Justice in Surrender: Chapter 26

The descent beneath The Gallows begins.

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Tobias slept uneasily that night. He passed the morning in preparation for The Gallows run and, for some reason he chose not to examine too thoroughly, decided it would be a good idea to spend the afternoon with Leandra.

She didn’t seem to be sure why he was there, following her through her chores and errands like a puppy, but she didn’t complain. If anything, she seemed to appreciate it, and Tobias was glad of the fact… even when she had him traipsing around Hightown with her, calling in at dressmakers and fabric shops, and holding her shopping while she fiddled around with curtain samples.

Well… mostly glad.

They were standing in Madame Lilienne’s Fine Orlesian Imports, a small covered shop under one of the colonnades to the north side of the market. Outside, a cold breeze filtered through Hightown’s white stone walls, and the chantry bells had just sounded the ninth hour. Madame Lilienne—a round, heavily powdered woman about fifteen years or so younger than his mother—had just disappeared to the back of the shop to fetch a bolt of dupion Leandra wanted to see. The whole place was crammed, floor to rafters, with fabrics, frocks, boots… and not even proper boots, Tobias noted. They weren’t the kind of things you could walk far in: everything was soft calfskin, with tiny little buttons down the sides.

On the dark wooden counter sat Madame Lilienne’s large and probably very comprehensive accounts ledger—the best people in Kirkwall bought Lilienne’s dresses, Leandra had been keen to tell him—and, beside that, an immense bronze inkwell. For some reason, the inkwell was cast in the shape of a cat flanked by two pigeons; he had no idea why.

The wall behind the counter was decorated with a painted silk paper, and Tobias stared at it while his mother talked. He nodded mechanically in between trying to count the little grey flowers on the pale green background, as a vague attempt at staving off imminent insanity.

“…and I never knew that, after all that,” Leandra continued, her voice hushed as, fingers flicking through a table full of fine linens, she peered towards the back of the shop, checking to see if she could be overheard, “that Madame Lilienne is a second cousin of the Comtesse de Launcet. Imagine that!”

“Really?” Tobias said faintly, adjusting his grip on the basket he carried. In addition to two previous dressmakers and an Antivan silk merchant, they had already visited the wallpaper merchant, three separate weavers, an ironmonger for a new coal scuttle, two cookpots, and a set of replacement hinges, a bootmaker, and a man who sold some sort of new-fangled knife-sharpening machine. Only that last item on the list had even remotely interested him, and Leandra had been annoyed with him when he asked the man if it worked on weaponry bigger than a vegetable knife. People would talk, she’d said.

Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five…. Why is there so much lace in here? Why does there need to be so much lace? She doesn’t even wear lace. Damn. Lost count. All right. One, two, three….

“Of course, I knew Dulci when we were girls. She used to get so homesick for Churneau; it was so sad. I think her husband was nice enough, though. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. You know, he was related to your great-aunt Mirena on his mother’s side, though of course that was a bit of a thorn, because then they had that terrible business with their little boy….”

…twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three…

“Hmmngh?” Tobias managed.

Voices drifted through from the back of the shop: Lilienne berating her serving girl, by the sound of it, for misstacking the shelves.

“Well, yes,” Leandra confided, leaning closer, though her gaze was back on the linens, her hands moving over the dyed and printed fabric with a strange blend of reverence and efficiency. “I don’t think Emile was much younger than you. They found out he had… hmm-mm. Of course, he went to the Circle. Awful for poor Dulci. Her only boy. I think the girls grew up to be a bit of a handful. Anyway….”

Tobias blinked, the little grey flowers dancing before his eyes.

Oh, well, no… obviously. Fucking awful. Worst thing that can happen, having a child that has “hmm-mm”.

He clenched his jaw, pressing his teeth together rhythmically and trying to suppress the urge to scream.

“I might ask her to tea once we’re settled,” Leandra said thoughtfully, cutting across the tail end of her own story, the people and places that littered her memory discarded like trailing ribbons. “That’d be nice. I always remember that summer we were so into Caprice, and she completed her set before me. I was so jealous! I don’t imagine she has anyone to talk to about poor Emile.”

Tobias managed a noncommittal grunt as Madame Lilienne emerged again, carrying a fat roll of deep blue silk shot through with turquoise thread. She walked like a duck, he noticed, and a slim elven girl skittered along behind her, carrying a rosewood sewing box and another roll of cloth, with a measuring tape draped around her slim neck.

He didn’t recognise her at first—didn’t recognise her at all until she looked straight at him with those hard, flat amber eyes.

Great. The sodding Underground gets bloody everywhere….

Leandra and Madame Lilienne immediately began discussing the silk dupion, and the dressmaker was clearly pushing her into having some sort of gown made from it.

“Oh, but it is very dear,” Leandra demurred, glancing at her son. “What do you think, darling?”

“Hm?” He blinked again, wishing very much that he’d stayed at home, or at least taken shelter in the comparative safety of Varric’s suite and got drunk before heading off to meet his doom. Anything would have been better than this. “Oh, go on, Mother. If you like it, have one. It—” Tobias glanced at the roll of silk, and at Madame Lilienne’s almost entirely spherical face, pink with anticipation and rouge. “—it’s nice. The… blue. Matches your eyes. Go on, it’s my treat.”

Leandra’s face split around a wide, beaming smile and, much to his surprise, she hugged his arm, almost causing him to drop the basket.

“Oh, darling! That’s so sweet of you. All right… I will! We’ll have to see about getting you new clothes, as well, of course, before we move in. Honestly, you look like an ox-hand sometimes…. Yes,” she said, turning her attention deftly to the now excitedly smiling Lilienne. “Yes, I think it’s lovely. And the bodice gathered, you think? Like the dress you showed me before?”

The conversation descended into frills, flounces, darts, and pleats, and Tobias let it fade out as he watched the elf, Bethan, studying him with a carefully guarded expression. Lilienne snapped her fingers at the girl—it was time to take Madame ’Awke for measurements—and she bowed her head as she handed over the cloth tape.

“Madame h’is so lucky to ’ave such a generous son,” she offered obsequiously, and Tobias’ face stiffened as he heard her speak.

The night before last, in the dim-lit warehouse, when she’d faced Anders down and demanded answers from Elias Creer, this girl’s voice had been broad Marches and flat vowels. Now, as she scraped and carried for her mistress, her accent was clipped and primped, aping the well-modulated preciseness of the upper crust.

It should have been funny, but he didn’t really want to laugh. He just smiled faintly as Madame Lilienne escorted Leandra away to a curtained fitting room, and the elf continued to pretend she didn’t know him.

Stupid, really. It’s like every single one of us is pretending to be somebody else.

~o~O~o~

It was probably the desire not to pretend anymore that, shortly after he’d carried Leandra’s shopping home and eaten a very bland bowl of turnip stew with her and Gamlen, saw Tobias sitting on a plush barstool in The Rose.

He’d been in two minds about coming. It was still fairly early in the evening, and the place wasn’t crowded—a few of Lusine’s girls were draped over a couple of off-duty guardsmen and a couple of fat-jowled merchants—and Tobias kept telling himself he was fine for a drink and a quick screw before catching a few hours’ sleep. After all, why not? It had been too long since the last time, and Maker only knew if he’d get another chance.

Might end up run through by templars before dawn. May as well enjoy myself now.

The trouble was, as he sat there nursing his small glass of brandy, Tobias found himself struggling to work up the enthusiasm. Oh, it wasn’t lack of interest—he wanted to—but a kind of grimness clung to the impulse. He glanced around the fringed velvet opulence of the lounge, watching the pretty girls in various stages of undress, and the handsome men who lingered in the doorways. There was a slender, dark-skinned boy with a long braid of black hair in the corner of the room. Over by one of the potted plants sat a muscular blond with breeches so tight they might as well have been painted on and, leaning on the railing halfway up the stairs—like he was some kind of lord surveying his domain—was a very attractive young man with a mop of deep chestnut hair. Tobias watched his reflection in the mirror behind the bar, intrigued by his quiet stillness, but he couldn’t decide if he wanted him or not.

“Jethann ain’t on tonight,” Quintus said, as he refilled Tobias’ glass. “But he said, if you was to come in, I should tell him. He’ll see you anyway, he says.”

“Did he?” Tobias stared absently at the amber liquid. “That’s good of him.”

Quintus wrinkled his nose, making his impressive moustache rustle. “You want me to…?”

Tobias downed the shot of brandy. “Yeah. Thanks.”

The barman refilled his glass, and left him staring glumly at it while he collared one of the passing girls to relay the message.

Tobias didn’t have to wait long. Jethann didn’t come down to the lounge; he told the girl Quintus had sent to inform Serah Hawke that he was ‘welcome to attend’, and Tobias dutifully trudged up the carpeted stairs, slipping past the beautiful chestnut-haired boy on his way.

“Want to make it a party, ser?” the young man asked, turning to give him a wide, crooked grin, his voice heavy with broad Fereldan vowels.

Tobias looked up, hit heavily by that sudden breath of home. The lad had green eyes, slightly darker than his, and a scattering of freckles dusted his cheeks.

“Me an’ Jethann get on right well, ser,” he said, leaning back on his elbows, his long, slender body thrown forward. “And I bet two of us could take better care of you than one. Anyway, if you’re who I think you are, stands to reason it needs more than one man to handle you, am I right, ser? You’re Serah Hawke, in’t you? I’ve heard all manner of things about you, ser,” he went on, not allowing space for a reply. “Don’t think I’ll ever believe some of ’em unless I see it myself….”

Tobias winced. It was a whore’s patter, nothing more, but it still set his teeth on edge and—for some stupid reason he attributed mostly to the novelty value of the idea the lad suggested—that made him want to fuck the mouthy little shit, if only because doing so would shut him up.

Anyway, if I die tonight, it won’t matter how much gold I spend before I go, will it?

He jerked his head towards the landing, and the door that led to the room Jethann was using. “All right. If he says yes. Don’t s’pose I mind.”

You lying sod, Hawke. ‘Don’t mind’? You’ve only ever dreamed about this before. And look at him! He’s lovely.

He was lovely. He said his name was Will, and he followed Tobias obediently up the stairs. A faint fragrance of rose oil clung to his clothes, suggesting they were freshly laundered.

Jethann certainly didn’t seem to mind. He came to the door barefoot, in a loose shirt and linen trousers, smiling widely as he flung his arms around Tobias’ neck.

“My dear!” the elf exclaimed, giving him a warm, friendly kiss on the mouth. “It’s been an age! Beastly creature… I thought you didn’t like me anymore. Come in, come in…. And what’s this? Oh, it’s a party, is it? I could have guessed it would be you,” he added, smirking at Will. “Temptress. Are you plotting more wickedness? This little harlot has the naughtiest mouth this side of Val Royeaux, you know….”

He grinned as he took Tobias’ wrist, drawing him across the threshold, and the smell of booze laced his breath. Those incredible blue eyes shone like wet stones and, as the door shut behind the three of them, it seemed so very easy for Tobias to pull Jethann close and kiss him again, until the taste of the brandy he’d drunk was almost drowned in the taste of wine on the elf’s tongue. He felt Will’s hands on him too, stroking his arms and shoulders, and it suddenly became extremely important to strip away the clothes between them.

Tobias tugged impatiently at the linen that swathed the elf, brushing off his titters at this unusual desperation, and then turned his attention to the Fereldan boy.

“Such a rush,” Jethann cooed, kissing the back of his neck as he pulled open Will’s shirt. “Slow down, and—”

“Can’t,” Tobias said, unbuckling the boy’s belt. “Don’t have all night. I just— I need….”

He faltered on the words. He didn’t know why. He didn’t even know what he wanted to say, but somehow Jethann knew. Jethann knew to kiss him again, and then to pull away and kiss Will, and make it all right to want this, to want to watch them, to be part of it… to be alive, and warm, and to touch.

It didn’t take long until the three of them were on the bed, sprawled across the predictably threadbare covers that, naturally, smelled of musty roses. Tobias’ head spun in a way that had very little to do with the two glasses of brandy as he stretched out, allowing two hot, wet mouths to work their way down his body, his fingers buried in two warm tangles of hair. Will really did have a wicked mouth, and the novelty was intoxicating. Watching the two of them work at his flesh was something Tobias had never experienced. Being caught between two tongues, two sets of busy lips, had him clenching the coverlet in his fists, panting with need and yet unable to look away.

They shared the fruits of their labour between them, exchanging messy kisses as he lay there still seeing stars, and he knew it would be a sight that would stay with him for years… if he lived that long.

“Good to know that dragon didn’t scratch off anything vital,” Jethann murmured as he crawled up the bed, trailing kisses along Tobias’ chest. “I always knew you had remarkable powers of recovery….”

Tobias grabbed a handful of soft red hair and kissed the elf hard, mostly because he didn’t want to talk about the dragon, partly because he wanted to taste himself on that beautiful mouth… and partly because, Maker damn it, he’d missed the swishy little shit.

Jethann was grinning when he pulled away, bright-eyed and smug. He dragged Will up between them, and Tobias lost himself a little in the sheer indolent joy of touching, kissing, and stroking the boy while Jethann fucked him. He knew it was a show for his entertainment, but it was pleasure too… pleasure, and an easy kind of affection. They seemed to like each other, and enjoy each other—really enjoy, even if the amount of noise they made was probably just for his benefit—and Tobias was so grateful for that.

He was grateful for Will, too; for being there, between him and the elf, filling up the silences with his exaggerated moans and “ooh, yes” noises, and making this precious sliver of time so much more simple.

Tobias had Jethann after, and, with the elf’s long, supple legs locked around him and the Fereldan boy lying beside them and smiling, he thought it would be easy to forget how scared he was. He didn’t expect it to come flooding back with such intensity as he gazed down into those beautiful blue eyes, watching Jethann’s cheeks flush and his mouth bow around well-practiced gasps of praise.

It was fear that burst out of him in that fierce, ragged climax; fear that chilled the sweat on his skin as he lay between the two men, staring up at the shadowed ceiling and thinking that, before long, he should go home and get ready to face the night.

“Well!” Jethann exclaimed, looping an arm across Tobias’ chest and reaching lazily past him to pinch Will’s nipple. “This is the busiest day of rest I’ve had in a long while, I must admit.”

Will scrunched up his face, carefully pulling his leg out from beneath Tobias’.

“Liar. You done them Orlesians on All Souls Day. You know… Lord Whatsit’s son, and his sister. You weren’t meant to be working then.”

Jethann rolled his eyes. “Oh, piss off and fetch the washcloths, you little dog-dick. You know what I meant.”

Will cackled and clambered out of the bed. He had an extremely nice arse, but Tobias didn’t bother to take more than a cursory glance at it as he moved across the room. Beside him, Jethann pressed close and let out a small, contented sigh. Tobias didn’t know quite why it made his chest feel tight and cold, or why he sat up so quickly, muttering about needing to make a move.

“How much?” he asked, wiping himself down with the cloth Will provided.

Jethann shrugged, his red hair sliding against the pale skin of his shoulders.

“Let’s call it three all in, shall we?”

Tobias laced up his breeches and pulled a handful of sovereigns from the pouch at his belt. Will grinned as he peered at the flash of coins.

“Ooh! He is a good tipper, in’t he?”

~o~O~o~

Tobias couldn’t get home fast enough. He’d meant to sleep before leaving Gamlen’s house and heading out into the dark, but it was hard to do. He was gut-churningly nervous, and that didn’t happen often. It hadn’t happened in a long time, because he just didn’t think about it. He hadn’t thought seriously about the Bone Pit… and his assumptions, while not totally incorrect, had turned out to be woefully inadequate.

Naturally, it wasn’t like there was going to be a dragon under The Gallows, but there would be templars. That much seemed pretty inevitable.

He lay there, watching the ceiling the same way he’d done in the whorehouse—all right, not exactly the same way, because there were no pretty distractions here, not even ones he felt bad about using—and waiting until the slums had grown silent, and the slim sliver of the moon was halfway across the sky. Then he rose, dressed in his darkest, toughest leathers, slipped on the pair of supple hide gauntlets he’d oiled and laid out that morning, and strapped an extra knife to his thigh.

In arranging for the transport of the lyrium, as promised, Tobias had made sure to keep back the bottles he’d promised Anders, and also a few extra for tonight’s little excursion. He tucked them into a bag hung across his back, and their silent thrum made his spine itch. He hated using potions, but if it meant the difference between coming back and not coming back, he was prepared to put up with the rush of nausea, the headache, and the spinning sensation that came with them.

He stole out of the house, aware of every creaky floorboard and squeaky hinge, and slipped into the night’s chill, blanketed by the thick, frost-rimed dark.

He knew where he was going. He barely needed the glimmer of magelight he let creep around his fingertips, highlighting the crooks and crevices of the narrow cross-streets and alleys through which he wound. The air tasted like snow, though it would probably fall as needles of cold rain. As he walked, Tobias thought idly of his last winters in Ferelden, before the Blight. There was always dancing in the tavern, and Leandra never wanted him to go, because Carv and Bethany would want to go too, and she didn’t approve of that. It used to push back the night, though: candles, lanterns, laughter… someone playing a fiddle jig.

One year, he and Carver had sneaked out and got blind drunk. Carv had thrown up in a horse trough and, for the kind of reasons that only ever make sense when you’re three sheets to the wind, Tobias had decided that stripping him naked and leaving his stained clothes in a pile by the front door before putting him to bed would negate any possible suspicion from their mother.

It had not worked. Moreover, they’d woken her up coming in, and she’d been furious. He remembered spending what was left of the night in a nearby farm’s pig shed while she tended to her still-retching precious baby, and she’d threatened to wallop him with a broom if he dared come back before he’d sobered up.

Winter was different up here. The annums were different—everyone went to more Chantry services, definitely—and it was to do with much more than the weather. There was no snow, much less mud… and people even wrote the calendar differently.

Tobias was much more literate than the vast majority of Fereldans who grew up in places like Lothering. Malcolm had seen to that. He was used, however, exclusively to the Common tongue. The tendency Kirkwallers—and, for all he knew, the rest of the Marchers—had to use Tevinter names on the calendar was confusing, and it had taken him a long while to adjust. He still didn’t feel comfortable with their strange, foreign words, or the way they wrote their tallies… any of it.

And yet you still refuse to think you could leave. You’re an idiot, Hawke.

You could, you know. Just go. Get up and go somewhere far away. If not back to Ferelden, then somewhere completely new… but you won’t, will you?

Not yet. Not while you’re still waiting, still hoping… still stuck on everything that keeps you here. You prat.

~o~O~o~

He met Varric at the edge of Lowtown. The dwarf looked faintly apprehensive but, with Bianca strapped to his back and his coat buttoned tight against the cold, his determination seemed to outweigh his uncertainty.

“You owe me for this,” he muttered, nodding a greeting.

Tobias smiled mirthlessly. “Think of it as research. You can write it all into a story later. The Naughty Jailor or something.”

Varric snorted as they crossed behind the dim shape of a warehouse’s stone wall. “Given what you told me happens in that place, Hawke, I think you might be sick.”

Tobias shrugged, making for a narrow street that led towards the old barracks and, from there, the slipway down into Darktown. “Well, you’ve gotta laugh, right?” he muttered. “Otherwise the bastards win.”

Varric shook his head. “Whatever. I’ll get onto it after I finish Hard in Hightown II.

“Oh?”

Even Harder,” the dwarf explained, a thin trickle of moonlight bouncing off his knowing smile.

Tobias grinned. “Unbelievable. And no one’s sued you?”

“Nope.” Varric frowned. “Well, not successfully. So far.”

Their stifled sniggers echoed faintly off the stones as they made for the slipway, descending into the Undercity via a long, steep, and not terribly trustworthy set of steps.

Here, their presence became more noticeable, if not actually noticed. Away from the chill of the entrance into the first tunnels, the shapes of sleeping bundles started to line the walls. People, dug into their little niches and hollows, might or might not have seen them pass. Few looked up; even fewer probably cared, with the exception of those who were undoubtedly eyes for the Coterie, or any of the smaller cartels.

Tobias caught the eye of one elven man, little more than a skeleton wrapped in rags. He stared at the human and the dwarf passing by him, his wide, pale lavender eyes as cold and vacant as ice, and his expression was one of purified hostility. The occasional stubs of light that came from carefully guarded torches or tallow candles—no one in Darktown liked to pass the night in complete pitch blackness, on account of that making it easier for someone to shiv you and steal your stuff—was barely enough to see by, and as they turned away from the main pathways, Varric swore under his breath.

“Don’t look at what you trod in,” Tobias said over his shoulder. “We’re nearly there, anyway.”

Varric caught up in a few strides, scuffing his boot awkwardly with every step. “Not so much what,” he muttered. “Think that one might have been a who.”

It could well have been, but it didn’t merit further investigation just then. With the tunnel that led to the clinic at their backs, Tobias led Varric along another byway, down another set of steps, and past a rickety wooden frame that, once, had apparently held some sort of pulley system. A set of marks was scratched into the wood, and Varric frowned at the pattern.

“Smugglers?”

“Yeah.” Tobias nodded, the word almost wistful as he glanced at the woodwork. “The cut we’ll be using leads down into the old sewers. Athenril showed it to me ages ago. I didn’t know there was a way to The Gallows through there, but apparently there is. That’s Gull Company,” he added, pointing at the sigil. “D’you remember? They took this patch over after the Coterie pushed the Black Spire gang out… until Regan Gull got herself killed by those qunari, anyway.”

“I remember. Seems not everybody gets on as well with the Arishok as you, hmm?”

Tobias pulled a face as they squeezed past the jagged, worm-eaten timbers. “Wouldn’t put it quite like that myself.”

“No? Last I heard, His Horniness wanted another audience with you. Something about the way you handled that poison gas business….”

“Huh,” Tobias grunted. “If he wants to talk to me about that, I’m quite willing. I’m sure there’s lots of Fereldan words for ‘arsehole’ that he hasn’t heard. Yet.”

“It’d definitely be an education,” Varric agreed, wincing a little at the smell of rot, mould, damp, and filth that engulfed them as they emerged into an even narrower tunnel. “But, then, you do go out of your way to foster diplomacy in this city, Hawke.”

A glimmer of torchlight ahead, just past the curve of a dripping, somewhat slimy wall, told Tobias they’d almost arrived. He smirked.

“That’s me. Charm and grace personified.”

~o~O~o~

Gethyn and Anders stood close to the entrance of the old smugglers’ cut, a couple of leather packs at their feet. A heavy, square metal cover sat over the entrance to the passageway, rusted and patched with damp chunks of moss, or algae, or whatever the greenish, greasy stuff that seemed to grow over everything down here was. Tobias didn’t know, and he didn’t fancy touching it in order to find out. Either way, the cover had the same Gull Company mark scratched onto it, along with a few other worn smugglers’ signs. He didn’t recognise those—probably before his time, he supposed—but, back in the day, the sheet of metal would have been hauled away and block and tackle rigs, like the one they’d squeezed by to get here, would have been put in place to move illicit hauls quickly and quietly.

The sewers didn’t get so much traffic from Darktown these days, mainly because of the refugees thronging everywhere, and perhaps also because the Coterie—in getting so greedy about pushing out the smaller companies—had such a large share of the pie that they’d grown lazy and complacent. They barely bothered to hide their crimes anymore, and most of Kirkwall didn’t seem to care.

The two mages were talking in quiet undertones, Anders with his arms folded tightly across his chest, the ratty feathers on his shoulders sticking up in ruffled spikes, and Gethyn holding a torch in one hand and jabbing the forefinger of the other in the general direction of the tunnels.

Tobias cleared his throat. “Um… evening.”

They stopped, glancing up at his approach, and Tobias tried not to notice the way the torchlight picked out the gold in Anders’ hair. He looked pale and determined, and vaguely twitchy, though not as twitchy as Gethyn, who scowled violently at Varric.

“Who the sod is this?”

“A friend,” Tobias said smoothly. “All right?”

“I told you this was private!” Gethyn seethed, glaring at Anders. “What you got to go bringing outsiders in for?”

“Hawke’s not an outsider,” the healer said, his jaw tight and his words clipped. “And Varric’s safer than almost anyone.”

“Varric Tethras,” the dwarf added, smiling cheerfully.

“Tethras?” Gethyn’s scowl started to fade. “I know you. Well… I know of you….”

“Ah, everybody does,” Varric said nonchalantly, with a dismissive wave of one gloved hand. “Sooner or later.”

“I’m surprised you’re joining us,” Anders said. “Not that I’m complaining, but—”

Varric raised his eyebrows. “Blondie… really? Taking the templars on, right in Meredith’s back yard? It’s so insane, I couldn’t say no.”

Gethyn muttered something under his breath, turning away to peer along the tunnel. Besides the way Varric and Tobias had come, there was only one access point into this dank and disgusting little hollow, and it seemed highly unlikely anyone would follow them into it of their own volition… but the mage still looked nervous.

“It’s necessary,” Anders said, his voice curiously lacking in emphasis. “Dangerous, yes, but—”

“We’ve taken this risk dozens of times before,” Gethyn said pointedly, adopting that annoying self-righteous, haughty tone that Tobias had heard plenty of times before from Anders. “We’ve put our lives on the line to save just one mage… you think you’ve got the right to do less when there’s summink that threatens all of us?”

Tobias winced. He’d outlined the gist of Alrik’s alleged plan to Varric, but not quite with the dramatic terminology that the Underground favoured. Fortunately, the dwarf just smiled cheerfully and spread his gloved hands wide.

“Me? No… believe me, friend, I’m a supporter. Just ask Blondie.”

The corner of Anders’ mouth twitched tersely and he looked away, arms still folded.

“Leave him, Gethyn,” he muttered. “We have to move, anyway.”

The other mage’s scowl intensified to improbably melodramatic proportions, and he turned away with a muffled grunt, thrusting the torch ahead of him. Its ragged light bounced off the damp walls, and threw burning shadows back over his sharp, angry face.

“Come on,” Gethyn grumbled, his eyes like hot coals as he gestured towards the cut. “Let’s get going. And if you tell anyone about this passageway, dwarf, I will personally carve another two feet off your height. Understand?”

Tobias moved past him to give Anders a hand with the metal cover, and they shared a brief eye-roll as Varric turned his smarmiest grin on the rebel.

“Oh, your secret’s safe with me. Honest. Say… what do they call you, anyway?”

“Varric,” Tobias warned, as he closed his leather-gloved fingers on the edge of the cover. “Leave Gethyn alone.”

The mage turned that gimlet scowl on him, and Varric just shrugged. Tobias settled his grip on the cover and, on Anders’ count, they began to drag it back. Despite the rust and the mossy, slimy growth, it had clearly been well-used and, after the initial grunt of effort, it began to slide fairly easily. After a few minutes’ work, the passageway beneath was revealed: an eight foot drop down to the disused tunnel below, from which emanated a foul, stale smell, slightly worse than the usual slow-death-and-effluvia stench that Darktown had about it.

“Lovely,” Tobias remarked, peering down into the darkness.

Anders went to one of the leather packs and withdrew a coil of rope, which he set about fastening to the mouth of the cut.

“There aren’t enough of us to leave someone as cavy, so we’ll have to be lucky. Quick, and lucky. We take this tunnel east until it hits the old dock wall, then there’s a break north, and we get into the smugglers’ runs. That’s where we’ll find Jarrod, Mina, and Ranulf.”

“Those tunnels go right under the lake?” Varric asked dubiously. “Doesn’t that… I don’t know… defeat the purpose of building your prison to be totally inaccessible?”

Gethyn scoffed. “Lyrium smugglers built those runs,” he said with a bitter sneer. “Built ’em to serve the templars. Templars prob’ly paid for them. They go right up under the fortress, right into the basements, so the rutters don’t have to be without their little extras. What the Chantry gives ’em ain’t enough. Not once they’re addicted. They crave the stuff… drives ’em mad.”

Anders tugged at the rope’s fastening then, satisfied, tossed the rest of the coil down into the darkness. It landed with a soft splash at the bottom of the tunnel, and Tobias grimaced.

Oh, good. That sounds simply delightful. And it’s really, really dark. This… this just couldn’t get better.

“Right.” Anders glanced at the other three, his face pallid but his eyes sharply alert. “We should be as quick as we can. When we get to The Gallows itself, we’ll have to stick together; it’s a labyrinth, but the building’s footprint is square. We go up two levels—anyone in the deepest part of the Pit we can’t help anyway—and we should find the cells. Even if they’re pulling double guard duty, it’s late, so any templars we come across probably won’t be too alert. They patrol the corridors, and there’ll be fixed guards by the cells themselves. We’ll have to be on our toes and, remember, it’s all stone. It deadens sound, but echoes carry. We’re quick, we’re clean, and we don’t give any bucket-head the chance to raise the alarm. Clear?”

Tobias nodded, his pulse jumping a little with the excitement. He told himself it was adrenaline, nothing more. Not bloodlust, not the thrill of the chase… and certainly not how good Anders looked when he was giving orders.

~o~O~o~

They paced through endless narrow tunnels. It could have been miles, hours, ages… all Tobias knew was that it stank, and his well-patched boots were not as well-patched as he’d hoped.

Gethyn went on point with the torch, Varric trudging along behind him, and Tobias and Anders followed, the healer keeping a small orb of pale light spinning above their heads. It warred with the torch’s flame, painting splashes of colour-stained illumination on the dank, rough walls. Originally, the sewer tunnels had been carved from solid rock, hollowed out beneath the city the same way the harbour had been made: hewn by magic, finished by slave labour.

“So, uh….” Tobias cleared his throat awkwardly, simultaneously trying to attract Anders’ attention and stifle the noise. “This, er… evidence?”

The healer blinked, glancing at him like he hadn’t really heard the words. “Hmm?”

“These people. They’re going to be able to prove what Alrik’s doing?”

Anders shrugged, which surprised Tobias. People who were pitting themselves against stupid odds and the serious likelihood of dying horribly on the end of some wanker’s sword of so-called “mercy” probably shouldn’t be quite so laissez-faire about the potential for success in the idiotic things they were attempting to do.

“What?” he prompting, turning towards the other man as they walked, feet splashing dully in the filth with every step. “What? I thought—”

“Words won’t turn the tide on their own,” Anders said quietly. “But if we can prove anything… if we can find evidence of Alrik’s plan, I’m taking it straight to the Grand Cleric. She won’t be able to claim neutrality then.”

There was a peculiar trace of smugness within the hollow tone of his voice, but how could he be smug at a time like this, when everything was so bloody uncertain? It was almost as if he wasn’t entirely there, Tobias thought… though he could quite understand someone wanting to absent themselves from sloshing through miles of filth.

“Right,” he said dubiously.

Anders glanced at him, squinting in the dimness of the tunnel’s foulness, and curled his lip. “You smell of roses.”

Tobias inhaled sharply, surprised—because who could smell anything in the sludge of shit and mud and Maker alone knew what else was down here?—and smirked uncomfortably. “Oh?”

“Mm.” Anders turned his attention back to the ill-lit path in front of them. The pale glow of magelight glimmered on his hair and threaded thin streaks of bluish-white across his cheeks. “Condemned man’s last fling, was it?”

Why do you do this? Does it make you feel better? Or d’you just like watching me squirm?

Tobias gritted his teeth. “I wanted to feel warm,” he muttered, glaring at the narrow path ahead. “Alive. Real. Just once more.”

There. Happy now? Got something to laugh about, have you? Something to giggle over with the voices in your fucking head?

Anders shrugged mildly, the ragged shoulders of his coat rustling against the wet echoes of their footsteps.

“I understand that,” he said quietly. “I miss it.”

And, with those small, gentle words, even the anger writing itself across Tobias’ mind faded away, and he found himself with his mouth open, chewing on silence while the stink of the tunnels coated his tongue.

Up ahead, just past the oncoming bend in the river of filth, the brief flare of a torch swiped through the darkness. Gethyn stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled and, after a beat, a returning whistle sounded.

Anders let out a breath, his feathered pauldrons sagging in something that looked a lot like relief. “That’s the others. Good. Come on… let’s get a bloody move on.”

Tobias shut his mouth. He couldn’t argue with that.

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Chapter 27
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