel has little time left.”
The atmosphere was getting worse. That breath of magic crawled over his skin now, lodged itself in his mouth and nose… a dark and shapeless sense of thick, crowded time, full of unseen things and horrible possibilities. Tobias suppressed both a shudder and a lurch of doubt. This felt like a bad idea, and yet he couldn’t refuse. Not after the way he’d been brought here, and not with Arianni looking at him like she was all of a sudden, standing by her son’s bedside with her thin hands worrying at each other, her face bleached of colour.
“Please, messere?” she prompted, the candlelight picking at her swollen, red-rimmed eyes. “Will you think on submitting to the keeper’s magic, if it means saving my son’s life?”
Oh, sod it….
Tobias sighed brusquely. “Yes. Yes, I… I’ve had dealings with the Fade before. I’m certainly willing to try.”
Her face crumpled into a look of heartfelt relief, and she came towards him jerkily, her hands extended. “Thank you! Thank you, truly. You have been so kind to us, serah…. Kinder than we had any right to expect.”
Tobias winced uneasily as Arianni took hold of his hand, clutching it between her hard, dry palms, and began to weep anew.
Marethari cleared her throat and looked meaningfully at Merrill. “Arianni, why don’t you go and warm yourself by the fire? This has been such a long and difficult day for you.”
“Oh. Oh, of course, yes….” The woman blinked, looking flustered until Merrill took her gently by the shoulder and led her out of the aravel, muttering encouraging things about nice hot bowls of soup.
As she passed Tobias, Merrill glanced up at him, and her eyes grew deep and wide. “Thank you,” she mouthed.
The weight of all those assembled gazes sat heavily on him, and Tobias disliked the feeling. He shrugged, turning back to the keeper as the women left.
“Yeah, well… not often you get to ‘submit’ and still come out the hero, is it? Ow,” he added, barely aware of Anders having kicked him until he glanced down and saw the healer’s dusty boot snaking back across the floorboards.
If Marethari had noticed, she didn’t say anything. She’d moved to the wooden screen, and was rummaging behind it, bringing out a large bronze disc, two beaten bronze bowls, and a large leather pouch.
“We will need to begin at once. I cannot stress how much your help means, but we cannot delay.” She glanced across the aravel, eyeing Aveline and the others with as much uncertainty as Tobias had ever seen on her. “Perhaps your companions would prefer to—”
Varric held up a hand, and Tobias realised how quiet the dwarf had been up until then. It wasn’t like him at all… and he couldn’t recall ever seeing Varric Tethras stunned into silence before.
“So, you’re sending Hawke into the Fade, to drag this kid out of a nightmare?” Varric curled his lip. “I’m no expert, but there are demons and whatnot there, right?”
Marethari nodded. “It is dangerous, yes.”
Tobias glanced over his shoulder, readying a look of cheerful assurance. “I’m a big boy, Varric. I’ll manage.”
He didn’t look appeased. In truth, Tobias was hardly crazy about the idea, either, but there wasn’t much alternative.
“This ritual,” Anders said, addressing the keeper as she began dragging the iron-bound trunk across the floor, the bowls and the bronze disc balanced on top of it. “Can you send more than one person? If… if you were going to—”
Marethari straightened up and surveyed them critically. She gave Tobias a thoughtful look, and then the smallest hint of a smile curved her lips.
“They are indeed loyal friends, aren’t they, serah? Yes,” she added, nodding at Anders. “It is an old and powerful magic. It does not act on a person, but on a place. What I shall do here will make this space a gateway. For a limited time, it will draw aside the mist, and allow passage into the Beyond.”
“You’re talking about tearing the Veil,” Tobias said, aware of how slow and stupid he sounded, and yet shocked all the same. “On actual purpose?”
The keeper nodded, her hands busy setting the bowls—and a number of other, smaller implements she’d drawn out—into what appeared to be a complex arrangement on the top of the trunk.
“Well, I have to admit,” Varric said, cutting through the gravid silence with forced jovialness, “I’m a little fascinated.”
Marethari smiled. “Ah. I don’t think one of the durgen’len would take well to such a journey. Abelas.”
“No? Ah, nuts.”
Tobias snorted, despite himself. Typical Varric… drawn by the promise of bloodshed and otherworldly horrors. He turned, and looked at Fenris and Aveline.
“Listen, I don’t expect anyone to do this, but—”
If you want to, don’t let me stop you… please?
The words hung unspoken on the air. Fenris narrowed his eyes.
“I have no wish to enter the Fade, although….” He winced, and looked uncertainly at Marethari. “If the power of lyrium is required, I may be able to assist.”
She looked confused until he pulled off one gauntlet and flexed his hand for her, his face growing tight as the brands that criss-crossed his flesh flared blue. Tobias stared. That was definitely unexpected.
Marethari murmured incredulously under her breath, reaching out to touch Fenris’ arm, though her fingers stopped halfway. She gave him a solemn look, and nodded, a surprisingly humble gratitude on her face.
“Fenris—” Tobias began, because he felt he ought to say something. He knew using the abilities Danarius had forced upon was uncomfortable for the elf, if not outright painful… perhaps Feynriel’s plight had hit more of a nerve than he’d let on.
Fenris shook his head irritably, refusing to comment. The curtain across the doorway swished as Merrill reappeared, looking enquiringly at the ranks of stern, serious faces.
“Is it going to begin?” she asked, eyes widening as her gaze moved to Marethari. She gave Tobias a small, awkward smile. “I’m coming with you, of course. Keep you safe,” she said encouragingly… which Tobias somehow didn’t find all that heartening.
“And you have my blade,” Aveline put in, drawing herself up as far as she could without hitting her head on the aravel’s beamed ceiling—presumably in an attempt to disguise her nervousness. “If you need it.”
Tobias nodded hazily. None of this somehow felt quite real. It was as if everything was a part of the mildly scratchy, fuzzy feeling at the back of his mind.
“Appreciate it,” he said quietly. “Thanks.”
Anders stood, alone, in the middle of the floor, looking worried and conflicted, the fingers of his left hand worrying at his right wrist.
Tobias shot him a questioning look. Of course, he’d want to come too, wouldn’t he? Leaping to my defence. Any minute now. Probably.
“Anders?” he prompted, feeling suddenly a little lost.
The healer swallowed heavily. “I… I don’t really want to,” he murmured, looking taut and panic-stricken. “I mean, I’ve tried to avoid the Fade since Justice. I worry what it could bring out in me.”
Well, those sounded like ominous words. Tobias pressed his lips together, his memory prodding him with insidious recollections of the night at the chantry, when he’d seen Justice in action for the first time. He tried not to let himself think too deeply on it.
“It’s all right. I understand. Why don’t you—”
“But this won’t be easy,” Anders blurted, giving him a solemn frown. “You will need help, and I don’t know if….”
He trailed off meaningfully, his brief glance in Merrill’s direction not half as subtle as he apparently thought it was.
Oh, yes. Great time for the mage rivalry. Perfect.
Tobias crossed his arms. “Fine. If you think you can keep Justice in check, I’d value your help.”
Anders nodded mournfully.
Merrill, apparently oblivious to his suspicion, went to help Marethari with the preparations. There were a lot of herbs involved, Tobias noticed. Jugs of water were fetched, and poured into the bronze bowls, together with small pieces of resin and a few scatterings of something that looked like bark. Those who would be entering the Fade were encouraged to sit on the floor, in a rough circle beside the bed on which Feynriel lay, and a line of chalk and salt was inscribed around them. The bronze disc was placed in the middle of the floor, and Marethari set a mage-fire to burn upon it, conjuring a brilliant blue flame from thin air and feeding it small discs of charcoal until it grew fat and smoky. Merrill knelt beside her, watching intently as each bowl was held over the flame in turn, until the water began to heat and the smell of the herbs began to rise.
Anders sniffed, and peered with interest into the bowl. “That’s Black Sampson, isn’t it?”
Marethari nodded cautiously, obviously not keen on sharing any details with a human.
“It is,” she said curtly. “There are many parts to the ritual. The herbs are but one.”
“I met a Dalish mage in Amaranthine,” Anders said thoughtfully, as she made another pass with the bowl over the flame. “I kept asking her to tell me more about her people’s magic, but she never did. S’pose I shouldn’t have made those remarks about her tattoos,” he added, apparently half to himself. “Is that splintweed?”
Marethari arched an eyebrow as she crumbled a pinch of dried leaves into the bowl. “Yes. But now we must have silence.”
Anders shut his mouth and sat back on his heels, looking oddly like a chastened schoolboy, Tobias thought, stifling a smile as he glanced at the healer. He was clearly intrigued, though—even more so than Varric, who sat hunched up in the far corner, Bianca propped against his knee as if he expected to be shooting at demons before the night was out.
Marethari said nothing, instead fixing Tobias with a solemn stare as she set the second bowl down again, the smell of resin and herbs rising thickly with the curls of white steam and blue-tinged smoke.
“Before it begins, you must know this: dreamers like Feynriel have great power in the Beyond. They attract powerful demons, though most prove too frail of mind to survive a complete possession. A dreamer-abomination would be near unstoppable… and you understand what this means?”
Tobias nodded stiffly. It had been obvious from the start, and even more so when the boy’s mother had been sent so unceremoniously from the aravel.
“I… won’t let him become a danger,” he said carefully.
Marethari nodded, apparently satisfied. “I wish you luck. Now, if you and your friends are ready…? Remember, trust nothing but your own selves. You will all face temptation.”
Tobias glanced across the circle at the three uncertain figures. Aveline had shed her breastplaste, sword, and shield, and looked as if she felt naked without them, while Merrill seemed pale and frightened, and Anders had that inward sort of expression that seemed to mean he was either thinking, or trying to ignore Justice.
“We’re ready,” Tobias said, wishing he actually believed it.
Marethari began to murmur a stream of quiet words. Merrill tossed a handful of charcoal and herbs onto the flames, and Tobias felt the world starting to grow hazier.
The smell of whatever they were boiling in those bowls itched in his nose, at once bitter and sharp and acrid, and yet with a sweetness to it. He wanted to cough, but he also wanted to listen to the keeper’s lilting Elvish chant, because it was so smooth and lyrical, like the movement of rounded pebbles in the bottom of a crystal stream. Like a song, he realised, but a song without music or melody. A dirge murmured to the elven god of the dead, the one who walked the Beyond and guided spirits to their rest. It was… oddly beautiful, Tobias thought, and he was very dimly aware of Fenris standing in the candlelit gloom, holding a bottle of bright blue liquid, with his hands just beginning to glow.
It enveloped him, then; the kiss of the Fade, like falling asleep and waking to something perfect. It was cool cotton and warm spring air, and the silent breath of a moment’s bliss, and it sang to the power beneath his skin.
Tobias inhaled sharply, hardly aware of closing his eyes, and yet he must have done, for as he opened them again, the world receded. The aravel was gone. Marethari was gone. The smell of herbs and burning charcoal was gone, and he was standing in a great, dusty bowl, like an amphitheatre of some kind. Everything had a shrouded, fuzzy feel to it, like the grainy quality of a dream, and as Tobias turned, surveying this strange place, a stale wind tousled the dust at his feet.
“I’ve never done this before. Is this normal?”
He turned again, spinning almost in a full circle at the sound of the familiar voice. Aveline—fully armoured, her sword and shield on her back—stood close by, squinting uncertainly at their surroundings.
Tobias grinned. “About as normal as it gets. Don’t look at the sky. You’ll get a headache.”
She did, of course, and winced almost immediately. Nothing in the Fade was quite as it ought to be. Most things were poor facsimiles of the mortal world, and details such as the horizon were very badly copied, in this case leaving an undulating line that seemed to pull and suck at a person’s eyes, never changing and yet always shifting around them.
“Ugh!” Aveline recoiled. “It’s not like this when I dream!”
“That’s because this isn’t a dream,” Merrill said, materialising beside her, as if she’d just come skipping through a door. “This is where dreams come from. Are we all here?”
Tobias frowned, and turned once more, relief filling him at the sight of a slightly blurred shape with feathered shoulders.
“Ah. There he— oh.”
The figure that faded into being before him was… well… it was Anders, but not Anders. His movements were far more direct and rigid than usual and, when he raised his head, the face that Tobias saw had been made frighteningly foreign by its blankness. There was no Anders there; no pale look of worry or reticence, no spark of a smile or fleeting moment of wit. The shroud-like wisps of the Fade’s air clung to him like wet sand, and veins of blue light crazed his skin.
“A-Are you all right?” Tobias managed, trying to pretend it didn’t scare him.
The eyes that swivelled to meet his were not human eyes. They were pupilless, opaque shells of electric blue, dancing with fire.
“Hmm.” The voice wasn’t Anders’ voice, either. Oh, it was using his mouth, but there was something else there… some dark, rolling boom that felt distinctly unfamiliar. His head tilted to the side, and he appeared to be surveying the world around him. “I had not thought to return in such a way. Still, it is good to feel the breath of the Fade again, not the empty air of your world.”
“Huh.” Tobias cleared his throat. “So, er, Justice, I presume?”
The spirit nodded, easily closing the few steps that lay between them. Tobias couldn’t stop himself from staring at those veins of light, like cracks in a sculpture, or loose threads holding an old coat together.
Anything but looking at the eyes….
“I am Justice,” it announced. “Anders has told you of me.”
Tobias swallowed, his tongue feeling thick and heavy. “He… certainly has,” he said carefully.
The power rolling off the spirit made his skin—or the memory, or the dream of his skin, whatever this was—feel like it was crawling with ants. He wondered how in the Maker’s name Anders stood it all the time… if it was even like this for him.
I don’t want to know what it’s like, having that inside your mind. I don’t even want to think about it….
Justice tilted Anders’ head to the other side, in a curiously bird-like motion, and seemed to be regarding Tobias thoughtfully.
“You are Hawke,” he stated.
Tobias nodded uncertainly, unsure why this should be a point of such apparent interest. “Yes.”
Justice appeared to consider this for a moment, then turned and nodded to Merrill and Aveline.
“Come. I feel Feynriel’s mind straining. We will not have much time.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Merrill called, bobbing a clumsy little curtsey as, without further comment, Justice strode off into the Fade, wearing the pretence of Anders’ body like a coat.
Tobias shuddered, and followed obediently.
It would have been all too easy to get lost in the Fade, turned around by the ever-shifting landscape… a place of sand and doors, where there were no real directions, no real movements of time or space. Tobias had heard it said that the Black City stood at the centre of the Fade—its corrupted, withered heart, tainted by the sin of mankind—and that, wherever you looked, you would always see it. Wherever you went, the Fade rearranged itself around that central point, a lynchpin of chaos and darkness that stood as a permanent reminder of human frailty.
He wasn’t sure he believed it. Certainly, no twisted spires stuck up against the strange, clouded horizon, and no ghosts of old sins seemed to make themselves visible in the featureless, blurred landscape. The blank sands shifted, though. As they followed Anders—Justice, he corrected himself—the world around them began to change, and the shiver of power against Tobias’ mind, like the smell of salt on a sea breeze, told him the Fade was not responding to his presence. It felt odd, that; a sensation of being a visitor instead of a participant in a world where, so often, he’d walked as a dreamer, and felt its forms shift and pull around him.
Tobias glanced nervously at Merrill. “Can you feel that?”
She gave him a sober nod. “Mm. So quiet. It’s like nothing here even notices anyone else. They’re all focused on Feynriel.”
He grimaced. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.
Aveline squinted, discomfited, at the landscape around them. Sand was turning to stone with every step, walls growing out of the ground and rising up around them like the soft creep of encroaching moss… every moment that wasn’t a moment, but a blink in fathomless time, building one more piece of a dream that belonged to another soul. Doors that seemed to hover just beyond the edge of sight shimmered before vanishing while, underfoot, flagstones had begun to bloom like flowers.
“I feel like I’m being swallowed,” she murmured, stepping slightly closer, so that she was walking in between the two mages. “Swallowed by someone else’s mind.”
Tobias shrugged, eyeing the buildings that were taking shape around them. Up ahead, Justice had stopped and appeared to be staring at something. Exactly what was anyone’s guess.
“You’re not far wrong,” he said darkly. “This is Feynriel’s doing all right. The Fade isn’t usually so… orderly.”
Aveline looked down at her feet, her sturdy guardsman’s boots now resting against sharply delineated flags, complete with cracks and the occasional crop of weeds. She frowned and shifted her weight experimentally.
“It’s like Hightown,” she said, sounding distinctly nonplussed. “I’ve done that patrol a hundred times. It’s… it’s the route from Viscount’s Way to The Gallows.”
“Stands to reason, I suppose,” Tobias said grudgingly, as a horribly recognisable shape began to take form ahead of where Justice was standing, gushing forth from the ether like a silent cloud and piercing the not-quite-sky with its ugly silhouette. “Feynriel was afraid of being turned over to the Circle. We’re… we’re all afraid of it,” he admitted, the words slipping from him with quiet unease.
As they drew up to where Justice stood, the shifting finally ceased, the dream enveloped them completely, and they were standing in the courtyard of The Gallows. It was empty, devoid of the usual clutches of templars, and the massed ranks of Tranquil selling their wares, but the details were quite complete. Every frieze, every architrave and pilaster… every barred window and iron gate, and every dark bronze statue of slaves huddled in despair.
“How cheery,” Tobias said, glancing around them. “Isn’t it? Isn’t this nice?”
Justice turned towards the heavy gates that marked the entrance into the compound itself… somewhere Tobias had never been, and had not even the slightest inclination to go.
“Our presence has been observed,” he remarked, as the dream seemed to flicker, and a shapeless shadow formed behind one of the great columns of The Gallows’ walkways.
Tobias knew what it was before it began to coast towards them, gradually assuming the ragged form of a shade. Why demons didn’t make the effort to appear at least a little bit more aesthetically pleasing, he never knew. This one was a particularly nasty specimen; like a bipedal cockroach wrapped in rags and hanks of old meat, its shiny carapace swaddled in cloth-like folds, and its arms like sharpened twigs, held in front of it the way a bird tucks in its wings.
There was no face to speak of, nor legs. They never seemed to bother to do legs. The light of unnatural eyes—rather like the pits of fire currently burning in Anders’ face—glimmered from within the shadowed recesses of the cowl effect but, when it spoke, the creature’s voice oiled its way right into Tobias’ mind without the effort of any actual mechanics of speech.
“Well, well… it’s rare to see two forgotten magics in one day. The Fade is usually such a slow place. Not many surprises,”it said dolorously, the hint of a languorous yawn behind its words. “Yet this one potential.”
“A demon of sloth,” Justice observed, distaste dripping from the words. “It exists to make men forget their purpose and their pride. Do not relax around it!”
The demon waved its twig-like fingers in lazy dismissal. “Call me Torpor. I trust you’re here for the mage, Feynriel, yes?”
Tobias said nothing, concentrating on ignoring the sense of heaviness that tugged at his limbs. He didn’t want to fight the thing; outright challenge would only risk them being noticed by more demons, and he would much rather not have had this expedition turn into an all-out war.
“Why would you want to know what we’re here for?” Merrill blurted, and Tobias winced at her inability to just shut up and stand quietly. “It might not be that, anyway.”
Yes, that’s us. Just out for a nice stroll in the Fade….
Torpor appeared to ignore her, though the pretence was shallow. The demon was working on them all, Tobias knew. He’d encountered more potent examples of its kind, however, and the fuzzy-headed sense of tiredness that tugged so insistently at him began to lift as he refused to succumb to it. The demon pulled back, trying another tack, its demeanour now wheedling and seductive.
“I merely wish to help,” it oozed. “The dreamer’s presence is disrupting our world. Two of the most powerful demons in this realm are vying for control of him. You will need help to defeat them.”
Tobias bared his teeth. “Thanks, but I came equipped.”
Torpor’s low, rumbling chuckle—a sound drawn deep from its ferreting in his mind, Tobias suspected, which was not comforting—sounded very like his father’s.
“You cannot trust them, these mortals you bring with you. And it is such a burden, isn’t it? Just relax, and listen to the proposal I would make. All I want is to secure my position against my own kind. I am no warrior, no fighter… would that I were, I might restore some balance here.”
“Do not listen to it,” Justice snapped. “Creatures such as this prey on your trust. It lies!”
Really? You think so?
Tobias sighed irritably. “We’re not here to make deals. We’re just here for Feynriel. And we won’t be bringing him to you, so don’t bother asking.”
The demon wavered a little, seeming momentarily uncertain, and then annoyed.
“You would heed this tiresome little spirit?” it demanded, indicating Justice with a furl of its fingers. “I ask only what it has already taken: a willing merger with a human host.”
Justice positively quivered with indignation. The light spilling through the Fade-held version of Anders’ flesh grew brighter, his face contorted into an expression of outrage that looked unnatural on him. Tobias swallowed heavily, wishing he’d never allowed the healer to make this trip. Would he still be Anders when they got back?
“This is a creature of complacency!” Justice howled, glaring furiously at the demon and then, just as suddenly, turning his anger on Tobias. “Of injustice! My kind and this have been opposed since the beginning of time. I will not let you treat with it!”
Tobias blinked. All right, so he’d never been entirely comfortable with knowing about Justice, but he’d never actually been frightened of the spirit before… never believed that it might really tear his head off because it disagreed with him. Yet, those terrible, inhuman eyes blazed, and it was so hard to separate the rage in that face that was not quite Anders’ from the memory of seeing templars virtually torn in half with the full force of his power… and that roiled on Tobias’ tongue: a metallic, bitter taste, crackling with the spark of potency.
Torpor tasted it too, he imagined, and the demon seemed to jostle impatiently, like a hungry dog, though it gave the impression of being lackadaisically unfazed.
“One wonders,” it said dryly, as Justice continued to scowl at Tobias, “what manner of human wanted to merge with a prig like that?”
Yes. Doesn’t one.
Tobias didn’t take his eyes from the raging, twisted visage he’d rather thought he knew quite well.
“I have no intention of it,” he told Justice quietly. “Do you want to do the honours?”
The spirit looked confused; an expression Tobias wasn’t used to seeing on Anders’ face. He sighed.
He concentrated, biting down hard on his lip until the feel of his power coalesced, magic crawling and sparking in his flesh. The crackle of energy began to swell around his fingers, brighter and purer than it ever was in the waking world and, as Tobias raised his hand, he felt the ripples of the action spread. Everywhere, in every corner of the courtyard, every whisper of the dream that saturated it, more demons were waking. They tasted it, smelled it… felt it, and they came spilling from the cracks in the unreal stones as he released the first bolt of energy, a violent wave of force that sunk itself into Torpor’s ragged frame. The demon squealed, recoiling and almost seeming to shrink as the magic splintered around it. He’d been right, Tobias realised: not a powerful creature at all, though that didn’t stop the demon fighting back.
He ducked, feinting and then diving left as it leapt on him. More magic burst through the Fade’s thickened air; Justice and Merrill, both striking out against the demons that now seemed to be everywhere, flowing towards them like a river of darkness, drawn by the promise of power. They were small things, and mainly insubstantial—little more than sprites or wisps, in some cases—but even the tiniest creatures were annoying, like a horde of mosquitoes whining and biting.
The fight was messy, chaotic… drawn out into a protracted, awkward struggle that felt as if it would never be over until they’d cut down every creature in the Fade. Aveline was at their centre, a whirling force of steel and shield striking and pummelling. Amazing, Tobias thought, what the simple force of will could achieve. She believed hitting them with a sword would work and, here, the sword was an extension of her, a part of the way she saw herself, and so it did work. He supposed it was probably best not to frame it to her in exactly those words, in case she started thinking about it too deeply.
Finally, it was over. The dream of The Gallows was as solid as ever, which meant Feynriel—and all those big, unpleasant demons that were so terribly interested in him—had either not noticed their presence yet, or just didn’t care. Panting lightly, Tobias ran a hand over his hair. There should have been blood all over the place, but there wasn’t. The shades didn’t even have the decency to leave corpses where they fell, and he hated that. It left him feeling unnerved, as if the whole thing was incomplete.
He glanced at the others. Merrill looked strangely focused—far more solemn than she did most of the time, as if she’d aged twenty years in ten minutes—and Aveline was as pale and unsettled as Tobias expected her to be as she sheathed her sword. She peered at the dull shine on the blade as it slid home, her brow wrinkled, as if she too would have preferred the honesty of blood.
Anders… Justice… was completely composed, which was a stark and frankly unpleasant contrast to the ferocity they’d just witnessed from the spirit. There was a joy he seemed to have in ending the demons that Tobias disliked intensely; it wasn’t even the roar of victory, the bloody mist of battle… it was like balm being poured into a hollow wound, as if every death fed some kind of internal score.
He found himself glaring at Justice, squaring up to the spirit wearing the borrowed body it should have had no damn right to, and snapping irritably.
“That would have a bloody sight easier if you could have shut up and let me handle it!”
The electric blue of his eyes dimmed slightly and, for a moment, Tobias almost thought they might turn dark, but there was no trace of Anders in the spirit’s perplexed, stilted response.
“It would have demanded the dreamer’s soul in payment,” Justice said, in that rolling, deep tone that had a slight unnatural echo hanging from it. “You acted well to end it, and I fought beside you.”
“Fine, but if we’d just lied to it, we wouldn’t have had to fight any of them at all!” Tobias growled, raising his voice further than he meant to. “Maker only knows how many more of the bastards smelled that dance. We’d better get a sodding move on before we’re knee-deep in every poxy demon in the fucking Fade, hadn’t we?”
Justice actually took a step backwards. Inasmuch as what he did with Anders’ face was recognisable as human, the spirit seemed bewildered but, when he spoke, a tremor of resentment moved beneath the words.
“I… could not let you parley with such a creature. It is wrong. And you would have… lied?”
He tilted Anders’ head to the side, still frowning in confusion, and Tobias suppressed the urge to shout, swear, and kick things. For a start, most of the blocks of stone in the immediate environment might not be real, but he’d certainly feel it if he smashed his foot into one.
“Yes! Lying is good! Lying makes life a lot easier! You, of all people, should bloody well know that,” he spat, even though he knew he wasn’t even talking to Anders.
You probably can’t even hear me, can you? You’ll never know about any of this. Just wake up with a sore head and wonder what we got up to. I hate you sometimes.
“Hawke,” Merrill said gently, placing her hand on his back.
Tobias stiffened. Whatever was real, or not real, or any combination of the above, he could feel her touch through the leather of his jerkin, and he nodded crisply.
“Right. Yes. Feynriel. Let’s go.”
They moved on in silence.
Of course, there was logic to the dream… at least of a kind. Feynriel’s mind had created the form of The Gallows, and so the things ensnaring him must have lain within it, or so Justice said.
Tobias nurtured a few misgivings about following the spirit but, as they edged ever deeper into the boy’s envisioning of the place—full of side passages, imposing doorways, and forbidding, heavily barred windows—he supposed he was grateful for Justice’s presence.
They came up against few other demons of significance. Oh, the things were distinctly there, snuffling about as a constant pressure on the fringes of his mind, but they were rats at a banquet… the ones that were too weak or cowardly to engage in the tussle Feynriel was caught at the centre of. Only a couple of them attacked; blind spirits of rage and hunger that only knew that they’d sensed life, and were infuriated by it. They were dispatched quickly, and everyone kept moving.
Tobias had never been deep inside The Gallows, and he had no idea how accurate Feynriel’s rendition was. Justice seemed to know the way, and he wondered just how many times Anders and the other members of the Underground had sortied into the fortress. He knew they had, even if the healer never spoke of it, and Tobias found—perhaps because of Justice’s presence, and the roiling, constant annoyance weltering in his own chest—he resented that fact more with every passing second.
Bloody Anders. Bloody mages. Bloody Kirkwall. Bloody… everything. Fuck it.
Perhaps Justice was simply following the scent of demons. That seemed equally possible, especially given the fact that, the deeper into the dream they drew, the more distinctive the pressure against Tobias’ mind became. He felt them, yet wasn’t sure if they felt him. Perhaps they were preoccupied, or perhaps he was beneath their notice.
One can hope, I suppose.
Either way, he didn’t look forward to finding out what was at the end of that oppressive sensation of dark, sinister hunger.
“This way,” Justice stated, gesturing towards a large door that stretched the entire height of the opposite wall, opening like a wound from the corridor’s blank stone wall. “A creature of great iniquity lies within.”
Great iniquity? You can’t just say ‘sodding big demon’, then?
“Oo-oo-ooh,” Tobias quavered, unable to resist, as his fingers curled around the cool iron ring of the handle.
He glanced over his shoulder, momentarily amused by the look of disapproval Aveline and Justice were sharing—probably the only time he’d ever seen Anders’ face have anything in common with the guard-captain’s—but the levity didn’t last.
Something felt wrong. Light enveloped him, and the world seemed to turn soft at the edges, and as Tobias spun, reaching for the door he’d barely stepped through, it was no longer there. Nothing, in fact, was where it had been—and he was entirely alone. He swore, and scrabbled at the stones that were no longer the stones of The Gallows, but the mellow bricks of a dappled courtyard.
Marethari was there, standing beneath a tree in full, sharp green leaf. At first, Tobias thought something had gone wrong enough for her to have followed them into the Fade, and visions flashed behind his eyes of demons pouring out into the aravel, swarming the Dalish camp and leaving none alive.
The keeper, however, was not herself. She had her arms raised, her voice ringing out clearly as she made some speech or other. Snatched words about ‘pride of our people’ and ‘blood of the Dales’ caught Tobias’ ears, even as the fibres of the Fade twisted and nudged at him, and he found himself enveloped in their weft. He was part of Feynriel’s dream, part of the fancies the demon was feeding the boy.
Something else felt different, too. Tobias looked down at himself in dismay. Dark robes hung from his frame, and he touched… hands that were not his to them, puzzled at the heavy folds of fabric where there should been nice, tough, dependable leather. A wide sash encircled his waist, and he fingered the insignia, grimacing as he realised what it meant.
Oh, fuck. I’m the sodding First Enchanter?
It seemed that a part of Feynriel’s mind—that not given over completely to the dream—was fighting back, casting the only anomalous thing here into the role of opposition, waiting for him to argue back against the demons.
Well, chin up. Only time you’re ever going to find yourself in a dress, so you may as well make the most of it!
Tobias frowned. Other shadowy figures peopled the courtyard: other elves, and Dalish, so perhaps Clan Sabrae? Some of the wispy profiles he wandered amongst seemed familiar enough, but he was hardly on first-name terms with most of them.
Tobias stopped pondering when he saw Feynriel. The boy was standing beside Marethari, and the power practically hummed off him, turning the air to a steady thrum. He stood still, his eyes glassy, his face a blank mask of acceptance, and he seemed to be listening to everything the keeper was saying, nodding his head from time to time in agreement.
“Though his features may mark him as human,” the Marethari-creature continued, clapping its hand to Feynriel’s shoulder, “this boy is of our blood. He came to us to learn his heritage… to release to us a power as ancient in lineage as our race….”
Uh-oh. This doesn’t sound good.
Tobias edged through the crowd. Most didn’t seem to notice him, but the few faces that turned his way soon lost their semblance of elveness. They were demons—weak, snivelling little thralls of things, bowing and scraping before the two here that had real power—and they retreated at the sight of him, hissing and glaring with their blank, dead eyes.
He bared his teeth at the nearest one, which seemed to be considering putting up a fight, and allowed a thin crackle of magic to coalesce around his hand. The creature snarled, but pulled back and slunk away, leaving him to face Feynriel, and the demon with its claws sunk into his shoulder.
It glared at him, oily flames leaping in eyes that were so unlike Marethari’s it was a wonder Feynriel could ever have been fooled.
Amazing what people are prepared to believe.
Ugh. I wouldn’t sound good as an elf. Or look good. And are robes really this draughty?
The boy blinked and looked uncertainly at Tobias.
“First Enchanter? What are you doing here?”
“Yes,” the demon in Marethari’s skin grated, tightening its hold on Feynriel’s shoulder. “What, indeed? Would you take this young man to the Circle, traitor? Shut him away from life, rather than let his talent burn free?”
A soft sigh seemed to run through the heavy air, like the shifting ripple of silk.
Ah, so that’s what you want….
The dreamer’s power, unchained, uncontrolled; blazing like a flame that would light up the Fade, and raze the mortal realm to ashes. The feeling of hunger, of teeth whetted on the furious hope of an idea, tore at Tobias’ mind.
He held firm, held out his hand, and hoped fervently that he was about to say the right thing.
“Is this what you want, Feynriel? To turn to the old magic the Dalish forgot?”
The boy’s brow crinkled, his eyes clouding for a moment. “I… I know you,” he murmured, beginning to move away from the demon, until it dug those thin fingers deeper into his shoulder, dragging him roughly back towards it. “You’re—”
“The Circle wants you to submit, child!” the demon growled. “They would chain you, bind you, burn the soul out of you. Are you not better than that? You are our scion, our hope… you are bringing Dalish magic back to the world!”
It glared at Tobias as it spoke, Marethari’s mouth moving out of time with the words, and those black, featureless eyes blistered with dark fire. Tobias bit the inside of his lip.
Happy thoughts, maybe?
He could feel it now. A powerful, violent presence—hard and glassy, like polished stone—pressing in on him; probing the boundaries of this insolent interloper. It took a great deal of his power to resist, and he succeeded in holding it off simply because it was so focused on Feynriel, and on defending its prize from the others of its kind. A demon of pride, he decided, trying to needle the boy’s insecurities and secret hopes.
“With you at our head,” the demon purred, lowering its mouth to Feynriel’s ear, “we will take back our land, our dignity… our immortality. You will be the saviour of your people, boy. Don’t you want that?”
It bared its teeth at Tobias in a self-satisfied challenge, daring him to try and tempt its toy.
Huh. There are two ways this could go. One is definitely not pretty….
“This one would stop you,” it whispered. “The Circle comes to take you. See?”
Feynriel shook his head slowly. “No… no, Serah Hawke saved me from the Circle. They don’t know about me. They’d never…. Why would they send the First Enchanter here?”
Hah. Screwed this one up, didn’t you, Ugly?
Tobias shrugged. “The Circle doesn’t want to stop you, Feynriel. All the mages should work together. Bring freedom for everyone, elf or human… or both, like you. Don’t you think? A brave new world.”
The boy started to brighten at that. “Can… can I do that?”
“I’m sure you can.” Tobias nodded enthusiastically. “Just ask Keeper Marethari how you should use your magic.”
The demon pulled its lips back in a hideous grin of triumph, at almost the same moment as Feynriel’s look of wonder began to fade. He shook his head, seeming troubled and confused, as if trying to recall something important through a mist of murmured lies.
“She…. You said these things—the things I can do—they’d been lost for generations,” he said slowly, turning to face the demon. “You said we would need to control them. That I—”
“You will!” the demon protested, the shell of Marethari’s form flickering slightly as it tried to maintain its grip on the boy. “You are our hope, Feynriel. You—”
“You said it was too dangerous,” he murmured, and then glanced at Tobias. “Why is she telling me to do the things she said would hurt people? Why?”
“Don’t listen to him!” the demon snarled, grabbing at the boy as he twisted away. “The Circle will bind you, trap you, take you away….”
The claws of a dozen demons began to scrabble at the fringes of his borrowed body, but Tobias held his ground. Feynriel was in front of him now, his pale eyes wide and full of fear, the glassy indulgences of pride and selfish hopefulness slipping away like rags.
“What’s happening to me? Tell me!” he pleaded, reaching for the heavy folds of Tobias’ robes.
Tobias moved to catch him by the shoulders, but the boy was insubstantial, like a reflection or a spirit himself.
Not all of him, then. Just one piece of the dream. Bollocks.
“This isn’t real,” he told Feynriel, with as much gravity as he could muster. “Do you understand? You need to wake up.”
The boy shook his head frantically, looking around the courtyard with wide, panicky eyes. The shadowy figures of other elves were moving, their forms changing as they shifted; no longer clanmates and friends, but attenuated, prowling demons, their bodies collations of shadows and hunger as they caught the scent of power fragmenting.
“Wake up, Feynriel,” Tobias repeated, feeling the fibres of the Fade shifting around his own body, taking away the fiction of Orsino’s robes, and finally starting to give him back his own form, and his own voice. “Wake up.”
Feynriel’s eyes widened even further, his mouth slackening in alarm, but it was too late. Everything seemed to change again, in that swirl of light and the plunging, nauseating fall of the world blinking.
And then, the boy was gone, and Tobias was back in the dream of The Gallows. The others were there, and he turned to reassure them—though he had no idea whether they’d even noticed he was gone, because who knew how time moved in the Fade—but they weren’t looking at him. Justice, Merrill, and Aveline were all staring past him, and all but the spirit had an expression of horrified shock.
The sensation of vile, concentrated power burned up Tobias’ spine, and he winced at the feel of the demon reaching out, tasting his mind.
I’m going to regret turning around, aren’t I?
The pride demon had every reason to pretend it looked like someone else. Anything else, really. It was massive, like some monolithic, scaly ogre, all spikes and club-like limbs, but with a dozen eyes set into its pointed head, as black and shiny as beetles.
“Yuck,” Merrill murmured.
Justice blazed with predictable anger, apparently infuriated by the mere fact of the demon’s presence.
“Destroy this creature!” he demanded.
Aveline just looked pale and nauseous, and Tobias sympathised. He rubbed his forehead wearily, tired and sore from being caught at the centre of so many different flavours of magic. The Fade itself, the demons, Justice’s incessant burning ire… everything hurt, and everything took so much effort, and all he wanted was just to lie down and—
No. Because that’s demons again, isn’t it? Maker, I’ll be glad to get home….
“You took my dreamer from me,” the demon rumbled, in an altogether darker and more unpleasant tone than it used to simulate Marethari; a sound like the buzzing of flies and the creaking of rotten timber. “You will pay!”
“Wouldn’t expect anything less,” Tobias said dryly, dropping into a defensive half-crouch.
The thing looked far too much like an ogre for his liking. Memories that had been behaving themselves better than they had for years started to surface, and their bitter taste made him itch to see some blood spilled… though preferably not his own.
The demon chuckled raspily. “You think it that easy, mortal? You have the arrogance to assume you can merely fight me? You assume you have allies?”
Tobias frowned. It… did seem harder to move than it ought. And no one else was exactly rushing to his aid.
“And what would it take to turn you, hmm?”
It spoke, but the voice grew low and soft, and the words seeped into Tobias’ mind without passing through his ears. He closed his eyes, fighting it, but that was a mistake, because you are Serah Hawke, are you not? The problem fixer, the man the low- and high-born alike come to when they want their dirty little troubles mended. You always knew you were too big for Lothering, too big for Ferelden. No… no piss-poor little barbarian mudhole for you, messere. They all need you, don’t they? Need your wit, your expertise. Your skill. You’re clever, aren’t you? Quick and ruthless, and I can make sure you get everything you deserve.
Why wait? Why content yourself with crumbs? This estate… the old Amell house… it will be a palace, and you the prince at its centre.
The jewel-like glimmers of bright colours flashed in the darkness of Tobias’ mind. Huge rooms festooned in tapestries, filled with people. Parties, balls… all the things Leandra wanted to bring back from her halcyon childhood. Fine clothes, good food, and his mother, smiling as she hung from his arm, propelling him past successions of noblemen: smiling, because he had made it possible. He had provided for them all, and restored their name. Made it happen….
I hate parties.
Tobias forced his eyes open, aware of the demon’s irritated hiss. He felt dizzy and groggy, like the world was swaying around him.
“No matter,” the creature purred. “You are not alone.” It gestured to Merrill, with a flex of one claw that almost seemed tender. “This little elf, with her innocent face. She already knows the power of an offer such as mine. That much, I can see….” Its dark, shiny gaze roved over her, like the scuttling of a dozen insects. “So? Would you take what I offered the boy? Scion of the Dalish? Saviour of elvenkind?”
Merrill blinked. “C-Can you… can you do that?”
Tobias groaned inwardly. Wonderful. Great job, Merrill.
“I am the greatest of my kind!” the creature snarled. “Whatever tricks your little pet has taught you will pale in comparison.”
“Merrill!” Aveline protested, as the elf moved forwards.
“Bring the power of the Dalish back to the world,” the demon crooned, as Merrill drew closer, her eyes oddly unfocused. “Give your people back their dignity, their honour… the Eluvian is only the first step….”
What’s an Eluvian?
Merrill turned and gave him a helpless look, her eyes wide and her lips trembling, and Tobias knew he’d lost her.
“I… I cannot put you ahead of the fate of my people,” she stammered. “I’m sorry, Hawke.”
“Traitor!” Justice bellowed, as the world flashed white, and the dream began to splinter.
The demon roared, and charged.
It was a hard, vicious fight, all the bitterer for the fact Merrill anticipated so many of their moves. Tobias even found himself hesitating to strike her, afraid of what a death in the Fade would mean. Would she wake Tranquil, or perhaps not even wake at all? The thought of inflicting either fate on someone as irrepressibly alive as Merrill seemed incredibly wrong but—when she threw him to the ground with a spell that felt like a fist of solid rock—he managed to get past the issue.
Like the demon—which they finally felled, with Justice roaring out his rage and vindictive fury in a wall of searing blue flame—she didn’t leave a body behind. She just… went… and Tobias had to struggle not to dwell on the questions that followed.
“What in the Maker’s name just—”
“Shh.” He held up a hand, silencing Aveline’s indignation. “There’s no time.”
“That demon could have had any one of us,” he said shortly. “Now, it’s done. Leave it, and let’s just find the boy and get the hell out of here.”
Tobias didn’t wait for her response. He hunched his shoulders and stalked away, scowling at the subtly shifting walls around them.
Wherever the rest of Feynriel was hiding, his dream was starting to fracture.