Justice in Surrender: Chapter 27

Facing down Ser Alrik was never going to be easy.

———————————
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
———————————-

Jarrod, Ranulf, and Mina were waiting, huddled in the dankness, shrouded with cloaks and hoods. Gethyn made brief, terse introductions, but the shadows hardly made for helpful identification. All Tobias really managed to establish was that Mina was a tiny dark-skinned elf who barely even spoke to say hello, while Ranulf was a large, red-haired man with a scrubby beard, bad teeth, and a near-impenetrable Starkhaven accent, and Jarrod was a wiry Kirkwaller wrapped up in more loose-fitting linen than the average street gang thug. The only part of him visible from beneath the layers of dark cloth was one narrow, grubby hand, knuckles standing proud under deeply tanned skin as he held the smouldering torch.

“Let’s go,” he said, thrusting it towards the break in the tunnel that—through another series of ladders and old smugglers’ cuts—led to the lyrium runs of which Gethyn had spoken so scaldingly. “Losing time.”

Tobias gritted his teeth and tried not to meet Varric’s eye, aware from the stunningly eloquent quality of the dwarf’s silence that he not only still thought this was a terrible idea, but was convinced that they were going to die in the company of complete imbeciles.

Who knows? He might well be right.

Tobias tried to keep a mental map going as they walked. It was a skill he’d learned, or perhaps just honed, over years with Athenril’s operation: you always needed to know where you’d been, where you were going, and at least two different ways to get out of where you were. Problem was, there weren’t ways out of the smugglers’ tunnels. The cuts had been dug under the lake itself, and they had few dog-legs, twists, gullies, or turns. They weren’t the rabbit warrens gangs dug into up in the cliffs or old mine works, easy to defend, and easy for the unfamiliar to get lost in. These were simply business-like channels, connecting point to point with only a few corners and bends in between. It made him feel exposed and, much worse than that, it made him uncomfortably aware of the several tons of water and stone above their heads.

The tunnels were narrow, smelly, wet, and hot, and the dank air seemed thick and oppressive. Tobias tried to breathe normally, but the torch flames provided less illumination than he’d have liked, and everything was so incredibly close. Dark, heavy, hot… like the tunnels were squeezing him, and the grainy quality of the shadows was seeping into his flesh. Sweat broke out on his palms, his lower back and underarms already wet, and he became aware of his hoarse breaths echoing on the damp rock.

Tobias glanced at Anders, dimly aware that the healer was breathing with the same tight, shallow rhythm. He stared ahead, his dark gaze apparently fixed on Jarrod’s torch flame. Tobias wanted to say something to him, to murmur some kind of companionable comment about incredibly unpleasant this was, but the realisation that Anders had done this so often before stopped him; like it was a testament to how much this meant, he supposed. How much the Underground would do to see mages saved… and how much Anders would do for the Underground.

He gritted his teeth, and trudged on in silence.

~o~O~o~

The entrance to the fortress itself was a little anti-climactic. Jarrod hung back with the torch, and Ranulf jemmied open a wooden trap door at the top of a rickety ladder. They climbed up, one by one, and emerged into what looked like a disused service corridor. Sacks and crates lined the end wall, and a door led off to the left, the rest of the space nothing but grey, square masonry.

Gethyn pulled Tobias up, and sneered as he nodded at the walls around them.

“Welcome to the Gallows, Hawke.”

Tobias pulled a face. He wasn’t sure whether the slight skin-crawling discomfort he felt was to do with a genuine atmosphere of unpleasantness, or whether he was simply imagining it but, either way, the belly of the fortress felt like a vile, angry, bitter place. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but it seemed so… empty. Like the whole place had been wrapped up, swaddled in silence and choked with oppression.

He leaned down to help Varric up the ladder, and the dwarf grimaced as he was pulled up, squinting along the bare length of the corridor. If Tobias hadn’t known better, he’d have said his friend had suppressed a shiver, too.

“What?” Varric asked rhetorically, brushing down his coat and adjusting Bianca’s seat on his back. “No armed welcome party? No lanterns made out of mages’ skulls? I’m starting to think the stories were exaggerations.”

Tobias smiled mirthlessly, but the Underground didn’t appear to get the joke. Mina scowled at Varric, and stalked off with Gethyn at her side, the other two following closely. Anders winced at the dwarf as the tails of torchlight lengthened along the walls, shadows tugging at the cool, clammy air.

“You’d better hope we don’t meet the welcome party,” he said dryly. “Come on. Best stick together.”

The healer seemed quiet as they walked… a terse kind of silence, almost, though Tobias noted the soft, irregular breaths that whistled between his lips every so often, and the way his gaze continually flicked to the walls, watching the torchlight dance on the stonework.

Of course, he wasn’t exactly comfortable, either. None of them were. The sense of expectation lingered over the group: a hard, determined anticipation too finely whetted to be dread, because it wasn’t about fearing what could happen, more tensing in the face of its probability. Tobias squared his shoulders and tried not to think about anything too deeply, instead snatching glances at Anders’ tight, pinched face, and the way his lips moved soundlessly as he walked.

Great. The perfect time to have an argument with the voice in your head, Anders.

He wanted to say something, but how did you broach it? A quick nudge in the ribs and an “I see your Fade spirit’s acting up again, then?”. No. That wouldn’t help.

Probably, Tobias suspected, nothing would help. They were a long way down, and everything felt dark, dank, and solid. The stones sat over them like the sealed mouth of a tomb, and the knowledge that somewhere above these empty tunnels the fortress itself stretched up like a black bone against the sky, housing scores of mages, shackled like shattered, broken prisoners, was hardly comforting.

They turned a corner, slowing as Ranulf scouted ahead, then beckoned them on through the shadows once he had the all-clear.

“The cells aren’t far ahead,” he said, his accent muddying the words almost as much as his muffled whisper. “We’ll need to be on the lookout for guards, though I doubt there’ll be many this time o’ night. If we’re lucky, we’ll see no one until we get to the ditches.”

Tobias arched an eyebrow. “Uh, ‘ditches’…?”

“What they call the cells they leave you in to rot,” Ranulf explained, curling his lip bitterly. The torchlight glimmered against the red of his beard, his eyes little more than pinpricks of angry reflection in the gloom. “They throw you far enough down, you never see sunlight again. I’d be surprised if the templars themselves know every passageway down here.”

The tugging memory of the Deep Roads turned over in the recesses of Tobias’ mind, and sweat prickled in the small of his back. He was having a hard enough time not thinking about the vast weight of stone above them, and he hadn’t got over the tunnels under the lake, either. He swallowed, his tongue feeling dry against the roof of his mouth.

“Ah. Right.”

“We called it ‘the pit’ at Kinloch Hold,” Anders said quietly, his voice oddly soft and distant, like he was still somehow dislocated from the task at hand. “The main cells were ‘the box’; that was where they put you when you misbehaved. But there were deeper levels underneath. No one knew how far the chambers went down. The Pit could have gone on forever. They said, if you got put in there, you’d die, because the templars wouldn’t remember how to find you again. Right under the bones of the tower… back to the Avvar days. Buried with the ghosts and the demons.”

Tobias saw the look of unease that passed between Mina and Jarrod—that kind of mild, uncertain embarrassment that Anders sometimes seemed to cause in people—but the initial flare of protective irritation he felt petered out when he glanced at the healer. He looked… wrong. His eyes had grown glassy, his skin pallid to the point of ashen, and his breathing seemed shallow. Anders frowned, his brows pinching lightly as he appeared to reach for a memory he couldn’t quite touch.

“In White Spire, they called it… I can’t remember. Noir…? The dark place. They’d shut you down there, but there was still a little light. Not like the Hold. It was pitch black there, and you could smell the lake…. No way of knowing night from day.”

“It sounds like quite a story, Blondie,” Varric said, keeping his voice hushed, and yet forcibly stuffed with cheerfulness as he leaned in to elbow the mage in the arm. “You’ll have to tell me all about it sometime. Hey… we get out of this alive, I’ll buy everybody drinks, huh?”

Anders blinked, then nodded tentatively, seeming to latch back onto the present with a little more ease. “Yes,” he agreed, glancing sheepishly at the others. “That… that’s a good idea.”

Tobias caught his eye briefly, and he wished he knew how to condense everything he wanted to ask into that one fleeting moment, and those few cramped inches of airspace. It was over too fast, though, and he had no way of knowing if Anders was all right, if he could cope with this and—perhaps more importantly—if he was going to stay in control long enough to avoid getting them all killed.

~o~O~o~

They saw blessedly little in the dark corridors. Tobias was aware of heavy doors, barred with iron, and some caked with rust. He didn’t want to speculate on what might go on behind them, or whether the cells beyond had occupants.

A tiny stone staircase, twisting and barely wide enough for one person—presumably intended to be easily defensible, he supposed—led to another level just like the one below. They pressed into the dog-leg of the stairs, drawing into a sudden and silent knot when Jarrod signalled hearing a noise. Sure enough, the distant clank of metal echoed faintly against the stones and, torch quickly doused with a convenient ice charm, all seven of them stood stock still, holding their breath in the dark.

Tobias’ pulse beat rapidly, each thud of his heart against his ribs seeming to echo through to his forehead. He closed his eyes as the faint whisper of sound receded, the thick and oppressive quiet rolling back in after it. That was one of the worst things about this bloody place, he’d decided: it was far too damn quiet. There should have been people screaming, crying out… making some kind of sign of their suffering. But there wasn’t. There was just silence. Total, complete, complicit silence, and it made him feel sick and giddy.

He caught his breath again at the feel of movement beside him, only realizing as Ranulf’s fingers twitched around a small flame to relight the torch that it was Anders, standing close beside him. The rough sleeve of his coat brushed Tobias’ arm, and he peered critically at the healer, trying to discern some sign of sanity in his face.

Gethyn motioned towards the corridor and they moved out again, the pack of them scurrying through the shadows like rats, hardly daring to breathe.

The mages they were here for should be close by, Jarrod said. There was no way of knowing precisely which cells, but they at least had a general idea, and the benefit of experience helped gauge the places the templars were most likely to keep people. That was what Tobias clung to, anyway, because every second spent in this place felt more like blind madness.

The next corridor held signs of occupancy. It was still dark and narrow, dominated by the heavy, barred doors, but a couple of the torch sconces looked to have been recently used, and a small table with two rickety chairs sat lopsidedly at the far end. Tobias stifled a shudder; it was hard to imagine unlucky pairs of templars stuck down here on guard duty, whiling away the empty hours with rounds of Wicked Grace and Three Card Bluff.

Ranulf pointed to the far end of the corridor, silently signalling the need to stay alert. There were templars here… somewhere.

Tobias gritted his teeth. If the tower’s footprint was, as Anders had said, basically a square, then everything they’d walked through was mirrored on the other side of the building, and it stood to reason that patrols would cover the whole square. It would just have been a damn sight easier if they were timed… or predictable in any way. Gethyn moved forward, his narrow frame tight and his shoulders hunched, his whole body projecting a tense kind of determination.

“They’ll be here somewhere,” he muttered, nodded to the end of the corridor. “Dwarf, you stand cavy. Mina, take the other side. You see one of those nug-fucking bastards, you take them down. Quick and quiet. Understand?”

The little elf nodded and padded soundlessly behind them, melting into the shadows that pooled by the dark walls. Varric didn’t look pleased at being addressed purely by his race, but headed over to stand guard by the top of the corridor all the same. Ranulf, Jarrod, and Gethyn splintered off, each taking one of the massive, barred doors, and Tobias looked to Anders, unsure what he should do.

“Here.” The healer beckoned him over to the fourth of the six iron doors that lined the space, his pale, stained fingers already laid against the corroded metal. “They have enchantments on them… stops anyone breaking out. But, if you know how, you can—” Anders winced, a light flicker of blue enveloping his hands as he pushed against the door, eliciting a creak of protest from the iron. “—ouch… you can unlock them. There. Check the hatch.”

Tobias reached up to where he pointed, sliding back the narrow strip of metal that, fastened with a dark iron latch, covered over an aperture through which, he supposed, prisoners could be observed and have their meals passed to them… assuming templars actually fed their prisoners. Anders was shaking out his hands, his face a rictus somewhere between discomfort and nervousness.

“Anyone there?” he asked as Tobias pressed his face to the aperture, trying to see within.

The cell was dark. Not just dark… as if it was scraped out of the shadows, blacker than tar and just as suffocating. The air inside tasted foul—metallic and dirty—and Tobias could identify the feeling of templars’ magic on it.

It had always struck him as odd, the way the Chantry gave them a free pass, fed them lyrium to enhance their use of what was essentially plundered magic: artificially roused in those who weren’t mages, in order to control those who were.

All the same, he’d learned to hate the feel of it. That clinical, raw taste, with all the power of lyrium and none of the human feeling that made it possible to live with… because how else did you deal with the entire Fade breathing down the back of your neck? They didn’t have that. They didn’t understand. Their so-called cleanses and protective enchantments… they tasted like metal and violence.

He pushed himself back from the door, the lingering print of the metal and the power humming within it stinging against his forehead.

“No,” he managed, shaking his head. “No one in there.”

“Damn.” Anders glanced across the corridor at the others. “Anything?”

“One in here,” Jarrod said, jerking a thumb at the door he stood beside. “But she’s dead.”

Anders was already moving across the stones, the same crispness in his step as he had at the clinic. “Are you sure?”

Gethyn was moving too, but there was a different swiftness in his gait. “Is it—? I wanna see.”

He hoisted himself up to the door, peering through the narrow hatch for a moment before he dropped down again, shaking his head as he turned away.

“It’s not Edda. And I don’t think even you can fix that, Anders.”

The healer stopped in mid-stride, and Tobias found himself horribly curious, yet not really wanting to see the body. Had she starved, become corrupted? Or were the templars even more directly responsible for her demise? The tang of death stung his nostrils as Jarrod slid the hatch shut and, beckoning Mina to follow, they moved on to the next set of doors.

~o~O~o~

They found the mages they were looking for about two-thirds of the way around the square run of cells. There were no guards, and yet the prisoners didn’t cry out for help or show any sign of understanding that they were being rescued until Ranulf had actually started jemmying the doors open.

Tobias helped with that. Most of his career with Athenril’s operation had, at some point, involved the grunt work of moving large, heavy objects, though at least this time he could apply a judicious Maker’s Fist to the obstacles without worrying about exposing himself as an apostate.

The metal creaked and groaned as—with the templar enchantments lifted—Tobias set a force spell across the lock, digging the weight of his power into the iron and heaving until its very fibres tore apart.

“Not exactly subtle, Hawke,” Varric muttered, his gloved fingers playing along Bianca’s stock as he watched the shadowed corridor behind them.

Tobias smirked around his gritted teeth, sweat slipping down his spine. Metal was, for some reason, always hard to perform any kind of magic on; he had no idea why.

“You know me, Varric,” he managed, as the door buckled and gave way, allowing Ranulf to squeeze in and drag out the first of the prisoners they’d found. “I don’t do things by halves.”

The dwarf snorted, and Tobias stepped back to give Ranulf and the filthy, bowed bundle of rags he dragged with him a little room.

“It’s Willen,” the Starkhavener said, as the mage dangling from his arms lifted his shaggy, matted head, squinting at them with weak, unfocused eyes.

He would have been a tall man, had he been able to stand upright, but he seemed limp as grass, his robes—once richly patterned in shades of grey and green—heavily soiled and stained, and a torn blanket hanging over his shoulders. Heavy beard growth, perhaps a good couple of weeks’ worth, covered his cheeks and chin, and the stink that rolled off him was worse than the gutter outside The Hanged Man the morning after payday on the docks. Tobias tried not to gag, but it still wasn’t as bad as what they’d done to the man’s hands.

“Willen?” Gethyn went to him, hunching down in front of the thin, haggard face, trying to coax some kind of recognition from the mage. “Willen, it’s me. We’re getting you out. You, and Edda, and Leorah. But we’ve got to move fast, all right? Come on….”

Mina, Jarrod, and Anders were already working on the other two doors, and Tobias knew he needed to help… but he couldn’t stop himself staring.

They hadn’t just broken Willen’s hands. They’d destroyed them.

Every bone, every joint had been crushed, twisted… mangled, until all that remained were the two bent, bloodied, shrivelled things that protruded from the ends of his sleeves.

Couldn’t even do him the favour of cutting the sodding things off. Maker’s cock, if I had the time, I’d be sick….

There wasn’t the time to waste, of course, so Tobias choked back the bile and disgust, and went to work on the next set of locks. Varric had a point: it wasn’t the quietest, most discreet way to break anyone out. He couldn’t understand why the guard patrols hadn’t come running. Surely there were templars down here. There must be. They’d heard the distant clank of metal, seen the posts they must usually occupy; what was going on?

The other two mages seemed in slightly better shape than Willen, but only marginally. Edda proved to be a small, round woman who looked Rivaini, her black hair twisted into a once-neat coil at the back of her neck. She was just as filthy and soiled as Willen, but Gethyn still hugged her tightly as he pulled her from the cell, the perpetual sharpness in his features coalescing into a blade of anger at what had been done to her and the others. She touched his face as she hung from his neck, murmuring words too dry and shallow to be heard, her lips cracked and her throat evidently parched.

While Tobias and Anders worked on the last door, Jarrod conjured an ice spell and patiently helped wet the prisoners’ mouths with small blocks of the stuff. It seemed to help.

The last to be freed, Leorah, was a skinny elven woman with a dirty fall of blonde hair. She seemed to have faired better than the others, though she frowned in confusion as Mina helped her past the buckled iron door, and she the faces of her rescuers.

Anders?”

Tobias recalled him having mentioned her, but he hadn’t expected the elf’s look of utter shock as she stared at the healer, her pale blue eyes—that very elven blue, which almost seemed to shimmer under the torchlight—wide in her gaunt, dirty face.

The tiniest of smiles flittered around Anders’ mouth.

“Hello, Leorah.”

His hands hung loosely at his sides, his fingers twitching lightly, and he had that ashen cast to his skin again, along with the particular tautness that spoke of a struggle to keep control. Tobias imagined Justice probably wasn’t responding well to being confronted with such explicit evidence of templars’ mistreatment of their charges.

Walled up in the dark, ankle-deep in their own shit and piss, no light, no water… Maker, I’m getting the urge to take this out on the next templar I see, and I haven’t got a Fade spirit in my head….

For someone who’d just been rescued from a prison cell, the elf didn’t look terribly pleased. She tried to stand unaided, and ended up leaning heavily on Mina instead.

“I— I didn’t… didn’t know you were here,” she managed, the words croaky and uneven as she stared at him, her expression laced with something that looked rather like suspicion.

Tobias doubted she knew about Justice, given that Anders had said they’d been apprentices at the same time, and he’d run from Ferelden long before the Annulment. He wondered why someone from the healer’s past should look at him with quite such a degree of wariness, but there really wasn’t the opportunity to question it.

Anders’ smile widened slightly, though it still didn’t seem to touch the rest of his face. “You know how it is,” he said mildly. “Rebels, resistance fighters… people like me always have to end up somewhere, right? Bad boys.”

Those words clearly had meaning between the two of them. She looked away and, even through the dirt and the dishevelment, Tobias saw something very distinct in her expression. It was no more than a whisper, an echo of a memory… but it was there.

Oh. Right. He didn’t mean he knew her. He meant “knew” her.

Right. Well. That’s… that’s fine.

And it was. It was honestly fine. It didn’t even hammer too intensely at Tobias’ brain that Anders could be so very blasé about someone to whom he seemed to have been close. There was no reason he should mention it, of course, no reason it should affect anything.  

“The… the others,” Leorah croaked, tugging at Mina’s sleeve. “The girls. There were two girls. Did you find them?”

Mina frowned. “What girls?”

“Th-they brought two others down here today. Alrik… Alrik came. He took her. The… the youngest one. Not long ago. When I heard people outside my cell, I thought it was him. I thought….”

She faltered, the words dying away and those large, pale elven eyes—the kind her people so often hid their thoughts behind, as hard and unreadable as moonstone—turned to pools of visceral terror.

“Take her back,” Anders said quietly, addressing Mina with the same firm, calm tone he used in the clinic. “All of them. Get them out as fast as you can. Go now, and get them to the safe house. Gethyn? Gethyn… Alrik’s here. Tonight.”

Tobias felt the bitter tang that seemed to solidify in the air at those words. Gethyn’s spine straightened, his eyes narrowed pebbles in his dry, hard face. He nodded, and a wordless kind of communication filtered through the group… but clearly not everyone was in agreement. Ranulf frowned, his shaggy brows drawn low over scowling eyes.

“Don’t be a fool, Anders. Come on. We need to leave. Now. We have what we—”

“‘What we came for’?” Anders sneered, but it was that all-too-familiar current of Justice’s anger swelling beneath the sound of his words. “They’re people, not commodities! And if that bastard is here—”

“Your hate blinds you!” Jarrod protested, holding the torch high as he supported the mage, Willen, with his other arm. “Would you risk everything now to go after him? Who knows how many templars he has with him? And how would you even find him? Ranulf’s right… don’t be a fool.”

The healer’s face was a mask of ice-cold fury, his mouth tight-lipped and his cheeks drawn in, like someone had just given him half a lemon to suck on. Tobias felt the familiar pull of dread in the pit of his gut.

Keep your mouth shut, Hawke. This isn’t your fight. The Underground don’t trust you enough for you to wade in on something like—

“I thought we were supposed to be here rescuing mages,” he heard himself say, the thinking part of his brain cringing as the words left him. “And don’t we want evidence of everything Alrik’s doing?”

Ranulf and Jarrod turned thunderous scowls on him, but he shrugged, slipping a sidelong look to the broken, battered mages who stood beside them. Willen, particularly, looked more like a corpse than a man.

“Present company excepted,” Tobias said quietly, “but fresh blood’s about as good as proof can get.”

He didn’t dare look at Anders, afraid of how much of Justice he might see, but Jarrod’s expression was damning enough. He was glaring at the healer, the coarse hood and loose linens he wore hiding most of his face, and yet leaving his eyes—and the angry fear that lingered in them—blatantly exposed.

“It won’t be about blood,” he muttered. “It’s about Vengeance.”

Those words surprised Tobias. He wanted to know how much of Anders’ constant struggle those in the Underground were truly aware of; the delicate balance between spirit and corruption, and the long fall into chaos that he so feared.

He didn’t know how to ask, of course, and there was no chance to do so, anyway… especially as, at that moment, a scream echoed through the stone walls.

Tobias felt it jar in his blood: that pulse of adrenaline, that moment of decision that goes far beyond logic or reason. He didn’t even need to look at Anders to know that he felt the same, as did Gethyn, though it was Varric who voiced the moment for all four of them.

“Well,” the dwarf said, his thick fingers dancing easily across Bianca’s stock, supporting the crossbow’s weight as he reached for one of the dastardly little pouches at his belt; probably containing either a poison with which to tip his bolts, or those nasty little glass vials that shattered on impact, and made life so much more unpleasant for the recipient. “That sounded like a blood-curdling scream. I’m assuming that—flying in the face of all that’s sane and sensible—we want to run towards it, right?”

~o~O~o~

It happened with a split moment of indecision: a crack that wrenched the group in two with an almost audible tearing. Ranulf—apparently entirely against his better judgement—left Mina and Jarrod to get the three imprisoned mages back out the way they’d come, and joined Tobias, Varric, Anders, and Gethyn as they plunged through the dark corridors, heading towards the sound of those horrible screams.

It didn’t take long to find the source. Tobias had suspected that, if the cells the mages called “ditches” ran around the edges of The Gallows’ square footprint, there would be a honeycomb of other, nastier chambers at the centre. Storerooms, nightsoil pits… and other rooms. Places people didn’t go, and didn’t talk about, and didn’t want to think existed. Places that sadistic bastards like Alrik made their homes.

He wished he hadn’t been right.

And it’s not even like rats, is it? I mean, sure, rats’ll eat corpses—they’ll eat your toes before you’re dead if you lie still long enough—and they spread disease and fleas and filth… but not like this.

This makes rats look clean as Chantry sisters.

It was a large, square chamber. Vaulting to the ceiling suggested that, once, this room and the series of old stores and alcoves from which it led off might have been part of the fortress’ lowest undercrofts, but whether the ditches had grown up around it, or predated it, Tobias had no idea. He didn’t think much about it, either, seeing as the wide, dim space—blank grey stone lit with a number of candles, guttering in heavy iron holders that stood on the floor instead of being secured in sconces—was full of templars.

They hadn’t bothered to bolt the doors. They probably had no need to; after all, who was going to police the jailors?

The chamber was bounded by a set of wide, iron doors that stood slightly ajar, so that—with ghastly poetic aptness—the symbol of the Maker’s Sun embossed onto the metal seemed split in two, framing the scene within. Hidden from immediate discovery by both the shadows and that heavy, ornate portal, Tobias had plenty of time to make out what was happening… and he wished he hadn’t.

The air felt hot against his skin, rife with damp, and though there had only been a few short screams, he could still hear the whimpers of coming from the chamber ahead of him: small, broken cries threading through the thick, oppressive silence.

It’s why it’s so quiet here, isn’t it? They don’t cry out, because they know what happens if you attract attention. They know what happens to anyone who makes a sound….

This was clearly Alrik’s special place. Ranulf had doused the magelight that had guided their steps, and the candles inside the chamber were few, but Tobias didn’t need light to know that the darkness speckling the stones was probably as much blood as shadow.

There were eight, maybe ten templars in the chamber. All of them wore full armour, including those faceless box helms… all except the man Tobias immediately realised was Alrik himself. It couldn’t have been anyone else: the way he moved was the strut of a showman, a bantam in its narrow scrape, king of this foul little place and everything he surveyed.

Candlelight glimmered on so many shiny sets of armour, so many richly embroidered sashes… and it positively danced on his silvery chestpiece, and on his bald pate, pink and gleaming.

And, at the centre of it all—the focus of this little game, holding Alrik’s attention the way a mouse captivates a cat—there was a girl. Her hands were bound, a length of rope securing them above her head to a hook mounted on the ceiling, evidently just a little too high for her feet to comfortably rest on the floor. She twisted and squirmed, but couldn’t get purchase, the toes of her leather slippers pattering helplessly on the flagstones.

She couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen: a short, plump girl with dark skin and thick, jaw-length black hair that hung in matted tangles. Tears and snot mingled on her face, her mouth twisted around desperate, animalistic cries. Her blue robes were torn and muddied, and fear crackled off her like electricity.

“Please,” she kept saying, “no… please! Please, I didn’t—”

Leorah had said there were two girls, but there was no sign of the second. Tobias winced as he realised that meant they had to put her out of their minds; as far as he knew, she was already dead. Or worse.

He watched the bald templar prowl towards the girl, extending one gauntleted hand and closing his silvered fingers over her cheeks, pinching the puppy fat of her face as she whimpered and tried to twist away. Alrik merely tilted his head, like a bird watching a worm, and a thoroughly unpleasant smile curved his thin lips, his mouth a line partially obscured by a neatly clipped grey beard. Everything about him seemed dreadfully precise… as if he had no tolerance for disorder, for chaos or chance.

Tobias glanced over his shoulder, finding his own dark thoughts reflected in the faces of the Underground mages. This wasn’t about evidence anymore. This whole place was so steeped in wrongness—the stink of it lay on the air, as oppressive and cloying as the stale smell of decay—that he wouldn’t have batted an eye at blowing the whole lot to pieces. What else did these bastards deserve? And what else could be done to a system of chains and hatred, where fear was so deeply ingrained on both sides of the divide?

“You’re a liar, little girl,” Ser Alrik said, his cold, nasal voice filling the chamber, though the words themselves had curiously little emphasis.

Tobias’ fingers itched with the desire to rain fury down on every last templar in there—every last templar in the world—because, at that moment, hating them seemed so horribly easy, and what good could ever come of amelioration? They deserved death, and they deserved destruction. It was all they offered mages.

He knew Ranulf and Gethyn were with them: both men stood tense, ready but holding back, unsure what to do. That was fine; Tobias was used to sliding easily into the role of coordinator.

“I didn’t do anything wrong, ser!” the girl cried, wriggling frantically like a bait-hook worm, fresh tears coursing down her face. “I swear it!”

“Now, that’s another lie,” the templar said evenly, menace lacing his voice. “What do we do to mages who lie?”

The tread of metal sabatons on cold stone echoed past the iron doors, and Tobias looked to Varric. The dwarf’s cool, calm expression—that business-like focus he had before a fight—was a relief, especially as he knew just how unlikely the next ten minutes were to go according to any kind of plan.

You’re insane, Hawke. There’s almost a dozen men in there. Armed, dangerous… fuck knows how many more upstairs. They’ll kill you. All of you.

But you can’t back out, can you?

…And, even if you tried, you couldn’t get him away from this.

Tobias bit the inside of his lip as his gaze moved to Anders.

Should have known. Too much. He can’t— Justice can’t cope with this.

Inside the chamber, the girl’s sobs had redoubled. She was blubbering about just wanting to see her mother, wanting to know she was safe… the hard, sharp thud of a metal gauntlet across a cheekbone put a stop to that, and the whimpers and protestations were replaced with frightened, raw cries.

Two worried faces watched Tobias from the shadows—Ranulf and Gethyn, waiting for a word—and, while Varric silently slipped something from his pocket into Bianca’s repeater chamber, Anders seemed not to be breathing.

He stood still, his mouth slightly open and his eyes wide, lips moving over stifled, inaudible words as sweat beaded on his forehead. Tobias shivered, the taste of magic running cold and bitter across his tongue. His skin tingled with the sheer weight of Anders’ power, and he had no idea how the healer was holding it back. Gethyn and Ranulf had noticed, too, and both men looked uneasy… like sheep locked in a stall with a tiger.

Tobias tapped two fingers softly against the chest of his jerkin, then pointed to the chamber doors. There was no way this was going to end well, but they might at least go into it with some semblance of a plan. He pointed to Ranulf, signalling that he should take the left flank, Gethyn the right, and fire—or as near to “fire” as he could mouth and mime—would be a good way of making use of the element of surprise, and leave him room to throw out a few force spells.

Anders blinked, and the dark gaze that met Tobias’ was crazed with blue… the same pale, shivering luminescence that lined his hands, clenched into knotted fists at his sides. He raised his brows in silent question, and Tobias lifted one shoulder in a shrug. He pointed at Varric, indicating with fingers spread like a volley of arrows that he would stay back and cover the centre of the room while Gethyn and Ranulf held the flanks. A jab of a finger at Anders, then at himself, and a few hand signals universally understood by most smugglers and street gangs to mean “and then we kick the shit out of them, preferably as hard as possible” outlined the admittedly fuzzy remainder of his plan.

Hey… I never said it was a good idea, did I?

The healer inclined his head, his skin pale as moonlight, cheeks made gaunt as blades by the shadows. Perhaps, Tobias told himself, it was his imagination—whetted by this keen, tight moment: the moment just before they all did something reckless and stupid and alive—but Anders hardly looked human at all. His chest ached briefly, clenching around the ground-in want he harboured for the man. It had been so long now that he could hardly remember a time he hadn’t felt this way; as if he was waiting with every breath, and breathing was such a necessity that the waiting seemed normal. All the aches and frustrations had drawn out into dark threads that wound through everything, snaring and binding him closer to the fabric of a life that had Anders in it, but not in the way that he wanted.

All of this… fighting, bleeding, rushing into danger together… it should have made everything easier, but it didn’t.

The look that passed between them as Anders raised his head—the fire of Justice’s ill-restrained fury trembling so very visibly behind his eyes—swelled with need and repression, gratitude and shared, righteous anger, focus and intense determination… and a hundred other things, but it wasn’t enough.

It’s everything, but it’s not enough. It never will be. But I’d still die for you.

Inside the chamber, Alrik gave the girl a backhander with his metal-encased fingers. His voice carried easily against the stones, the wheedling, nasal tones more like those of a merchant or guildsman trying to do business than a military man barking orders but, somehow, all the more menacing for that.

“You tried to escape,” he said, sounding almost genial as the girl spat blood onto the flagstones by his feet. “You know what happens to little mages who don’t toe the line around here, don’t you?”

“Nn-nn,” she moaned, keeping up her litany of pleas, no matter how pointless they clearly were. “Don’t… don’t make me Tranquil! I-I’ll do anything….”

“Oh, yes. That’s right. Once you’re Tranquil, you’ll do anything I ask.” Alrik loosed an unpleasant little laugh, like the genteel chuckle of an insincere dinner guest. “Silly girl. Do you think we need the Rite for that? Morwen,” he added, beckoning to one of the templars, “come here. Cut her down. I want you to hold her for me. On your knees, mage.”

Tobias held two fingers up, keeping the others in check as the templar Alrik had called over pulled a dagger from his belt and cut the girl free, forcing her to kneel on the bloodied stones. She could barely hold herself up, swaying with the punches she’d already taken, and convulsed with wracking sobs of terror and panic. The templar held her by the hair and by the shoulders, and the jagged circle of men shifted, a few edging forwards with the clear expectation that each would get his turn with their master’s little toy.

At least she’s got her hands free. Right, then. Deep breath, Hawke… it’s been fun.

Tobias dropped his hand, nodding to the others in the split second before he swung out from the shadows, clanging his way noisily past the embossed metal doors.

“Oh, dearie me,” he announced, his dagger drawn and the swell of power already blooming in his left palm. “Naughty, naughty, eh, ser?”

Alrik wheeled around, bald pate gleaming and icy eyes flaring with outrage.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “What is the meaning of—”

“It’s the Divine,” Varric said dryly, stepping out behind Tobias with Bianca cocked in his gloved hands. “She’s come all the way from Orlais, personally, just to tell you what a jackass you are.”

As entrances went, Tobias had to admit that it was one of their better ones. The first of the templars nearest the doors started to make a move towards them, and he heard the familiar crack of Bianca’s firing mechanism, closely followed by a thud as the man fell to the ground, gargling, with a feathered bolt protruding from the tiny gap between his high-collared chestplate and his box helm.

Sadly, there was no time to congratulate Varric on the damn fine shot, because that was the point at which the entire Void broke loose.

Alrik, a pale column of icily composed rage, drew his shortsword and opened his mouth to bellow an order… and fire engulfed the chamber, racing in thick, searing billows along the edges of the room. Ranulf and Gethyn pushed forward, each forcing gouts of flame before him, tongues of red and orange scorching the ceiling, burning the stones, and dragging screams and yells from the templars caught in its path.

More arrows ripped through the air, the bolts pitting and dinging from stone and metal as Varric kept up the volley and Tobias pelted forward, his intention to grab the girl and get her out of harm’s way. She was screaming—which he couldn’t really blame her for, he supposed—and he didn’t even make it halfway to her before a templar cut across his path: a big man, heavily armoured, and wielding a very large sword.

Tobias ducked, feinted right, and caught a punch to the jaw that somehow he hadn’t really expected. That ill-fated night at the chantry aside, he’d never really fought templars before, and he’d stupidly expected them to fight fair… but this one certainly didn’t. He struck out, his blade glancing off the heavy armour and—as fire and arrows and the blinding, metallic heat of magic and fury danced all around him—the symbol of the Sword of Mercy on the templar’s breastplate filled his vision. He could taste blood.

The cleanse hit then: one of the bastards had got up, recovering from the initial surprise of the attack, and thrown out the biggest aura he could. It hit every mage in the room hard, and Tobias felt the stones pitch beneath him, his gut churning and his head turning to cotton stuffing as every muscle he possessed seemed to grow weak and watery. The templar he faced hit him again, and he stumbled, dropping to the fire-warmed flags with his vision blurring.

Alrik was screaming the order to kill them, predictably enough—as if the suggestion might have been novel to any of the templars in the chamber—and Tobias heard the smashing of glass that preceded one of Varric’s sneaky smoke grenades going off. He took advantage of the moment of obfuscation, dragging himself across the floor and moving in search of the girl. She wasn’t where she’d been and, blinking through the gritty smoke and the ash, he saw that Anders had her. He’d pulled her to the side of the chamber, where he had her in a corner and was standing guard over her, his hands raised and his face… well, it wasn’t his face. Blue light crazed his skin, his eyes flushed with that blind, opaque haze, and Tobias was horribly reminded of everything they’d done for the Dalish boy… and of Justice inside the Fade, wearing the memory of Anders’ body like an ill-fitting coat.

Tobias pushed himself up on weak, wobbly arms, his dagger clutched in his fist. Did the templars’ cleanses affect Justice? It didn’t look like it. He turned, catching and parrying a blow from another templar, using the bigger man’s body weight to throw him off balance and cannoning him away into another of his comrades. Another place, another time, and Tobias supposed he’d have laughed at the way the buggers went down like ninepins.

He didn’t laugh, though. Across the chamber, a templar swung his sword at Anders, clearly expecting him to still be under the effects of the cleanse. Anders dodged the blade as if it was nothing more than a fly, then caught the templar’s sword arm with one hand and twisted…. The bone snapped like kindling, and Tobias couldn’t help wincing. Then the healer’s other hand came up, palm against the blazing sword motif on the templar’s chest, and something horrible—more horrible than Tobias had ever envisaged magic could be—seemed to happen right inside the air itself.

It felt like the world started turning inside out. Every breath, every thread of energy—the kind of energy a mage could feel every second of his life, running through all there was in the world—seemed to burn and boil, and the great, pulsing weight of Anders’ power roared through it.

Tobias’ teeth ached. He hadn’t seen this happen since the night at the chantry… the night Karl died. This was Justice unchained; uncontrolled, and yet more than that. If such a thing was possible, this was even more intense. Wilder, angrier… crueller.

He heard the templar scream. It was the death cry of someone whose last moments were filled with complete and excoriating agony, and the corpse that fell from Anders’ grasp was withered and broken.

It stood to reason, of course: to know how to heal a body, you had to know how it was supposed to go together and, once you knew that, you also knew how to take it apart from the inside out.

Tobias felt his head start to come back, his body beginning to respond to him again as the nulling effect of the templar’s cleanse started to wear away. They had to take the bastards down before anyone did that again… particularly as at least one of them had seen what Anders had done, and was fool enough to yell a warning.

Abomination.

The word had a visceral effect.

Tobias lurched to the side, avoiding the big templar from before, who apparently had no qualms about trying to kick mages’ legs out from under them. Just before he pitched back into the fray, focused on finding the weak points in the wall of embossed metal before him, he saw—or, perhaps, felt—the wave of furious anger, power, and vengeance that poured from his friend. Light seared the chamber, electric blue and blinding white, and it was the swelling boom of Justice’s voice that shouted over the chaos, daring the templars to transgress again… warning them that they would pay, that they would never touch another mage again.

Either Ranulf or Gethyn had managed to break out another firestorm spell, for flame tickled the chamber’s ceiling, and fire burst behind Tobias, throwing the templar attacking him off-balance for a moment. He made the most of it, driving his dagger into the gap in the armour beneath the man’s arm, forcing the blade in as far as the hilt. A yell, muffled and echoing beneath the faceless helmet, told him he’d struck flesh, and he dragged the knife as far as he could, even as he was forced to close his eyes against the screaming wall of light and magic that flashed against the stones.

Images seared themselves onto the back of Tobias’ eyelids, beaten there through the darkness and the panic. Templars went down. He didn’t see how many. He was still fighting, and they were still throwing out their ghastly cleanses. Every one of them felt like drowning in sand… and yet there was Anders, in constant motion at the centre of a whirling spiral of blue fire, scything and gouging, beating back every blow the templars tried to land on him.

Tobias concentrated on his own problems, and tried not to let the dark, metallic taste of all that wild, vengeful power choke him. It made it hard to think, hard to see anything past the blue glare of Justice’s rage, and the screams of the men who died around him, torn, bludgeoned, and scalded with the bolts and flames that tore from hands Tobias was more used to seeing heal than kill.

Anders wasn’t even throwing fireballs. The flames and sparks that he let fly were pure, condensed heat: the fire inside the white-hot blade of lightning, tinged blue at its edges with electricity. The whole chamber reeked of heated metal and burned flesh, and yet Tobias still caught himself recalling Isabela’s distant words… foolish recollections of electricity and sex, and his equally foolish jealousy over a past Anders might never even have had; a man so far removed from the creature that fought beside him now.

Tobias looked away from the healer as another of the templars bore down on him, yet he still carried behind his eyes the imprint of that familiar face, twisted in a howling snarl of rage. Tobias pushed out, closed fist taking with it the weight of his own power: a force spell that knocked his assailant to the ground. He stomped heavily on the prone templar’s kneecap, hearing the crack of bone under the graunch of metal. They needed to finish this quickly, he thought, or they’d be arse-deep in reinforcements. It didn’t make the act of killing a man much easier. Not in the midst of all this.

One of the bastards got him, eventually. Tobias was barely aware of it at first; a hot, full pain in his back, at which he lashed out, catching the templar behind him in the neck with a lucky dagger strike. He didn’t feel anything else, and there was still a fight going on, every dying second of it an ugly, bitter knockdown. Tobias managed a rough force spell, throwing the last three templars against the wall, hard enough to wind them despite their armour. One didn’t get up again, and he saw Ranulf stand over him, the big man reaching down to complete the job, the way a farmhand might wring a chicken’s neck.

Ranulf glanced up, and Tobias didn’t understand the revulsion on his face at first… not until he looked across the chamber. The stone floor was streaked with blood and soot, and dead templars lay bent and broken and, in more than one case, in pieces. He couldn’t see Alrik. Something that looked like a hand lay in the middle of the floor: bloody meat from a sundered stump.

“Hawke,” Varric called, from the side of the chamber nearest the doors.

Tobias turned, half-expecting the reinforcements he’d been afraid of coming from elsewhere in the fortress. Exactly how far did sound travel down here? And how used to screams were people? Surely the extent of this messy, chaotic brawl couldn’t be passed off as one of Alrik’s peccadilloes?

He saw Gethyn by the doors, one hand on the embossed iron as he leaned, panting and wide-eyed, his face scarred with horror and streaked with ash.

Slowly, silence began to descend on the world again, humming back into the places between the ringing in Tobias’ ears. Was it over? It didn’t feel over. He could hardly feel anything past the thudding, snarling roil of Anders’—Justice’s—power, beating and screaming at the air and making the magic burn under his skin.

He looked up, looking for the healer… and found him, stalking down the centre of the room, his movements jerky and unnatural, his eyes glazed with the fire of lyrium, and blood smeared across his clothes, face, and hands.

The girl was still crouched in the corner, still drenched with terrified sobs. As Ranulf moved, Anders spun around, fingers half-curled over another bolt of that savage energy, lips pulled back across his teeth.

Shit… we got the monster out, now how do we put it back in its box?

Tobias hated himself for thinking that word, but it had never seemed more apt. Even the Underground mages were looking at Anders as if he was something demonic: this creature of blood and terror, slaking itself with the torn bodies of enemies.

He moved slowly towards his friend, trying not to look at the corpses that littered his path. The heads were clean off three of them; Tobias couldn’t even be sure where they’d gone. Parts of the chamber walls were missing blocks of masonry, too: some of those bursts of energy had been powerful enough to gouge out the stone, and chunks of it had scudded across the floor.

“Anders,” he said, though it seemed to get no reaction from the man. “Anders… it’s done. It’s over. Anders?”

The healer’s head snapped up, and those blue-glazed eyes, burning like molten stars, glared in Tobias’ direction.

“It is never over!” the spirit boomed and, through he was using the healer’s mouth, Anders’ voice only seemed laid over the words, with all the fuzzy distance of the ocean echoing inside a shell. “They will all die! I will have every last templar for these abuses! Let them come! Let them come, and I will take them all!”

Oh, sod….

Tobias raised his hands soothingly. “Yes, fine, but—”

The flares of light slicing through Anders’ flesh seemed to grow brighter, sharper, as if the body that contained the spirit might burst apart under the weight of his anger. The girl, still crouched on the ground among the corpses and the bloody chunks of masonry, flung her arms up over her head and squeaked in a damp explosion of terror… which probably wasn’t clever.

Anders looked down at her, as if he was seeing her for the first time, and it seemed so odd to see that face look at the cowering figure without an ounce of compassion or sympathy.

Tobias started to move more quickly towards him, hand outstretched. The sheer strength of the power emanating from the other mage made his skin crackle, and he found he could barely speak, his tongue feeling flabby and loose. It was important to get between Anders and the girl, though; he knew that, though he didn’t dare think, even to himself, why it mattered so much.

“Anders. It’s over. They’re dead. We need to go. Now.”

Anders—or Justice, or whatever combination of them was currently in charge—wasn’t listening. He turned on Tobias as he drew nearer, and it was Anders’ face that snarled at him, contorted in rage and anguish… Anders’ face, except for those blank, glaring blue eyes, like searing orbs of fire crazed with veins of lightning.

“Every last one of them will feel Justice’s burn!”

The words echoed with the vengeful howl of a voice that wasn’t human, and the hair stood up on the back of Tobias’ neck.

Abomination.

It had never seemed truer. This person—this thing, spattered with blood and baying for retribution—wasn’t the man he knew. This wasn’t anything he’d seen outside of the kind of nightmares he woke from in the dark, cold and drenched with sweat.

And yet… he was still in there. If they truly were merged—if it was the way Anders said it was, and not possession the way the Chantry taught it—then he was still in there, watching from behind Justice’s mask of fury.

Tobias squared his shoulders, refusing to back down.

“Get away from me, demon!”

He blinked. He might have been thinking them, but the words weren’t his. The girl—bloody stupid bitch, he thought—was rising up from her terrified cower, her hands held up in front of her as if she thought she could really challenge Justice.

The spirit propelled Anders’ body towards her, turning the full force of all that wild wrath on her, and Tobias swore under his breath. He glanced towards the doors, motioning Ranulf and Gethyn to get out before any more templars arrived… and maybe before they saw any more of Anders’ loss of control. Neither mage seemed to need telling twice; for a big man who’d fought a dozen templars with as much power and determination as an angry bull, Ranulf looked very near to browning his smallclothes. Gethyn just looked ill, and he didn’t quite seem able to tear his gaze from Anders as he backed out of the chamber: staring and staring until, finally, he darted away into the shadows. Footsteps receded against the stonework, and only Varric remained to guard the door. One look at the dwarf told Tobias he wasn’t going anywhere… no matter what happened here.

Justice swelled under Anders’ skin, looming over the girl and positively vibrating with ill-restrained outrage and ire. Wisps of dirty blond hair, streaked with blood and ash, had escaped from their bindings, clinging to blood-spattered, sweaty, pallid cheeks as the twisted mockery of Anders’ face was thrust into hers.

“I am no demon!” Justice snarled, the dark edge of power and rage pulsing beneath the words. “Are you one of them, that you would call me such?”

Her hands curled in on themselves, momentary bravado forgotten as she cringed away, shaking and terrified. Magical energy flared a violent blue in Anders’ palms, and Tobias was sure he caught the scent of singed flesh. She might have backed down, but Justice was on her now—like a dog with the scent of blood in its nose—and he made one last attempt to intervene.

“Anders!” Tobias said urgently, lurching forwards with his hand outstretched. “That girl is a mage. She’s no templar. She’s a mage. We rescued her… d’you remember? We rescued her from Alrik. From… being made Tranquil. And things.”

His hand met the wall of energy that surrounded Anders like a shroud. It had the kind of greasy, thick tension to it that precedes a violent storm… violent and unpredictable.

Justice raised his head, as if scenting his presence, and Anders’ lips pulled back into a growl, those eyes that were both his and not his narrowed into bright, scowling slits.

“She is theirs!” he snarled. “I can feel their hold on her.”

“She’s the reason you’re fighting, Anders,” Tobias protested, emphasising his name… his name, not the spirit. He had to be in there somewhere. “Don’t turn on her now.”

The girl snivelled. “Please, messere…. I’m sorry! I—”

Oh, do yourself a favour and shut up, won’t you?

Tobias gritted his teeth. It was too late. He could see it in the way Anders’ body tensed, in the way the tendons stood out in his throat, and that strangled cry croaked between his lips, part growl and part wail of despair. The hum of his power—that dark, heavy cloud that held the whole chamber at its centre—was louder than ever, almost unbearable in its intensity.

He pulled his arm back, that appalling coat spattered with blood, the feathered pauldrons clumping with dark, sticky stains, and that sharp, violent light welled in his hand.

Oh, Maker’s sodding balls… Anders, don’t make me do this….

The girl screamed. Tobias was fairly certain he yelled, too. It burned when he grabbed hold of Anders’ sleeve. So much energy, so much power… no wonder the poor bastard struggled to keep it inside him. He felt it scald his palm, then knock him backwards, pain pouring through his flesh even as Anders pulled the power inwards, dragging Justice’s rage and torment back into the prison he’d made for them.

Everything turned white and painful. The world was fleetingly bright and searing, and the smell of magical energy burned the air. Tobias winced, blinded by the after-shocks of light in his eyes. He blinked, saw Anders balled up on the ground nearby, arms wrapped around his head as he rocked and moaned… and the girl, crouching beside a blackened patch of scorching on the stones.

She looked up at him with wide, terrified eyes, her breaths shallow and panting.

“Get out,” he said, unable to hear his own voice properly through the ringing in his ears. “Go on. Bloody run. Find the others!”

She did. He hoped she’d catch up with Ranulf and Gethyn, or that maybe Varric would take care of her… he didn’t know. Couldn’t see. Couldn’t do anything much except attempt to catch his breath and try not to be sick.

He crawled across the floor to Anders, his tongue not wrapping itself around words properly, and his left hand cupped uselessly to his chest. It had already begun to blister, the palm turning pinkish white and puckered, and it hurt… although Tobias was aware that, all things considered, it could have been quite a lot worse.

“Anders,” he murmured hoarsely, rather hoping that it would be him who looked up, and not Justice. “C’mon. We… we need to go. S’over. It’s… thing.”

He wanted to reach out, to shake the healer’s shoulder as if waking a troubled sleeper, but the pain in his hand warned him against it, and Tobias hated that. He hated being afraid of this man… being afraid of what he could do.

“No.” Anders raised his head, turning wild, red-rimmed eyes on Tobias, his face deathly white and wet with sweat. “Maker, no… I-I almost…. Did you see what I—? If you hadn’t been here….”

He sounded terrified, appalled; his word were little more than whispers, his whole frame crushed and crumpled, dry leaves and ashes where, just a few moments ago, there had been fire and indefatigable, frightening strength.

“I was,” Tobias murmured, his head spinning lightly. “And you didn’t. It’s over. Now let’s move.”

He started trying to get to his feet, and trying to get Anders to his feet too, not that he was cooperating. He looked down at the burns on Tobias’ palm and grimaced, muttering something about needing to get away.

Tobias nodded—they did need to leave—but he wasn’t really expecting Anders to just pull himself upright, then lurch away, his steps echoing erratically on the stones as he made for the chamber doors. Pushing past Varric—who had apparently been picking over the corpses—he broke into a run just before he turned the corner, and then he was gone.

Tobias swore.

“Great,” Varric said, from the corner of the room. “So… if you’re finished, we should probably take what we need and leave now, you think?”

Tobias blinked, still mostly lost in confusion. Varric sighed, and nudged the body he stood beside with his foot.

“This is what’s left of Alrik. You want to see if he’s got anything on him?”

Tobias nodded dumbly and staggered across the chamber. He knelt by the templar’s broken remains, trying to avoid looking at those cold blue eyes. Even dead, there was something unpleasant about the man, as if he was glaring into the afterlife, daring the Maker to judge him. A large, jagged wound split his neck—clearly not done with a blade, and clearly Anders’ very enthusiastic handiwork—and the smell of blood hung thick and coppery on everything.

Tobias rifled through the scrips and pouches on the body, and glanced at the other templars An—Justice had cut down, their faces obscured by those horrible, box-like helms, with nothing but slits in them. They’d frightened him when he was a boy. His first sight of templars had been men with steel bodies, their voices booming, inhuman echoes from within metal mouths.

He couldn’t shake the nagging feeling at the back of his mind that, if he pulled the visors off them now, they wouldn’t have faces at all. Either that, or one of them would be Carver.

Stupid, he knew, because Carv hadn’t got his knighthood yet. It would be soon, yes, but…. There was training and all manner of other hoops that recruits were put through, and… and why did he feel so bad about this?

“Hurrying up would be nice,” Varric commented, glancing past the doors. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll have the luxury of privacy.”

“All right, all right,” Tobias muttered, groping his way roughly through Alrik’s effects, and swearing at the pain of his hand.

He pulled the dagger from his belt and cut free the templar’s coin purse, because there was no sense in seeing it go to waste, and also took both scrips, and the leather document wallet tucked inside his breastplate. A brief squint at the papers inside seemed to suggest they might be relevant—letters and edicts that bore Chantry seals, by the looks of things—but there wasn’t time to examine anything too closely.

He got to his feet, and followed Varric from the chamber, dredging up just enough magic to light their way as they moved quickly back the way they’d come.

———————————
Chapter 28
———————————
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
———————————
Home
———————————

Leave a Reply