Kirkwall is going to hell around him, but Tobias remains preoccupied.
The aftermath of the Bone Pit raises both personal and political tensions.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
The Bone Pit wasn’t all that far out of town. Clearly, Tobias decided, the Imperium had foregone preserving any pretty vistas in favour of reducing cargo costs from the quarry, and the network of mines and caves that ran off from it. Besides, the smoke that Kirkwall’s Foundry District belched out easily masked any unsavoury smells of industry that might have wafted in. They could still see the smog laying over Lowtown’s terraces like a grey shroud as they left the city behind them: him, Fenris, and Isabela, plus a couple of bulky lads she’d shown up at The Hanged Man with.
He hadn’t been sure he’d wanted to cut her in on the job, but she’d pouted and dropped heavy references to a shipment coming in at the week’s end that, with the guard’s recent arrests of certain smuggling cartels—Tobias couldn’t imagine where the Coterie’s spy had found his information, naturally—was wide open for interested parties to take a share in.
He’d been tempted; he could admit it. He still had plenty of contacts, after all… still knew where to shift hot merchandise, and the right people to fence things further afield than grubby tavern back rooms.
It was a good offer. She knew it, and she knew that he knew she knew it. So, he’d sighed, and agreed to take her and her boys along.
Typical Isabela. She always did know how to strike a deal.
Nevertheless, it gave Tobias a feeling of old times, and he clung to that, just as tightly as he clung to the morning’s brightness, and the feel of the cold air on his skin. The smell of a fresh challenge seemed to hang over everything. It tasted like warm steel and a cold salt breeze, and he pulled it right down into his lungs, eager to savour it and hold it tight.
They were quiet as they walked, taking an old cut up past the cliff path towards Hubert’s mine, leaving the lower terraces of Kirkwall spread out below them, spilling from the city walls like the teeming of dusty beetles. Beyond the jagged shapes of towers and roofs, and the great hard line of the Keep, the ocean daubed a band of hazy greyish blue that met the sky, and a couple of ships coasted lazily against it. Tobias squinted as he looked out across the horizon, a little amazed at how warped and strange the perspective seemed from up here. The coastline cupped a natural harbour, and layer upon layer of the cliffs seemed eaten away, pitted and wounded in the truest sense… just as the name of the place suggested.
Sundermount rose at their backs, though he didn’t turn to look towards it. He had no wish to let his mind drift to the Dalish camp, or any of the other weird things hidden up on those slopes. Instead, he walked on, leading his little group along the rough, sandy path. It was cold, but not properly cold. Not a proper winter at all, in his opinion. He’d never thought it would be the case, but he missed Fereldan mud, and rain, and even snow. Satinalia was less than two weeks away, and it didn’t feel right without at least a proper thick frost on the ground.
“I’m surprised Anders isn’t with us,” Isabela said cheerfully, increasing her pace a little to saunter beside him. “Would have been useful, wouldn’t it? Bring the healer along when you’re poking through forgotten underground ruins?”
Tobias winced. The last time he’d been underground with her had been the Deep Roads, and he had no wish whatsoever to recall it.
“Well, we’re not intending to be down there long. We’d better not be, anyway,” he added, narrowing his eyes. “I didn’t bring a change of smallclothes.”
Isabela grinned happily, the weak sunlight spearing off her jewellery. “Oh, well. Maybe you won’t need them. You never know your luck, after all!”
One of the bulky lads she’d brought made an obligatory ‘hur hur’ noise, and Tobias rolled his eyes.
“Still,” he said, ostensibly to himself, “it might seem like a long trip….”
Fenris snorted. “Longer still if we had the abomination to lecture us throughout. I would rather take my chances with whatever is down there than listen to another diatribe on the woeful lot of mages.”
He still said the word with the same kind of disgust as most people might reserve for having dog shit all over the bottom of their sandals, but Tobias chose to ignore it, and to concentrate instead on the slow, rhythmic thud of feet on the sandy ground. Isabela peered back at the elf, her lips lightly pursed, then elbowed Tobias sharply in the ribs.
The breeze licked around his shoulders, and it lifted her hair slightly where it cascaded from beneath the cloth bandanna she wore.
“No, really….” She lowered her voice as she looked sidelong at him. “Is he all right? Anders, I mean. Especially after that business at the Rose?”
Tobias frowned. “What business?”
The Rivaini’s expression flickered from surprise to salacious glee. “Oh! Oh? You didn’t—? I thought you were there last night.”
A deeply uncomfortable sensation, like the slow percolation of dread and nausea, filtered through his gut. “Who said I was? Why?”
Isabela waved a hand impatiently. “Oh, you go with Jethann. So do I. I was there for breakfast this morning, and you know how word gets around.”
“Hnnmm,” Tobias mumbled, looking away as he tried not to simultaneously recall the taste of the elf’s skin, and the feel of Isabela’s fingers digging into the back of his neck as he thrust grimly against her in the dark. His frown deepened. “What… what about—?”
“Lusine threw him out, apparently,” she confided, leaning a little closer as they walked. “Anders. He was supposed to be taking care of one of the girls, but something went wrong. He didn’t do it, or wouldn’t do it, I don’t know. Jethann didn’t know.” The conspiratorial tone faded a little from her voice, and she looked briefly concerned. “I just hoped he wasn’t having problems. You know… more than usual.”
Tobias glanced over his shoulder. He couldn’t tell if any of the others had overheard. Isabela’s big, stupid, brawny lugs were talking amongst themselves, and Fenris was glaring up at the cliffs as if he could scowl them into submission. He probably could, Tobias decided, if he was given long enough. The breeze still tasted of salt, but somehow everything was bitter.
Obviously, he knew what Anders did for the girls at the Rose, and at half a dozen of the cheaper, less pleasant brothels in the city… not to mention plenty of women from the slums who, married and unmarried alike, had found themselves on the receiving end of unwanted male attention or, sometimes, simply couldn’t bear the burden of another mouth to feed. It was just that actively thinking about it made him feel slightly sick. And the thought that Anders had argued with Lusine—over anything, much less that—was unsettling, because Madam liked to get her way, and people who didn’t cooperate tended to find the Coterie breathing down their necks.
“When… when was this? Last night?”
Isabela shrugged. “Yeah. Late. I don’t know when, exactly… but it was quite the gossip this morning. Madam was livid, apparently. When Jethann said he’d seen you last night, I just assumed—”
“No,” Tobias said distantly, staring at the gritty path, littered with small stones and the glimmer of mica among the rough sand.
“Oh. Because I thought you and Anders—”
He wished she’d shut up, but tact and restraint weren’t exactly Isabela’s strong points.
“—Or,” she corrected herself speculatively, “should I say, you, Anders, and Justice? I mean, I was curious about that. It must be exciting. You know what they say: two’s company, but three’s better, right?”
Tobias grimaced. “I don’t think whoever said that had a Fade spirit in mind.”
“No?” She shrugged. “Whatever you say. I just thought you were quite interested in his, uh, spear of righteousness. That’s all.”
High above them, the sharp black shape of a gull wheeled against the sky, like an embroidered motif picked out on watered silk. The quiet gnawing of waves against the ragged shoreline tugged at the air, and Tobias groaned through gritted teeth.
“‘Spear of—?’ Isabela, I swear, if you don’t stop it—”
“What?” She mugged at him, barely stifling her giggles. “You’ll spank me? Promise?”
He sighed wearily. “No. Anyway, we’re not…. It isn’t like that.”
“It isn’t?” Isabela echoed, that curl of mirthful mockery still on her lips. “Really? You could have fooled me. You’re practically panting every time you see him, and he looks at you like he’s never seen biceps before.”
“He doesn’t,” Tobias muttered automatically, then paused as he glanced out across the ocean. Small caps of white dotted the dark, grey-green waves, and low clouds chased across the hazy sky. They were nearing the mine now; the big, burly lads were getting skittish, the way horses start to shy at the scent of a strange dog on the breeze. He frowned, and peered suspiciously at Isabela. “Does he?”
She laughed, and the sound was like a clay mug shattering. Her mouth spread into a wide grin, the pale glint of a blade against her dark skin, and she shook her head slowly.
“Hopeless. Bloody hopeless…. Hey, maybe he thinks you’re too good a person, so he’s not willing to, uh, smite you.” Her grin widened even further as Tobias pulled another face. “Ooh, that would be a shame, wouldn’t it? Everyone deserves a good smiting now and then. Matter of fact, I could use one right this minute….”
Tobias could cheerfully have throttled her by the time they arrived at the Bone Pit… especially when he saw the welcome party waiting for them.
He’d arranged to meet Varric up there: it had seemed sensible to have a cart, maybe a couple of the Carta hired hands the dwarf was on such easy terms with, and other such things as came in useful when one was clearing out a suspicious—and potentially lucrative—area. After all, if Tobias’ suspicions were correct and it was slavers or lyrium smugglers hiding down there in the tunnels, scaring the workers off, then there was no sense whatsoever in just turning their merchandise over to the authorities. Not at the price that stuff sold for.
So, Tobias had expected to see Varric on the ridge above the mine face, and he’d expected the ox cart with the whining driver complaining about being kept waiting, and he’d expected the two heavily armed dwarves who sat nearby, idly throwing dice on a conveniently flat rock… but he hadn’t expected Anders.
“Hawke!” Varric called out as he strode to meet them, every inch the merchant prince in his cuffed leather boots, wide-lapelled coat, and heavy gloves, his gold chain and earrings glinting in the sunlight. Bianca sat across his back, her brass fittings just as highly polished as his jewellery, and he gave Tobias a disarmingly wide grin. “You’re late. And with so much company.”
“The more the merrier, that’s what I always say,” Isabela chimed in brightly, nodding her head at the lunks she’d brought with her. “Mostly. Anyway, I heard about this little trip, and I just couldn’t resist. You know, there was a brothel on the sunny side of Antiva City called The Bone Pit.” She craned her neck, peering past Varric to the worn duckboards, overturned carts and debris evidently abandoned by the fleeing workers, and the eerie crevasse of the mine’s opening itself. “Hmph. Wasn’t a bit like this, mind you….”
Tobias blinked hurriedly. He hadn’t been listening. He’d been looking past the dwarf, and the cart, and not even at the mine’s entrance, but at the lone figure standing away to the side and staring out towards the thin slip of the sea that was visible between the rocks and the rise of the quarry’s steep sides. The salt breeze ruffled the feathers on Anders’ appalling coat, and caught at his hair, teasing a few strands loose so that they whipped across his face. He looked pale, tired, and surly, his whole face crumpled into a blank kind of frown but—in the instant just before Varric called out, just as they were coming down the approach path—he’d turned and looked up, and a weak recognition that was maybe even something close to cheerfulness had seemed to wash through his expression. They’d looked at each other—felt each other, Tobias thought to himself, immediately chastising his own brain for coming up with such stupid, insipidly sentimental crap—and, just for a few seconds, it had been lovely.
And now… now Isabela was grinning at him again, and he just knew she hadn’t missed the look that had passed between them, and he sneered as he turned awkwardly away from Anders, even though the healer had already begun to walk towards them, crossing the distance in slow, loose strides, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his coat.
“Didn’t think you’d mind if Blondie tagged along,” Varric said, with something serious in his meaningful nod that Tobias gathered alluded to whatever had happened last night at the Rose. “Always worth having a healer on hand, right?”
From somewhere behind Tobias, Fenris scoffed loudly. He ignored the elf, and nodded his agreement, forcing himself to concentrate on the task in hand, and to take a quick inventory of what they had, and how they were going to approach the job.
Varric had procured a map of the mine and its associated shafts from the foreman, who’d apparently last been seen in the Hanged Man, quivering behind a pint and muttering about ‘’orrible noises in the dark’.
The general consensus was—as one of Isabela’s boys put it—that this was merely what Hubert got for relying entirely on a workforce composed of ‘dog-lords bastards what was all superstitious and fick as pig shit’, but he shut up after his captain waved one of her daggers under his nose and pointed out that Hawke was a dog-lord bastard, and might just rip the arms off anyone who defamed his homeland.
Tobias decided that his reputation evidently preceded him, because the threat seemed to be taken relatively seriously; he wasn’t sure whether he was really that imposing, or whether Isabela’s lunks were just dumb enough to believe the stories Varric told about him.
Who knows? Maybe it’s both….
The little strategy huddle broke, and, as they began to get the hired thugs and the gear together, Tobias caught Anders’ eye for the first time. He’d been hanging back, deliberately absenting himself from the discussion and barely coming near the others. Now, he stepped slightly closer, deigning to dip his head in greeting. He seemed… ethereal, somehow. Apart from the rest of them, like he wasn’t fully concentrating on the world.
“Hawke.” His mouth twitched briefly before he spoke, the word falling from it as lightly as an afterthought.
“Morning,” Tobias said brightly, trying to make the word sound casual—too casual, he thought, cringing at his own clumsiness. “Um… afternoon?”
Anders smiled, but it was a weak, vacant expression. He looked terrible: unshaven, unwashed, and as if he hadn’t slept in a week.
“You all right?” Tobias asked quietly, not really meaning to, but not really able to avoid saying anything, either.
The healer shrugged. “Mm. Long night, that’s all.”
Tobias caught himself taking a deep breath, trying to find the familiar tang of boiled elfroot, soot, and wet dog beneath the salty air… trying to place it against that fleeting moment at the Rose, and embarrassed by it. He cleared his throat, wary of letting on that he knew anything about the problems Isabela had mentioned.
“Uh… I didn’t know Varric was bringing you. I mean, it’s no bad thing, obviously, but—” He lowered his voice, anxious of the wind snatching it away and leaking his words to the others. “It’s underground. I know how you feel about that.”
Anders glanced up and, very briefly, Tobias rejoiced in the warmth of gratitude in that lean, hard-worn face. It was, however, quickly subsumed by the realisation that Anders looked even worse than he’d thought: paler than usual, drawn, and with dark circles and heavy bags beneath red-rimmed eyes. His lips were dry and peeling, his skin dull, and his hair looked greasy and lank.
“Figured it was sensible to have a healer on hand,” he said, his voice quiet and burred with a dry kind of roughness. “Just in case. I stayed at Varric’s suite last night, so… he suggested I tag along, and it seemed like a good plan. You don’t mind?”
Tobias coughed gently. “You, uh…? Were you drunk? I thought you said Justice—”
“He doesn’t. It was a very, very bad idea.” Anders smiled mirthlessly, and squinted across the stony ground towards Isabela. “You know I, um… got myself in trouble last night?”
The big, brawny lads were unloading torches, ropes, sacks, and assorted other bits and pieces from the cart. Varric clearly had no intention of being caught unprepared for anything… certainly not after the Deep Roads, Tobias thought with a shudder.
He nodded tentatively, watching Anders’ face for any suggestion of the truth behind the tale. It was blank, mask-like; as if there wasn’t anything left in him. He looked at a point a few inches to the left of Tobias’ shoulder when he spoke, his eyes unfocused.
“She was only fifteen, at most. Nearly five months gone, though she was hardly showing at all. Skinny little thing. Hadn’t said anything to anyone, because she was afraid Lusine would throw her out. She… she wanted to keep it. I said it was too late, and anyway, I wouldn’t do it if she didn’t want me to, and… and the old cow was furious.”
Tobias winced, his head full of things he didn’t want to think about, and his fingers itching on the empty air as he fought the temptation to reach a comforting hand to Anders’ sleeve.
“Well, that was the right thing to do, wasn’t it? I mean—”
“Was it?” Anders exhaled sharply, a bitter breath puffing between his cracked lips. “I stormed out in the end. Said I didn’t care what she threatened me with. But she’ll only have someone else do it, won’t she? Elina, from the alienage, or old Mrs. Slope, who can’t even see the end of her own nose. And that girl… she’ll die, and it’ll be my fault. And… and it’s not right.”
He frowned slightly, his face tightening with that particular inward look that spoke of Justice moving beneath the surface. Tobias had learned to identify the marks of inner struggle, like the dark switches of a fish under murky water, and they usually preceded Anders making his excuses and going home; scurrying back to his bolthole like a rat running through the shadows.
Only, instead, he was going into an unpredictable and probably dangerous situation… and, for the first time since he’d known the man, Tobias found himself wondering if Anders could truly manage it. He seemed dislocated, unfixed, and that was frightening, when any lapse of his usually ironclad self-control could be so potentially destructive.
And there is no way to say anything at all about it without it sounding like I think he’s crazy. Great.
Tobias cleared his throat, awkwardly groping for something to say.
“Uh…. You did what you thought was right. No one can blame you for that, can they? And— well, I could talk to Lusine, maybe. I mean, once she’s calmed down—”
“Oh,” Anders said, looking up, his eyes beginning to clear a little as he met Tobias’ gaze. “Yes. Of course. You’re quite the regular there, aren’t you? I almost forgot.”
There was a dry edge to his words; something that, in someone who didn’t sound so tired, could easily have been mistaken for bitter malice, and his upper lip curled slightly as he resumed his snideness.
“Madam’s valued customer. Especially now you’re better off. Nothing but the best in aged Antivan brandy and well-trained tarts for you, eh?”
It stung. There was no denying that. And yet, Tobias swallowed the immediate flush of humiliation and shrugged, looking steadily into those dark-ringed eyes.
“Sometimes,” he said dully, not sure where this sudden, sullen impulse to be such a complete bastard came from. “I mean, I do like nice things. Not the girls, though. There’s this elf. A redhead. He’s got the most amazing—”
“I’m sure he has,” Anders said, his tone practically arid. He glanced over his shoulder, to where Varric and the others were inspecting the mine’s entrance. “Well… shall we?”
Tobias frowned. “Are you sure you’re—?”
Anders had already turned away. “Yes,” he said, the word tightly clipped.
But you’re not, are you? You’re not all right at all.
It wasn’t too bad to begin with. Tobias didn’t know much about mining—as far as he was concerned, men went down and stuff came out, and somehow a lot of people made a lot of gold in the process—and, at first, he thought the whole of the Bone Pit would be like the open pits and quarries that marked the front end of the site.
He wasn’t really expecting how small, dark, and tight the tunnels would get as they worked deeper into the labyrinthine passages, and he certainly hadn’t pictured the gloom, the dust, the dampness, and odd sounds that lurked in the shadows.
“They say,” Varric began conversationally, as one of Isabela’s boys ventured ahead a few paces with a torch, the oval of firelight illuminating great, scarred walls of rock and the pitted frames of timber supports, “that there are all manner of little demons and imps and whatnot that live in mines. They’ll steal your tools if you whistle, drop rocks on your head if they don’t like your face… that kind of thing. Very superstitious bunch, miners.”
“I thought dwarves had a different religion,” Fenris said, padding behind him with his shoulders even more hunched than usual, and casting wary looks at the packed dirt and stone above them. “Don’t you venerate the earth or something, instead of fearing demons? And isn’t there something about ancestors?”
Varric shrugged. “How in the hell would I know? Topsider my whole life, my friend.”
The Carta dwarves snickered, and one of them turned around to give Varric a gap-toothed grin before nodding at Fenris.
“Paragons never did shit for me,” she said, her voice the only marker of her gender, apparent for the first time beneath shapeless padded armour, a leather helmet, and the heavy black brand on her cheek. “What do I got to thank ’em for? The Stone ain’t looked after me, either. I’ve done all that myself.”
Tobias chewed the inside of his lip thoughtfully as a little desultory discussion between dwarves, elf, and humans filled up the dank passageway. As far as he could see, most gods served the same purpose, and he thought briefly of His Royal Shininess, clinging to his Chantry vows and the saintly odour of piety… hiding behind it for comfort and succour. Maybe he really even believed in it. But what good did that do him? Gods, religions… they were either there to keep people in check, or to keep people believing that they were valid, and safe, and that it was all right to ignore everything in the world that wasn’t safe. Even the dwarves, with the Stone at the centre of their culture… it wasn’t the same Stone for rich and poor. Tobias might never have been to Orzammar, but he knew that much. Their whole world was based on strict castes and classes, as immutable and immovable as the rocks around them. They didn’t need the Chantry, because being a dwarf was practically a religion in itself.
And these superstitions… who needed those? Why fear shadows and strange noises in the dark, when you didn’t even need to be a mage to know that demons were real?
He suppressed a shudder, and glanced towards Anders. He hadn’t spoken since they entered the mine. He walked stiffly, his eyes alert and his gaze darting to every shadow, every corner… like he was waiting for something horrible to happen.
Well, it usually does when he’s around me. Guess I really know how to show a man a good time.
The prickle of anticipation ran down Tobias’ spine, an unscratchable itch between his shoulder blades that grew worse with every crunch of footsteps on the gritty soil. He lengthened his stride, moving to the front of the group, listening to their movements behind him and yet feeling as if he was being drawn deeper into the mine, his face fanned by a warmth that seemed to come from deep within the darkness.
“Who wants to play I Spy?” Isabela said after a while, eliciting a chorus of groans. “I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with—”
“Rock,” Varric said shortly. “The answer is going to be ‘rock’, Rivaini.”
She pouted. “It might not have been.”
Tobias took a deep breath. The air was stale, foul… hot. The torch that Isabela’s lad was carrying guttered and went out, to a series of curses and complaints. He started fiddling to relight it, but hadn’t got halfway through the task before Anders had pulled a bright ball of magelight from the air. It cast an eerie, pale glow around the tunnel, highlighting the fading echo of panic on his face—a look that Tobias felt strangely comforted to see, because it matched his own lurch of terror so well.
Ever since the Deep Roads, darkness had felt so much heavier. He caught Anders’ eye briefly, and knew that he understood that feeling, and knowing that helped just a little bit.
He cleared his throat. “Let’s get those torches lit. We’ll want all the visibility we can get. It’s not smugglers… if it was smugglers, or slavers, or even those bloody qunari outcasts, we’d be seeing more mess down here. There’d be bottles, or noises… something to show where they’d been.”
“Hawke’s right,” Isabela agreed, though he wasn’t entirely sure why she felt she had to say so. “You two—get those lights up!”
The female Carta dwarf looked nervously up and down the tunnel, her face lent a greenish hue by Anders’ magelight, and her eyes were like dark saucers.
“If it ain’t that,” she said tentatively, “what is it?”
The smell of sulphur flared against the rocks as Isabela’s boys struggled with their dwarven matches, finally coaxing two fresh torches into flame.
Tobias tilted his head, peering into the blackness ahead of them.
“Dunno,” he said. “But let’s hope it bleeds.”
The first hints were the bodies. Some of Hubert’s workers, probably—and quite possibly a few other unfortunate souls—reduced to dismembered, charred pieces of flesh, with the whitish ends of bones poking out through piles of scorched meat, and other, older skeletal remnants crushed to powder beneath them.
“Something feeds here,” Fenris observed darkly, wrinkling his nose at the sour smell that hung in the air.
The torchlight glimmered on his pale hair, shadows shivering against the rocks that surrounded them. Varric said something dry about messy dining, but Tobias wasn’t listening again. He was aware of Isabela’s lads looking scared and sullen, and the Carta dwarves getting shifty, eyeing up the way they’d come—and any other possible exits to dash for in a hurry—and he was very aware of the pallid, sweaty cast to Anders’ face.
Dark. Dark and heavy and thick, like it’s choking you and you can’t get out… you’ll never get out. Never get out again. Maker… pull yourself together! Don’t need both of you curling up in the corner, gibbering….
“Darkspawn do that,” one of the brawny lunks said, his fingers whitening on the torch he held, and his eyes glittering like nervously flitting chips of quartz in his craggy face. “They pull people apart an’ eat ‘em. What if the miners broke froo into the Deep Roads, eh? Whole place could be swarming with the buggers….”
“Darkspawn don’t eat people,” Anders said quietly. “The taint sustains them. They do… horrible things… but not this. This was something else.”
The lunk narrowed his eyes. “How d’you know what darkspawn—”
“He spent a long time in Ferelden,” Tobias cut in. “That’s sort of what we do there. Dogs, cheese, and Blight lore. All right?”
The man looked slightly sulky, but he shut up, even if there were a few stifled mumbles. Tobias was fairly sure he caught the word ‘robe’. It wasn’t the time or place to do anything about it, however, and he motioned towards the fork at the end of the tunnel, where the stale billow of air spoke of another ventilation shaft, and possibly the junction of another cut back up towards the surface.
“This way. Whatever it is, it’s bigger than a deepstalker, so let’s keep our eyes open.”
They found it right down in the mine’s guts, well past the main shafts and chambers. The Bone Pit had grown and changed over time, a grossly attenuated tangle of tunnels and hollowed-out places, and there were all manner of shafts sunk down from the quarry levels, honeycombing the entire place. According to Varric’s map, they led out eventually to the other side of the cliff, where rumour had it that a series of ledges and cuts led down to the shore, making the mine—like so many others in the area—a prime site for smugglers and slavers.
Businessmen like Hubert spent a great deal of coin on paying people like Hawke to clear such places out, and, in many cases, it wasn’t worth the smugglers’ trouble to come back too often… but, in this instance, it looked like the last cartel to try their luck had met a very nasty end.
They unearthed another feeding site, or killing ground, or… something. It was hard to tell exactly what it was through the number of bits of limbs and splintered bone. Several bodies, quite well decomposed, littered a small cavern, and there were a number of weapons either broken or discarded and half-rusted, half-buried in the filth. Varric toed through the mess, and gave his opinion that—whoever the poor bastards had been—they’d died armed to the teeth. The discovery of a huge haul of lyrium, a little further back, packed into a hollow that had been cut from the rock, seemed to suggest that they hadn’t been killed for their stock.
“Huh.” Varric wrinkled his nose. “I owe you a beer, Hawke. Looks like there were lyrium smugglers down here after all. There’s crates of the stuff back here. Potions, dust… gotta be at least three hundred pieces’ worth, in market prices,” he added thoughtfully, with the kind of look on his face that spoke of brief but intense mental arithmetic.
“Much more than that, if you know who to sell it to,” Anders said, his tone bitter and hollow. “Half of the tunnels under the bloody city were built by smugglers. I’m not surprised to see nests this far out, too. I bet people like Hubert turn a blind eye.” He looked up, throwing a baleful glance around the group. “You know the Chantry finances it, don’t you? It’s the templars. They crave the stuff, and if they get cut off… well. Not much they wouldn’t do to get it. They get addicted. Drives them mad.”
The Carta dwarves fidgeted awkwardly, and Isabela’s boys didn’t look much happier. Fenris muttered something about it being ‘no great wonder, given that templars are tasked with keeping mages in line’, and Tobias fought the urge to start smashing heads together. The darkness down here felt thick and cloying, and the lyrium was probably the source of the mild prickling he felt beneath his skin. He wasn’t unfamiliar with its call: the hum that was just a little too disturbing to be called a song.
“Let’s just get on with this, shall we?” he said brusquely, pushing his way past the others, and pushing on towards the acrid sourness that, he fervently hoped, was the way out.
A little after that, they found ventilation shafts, and the site of an older part of the mine that had once extended even further down. Warm air belched up from it, up towards the rocks and ledges that arched away, leading towards the surface… and something else seemed to curl up from the depths, too. There were low, echoing sounds, like growls or deep, roiling breaths, and it caused some consternation amongst the party. Isabela’s boys started muttering about darkspawn again, and Varric had to get sharp with the Carta dwarves when the male started to panic.
Privately, Tobias thought the dwarf had good reason because, as soon became apparent, the thing making the noises turned out to be a dragon.
An actual, Maker-sworn bloody dragon.
A fucking big dragon, made entirely of talons and horns, and teeth almost as long as a man’s arm.
Tobias didn’t waste precious minutes on speculating how it had got down into the mine, although later—once the screaming and the fire and the whole potentially-imminent-death thing was over—it seemed logical that it had come in through the cuts from the rear side of the cliffs, probably from the higher reaches of the mountains, and been drawn to the warmth in the mine’s lowest pits. From there, it had risen to feed… and possibly to get annoyed when it couldn’t get out.
Either way, it wasn’t in the best of tempers when it confronted them. They fought it on a ledge of solid, flat ground at the neck of the cavern it seemed to have made its home, with torchlight glaring off the quartz in the walls, and gouts of flame lighting up the tunnels.
It was a hard fight, too. Hard enough to make the memories of killing an ogre seem like child’s play… not that Tobias made the comparison at the time. He was busy drawing the creature along the cavern, trying to make it stretch its neck out until he could get in one good force blast and slam its head against the rocks.
Unfortunately, a stunned dragon proved to be an angry dragon, and one not without the use of its wings. It tried to take off, and the sheer strength of the movement knocked most of them flying. A few good shots from Varric—and the nasty little explosive canisters Bianca was packing—tore a hole in one wing, but as the beast came down it got a hold of one of the Carta dwarves, and she ended up tossed across the floor in two pieces.
Isabela danced distraction while Fenris went for the dragon’s underbelly, his lithe, white-blue form a smoke of lyrium and danger that ghosted against the darkly burnished scales. Anders worked its head, bolt after bolt of magic popping at its eyes to keep it blind, while the rest of them followed the elf. Tobias could almost taste the power that flared from his brands, and he was grateful for the steel in his fist, relying on it more than his own magic as he rushed again at the dragon’s massive body.
It wasn’t impenetrable. It couldn’t be. If Nevarran dragon-hunters had brought the bastards to near-total extinction, logic said you could kill them. It was merely a matter of perseverance.
Of course, that wasn’t a comforting thought… particularly when Fenris went flying across the rocks, his sword flung from his grasp, and blood pouring from his nose. Tobias yelled for him, aware of one of Isabela’s boys going down too, and aware of the terrible scream the dragon gave—a roar of such condensed fury that he suddenly wondered whether it was the only one of its kind down here—but there was little he could do. His whole world had been reduced to the greyish-red scales and thrashing body ahead of him, with the rank heat of the creature’s breath and its occasional flames toasting the stone beneath him. The stale air burned his bare arms, and the smell of singed hair filled his nostrils. A flare of light behind him made him turn, and he could see Anders—a slim, fair figure lined with electric blue, wrapped in a haze of terrible power—as he worked on Fenris.
Tobias bared his teeth in a grim smile. If the elf lived, he’d be really pissed off about that.
If any of us live, mind you….
With that thought, Tobias gripped his dagger with renewed force, thrust it into the meat of the dragon’s inner thigh—aiming for its softer parts, unshielded by the tough scales on the outer side of its body—and dragged it as far as he could, opening up a long wound that gushed thick, bright blood. The creature’s roar made the rocks shake and, as the great horned head swung around to face him, he balled up every last fibre of his power, pulling the greatest force magic he’d ever known from the utmost pit of his ability.
It felt like he’d ripped his own body into pieces, and he heard Isabela swear as she was knocked on her back and winded, caught in the peripheral blast of the spell, but still… a full-grown dragon’s head could hit the ground much harder than he could hit it, and it bought them a few seconds. Varric howled with glee as one of his arrows took out the dragon’s left eye and, with the mutilated socket bleeding copiously, it struggled to fend them off.
Tobias had the killing blow, if such a thing could be delineated amidst the messy, torturous business of bringing the beast down. His dagger could barely tear deeper than the skin, but Fenris’ sword—a far bulkier weapon than he was used to although, he found as he picked it up from where it had fallen, much lighter than it looked—proved the perfect depth of blade. It was just a matter of avoiding the crippled beast’s last dying flames, and piercing through the back of its skull. Repeatedly. And messily.
Not quite the dramatic end the bards would have people believe, Tobias thought, as—weak-kneed and with a patter of unexplained little lights dancing at the edges of his vision—he half-climbed and half-fell off the back of the beast’s neck… only to find that everyone was watching him.
He swallowed heavily, aware of how thoroughly drenched he was in sweat, and glanced over his shoulder at the enormous corpse. The smell of blood hung over everything in the cavern; even the rocks looked wet with gore.
Panting, Tobias jerked his head towards the dragon. “Is that pissing thing actually dead now?”
“Pretty thoroughly, I’d say,” Isabela observed, wiping the back of her wrist across her forehead.
Like the rest of them, she was smoke-streaked, bloodstained, and knackered. And they were the lucky ones. Tobias looked to the rock behind which Anders had dragged Fenris, but neither was there. The elf had staggered to his feet, and was surveying the aftermath. Tobias held out a hand, offering him his sword back.
“S’lighter than I thought,” he said, noticing the unsteadiness with which Fenris came forward to take it, clutching at the blade like it was the only anchor in a bobbing world.
“It is well balanced,” he croaked, his face sheened with sweat, and those pale green eyes unfocused. “You… finished it.”
“Don’t sound surprised.” Tobias tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace, his lungs burning for air and his head still spinning. “S’what I do, isn’t it? Isn’t it, Varric?” He turned to the dwarf. “Kill unexpectedly aggressive things that are bigger than me? S’my… wotsit… thing. Thing I do.”
Varric gave a short, bitter chuckle. “Huh. Yep… this is going to outdo that ogre story, for sure.”
Tobias nodded hazily, trying hard to hold onto what was real. He suddenly seemed so incredibly thirsty, and he tried to wet his lips with a parched tongue.
“You all right?” he asked Fenris, squinting with concern at the elf’s blurry face. “You were—”
Fenris’ mouth tightened, his eyes growing cool and guarded in spite of his evidently lingering injuries. “Yes. I’ll be fine.”
“Anders,” Tobias murmured, half to himself as he turned, peering around the cavern.
The familiar flare of healing magic called to him through the puffy clouds of this swift and overwhelming fatigue, though he stumbled a little bit on his way across the blood-slick ground. Voices jumbled in Tobias’ ears, and he winced at the sight of the Carta dwarf’s corpse. Varric stood next to her surviving comrade, his hand on the dwarf’s shoulder.
“What d’you want to do, Leske? We could take her back.”
“Nah.” The Carta dwarf shook his head, his face a curious mix of sorrow and complete pragmatism. “What’s the use in that? Leave her here. With the Stone.”
Varric nodded. “All right. Is there… anything specific you need to do? I don’t know, a pile of rocks, or a prayer, or—”
“Huh? How the rut should I know?”
“Well, don’t ask me. You were born in Orzammar, weren’t you?”
Tobias left them to it, and moved unsteadily to where Anders was healing one of Isabela’s boys.
“’nything I can do?” he offered.
Anders glanced up, his expression oddly impersonal, and nodded curtly at the ground. “Sit down. Before you fall down. I’ll get to you in a minute, once I’ve set this leg.”
Tobias opened his mouth to protest, only to find that he was already obeying.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
He left the Keep in a blind fugue of anger. One of Seneschal Bran’s minions—a thin, pale little clerk clutching a scroll embossed with Viscount Dumar’s seal—scurried out to intercept him, thrusting the papers towards him with a breathless litany of how terribly important they were.
“Bugger off,” Tobias snapped, stalking his way down the corridor.
The clerk kept wittering on. It was something to do with the qunari, and diplomacy, and some delegation or other… building bridges, appeasing the Arishok…. Tobias didn’t care. He hadn’t forgiven the qunari bastards for the poison gas business—or, more precisely, for setting him up to watch him dance through it all. They’d wanted to see how he handled it, what he did, how he coped… like it was all a game, and never mind the people who’d choked to death, or the fact that half of Lowtown could have been blown sky-high.
Fuck ’em. Fuck everybody. And fuck Aveline. In fact, fuck Aveline with extreme, unlubricated prejudice. Bloody woman….
“Not interested,” Tobias grunted, pushing his way past the clerk and out into the main foyer.
A few of the fat-cheeked, well-heeled patrons and plaintiffs turned to gawp at him, and one of the guards near the doors tightened his stance, but Tobias scowled a path through the lot of them. He wanted to be out of the stultifying opulence of this bloody place, and out of Hightown, and out of sodding everywhere.
He half-contemplated going to the Rose, but the all too recent memory of what he’d caught there put him off, despite the enticing prospect of soft towels, hot baths, and a friendly hand to ease his frustration. It wouldn’t change anything, anyway. No, because nothing ever seemed to change… no matter how hard Tobias tried to convince himself that it did.
Well, maybe that wasn’t strictly true. After all, things would change for Feynriel now, wouldn’t they? That was something. Off to the wilds of Tevinter, and Maker help the poor bastard then.
Tobias shook his head as he walked, dislodging the thoughts and leaving them like streaks of dust along the high, white walls. Everything was full of familiar rhythms; turnings and cross-streets taken without thought, and he realised that he probably knew Kirkwall better than any place he’d ever lived before.
His whole life, the family had moved on with depressing regularity, putting this town or that village behind them as quickly as the whisper of suspicion settled around their door. Malcolm had been careful to the point of paranoia, not that anyone could have blamed him. Lothering was supposed to have been the place they’d call home indefinitely, or so they’d all hoped; small, but not so small they’d have neighbours breathing down their necks, and with enough trade traffic moving through to keep both news and population fresh. The Chantry might have had a presence there, sure, but the local templars had mostly been a fairly even-handed bunch… and it should all have been so perfect. It should have worked, should have lasted. It almost had, hadn’t it?
And now, he moved through this hard-hewn stone of a city like a fish slipping through ripples. He knew the cobbles, and the pavements, and the taverns, and the whores… and he still didn’t feel quite like he belonged.
What a bloody laugh.
It was ironic, Tobias supposed, and yet he couldn’t help thinking of Anders. All the things he said, especially when he was really giving vent—about how mages had to rise up, how the whole order of things had to be overturned, the world shaken out of its sleep until people truly saw what was wrong with everything—all seemed to make such perfect sense. Tobias found himself believing the words more and more, and not just because it was Anders who said them. Well… not entirely.
He glanced up, still frowning, and found himself at the junction of the old mansion gardens and the back end of the courtyards behind the bazaar. A high, mortared wall curved away to the right, marking the boundary of some noble’s overgrown garden—one of the houses that went unoccupied for most of the year, probably while the family sunned themselves in Antiva or Nevarra—and the smell of rampant honeysuckle and stocks lanced the air. The shapes of buildings crowded against the sky, and Tobias gritted his teeth. He didn’t want to go home. He didn’t want this life.
He turned sharply, hugging the wall as he crossed behind the rambling old houses—and yes, he’d learn these secret little places too, wouldn’t he, once Leandra got her way and got them moved into the estate—and picked his way to the other end of the interwoven courtyards.
Danarius’ old mansion huddled at the edge of the estates, past the mossy, cracked edifices of fountains and broken pavers. Very few finely dressed ladies and gentlemen promenaded in these streets.
Funny, Tobias thought, as he rapped on the peeling wood, and leaned his shoulder against the cool stonework, waiting for Fenris to rescue him from his thoughts. Funny how, when you got close, you could see how weathered the white stone was, and how deep the weeds grew in the cracks between the paving stones. Funny how close Hightown was to the slums, even in a city where the hierarchy of peaks and terraces was so strictly observed—and the piss really did wash downhill in Kirkwall, that much was true—but oh, Maker, on days like this it felt as if the hypocrisy was thick as fog, and he was half-afraid he’d gag on it, that it’d strike him like chokedamp and he would just drop dead in the street, clawing at his own throat as he gargled his last.
Should have gone to the Rose, shouldn’t I? Needed to. Need it. Need something, anyway….
He was still lolling against the wall, scowling at the world in general when Fenris cracked the door open.
“Hawke,” he observed, with that familiar blend of mysterious inflections.
“Fenris,” Tobias batted back, though he never could manage to imbue a single word with so many things.
Today, it was ‘why are you here’, with hints of ‘I’m not sure I want to see you’, ‘what do you want’, and ‘you look terrible’… or so Tobias decided. He never had been sure whether he was reading the elf right.
Those pale green eyes narrowed, and a small crinkle appeared briefly at the top of Fenris’ nose. A moment of stiff, full silence followed, and Tobias cleared his throat uneasily.
Fenris jerked his head towards the dank interior of the mansion, the hallway illuminated only by the thin threads of daylight bravely making it through the few small cracked and clouded windows. “You’d best come in.”
He turned and stalked off, not waiting for a response. Of course, he never waited for anybody, so it was hard to take it personally.
Tobias stepped inside and closed the door behind him, trying to adjust his nose to the mansion’s pervasive smell of damp, rotten cloth and stale air. Although… either it was his imagination, or it didn’t seem as bad as it had done. He took a few surreptitious squints around as he followed Fenris to the centre of his nest—the suite that had probably once been Danarius’ library and withdrawing rooms where, for all Tobias knew, the elf had waited on his master, and been subject to the manifold dark whims at which he’d sometimes hinted.
He suppressed a shiver as his feet echoed on the cool flagstones. There was, to his mind, such a thing as keeping the past too close.
All the same, it looked as if Fenris had been doing a little housekeeping. The air smelled fresher, and there seemed to be slightly less broken furniture and bits of masonry strewn around the mansion’s hallways. The room into which he led Tobias—decked sparsely in old but mostly intact wooden chairs and tables, and a couple of trunks that looked new, standing beneath windows that were, for the first time, fully unshuttered—was much more hospitable than usual.
“This is… nice,” Tobias said carefully, eyeing the old wine stains on the walls, from the elf’s numerous bottle-flinging episodes. “You’ve changed things around.”
Fenris grunted, and flung himself into one of two chairs strewn with cushions that sat across from a low wooden table. Tobias lowered himself into its companion, taking mental inventory of all the things that had changed since the last Diamondback night Fenris had hosted.
“Finally won enough coin off Varric to refurbish, then, did you?”
One dark brow flicked almost imperceptibly, and the elf’s long fingers curled on the carved arms of the chair. He wore simple woollen leggings and a clean, but faintly threadbare shirt: his usual comfortable, indoor clothing, and yet he always seemed to give the impression, even in those informal garments, that he could be armed and armoured in moments. There was an air of readiness that clung to the elf, and Tobias always had found it mildly unsettling. Fenris crossed his left leg over his right knee, and fixed him with an unblinking stare.
“I chose to be more comfortable while I await Danarius’ next move.”
Not really putting the past behind you, then, I see.
Tobias didn’t like to say so aloud. The weight of Fenris’ gaze felt oppressive, and he struggled not to let his discomfort show. Silence settled in between them, as if they were both determined not to be the first to show the weakness of breaking it.
Really, really just should have gone to the whorehouse. I’d have got a much nicer reception….
“You think he’ll—?”
“He will never stop,” Fenris said darkly. “He wants his property back… whether I am attached to it or not. Preferably the former, I imagine. I would be less entertaining to torture, were I already dead.”
Those pale green eyes narrowed again, and he scowled at the floor violently enough that Tobias was surprised it didn’t melt a hole in the stones.
“Well, it’ll certainly be interesting,” he said dryly. “And I do like a challenge.”
Fenris blinked, his gaze flicking back to Tobias’ face, his expression momentarily one of puzzlement. Tobias smirked. He found it amusing that, even now, Fenris struggled to understand the concept of his protection. Not that, if Danarius was half as powerful or as ruthless as the elf said, it would necessarily do either of them any good, but still… his word was his bond.
“What?” Tobias shrugged, his hands spread in a gesture of innocence. “Didn’t I say, after everything you’ve done to help me out, I’d make sure I had your back when that bastard came sniffing around? I’m distinctly sure I said it. You weren’t drunk, were you?”
Fenris curled his lip, but the surly sneer became a smile. “I suspect you were,” he remarked coolly. “But… thank you. I appreciate it.”
Tobias nodded, satisfied with the admission, and for a moment the two of them fell silent. An open bottle of wine stood on one of the low tables, dust riming its neck and its label yellowed with age. Tobias could almost smell the expense of it from where he sat, and caught himself wondering just how much coin the vintage might fetch. Everything was slow this time of the year. Kirkwall was drawing itself in for winter, and the dwarven merchants who thronged the city weren’t much interested in pricey wines and poncey trinkets but—come next year, come the summer—there’d be nobles from Antiva and Nevarra, and some of them were quiet ardent collectors. They paid silly money for the strangest things. Tobias had occasionally been asked to supply certain… novelties… during his time with Athenril, and old booze had always been a favoured weakness.
The thing was, it was amazing how many sickly children could have been treated, how many mages given safe passage across the mountains, just with one little bottle of wine.
He frowned, wondering where those thoughts came from. He never used to think like that. He’d never thought like that when he sat here with Fenris before, methodically demolishing Danarius’ cellar, and laughing while the heat of the fire bathed his face, and their card games rolled to high stakes and slippery losses.
“Why are you here, Hawke?” Fenris asked, breaking the quiet with measured, flat tones.
The elf rubbed his knuckles thoughtfully, slowly, against his palm, watching Tobias with those pale eyes, his mouth still bent into an echo of distaste.
“Do you expect me to pander to your insecurities? Tell you that you did the right thing for the half-blood boy?”
A muscle clenched briefly in Tobias’ jaw. He felt it leap, and looked away from that hard, shimmering gaze. If they’d been playing at cards now, he’d probably have had to go home without his shirt.
“I wanted to say that I appreciate what you did,” he said, staring at the floor, which, if it had not been recently swept, at least did not appear to have accumulated any more layers of dusty grime. “I had no right to ask you to take part in Marethari’s ritual. I had no right to expect you to use your abilities the way you did… but I’m grateful.”
He’d seen Fenris’ lyrium brands glow before: usually in the heat of battle, when he flashed bright white and blue, then quivered and vanished like a ghost, moving faster than any living creature should, and cleaving men down with a blade that looked too heavy for someone as lithe as him to even lift.
If Tobias hadn’t been a mage, he suspected he’d have found it terrifying. Fascinating, maybe, too… but terrifying. As it was, Fenris’ abilities made him dizzy and blind, and filled his head with wet linen and the taste of metal. He wondered, as he sat here now, how hard it would be to wake the lyrium in the elf’s skin. He couldn’t quite stop himself from looking up, his gaze tracing the lines on Fenris’ throat, and maybe he even stretched out a little with his senses, seeing if he could taste the lyrium’s bitter song.
He blinked guiltily, unsure whether Fenris felt it. Did the brands give him a mage’s sensitivity? It seemed unlikely, and Tobias had to admit to a mild curiosity over what it was like to feel the physical presence of lyrium without having it hum in your blood. There was a science to the stuff, as much a mystery—the dwarves’ trade told that—but Fenris and his strange, geometric scars… that was a whole different enigma.
Anyway, Tobias didn’t really want to dwell on the lyrium, intriguing though it was. That way led to memories of the Deep Roads, and the weird shit they’d found down there, and also to more recent recollections of the Dalish camp, and the Keeper’s dim aravel. It was hard to forget Fenris standing behind her, with his body glowing white and a flask of brilliant blue burning in his hands, as the Fade tugged at Tobias’ mind, and the world seeped away around him, and he had fallen into dreams… dreams that had been so painful, and so vivid.
Fenris cleared his throat. “It was your fault,” he observed coolly. “Your fault that Merrill succumbed to the demon. I was surprised it was not still in her when she woke.”
Tobias winced at unbidden visions of a Merrill-abomination rising in fury, with the horrible power of blood magic whipping around her like black vines, but the wince was quickly replaced by a frown. “Pardon?”
Fenris seemed impassive. He shrugged artlessly, his mouth a slight curve of distaste. “You should have killed him. The boy. He was a danger, and he will remain so.”
Well… you don’t mince your words, do you?
Tobias sighed, and rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m not having this argument with you,” he said flatly. “All right? I’m grateful for your help, but it’s done, so don’t—”
Fenris grunted. “Hm. You sought me out, Hawke. Did you think I would praise your actions? I merely hope you will be happy with the monster you create. Do not imagine Tevinter will leave the boy… unmarked.”
Tobias, forehead still propped in his hand, squinted at the brands that snaked down the elf’s throat. If he hadn’t known better, he might have wondered if that was a joke. Maybe it was. Admittedly, it could be hard to tell with Fenris.
“It’s the best option Feynriel has,” he said, repeating the words sullenly, just like he’d repeated them to himself, over and over again, ever since he’d pushed the money into Gethyn’s hands. “It was all we could do.”
The curl of Fenris’ mouth deepened, like he found the conversation itself disgusting. “I do not know why you choose to discuss this with me. I imagine you and the abomination share… similar views. Go to him if you wish to dream of the delights Tevinter has to offer.”
Tobias sighed inwardly, trying to swallow down the familiar irritation that plagued him when Fenris started this.
“Anders is not an abomination,” he said dully, the words blunted with repetition. “And he—”
“He would have done well to be born in the Imperium,” Fenris continued, his tone laced with bitterness. “As would you, I’m sure.”
“Oh?” Tobias snorted. “Maybe. No Circle. No templars,” he added, half to himself. “No running and hiding.” He raised his head, squinting as he glared at the elf. “You know, you and I want the same thing, Fenris. We both want to be free of all this. We want fresh starts.”
The elf said nothing. The dimness of the broken, cracked walls seemed oppressive, the mansion’s damaged shell casting shadows across the floor between them. Fenris shifted in his chair. His feet were bare, Tobias noticed: long, low-arched feet, and raw-boned toes with thick, bowed joints. A couple of small scars marked the rough skin, and the faint glimmer of lyrium brands peeked from beneath the bottom of his leggings.
They really do go everywhere, don’t they? Poor bastard.
Fenris took a long breath, turning his face away as he stared accusingly at the floor… or possibly deep into his own memories.
“I do not want a fresh start,” he said eventually. “I want an end to what I already have. I want to finish this.”
Tobias sighed tightly. It was hard not to recall a conversation they’d had before, when Fenris had admitted to him that he didn’t know how to begin anew, how to make a life when he’d never had the experience of having one of his own. It bonded them, in a strange way, Tobias supposed. Fenris knew nothing except slavery and the repudiation of Danarius’ ownership, and he knew bugger all except running and surviving… only that wasn’t really true.
No matter how much it felt like it, it wasn’t true, because every time he tried to believe it was, years’ worth of old memories would come bobbing back to the surface. He’d see his father’s smiling face as Bethany took her first toddling steps, or remember smelling hot pork pies on market day in Lothering, or jumping naked into the river up past old man Barlin’s field with Carver… and then doubling back to nick Carv’s clothes before he got out, and Leandra giving them both a thorough scolding when they got home, wet and, in Carv’s case, highly embarrassed, and— And he’d remember that there had been, even if just for a little while, a life that was theirs.
All gone now.
Now, there was nothing but trying to keep going, balancing safety and survival; being defined by what he was, and living under the burden of it.
Tobias closed his eyes, suddenly tired. He didn’t remember thinking about magic so often in Lothering. All right, it had always been there—always the “don’t show it, never tell, never use it” of Malcolm’s teachings—but it had never been at the forefront of his mind the way it was here.
Kirkwall took everything, he decided. Took it, screwed it up, and pushed it into black and white… made it all simpler than it should have been, made it all more intense. Made you think that there was only one way to do things, only one way anything could possibly turn out, and wasn’t that ironic? The templars’ hold on power—Meredith’s ambition and desire for control—felt like it had leaked over the entire city, staining it all with the same greyness, and making everyone think the same rigid, stale, narrow thoughts.
“It won’t change anything,” he said, glancing at Fenris. “Think about it. All the running, the hiding… the fighting. Say he does come here. Say you fight him, and you win. Will it all actually end if you kill Danarius?”
Fenris looked up sharply, his mouth curved in mild disdain, and then an odd look seemed to pass across his face, like a blend of anticipation and bitterness.
“We will have to see, won’t we?” the elf said dryly. “Perhaps. Perhaps not.” His fingers flexed against the carved arm of the chair, as if he was picking at the pattern in the wood. ”Perhaps some other magister will decide I am a worthy quarry. Mages scent power like dogs do offal. Scrabbling and dribbling,” he added, wrinkling his nose.
Tobias bristled slightly. “We’re not all power-hungry demon-lovers, you know. And I doubt every single mage in Tevinter is a crazed psychopath… I mean, not all mages use blood magic.”
Fenris glared at him, head snapping up immediately, his fingers whitening faintly against the arm of the chair.
“In Tevinter,” he countered, his voice low and dangerously level, “magisters do anything they must for power. Those who do not subjugate others are themselves beaten down… controlled, devoured. They will do anything to survive, anything to win dominion over each other. It never ends. That is the nature of mages.”
“No,” Tobias protested. “No, that’s just—”
He stopped abruptly. That’s just human nature. Somehow, that didn’t seem like a helpful point. He shook his head.
“That’s not true everywhere, though. I mean, if we didn’t have the Circle, we wouldn’t have to be like Tevinter. No one’s saying blood magic isn’t dangerous, or wrong, or that—”
“Mages are mages,” Fenris growled. “If you do not keep a fire in check, it will consume a whole house. To argue that the fire might govern itself is to pretend it does not wish to burn.”
He slumped back in his chair, glowering at Tobias, all his poise and elegance momentarily fractured.
“You have so far proved yourself different from the mages I have known before, Hawke… but it cannot change what you are. It cannot change what you sent that boy to become.”
Tobias let out a breath, all his arguments and protestations suddenly deflated and defeated. It no longer seemed to matter whether this really was all about Feynriel and the Dalish, or about the Underground, or Danarius, or just mages in general. Between Aveline telling him he should be locked up because he wasn’t really human, and Fenris effectively saying he’d either signed Feynriel’s death warrant, or taken the first step on the road to creating a monster, Tobias was fervently wishing he’d never gotten himself involved in any of this.
“Look,” he said, before the silence swelled up between them and threatened to coax him into breaking it with words he might regret, “let’s just… let’s not talk about this anymore, all right? I didn’t come here to argue with you, Fenris.”
The elf narrowed his eyes. “No?”
Tobias ignored the dig. “Let’s talk about the Bone Pit job. Are you on for that? I want to do it soon, before Hubert starts thinking he can beat me down on the payment.”
In truth, he was eager to change the subject and, while he had no great wish to head into the old mine—it was underground, after all—the venture did promise to be profitable, and to put some much-needed distance between him and the Dalish.
“Anyway,” he went on, “it’ll be easy. Just scout through the mine, clear out whatever’s got the yokels rattled… it’s quick coin. Will you come?”
Fenris appeared to consider the prospect for a moment. “If it is as easy as you think, why has the merchant not paid some other fool to investigate? You know why they call it the Bone Pit, don’t you?”
Tobias shrugged. “Well, not specifically, no… but it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s probably just smugglers. Qunari renegades, or some two-bit street gang who want a shiny new hideout.”
A dark look filtered over Fenris’ face. “In the time of the Imperium, they used to throw slaves off the minehead. Thousands of them died there.”
Tobias felt his carefully controlled expression of nonchalance begin to stiffen.
Oh, sod. Does this mean more demons?
It always meant more demons. Kirkwall seemed to be built on a solid bedrock of slaves’ bones, and if he’d been a religious man Tobias would have been convinced that the whole city was overdue a priest’s blessing… or maybe just razing to the ground.
He smirked, affecting an only partially successful shrug of unconcern.
“Well, it’s not like we can’t deal with a few ghosts. Give me a day to get the gear together. I’ll cut you a good share. C’mon,” he added, wheedling as Fenris sneered doubtfully.
From outside the mansion, beyond the high, tiny windows, faint sounds of the street could be heard: unusual, really, for this end of the city. Even Hightown’s quiet, disregarded plazas of forgotten decadence were generally unmarred by the thrum of life, but there were people, all the same. Footsteps, voices—the plumy quack and high-pitched giggle of an upscale courting couple, Tobias suspected. He spread his hands wide and fixed the elf with his best convincing grin.
“Have I ever steered you wrong before, eh?”
Fenris took a breath, but didn’t get a chance to speak.
“Not often, right?” Tobias put in quickly. “Not often at all. So… what d’you say? Big, fat ten percent? Yes? Plus all the intrigue and glamour of whatever we might find down there? Diamonds, rubies—”
“Unlikely.” Fenris shook his head and exhaled resignedly. “But, all right.”
“Good.” Tobias sat back, slapping his palms against his knees. “Day after tomorrow, then? Say, meet you midday by the postern gate?”
The elf nodded reluctantly, and Tobias wasn’t entirely sure whether it was the strength of their uneasy friendship that had him agreeing, or just the possibility of cold, hard cash. Maybe it was simply curiosity.
Either way, as he left the mansion and sloped idly back towards the general direction of the market, he was grateful for it. No matter what nasty surprises the old mine undoubtedly held, Tobias was looking forward to the prospect of a job… and a fight. Something to blow the cobwebs out. Something to get the blood pumping, and his head back into the game.
Aveline came to the house that night.
At first, he thought she was there to apologise, but it was soon clear she was merely visiting his mother. Leandra received her with open arms and her usual cheerful smile, and that made Tobias feel very slightly sick. She didn’t know about the Fade, of course. He hadn’t said anything, and there was no sense worrying her by trying to explain now.
So, he quietly absented himself, and left them to talk. It was already dusk, and the fire burned brightly, with a couple of candles pushing back the shadows. Aveline, as usual, had turned up in her uniform, and he was fairly certain the armour had actually been welded to her skin. Caught in the candlelight, she practically glowed red and gold, like the silken glimmer of a Chantry sister’s robe. He almost smelled the incense.
Leandra poured tea, and they talked about the who-said-what of the keep’s gossip, and discussed details of city ordinances and plans to do with the blasted estate… and he slipped quietly from the house, not bothering to take a cloak, despite the evening’s chill.
It was almost dark. Tobias didn’t really look where he was walking.
He wasn’t going to go to The Rose, he told himself. He was going to break off all those bad habits, and stop doing all the things that he did to plug the gaps in life, and make himself believe there was something keeping the days greased and turning that was more than just the fear of stopping… because that was what it was, wasn’t it? And it wasn’t even Kirkwall that had done it to him.
Oh, the city did screw people up. Made you tread water, made you stagnate in the same old sewer… too many hills and terraces, too many rigid hierarchies and stupid protocols. There never seemed to be a way out of anything, and so you just reached for the nearest thing to plaster over the irritation.
Everything was about ticking through the days like clockwork, like some bald-toothed cog locked in repetitive motion.
Even his footsteps seemed to echo with measured, unbreakable rhythms.
Some little prick jumped out of the shadows at him not far from the Chantry courtyard; Tobias could hear the muffled sound of the quarter-hour bells, just as clearly as he heard the shuffle of inexpertly silenced feet on the flagstones. He sighed inwardly, and sidestepped as the assailant lunged, then extended a leg for the cloth-swathed figure to stumble over. It was both gratifying and depressingly predictable to watch the would-be cutthroat sprawl face-first onto the cracked pavers.
Between the darkness and the loose, heavily draped clothes that were apparently de rigueur for street criminals these days, it was impossible to tell the age or gender of the figure, though the surprised “oof!” sounded either like a woman or a young boy. Tobias brought his foot down across the prone body’s back anyway; hard enough to shake the kidneys up a bit, but not hard enough to break much. A blade skittered from pathetically flexing fingers, and he stooped to snatch it up, and to unceremoniously grab the back of the cloth-masked head.
The would-be mugger whimpered and mewled a bit… and smelled like lavender water and old sweat. Tobias exhaled wearily as he placed a knee in the small of what felt like a rather skinny back.
“How many of you?” he asked, eyeing the dark spaces of colonnades and doorways.
It was a redundant question, really. A proper gang would have been on him at once… and this poor specimen probably wouldn’t have passed the initiation for one, anyway.
Well, maybe the Dark Spire lot. Are they still going? Haven’t heard anything in a while. Oh, Hawke, you’re so out of touch!
The not-terribly-talented-cutthroat mumbled and wriggled, and a distinctly feminine voice managed to spit out a few profanities. Tobias knelt harder on her and, tossing away the worn, thin-bladed knife he’d confiscated, pulled up the sleeve of a flailing right arm.
“No mark, then,” he observed, peering at the thin band of grubby, pale, but unblemished skin. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you really don’t have the skills of an… independent agent. At least think about joining a gang. One of the small ones. You could be the one who gets picked off first in an ill-advised ambush.”
He got off her, and she scrambled to her hands and knees, coughing and gasping—and still swearing. He picked out the words “arrogant bastard” and “gut you like a fish”, and he grinned in the coolness of the night’s breeze.
The girl glared at him, all that was visible of her face just the narrow strip between her brows and the bridge of her nose, the rest of her anonymous beneath the drapes of cloth. They were probably blue eyes, Tobias decided, though they looked dark in the gloom. Dark and full of hatred, hunger, and viciousness. She crouched, like some scared, cornered beast, and he was both ashamed of himself and physically, vitally alive, revelling in the feeling of his body, and his reflexes, and everything that it was to sense, and fight, and breathe. He felt powerful, without magic—without even thinking about needing magic—and that was something he’d always treasured.
But there was something else, he realised. He looked down at her, and envied her. It wasn’t just pity, or black humour, or the sudden, electric moment of having had a knife pulled on him and avoiding it with such blessed, easy, elastic grace… he missed this. More than he’d cared to admit.
The streets were quiet. Hightown was sleeping, and those who weren’t were decent enough folk to be quiet and discreet about it. Up the hill, the chantry was carrying on its own muffled internal rhythms and, spreading out below it all, the rest of the city kept beating like the dark, grim heart it was.
The only sound here, in this lonely, pressed-in little spot, was the girl’s ragged breathing, and the moment seemed to stretch to eternity.
Her knife lay on the stones, its blade glimmering dully in the shreds of second-hand light cast by the moon and the occasional lantern. Tobias stretched out his foot, and toed the thing back towards her, sending it scudding across the pavers.
“Go on.” He nodded back towards the bazaar, and the warren of streets that led off from it. “Bugger off. I’ve got enough to worry about.”
He turned, feeling quite the roguishly magnanimous gallant as he made to walk away, the night air still crisp in his lungs.
He thought she’d crawl off and lick her wounds. He thought she’d be cowed. He didn’t think that, her knife in her hand again, she’d spring up and come after him, roaring like an angry ox. He didn’t think at all… just as he didn’t think in the blink of a moment in which, turning fluidly, he drew his dagger like a whisper of silk, and met her in full collision.
Tobias was rather glad of the darkness. It made it harder to see her eyes—he still couldn’t tell whether they were blue or brown, and it was never going to matter now anyway—and harder to see the way the cloth moved against her mouth as she tried to gurgle out some dying curse. Warmth spread over his hand. She sagged, and the knife clattered from her fingers a second time.
She really never was any good at this. Poor kid.
He pushed her away, bending briefly to wipe his dagger on her loose clothes before sheathing it and glancing along the empty streets. There was no one around. No guard patrol, though one probably would be by later—Aveline’s many reforms had seen patrols rolled out right to Fenris’ forgotten corner of the estates, and even as far as some parts of Lowtown—so it would be sensible to get moving.
Tobias wiped his hands absently against his breeches, and then glanced down at his front, and muttered a cuss. The suspicion of something that might be a bloodstain shimmered slightly in the gloom, and he touched his fingers to the leather of his jerkin.
“Sod it,” he said, to no one in particular, and walked away from the crumpled corpse on the flagstones.
He’d told himself he wasn’t going to go to The Rose… and yet he found himself there anyway.
The same porticos and colonnades stood like broken ribs, with the same vines and ivy scrambling up the same dirty-white, cracked walls, and the same strings of lanterns slung between the windows, glimmering down on the same grubby streets. The same broken flagstones, the same tired old whores pacing the alleys… the same jaded, dirty little corner of Hightown, pushed into the shadows and quietly ignored.
No wonder he felt at home here, Tobias supposed.
It was a slow night. Mid-week often was. No one stopped him or greeted him as he entered the bar at the front of the house, heavy with its smells of cheap perfume and musty upholstery. Near the far door that led off to the kitchens, two women were leaning on one of the tables, each cradling a mug of grog as they talked quietly. Their voices stilled as he walked in, glancing up to see if he was worth approaching. On one of the plush seats beneath the staircase, an elven girl with red hair was making up to a fat man with a grey beard and a blue velvet doublet. She even giggled coquettishly when he groped her breasts.
Tobias caught Quintus’ eye before he’d even made it halfway across the room, confused for a moment by the way the big man’s face stiffened, and the meaty hands engaged in the futile task of polishing grubby mugs came to a sudden halt on cloth and pewter.
Catching sight of himself in the mirror behind the bar soon solved that query.
There wasn’t much blood on him, but it was enough to be noticeable. Tobias peered guiltily at his jerkin, and gestured vaguely at himself as he looked up at Quintus.
“Took the pretty route here,” he said as he reached the bar. “Bit of local colour, that’s all. Not looking for trouble.”
Quintus’ eyes narrowed, but he seemed to accept the story.
“Right you are, Serah Hawke. Should I tell Madam that you’re—?”
“No,” Tobias said quickly, his fingers flexing involuntarily on the bar’s greasy surface. “No, thanks. I just… I just want….”
He faltered, feeling suddenly a little light-headed, as if he couldn’t remember how he’d come to be here, or what he wanted.
“A bottle of whisky and a nice, hot bath?” suggested a familiar voice. “Makes everything better, dear. Usually.”
Tobias glanced up wearily at the mirror, watching Jethann’s reflection sashay towards him. He hadn’t seen much of the elf since the encounter that had led to his… little problem… and while it was pleasant to see a familiar face, he couldn’t deny that this felt immensely awkward.
The elf leant casually on the bar beside Tobias, his lithe body decked in tight breeches and loose, flowing linen shirt. His red hair hung down to his shoulders, and a scent of sandalwood and rose oil seemed to rise like a heat haze from his skin. He smiled in a display of dextrous, well-practiced, and yet still rather appealing charm.
“Maybe a little beef stew and some crusty bread? Or cold mutton?”
Tobias frowned. The Rose didn’t usually lay on food for customers who weren’t staying all night. The elf seemed aware of his confusion, and shrugged cheerfully.
“Well, I owe you a little something, don’t I?” He flashed another winning smile. “A little treat or two. Just a small token of apology.”
Quintus had gone back to polishing mugs, and smirking behind his bushy moustache. Tobias scoffed.
“What… an ‘I’m sorry I gave you the clap’ hamper?”
The elf didn’t even bat an eye. The corner of his lips curved gently, and he nodded to Quintus.
“I’ll take care of him. No need to bother Madam when she’s busy. Hot water, bottle of brandy, and a few nibbles to number four? You can take it off my tips,” Jethann added, lowering his voice a little, with a great deal of the swish and flounce gone from his words. “All right?”
Tobias wasn’t sure if the elf was talking to him or Quintus but, somehow, he felt himself being gently, easily guided away from the bar, and towards the staircase. Jethann’s hand rested lightly on his arm, and his skin felt comfortingly warm.
The pervading smells of rose oil and cheap perfume, old curtains and white soap all seemed to blend and swirl around his head, and he allowed the elf to lead him… blindly, resignedly.
There just didn’t seem to be much point in protesting.
“I killed a girl tonight,” Tobias said dully, as Jethann shut the door of one of the larger bedchambers behind them.
It had a small window, shuttered and hung with heavy red drapes, and a rather battered paper on the walls that repeated the over-used motif of vines and roses, this time in shades of brown and faded red. A large wooden tub stood at the end of the room, beside a washstand and low table, but it was the bed that Jethann drew him towards: wide, and covered with an array of embroidered throws and blankets, presumably to disguise the darned sheets and threadbare canopy. The familiar sounds of occupancy from the room next door—thuds, giggles, and a few grunts—echoed, muffled, through the thin walls.
“Really?” Jethann said absently, like it was an answer to a comment about the weather. He stopped in front of Tobias, those impossibly big, impossibly blue eyes widening in mock reprobation as he surveyed the bloodied leather jack. “My dear… you have been in the wars. I hope nothing vital got scratched.”
Tobias shrugged resignedly. “Nah. She tried to spring me, but she didn’t get far.”
“I’ve heard most people don’t,” Jethann purred, stepping closer, his hands moving to the first of the jack’s buckles.
Tobias stayed still, pliant… numb. There was a good couple of inches difference in height between them, but he liked the closeness of Jethann’s face as he worked. With his eyes downcast, the gentle puffs of his breath fanned Tobias’ throat. He smelled warm, and rich, and not at all like the rest of the city.
I wasn’t going to do this again. I wasn’t even going to be here….
“I’ve been hearing an awful lot about you recently, as it happens,” Jethann added, raising those searing eyes for a brief moment of effect. “The alienage is alive with stories of the shem who went to the Beyond and back for the People.”
He pulled the jack’s first strap free of its buckle, and the fitment jingled lightly. Tobias glanced up sharply, a frown already embedded in his brow, and the icy wash of dread spilling through his stomach.
Fuck. So much for my low profile.
Stupid, he supposed. Marethari might have been prepared to keep his involvement quiet, but Arianni had probably been blabbering her relief and gratitude all over the place… daft cow. He narrowed his eyes.
“Oh? I wouldn’t have imagined you spend much time there.”
The elf lifted one shoulder in an unconcerned shrug, his fingers already moving to the next buckle.
“I have family there,” he said, grimacing over the word as if it tasted foul. “A pale, dull slug of a wife, and her hideous mother.”
“Wife?” Tobias echoed, unable to keep the sharp burst of disbelief from his voice. “You?”
Jethann wrinkled his nose and slapped Tobias’ stomach playfully through the dyed leather. “I keep my options open, my dear. I always have! Besides, it was an arranged match. We were children, practically… but that isn’t my point, and don’t you dare try to deny anything.” He leaned closer, his eyes pools of vibrant, terrible fascination, and his soft pout curled into a harsh smile. “I heard what you did. I didn’t know for certain you were—”
‘One of those’? Yeah, I’ve heard that before. Mage. Robe. Freak.
Tobias swallowed hard, his tongue feeling thick and his throat dry. “I don’t like people knowing,” he said shortly. “It can lead to… complications.”
That much was true: complications for him, and for more other people than he dared to contemplate. A dozen different ways this conversation could end were already playing out in his head, and he didn’t like the way most of them sounded. All right, so Jethann probably wasn’t likely to report him to the templars—Maker knew Lusine had enough apostates of her own under the Rose’s roof—but Tobias didn’t like the smug curve of the whore’s smile, and he wasn’t convinced that he’d shy from blackmail.
Jethann’s smile widened as he pulled open the third buckle of Tobias’ jack.
“Well, your secret’s safe with me, dear. For what it’s worth,” he added, fingers tugging at the tough yet supple leather, beginning to bare Tobias’ chest to the room’s warm air, “I think it’s exciting. I mean, there have been rumours about you for years… but knowing for sure is different.”
Unease crawled between Tobias’ shoulder blades, and the air seemed to stick to his skin like wet sand. He sneered, trying to paper over his discomfort with sarcasm, but everything felt dry and forced.
“Rumours?” He snorted. “Gossips’ whispers. Probably all bollocks, anyway.”
Jethann’s smile widened further, and he pulled the jack open, his clever fingers tugging the leather aside with a strength of grasp that belied his gentle touch. The buckles jingled softly, and Tobias felt oddly vulnerable.
A knock on the door interrupted whatever the elf had been about to say—if there would indeed have been words—and two girls entered, laden down with buckets of hot water, a platter of food, and a bottle of Antivan brandy. Tobias didn’t pay them much attention, except to notice that one looked tight-lipped and worried. Jethann waved them over to the tub imperiously, and seemed almost annoyed by their entrance.
“And who kicked your grandma?” he demanded of the pale, tight-lipped one.
She shook her head violently, and the other girl answered for her.
“He’s here,” she said, the words a coarse stage-whisper in a flat Kirkwall accent. “They’ll be startin’ before long.”
Jethann narrowed his eyes. “Shh! Go on… get on with you.”
“Wh—?” Tobias began to frame the question as the girls prepared the bath, but the elf didn’t leave him much opportunity to ask anything.
Long, talented fingers stroked his face, wove themselves into his hair, and caressed his throat. Jethann leaned close and kissed him—a real, sweet kiss that tasted faintly of almonds. The tenderness came almost as a surprise, but it was too pleasant to resist and, somehow, the whole notion of refusing the embrace seemed to ebb out of Tobias’ head, his thoughts fuzzy and the tickle of magical power rising under his skin.
It was, he realised dimly, the first time he’d ever kissed a man who knew he was a mage. The first time someone who knew had still wanted to touch him.
As the door closed quietly behind the girls, he pulled back and frowned at the elf. Jethann just smiled angelically, and Tobias realised he didn’t want to question… he didn’t want to question any of it. Not when it was as easy as this, and it was so blessedly easy. It was easy to shed the rest of his clothes, and easy to climb into the tub, like sinking into a blissful pool of quiet.
“We get more in than you’d think, you know,” Jethann observed, setting a small dish of oil on the low table beside the tub. “Ones who live free, ones who’ve just broken out… ones on the run. I suppose it can make for a lonely life.”
“Mm.” Tobias grunted noncommittally, still unsure of how to navigate this new feeling.
All right, so a handful of people knew. People he’d fought with, people he’d worked alongside. This was different. As Jethann dipped the washcloth into the dish of rose-scented oil and began to apply it to his skin in gentle, massaging circles, Tobias caught himself examining the elf’s movements, seeking out something new in his touch, as if he expected to find hesitancy or revulsion there.
“’Course,” Jethann said, lifting Tobias’ arm gently by the wrist, and massaging oil into the sun-browned skin, “we get templars too, and a fair few Chantry brothers, not to mention sisters and mothers. Equal opportunities, I always say. Come one, come all… as it were.”
He smirked, and Tobias couldn’t help grinning.
It was so awfully easy to lie in the hot water, watching his flesh pinken and the steam curling up from his skin as the little globules of rose oil floated and bumped against the tub’s scummy sides. It was easy to relax into Jethann’s touch, too… easy not to think about the dead girl on the flagstones, or about Feynriel becoming a magister, or about Fenris screaming as molten lyrium burned its way into his flesh. It was easy not to think about all the things that went wrong, even when his intentions weren’t all that bad to start with.
Jethann hummed slightly; just a soft, gentle noise, right on the edge of hearing. He hummed, and dipped the washcloth in the little dish of silky-smooth oil, and rubbed gently at the knots of tension and guilt and rage that tied Tobias’ back so tightly. His hair fell forward a little as he worked, and his eyes grew half-hooded.
Maker, he really is lovely.
“I think they’re wrong about you, though,” Jethann said quietly, moving around to begin tracking the cloth from left to right in pleasingly repetitive motions over Tobias’ chest.
His touch was light and yet so reassuring, and the bloom of power seemed to follow it beneath Tobias’ skin, like something in him ached to respond in a way he’d never responded—never allowed himself to respond—to anyone.
He wondered what that would be like… whether it was even possible. Having magic, as his father had always taught him, was to keep a part of yourself locked up, always. Malcolm’s teachings had been strict on that point. Tobias had never once let that side of his nature go completely, not even when he’d come as close as he ever had to truly losing control. Even in his most vulnerable moments—the times of nakedness that went far beyond just skin—he’d never let that part out. He didn’t know if he could, he realised.
Can you? Magic in the sack? It wouldn’t be safe, surely…. Even the tiniest mistimed fireball would do way more than just kill the mood.
It was an enthralling thought, though: making love like a mage. Maybe other mages already knew all the tricks. Maybe, when two of them were together—
The elf shrugged and dipped the cloth back into the little dish of oil.
“People,” he said vaguely. “The people who say you’re too well-known. That your reputation makes you… unpredictable. Makes you a threat.”
Tobias’ frown deepened, and the bathtub suddenly seemed like a much less safe and relaxing place. “What p— Do you mean who I think you mean?”
Jethann dropped the washcloth into the tub. It splashed into the water like a limp fish and floated there, a pale and bloated thing. He leaned forward, as if he was afraid of being overheard, and his expression seemed oddly subdued.
“I may not be a mage,” he said quietly, that blue gaze almost circumspect, “but I do know what it is to be an outsider. I believe you and I have mutual friends…. People who help people?”
Tobias leaned back against the edge of the tub. “That’s who I thought you meant.” He squinted suspiciously at Jethann. “So who’s been bad-mouthing me?”
The elf wrinkled his nose. “That’s a strong word. I just… heard… that your involvement with the Dalish hasn’t gone down too well in certain quarters. That’s all. That… certain people… are worried you’ll bring too much attention to their work. We’re talking about a man who likes to keep himself hidden, after all.”
Tobias nodded slowly. Elias Creer, no doubt.
He wasn’t surprised. It had been a while since Anders had invited him to a meeting of the Underground—not least, Tobias suspected, because the healer had been having his own disagreements with his so-called friends. Oh, he hadn’t said anything, because Anders never said anything. No, Maker forefend he should actually tell anyone what was going on… but they had seemed to close ranks. It had been irritating for Tobias. His money was readily accepted—snatched up, even, the way Gethyn had so gladly taken the gold for Feynriel’s safe passage—but his attempts to ask questions were treated with scorn and annoyance. And it wasn’t just because everyone was safer if they kept secrets, either… or was it? Maybe he had expected too much, too soon, from his tentative involvement with such a sensitive organisation.
Presumably, Jethann was right. Presumably, Anders himself had been referring to the same thing when he’d teased Tobias about his ‘hob-nobbing with the nobility’.
Just be careful. That was what he’d said. Not that it was wrong for the Underground to be suspicious of an outsider—especially one throwing gold around like water, and so pathetically keen to be accepted into their ranks—but… all the same. It was frustrating, and he still had the niggling sense that, somehow, he was being played for somebody’s fool.
He just hoped it was Anders’, and not Elias Creer’s.
Tobias sighed. The bathwater was cooling rapidly. Jethann’s fingers twitched uncertainly; the first piece of uncertainty he thought he’d ever seen in the elf. Still, whatever Jethann’s motives in telling him this, it didn’t feel safe to discuss it any further.
“Didn’t have you pegged for a sympathiser, that’s all,” he said, watching those blue eyes widen incredulously.
“Darling,” Jethann chided, taking up the washcloth again, “I’m made of empathy. Charity is my single weakness.”
Tobias snorted derisively, and the elf flicked the cloth playfully over his nipple.
“Well, all right… so maybe I don’t like what the Knight Commander’s done to this city. And maybe I don’t think people deserve to be treated badly because they’re different.” His face grew almost serious for a moment, the mirth in those blue eyes beginning to dim. “Maybe I’ve seen enough of that to judge a little more lightly.”
Tobias smiled, and it was a ridiculous, stupid, awkward thought to have, but he couldn’t help wishing he could repeat those words to Anders, just to show him there were people in the world who thought right, whatever it felt like sometimes.
Yeah. Can’t even picture how to start that sentence….
He wanted to say something, maybe thank Jethann for that brief burst of faith, but all the words he could think of felt foolish and clumsy, so he reached out one wet, rose-scented hand, and gently cupped the side of the elf’s head, guiding him close.
“You, uh, you don’t mind this, do you?” Tobias murmured, just before he touched those soft, pliant lips.
Jethann chuckled gently. “Of course not.”
He still tasted of almonds. Tobias kissed him thoroughly, slowly; luxuriating in the lazy sensuality of a warm mouth and warm air against his cooling, moist skin.
He got out of the bath, and let Jethann wrap him in soft towels. He reclined on the bed and picked at the plate of cold meat, bread, cheese and apple slices, washing it down with Antivan brandy, while Jethann lay beside him, idling along his body with lazy mouth and hands.
Once his leisurely meal was finished, Tobias worked up the enthusiasm for a much more energetic bout. Usually, he’d been content to let Jethann please him—and it wasn’t as if the elf lacked either repertoire or creativity—but, tonight, there was something profoundly exciting about just having him in the simplest, most direct manner possible.
It wasn’t merely the desire to truncate any pillow talk, either… or, at least, it wasn’t entirely that. Jethann had, all things considered, always been pretty good about it, never prodding for details Tobias didn’t want to share, or asking clumsy questions and casting around for crumbs to send back to Lusine.
Tobias didn’t flat-out trust him, but nor did he distrust the elf and, damn it, maybe he really did have a little honest affection for him. Maybe, he thought, as he pinned Jethann’s hands above his head and set about trying to nail him to the mattress, that was as much love as he world had to offer him.
Maybe that was enough.
“Unf!” Jethann exclaimed, pushing his ruffled red hair out of his eyes and surveying Tobias from the wreckage of the bed. “Well… quite the endurance athlete, aren’t we? All better?”
Tobias lay on his back, shoulders dug deep into the thin pillow, the rime of sweat on his skin turning the scent of rose oil sour. His breathing was still fast and shallow, but the bite of triumph and pleasure had washed from his blood, leaving a sense of hollow dissatisfaction only slightly numbed by sensation.
“I didn’t think you were complaining.”
The elf treated him to a sultry, self-satisfied smile as he pushed back into a cat-like stretch. It was always difficult to tell whether he enjoyed it as much as he seemed to; Tobias liked to think so, though he was under no illusions about his own prowess.
“There’s a… directness about you that I like,” Jethann said, patting his knee. “And now I know just how a blacksmith’s anvil feels. Why don’t you bring that hammer over here again?”
He crawled across the bed, dropping kisses to Tobias’ thighs, interspersed with happy little sounds of interest, but Tobias had already started rolling over, reaching for the bottle of brandy.
“Bugger,” he announced, on discovering it was almost empty.
Jethann sighed, and rolled onto his back, falling against the covers with a soft thump. “Been there, done that. Have you ever tried an Orlesian Canary?”
Tobias swallowed the last dregs of the brandy, frowning in confusion that seemed marginally hazier than normal.
I wasn’t going to be here. I wasn’t going to do this. I wasn’t going to drink like this… oh, sod it….
“Canary,” Jethann repeated, staring at the ceiling. “It’s a type of wine. It… it has bubbles. You hold in your mouth and, well, you give your friend an Orlesian kiss. It feels amazing.”
Tobias let the empty bottle fall to the floorboards, and wondered how it was physically possible, in that instance, to suck someone off without drowning.
“Huh,” he said instead. “Why… why is it called ‘canary’?”
Jethann shrugged. “I don’t know what the word means. It just sounds like ‘canary’. It’s not like I read labels,” he added, turning his head to look thoughtfully across the bed. “Do you want to go again, or not?”
It was tempting. It was so tempting, after the past few days, and the Dalish, and the painful rejections and accusations of people he’d wanted to think of as friends… but Tobias shook his head. It was already late—later than he’d meant—and he was drunker than he’d intended to be.
Already, the guilt was rippling back under his skin, flooding in where those precious few flashes of freedom had been.
“Nah. I… I can’t.”
“Bet you could,” Jethann said, eyeing his crotch with an interested half-smile. “If I just—”
“Another time,” Tobias protested. “Really. How much do I—?”
The elf waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, all right. Be boring, then. Call it a crown, seeing as it’s you.”
Tobias swung his legs out of bed and groped for his breeches before digging around for a few coins. He tossed two sovereigns onto the pillow.
“One for you, one for Madam. Take a couple of hours off on me.”
Jethann snorted, though one slim hand shot out to grab the money. “Trying to buy up all my time already? Jealous thing.” He smiled lazily as he sat up, looking thoroughly dishevelled and really quite lovely… at least until he fluttered his eyes and pouted. “Next, you’ll fall into fits of pining for me until you’re simply beside yourself. You’ll know no rest at all until you spirit me away to a sun-soaked palace in Antiva, so you can have me all to yourself… you beast, you.”
Tobias chuckled, but the smile stuck to his face, half-formed and not quite as easy as it should have been.
“Take care,” he said, squeezing Jethann’s ankle briefly before he stood, pulled on his breeches, and set to picking up the rest of his clothes.
When he got downstairs, he saw the place had filled up, which meant it was easy to slip out of the front door without catching anyone’s eye. He recognised a few faces—merchants, one of the Formari traders from The Gallows, and a selection of upstanding citizens who were all doing their best to ignore each other, alongside the Rose’s more honestly seamier denizens—and, for a moment, Tobias was almost convinced he caught a whiff of soot and elfroot. He nearly froze at that. Encountering Anders here would have been a hundred times worse than the night he’d bumped into Gamlen, especially with his hair still damp from the bath, the scent of rose oil still on his skin, and—Tobias suspected, as he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar—a sheepish countenance that said he might as well have had ‘freshly fucked’ painted on his forehead in rouge.
He shuddered, and pressed on, out into the street.
Bloody Anders. Finds his bloody way into bloody everything. Wouldn’t have gone to talk to Aveline if he hadn’t told me to. Wouldn’t have had to hear her tell me I should be locked up in the name of public safety… that I’m not fucking human. Well, sod Aveline. And sod him. Sod everyone.
He stopped in an alleyway at the corner of the square, and held onto the wall until the cobblestones stopped spinning, and his late supper stopped threatening to make a re-emergence.
There were no more girls with knives on the way home. No more death. When he got back to the house, Aveline was long gone, and the fire was cold. The light of a candle came from under Leandra’s door, and Tobias crept to his bed with his breath held, praying she wouldn’t come out to check on him.
She didn’t. He climbed into bed, put his head under the stale-smelling pillow, and tried to pretend he couldn’t hear her crying.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
They were taken at once to the Keeper’s aravel, and more than a few of the clan emerged to watch them. Evidently, Marethari had been awaiting their arrival, Tobias decided, though he wondered if she’d expected him to bring quite so many people with him.
The camp was a different place at night. A huge fire burned at its centre, making shadows and glancing swathes of orange light dance against the packed dirt and the great, dark shapes of the land-ships. Several elves sat on the steps of their aravels, watching the interlopers with quiet, hard-eyed interest. The most striking thing about the scene was its silence. Despite the number of people, the only sound in the camp appeared to be the crackling of the fire. Not even night birds seemed to come this close to the Dalish.
It was the boy’s mother who came out to greet them, her thin frame wrapped up in a dark brown shawl and her face shrouded with worry and anxiety, visible even beneath the faded lines of her tattoos. The shadows cast by the aravels’ sails fell thickly over her, and her eyes—of that very pale, elven green—seemed to leap from the darkness, sharp as blades and wet with unshed tears.
“Serah Hawke!” she exclaimed, reaching out to him with one work-worn, thin-fingered hand. “Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come. Ma serannas,” she added, turning to Merrill and clutching her arm; thanking her for bringing him, Tobias supposed.
“It’ll be all right, Arianni,” Merrill assured, patting the woman’s hand. “You’ll see.”
That sounded like false optimism, but he didn’t like to say so, especially when the woman looked at him, her lips trembling and her cheeks pale.
“You’ve done so much for my Feynriel already, messere. I can’t tell you how grateful I am… how grateful he is. I know it. He hasn’t wanted to see me since he came to the People, but I know. My friends have told me, and Keeper Marethari—”
She stopped as her voice cracked and the tears began to spill, making it painfully apparent just how bad Feynriel’s condition must be.
Arriving just in time for the deathbed scene, Tobias thought bitterly. He forced out an unwilling smile, uncomfortable with the woman’s palpable fear and grief. Merrill put her arm around a now sobbing Arianni, and nodded towards the heavy curtain that hung across the door to the Keeper’s aravel.
Tobias nodded, and moved towards the small rank of steps, Anders at his shoulder and the others following close behind.
“I don’t know what they expect me to do,” he muttered, just loud enough for the healer to hear. “Yell really loudly in his ear? Give him a good shake?”
Anders snorted, but the look he shot Tobias was dark. “If he is unable to control his powers, that might not be the issue.”
Tobias winced. “Mm. Thanks. I was trying not to think about that.”
Inside, the aravel was surprisingly spacious. They really were like ships, Tobias supposed; smooth-shelled, dark husks, windowless and curved like hulls. There was more opulence—more in the way of furnishings, and brightly coloured rugs and hangings, with thick furs on the floor and walls—but he still had to fight not to be reminded of the boat he’d spent so many unpleasant weeks on from Gwaren.
Keeper Marethari stood in the centre of the dim, candlelit space, her white hair bound back and her green robes hanging loosely around her arms and shoulders, with the glint of a golden amulet hidden within the deep, cowl-like folds the fabric formed. A carved wooden screen lay to one side of the aravel, next to a large, heavy, iron-bound trunk that was probably both of human make and even older than the elven woman herself. The light-fingered magpie in Tobias wondered what interesting treasures it might hold, but the majority of his attention was occupied by the slender figure on the bed opposite. He heard Anders draw a long, soft breath between his teeth, and then the feel of it all suddenly hit him… like dark rain under his skin, crawling and pulling.
Feynriel lay motionless—a slip of a boy, with no trace of elven grace or delicacy in his gangly, adolescent limbs—yet his power crackled in the air like the greasy static of a lightning storm. He’d been undressed and placed beneath blankets and furs, his head supported by a large, dark red pillow, and his single braid of blond hair lay pale across the fabric, like a newly cleaned wound.
His eyes were the worst thing. They were open, unblinking… like dead eyes, staring out from a waxy, slack face. Someone had tucked a small rag toy beneath the blanket, so old and tattered that it had long since lost its colour and most of its identifiable shape, yet it was still nestled close to the boy. A toy drum sat on the foot of the bed, discoloured and missing one beater.
Discomfort prickled at Tobias’ spine, and he felt goosebumps rising on his bare arms. Behind him, Fenris padded in through the doorway, his posture guarded but politely reverential—or at least as close to it as he ever got—while Aveline and Varric crowded by the curtain. The aravel was comfortably spacious, after all, but not big enough to accommodate everyone.
“Serah Hawke,” Marethari said, her words quiet but heavily accented. “Thank you for coming. I… did not expect so many.”
She glanced over his shoulder at the others, as Merrill edged her way through, her arm still protectively around Arianni. Tobias shrugged.
“I have loyal friends.” He tried to pass it off with a cocky grin, but the dim little room was choked with the feel of magic, behaving in a way it shouldn’t do, with the dark promise of demons prowling beneath it. The attempt at a grin stagnated and died on his lips, and he nodded at the boy’s unmoving form. “Is he…?”
Marethari shook her head. “His lips still fog a mirror, but that is all. We must act quickly. That is why I sent for you in the manner I did.”
Arianni, still sniffing wetly, left Merrill’s side and moved to her son. She smoothed his hair and tugged at the blanket, as if she were tucking in a sleeping babe. Her fingers brushed against the little rag toy, and her shoulders began to shake with renewed sobs.
“Has Merrill explained the nature of Feynriel’s power?” the keeper enquired, as if it might distract them from Arianni’s private grief. “He is… what the Tevinters call somniari. One who has the power to shape the Beyond. The People once had magics of that nature, and they were very powerful. I believe Feynriel is a throwback to those times; what we call a Dreamer, and he is the first in two ages to survive.”
Tobias furrowed his brow. He wanted to know why it was so rare, but his mind felt slightly fuzzy, and then it was Anders’ voice he was hearing, not Marethari’s.
“So, he’s trapped in the Fade—sorry, the Beyond—and you think he can be reached through his dreams? Guided back here?”
The elf nodded, the wariness in her expression giving way to a cautious willingness to answer.
“I believe so. Arianni has brought his childhood things. We’d hoped his mother’s presence might be enough, that all this might anchor him some, but… no. There is an old Dalish ritual that I think is his last hope. It involves sending someone Feynriel trusts to guide him home.” The keeper tilted her chin, a flicker of pride crossing her face, beneath the tawny, faded marks of her tattoos. “A long time ago, we had the knowing of that—of sending anyone into the Beyond, even those without magic—but so much of our knowledge is lost.”
Marethari winced a little as she said it, as if admitting that truth pained her. She blinked, and fixed Tobias with a grave look that made his stomach clench.
“Feynriel trusts you, Hawke. And—”
“And I’m a mage,” he finished, as the pieces slotted neatly into place. “Which makes this that much easier. Right.”
A thin kind of tension hung on the air in the cramped aravel, as so many different faces turned to watch him. Tobias clenched his jaw. This was definitely going to go down in the diary as one of his more memorable days—and for every single wrong reason known to man.
How in the name of Andraste’s arse cheeks do I get myself into these things? I don’t remember pissing on the statue of any particular god. Never stole from a collection plate, or kicked a beggar… I’m not a bad person. Am I?
Beside him, Anders shifted uneasily, the pauldrons of his coat damp and spiky, like ruffled hackles.
“I’ve heard of rituals like this. They require at least three mages, and a great deal of lyrium—” He glanced sidelong at Tobias, his discomfort evident. “—or some other source of power.”
Marethari’s expression tightened. “There will be no blood sacrifice, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“I meant no disrespect,” Anders said defensively, though Tobias saw the way his gaze shifted to Merrill for the briefest of moments. “I apologise, Keeper.”
Marethari inclined her head and let out a long breath, returning her attention to Tobias. “I believe I can perform the ritual, if you will consent to it. But it must be tonight. Feynriel has little time left.”
The atmosphere was getting worse. That breath of magic crawled over his skin now, lodged itself in his mouth and nose… a dark and shapeless sense of thick, crowded time, full of unseen things and horrible possibilities. Tobias suppressed both a shudder and a lurch of doubt. This felt like a bad idea, and yet he couldn’t refuse. Not after the way he’d been brought here, and not with Arianni looking at him like she was all of a sudden, standing by her son’s bedside with her thin hands worrying at each other, her face bleached of colour.
“Please, messere?” she prompted, the candlelight picking at her swollen, red-rimmed eyes. “Will you think on submitting to the keeper’s magic, if it means saving my son’s life?”
Oh, sod it….
Tobias sighed brusquely. “Yes. Yes, I… I’ve had dealings with the Fade before. I’m certainly willing to try.”
Her face crumpled into a look of heartfelt relief, and she came towards him jerkily, her hands extended. “Thank you! Thank you, truly. You have been so kind to us, serah…. Kinder than we had any right to expect.”
Tobias winced uneasily as Arianni took hold of his hand, clutching it between her hard, dry palms, and began to weep anew.
Marethari cleared her throat and looked meaningfully at Merrill. “Arianni, why don’t you go and warm yourself by the fire? This has been such a long and difficult day for you.”
“Oh. Oh, of course, yes….” The woman blinked, looking flustered until Merrill took her gently by the shoulder and led her out of the aravel, muttering encouraging things about nice hot bowls of soup.
As she passed Tobias, Merrill glanced up at him, and her eyes grew deep and wide. “Thank you,” she mouthed.
The weight of all those assembled gazes sat heavily on him, and Tobias disliked the feeling. He shrugged, turning back to the keeper as the women left.
“Yeah, well… not often you get to ‘submit’ and still come out the hero, is it? Ow,” he added, barely aware of Anders having kicked him until he glanced down and saw the healer’s dusty boot snaking back across the floorboards.
If Marethari had noticed, she didn’t say anything. She’d moved to the wooden screen, and was rummaging behind it, bringing out a large bronze disc, two beaten bronze bowls, and a large leather pouch.
“We will need to begin at once. I cannot stress how much your help means, but we cannot delay.” She glanced across the aravel, eyeing Aveline and the others with as much uncertainty as Tobias had ever seen on her. “Perhaps your companions would prefer to—”
Varric held up a hand, and Tobias realised how quiet the dwarf had been up until then. It wasn’t like him at all… and he couldn’t recall ever seeing Varric Tethras stunned into silence before.
“So, you’re sending Hawke into the Fade, to drag this kid out of a nightmare?” Varric curled his lip. “I’m no expert, but there are demons and whatnot there, right?”
Marethari nodded. “It is dangerous, yes.”
Tobias glanced over his shoulder, readying a look of cheerful assurance. “I’m a big boy, Varric. I’ll manage.”
He didn’t look appeased. In truth, Tobias was hardly crazy about the idea, either, but there wasn’t much alternative.
“This ritual,” Anders said, addressing the keeper as she began dragging the iron-bound trunk across the floor, the bowls and the bronze disc balanced on top of it. “Can you send more than one person? If… if you were going to—”
Marethari straightened up and surveyed them critically. She gave Tobias a thoughtful look, and then the smallest hint of a smile curved her lips.
“They are indeed loyal friends, aren’t they, serah? Yes,” she added, nodding at Anders. “It is an old and powerful magic. It does not act on a person, but on a place. What I shall do here will make this space a gateway. For a limited time, it will draw aside the mist, and allow passage into the Beyond.”
“You’re talking about tearing the Veil,” Tobias said, aware of how slow and stupid he sounded, and yet shocked all the same. “On actual purpose?”
The keeper nodded, her hands busy setting the bowls—and a number of other, smaller implements she’d drawn out—into what appeared to be a complex arrangement on the top of the trunk.
“Well, I have to admit,” Varric said, cutting through the gravid silence with forced jovialness, “I’m a little fascinated.”
Marethari smiled. “Ah. I don’t think one of the durgen’len would take well to such a journey. Abelas.”
“No? Ah, nuts.”
Tobias snorted, despite himself. Typical Varric… drawn by the promise of bloodshed and otherworldly horrors. He turned, and looked at Fenris and Aveline.
“Listen, I don’t expect anyone to do this, but—”
If you want to, don’t let me stop you… please?
The words hung unspoken on the air. Fenris narrowed his eyes.
“I have no wish to enter the Fade, although….” He winced, and looked uncertainly at Marethari. “If the power of lyrium is required, I may be able to assist.”
She looked confused until he pulled off one gauntlet and flexed his hand for her, his face growing tight as the brands that criss-crossed his flesh flared blue. Tobias stared. That was definitely unexpected.
Marethari murmured incredulously under her breath, reaching out to touch Fenris’ arm, though her fingers stopped halfway. She gave him a solemn look, and nodded, a surprisingly humble gratitude on her face.
“Fenris—” Tobias began, because he felt he ought to say something. He knew using the abilities Danarius had forced upon was uncomfortable for the elf, if not outright painful… perhaps Feynriel’s plight had hit more of a nerve than he’d let on.
Fenris shook his head irritably, refusing to comment. The curtain across the doorway swished as Merrill reappeared, looking enquiringly at the ranks of stern, serious faces.
“Is it going to begin?” she asked, eyes widening as her gaze moved to Marethari. She gave Tobias a small, awkward smile. “I’m coming with you, of course. Keep you safe,” she said encouragingly… which Tobias somehow didn’t find all that heartening.
“And you have my blade,” Aveline put in, drawing herself up as far as she could without hitting her head on the aravel’s beamed ceiling—presumably in an attempt to disguise her nervousness. “If you need it.”
Tobias nodded hazily. None of this somehow felt quite real. It was as if everything was a part of the mildly scratchy, fuzzy feeling at the back of his mind.
“Appreciate it,” he said quietly. “Thanks.”
Anders stood, alone, in the middle of the floor, looking worried and conflicted, the fingers of his left hand worrying at his right wrist.
Tobias shot him a questioning look. Of course, he’d want to come too, wouldn’t he? Leaping to my defence. Any minute now. Probably.
“Anders?” he prompted, feeling suddenly a little lost.
The healer swallowed heavily. “I… I don’t really want to,” he murmured, looking taut and panic-stricken. “I mean, I’ve tried to avoid the Fade since Justice. I worry what it could bring out in me.”
Well, those sounded like ominous words. Tobias pressed his lips together, his memory prodding him with insidious recollections of the night at the chantry, when he’d seen Justice in action for the first time. He tried not to let himself think too deeply on it.
“It’s all right. I understand. Why don’t you—”
“But this won’t be easy,” Anders blurted, giving him a solemn frown. “You will need help, and I don’t know if….”
He trailed off meaningfully, his brief glance in Merrill’s direction not half as subtle as he apparently thought it was.
Oh, yes. Great time for the mage rivalry. Perfect.
Tobias crossed his arms. “Fine. If you think you can keep Justice in check, I’d value your help.”
Anders nodded mournfully.
Merrill, apparently oblivious to his suspicion, went to help Marethari with the preparations. There were a lot of herbs involved, Tobias noticed. Jugs of water were fetched, and poured into the bronze bowls, together with small pieces of resin and a few scatterings of something that looked like bark. Those who would be entering the Fade were encouraged to sit on the floor, in a rough circle beside the bed on which Feynriel lay, and a line of chalk and salt was inscribed around them. The bronze disc was placed in the middle of the floor, and Marethari set a mage-fire to burn upon it, conjuring a brilliant blue flame from thin air and feeding it small discs of charcoal until it grew fat and smoky. Merrill knelt beside her, watching intently as each bowl was held over the flame in turn, until the water began to heat and the smell of the herbs began to rise.
Anders sniffed, and peered with interest into the bowl. “That’s Black Sampson, isn’t it?”
Marethari nodded cautiously, obviously not keen on sharing any details with a human.
“It is,” she said curtly. “There are many parts to the ritual. The herbs are but one.”
“I met a Dalish mage in Amaranthine,” Anders said thoughtfully, as she made another pass with the bowl over the flame. “I kept asking her to tell me more about her people’s magic, but she never did. S’pose I shouldn’t have made those remarks about her tattoos,” he added, apparently half to himself. “Is that splintweed?”
Marethari arched an eyebrow as she crumbled a pinch of dried leaves into the bowl. “Yes. But now we must have silence.”
Anders shut his mouth and sat back on his heels, looking oddly like a chastened schoolboy, Tobias thought, stifling a smile as he glanced at the healer. He was clearly intrigued, though—even more so than Varric, who sat hunched up in the far corner, Bianca propped against his knee as if he expected to be shooting at demons before the night was out.
Marethari said nothing, instead fixing Tobias with a solemn stare as she set the second bowl down again, the smell of resin and herbs rising thickly with the curls of white steam and blue-tinged smoke.
“Before it begins, you must know this: dreamers like Feynriel have great power in the Beyond. They attract powerful demons, though most prove too frail of mind to survive a complete possession. A dreamer-abomination would be near unstoppable… and you understand what this means?”
Tobias nodded stiffly. It had been obvious from the start, and even more so when the boy’s mother had been sent so unceremoniously from the aravel.
“I… won’t let him become a danger,” he said carefully.
Marethari nodded, apparently satisfied. “I wish you luck. Now, if you and your friends are ready…? Remember, trust nothing but your own selves. You will all face temptation.”
Tobias glanced across the circle at the three uncertain figures. Aveline had shed her breastplaste, sword, and shield, and looked as if she felt naked without them, while Merrill seemed pale and frightened, and Anders had that inward sort of expression that seemed to mean he was either thinking, or trying to ignore Justice.
“We’re ready,” Tobias said, wishing he actually believed it.
Marethari began to murmur a stream of quiet words. Merrill tossed a handful of charcoal and herbs onto the flames, and Tobias felt the world starting to grow hazier.
The smell of whatever they were boiling in those bowls itched in his nose, at once bitter and sharp and acrid, and yet with a sweetness to it. He wanted to cough, but he also wanted to listen to the keeper’s lilting Elvish chant, because it was so smooth and lyrical, like the movement of rounded pebbles in the bottom of a crystal stream. Like a song, he realised, but a song without music or melody. A dirge murmured to the elven god of the dead, the one who walked the Beyond and guided spirits to their rest. It was… oddly beautiful, Tobias thought, and he was very dimly aware of Fenris standing in the candlelit gloom, holding a bottle of bright blue liquid, with his hands just beginning to glow.
It enveloped him, then; the kiss of the Fade, like falling asleep and waking to something perfect. It was cool cotton and warm spring air, and the silent breath of a moment’s bliss, and it sang to the power beneath his skin.
Tobias inhaled sharply, hardly aware of closing his eyes, and yet he must have done, for as he opened them again, the world receded. The aravel was gone. Marethari was gone. The smell of herbs and burning charcoal was gone, and he was standing in a great, dusty bowl, like an amphitheatre of some kind. Everything had a shrouded, fuzzy feel to it, like the grainy quality of a dream, and as Tobias turned, surveying this strange place, a stale wind tousled the dust at his feet.
“I’ve never done this before. Is this normal?”
He turned again, spinning almost in a full circle at the sound of the familiar voice. Aveline—fully armoured, her sword and shield on her back—stood close by, squinting uncertainly at their surroundings.
Tobias grinned. “About as normal as it gets. Don’t look at the sky. You’ll get a headache.”
She did, of course, and winced almost immediately. Nothing in the Fade was quite as it ought to be. Most things were poor facsimiles of the mortal world, and details such as the horizon were very badly copied, in this case leaving an undulating line that seemed to pull and suck at a person’s eyes, never changing and yet always shifting around them.
“Ugh!” Aveline recoiled. “It’s not like this when I dream!”
“That’s because this isn’t a dream,” Merrill said, materialising beside her, as if she’d just come skipping through a door. “This is where dreams come from. Are we all here?”
Tobias frowned, and turned once more, relief filling him at the sight of a slightly blurred shape with feathered shoulders.
“Ah. There he— oh.”
The figure that faded into being before him was… well… it was Anders, but not Anders. His movements were far more direct and rigid than usual and, when he raised his head, the face that Tobias saw had been made frighteningly foreign by its blankness. There was no Anders there; no pale look of worry or reticence, no spark of a smile or fleeting moment of wit. The shroud-like wisps of the Fade’s air clung to him like wet sand, and veins of blue light crazed his skin.
“A-Are you all right?” Tobias managed, trying to pretend it didn’t scare him.
The eyes that swivelled to meet his were not human eyes. They were pupilless, opaque shells of electric blue, dancing with fire.
“Hmm.” The voice wasn’t Anders’ voice, either. Oh, it was using his mouth, but there was something else there… some dark, rolling boom that felt distinctly unfamiliar. His head tilted to the side, and he appeared to be surveying the world around him. “I had not thought to return in such a way. Still, it is good to feel the breath of the Fade again, not the empty air of your world.”
“Huh.” Tobias cleared his throat. “So, er, Justice, I presume?”
The spirit nodded, easily closing the few steps that lay between them. Tobias couldn’t stop himself from staring at those veins of light, like cracks in a sculpture, or loose threads holding an old coat together.
Anything but looking at the eyes….
“I am Justice,” it announced. “Anders has told you of me.”
Tobias swallowed, his tongue feeling thick and heavy. “He… certainly has,” he said carefully.
The power rolling off the spirit made his skin—or the memory, or the dream of his skin, whatever this was—feel like it was crawling with ants. He wondered how in the Maker’s name Anders stood it all the time… if it was even like this for him.
I don’t want to know what it’s like, having that inside your mind. I don’t even want to think about it….
Justice tilted Anders’ head to the other side, in a curiously bird-like motion, and seemed to be regarding Tobias thoughtfully.
“You are Hawke,” he stated.
Tobias nodded uncertainly, unsure why this should be a point of such apparent interest. “Yes.”
Justice appeared to consider this for a moment, then turned and nodded to Merrill and Aveline.
“Come. I feel Feynriel’s mind straining. We will not have much time.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Merrill called, bobbing a clumsy little curtsey as, without further comment, Justice strode off into the Fade, wearing the pretence of Anders’ body like a coat.
Tobias shuddered, and followed obediently.
It would have been all too easy to get lost in the Fade, turned around by the ever-shifting landscape… a place of sand and doors, where there were no real directions, no real movements of time or space. Tobias had heard it said that the Black City stood at the centre of the Fade—its corrupted, withered heart, tainted by the sin of mankind—and that, wherever you looked, you would always see it. Wherever you went, the Fade rearranged itself around that central point, a lynchpin of chaos and darkness that stood as a permanent reminder of human frailty.
He wasn’t sure he believed it. Certainly, no twisted spires stuck up against the strange, clouded horizon, and no ghosts of old sins seemed to make themselves visible in the featureless, blurred landscape. The blank sands shifted, though. As they followed Anders—Justice, he corrected himself—the world around them began to change, and the shiver of power against Tobias’ mind, like the smell of salt on a sea breeze, told him the Fade was not responding to his presence. It felt odd, that; a sensation of being a visitor instead of a participant in a world where, so often, he’d walked as a dreamer, and felt its forms shift and pull around him.
Tobias glanced nervously at Merrill. “Can you feel that?”
She gave him a sober nod. “Mm. So quiet. It’s like nothing here even notices anyone else. They’re all focused on Feynriel.”
He grimaced. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.
Aveline squinted, discomfited, at the landscape around them. Sand was turning to stone with every step, walls growing out of the ground and rising up around them like the soft creep of encroaching moss… every moment that wasn’t a moment, but a blink in fathomless time, building one more piece of a dream that belonged to another soul. Doors that seemed to hover just beyond the edge of sight shimmered before vanishing while, underfoot, flagstones had begun to bloom like flowers.
“I feel like I’m being swallowed,” she murmured, stepping slightly closer, so that she was walking in between the two mages. “Swallowed by someone else’s mind.”
Tobias shrugged, eyeing the buildings that were taking shape around them. Up ahead, Justice had stopped and appeared to be staring at something. Exactly what was anyone’s guess.
“You’re not far wrong,” he said darkly. “This is Feynriel’s doing all right. The Fade isn’t usually so… orderly.”
Aveline looked down at her feet, her sturdy guardsman’s boots now resting against sharply delineated flags, complete with cracks and the occasional crop of weeds. She frowned and shifted her weight experimentally.
“It’s like Hightown,” she said, sounding distinctly nonplussed. “I’ve done that patrol a hundred times. It’s… it’s the route from Viscount’s Way to The Gallows.”
“Stands to reason, I suppose,” Tobias said grudgingly, as a horribly recognisable shape began to take form ahead of where Justice was standing, gushing forth from the ether like a silent cloud and piercing the not-quite-sky with its ugly silhouette. “Feynriel was afraid of being turned over to the Circle. We’re… we’re all afraid of it,” he admitted, the words slipping from him with quiet unease.
As they drew up to where Justice stood, the shifting finally ceased, the dream enveloped them completely, and they were standing in the courtyard of The Gallows. It was empty, devoid of the usual clutches of templars, and the massed ranks of Tranquil selling their wares, but the details were quite complete. Every frieze, every architrave and pilaster… every barred window and iron gate, and every dark bronze statue of slaves huddled in despair.
“How cheery,” Tobias said, glancing around them. “Isn’t it? Isn’t this nice?”
Justice turned towards the heavy gates that marked the entrance into the compound itself… somewhere Tobias had never been, and had not even the slightest inclination to go.
“Our presence has been observed,” he remarked, as the dream seemed to flicker, and a shapeless shadow formed behind one of the great columns of The Gallows’ walkways.
Tobias knew what it was before it began to coast towards them, gradually assuming the ragged form of a shade. Why demons didn’t make the effort to appear at least a little bit more aesthetically pleasing, he never knew. This one was a particularly nasty specimen; like a bipedal cockroach wrapped in rags and hanks of old meat, its shiny carapace swaddled in cloth-like folds, and its arms like sharpened twigs, held in front of it the way a bird tucks in its wings.
There was no face to speak of, nor legs. They never seemed to bother to do legs. The light of unnatural eyes—rather like the pits of fire currently burning in Anders’ face—glimmered from within the shadowed recesses of the cowl effect but, when it spoke, the creature’s voice oiled its way right into Tobias’ mind without the effort of any actual mechanics of speech.
“Well, well… it’s rare to see two forgotten magics in one day. The Fade is usually such a slow place. Not many surprises,”it said dolorously, the hint of a languorous yawn behind its words. “Yet this one potential.”
“A demon of sloth,” Justice observed, distaste dripping from the words. “It exists to make men forget their purpose and their pride. Do not relax around it!”
The demon waved its twig-like fingers in lazy dismissal. “Call me Torpor. I trust you’re here for the mage, Feynriel, yes?”
Tobias said nothing, concentrating on ignoring the sense of heaviness that tugged at his limbs. He didn’t want to fight the thing; outright challenge would only risk them being noticed by more demons, and he would much rather not have had this expedition turn into an all-out war.
“Why would you want to know what we’re here for?” Merrill blurted, and Tobias winced at her inability to just shut up and stand quietly. “It might not be that, anyway.”
Yes, that’s us. Just out for a nice stroll in the Fade….
Torpor appeared to ignore her, though the pretence was shallow. The demon was working on them all, Tobias knew. He’d encountered more potent examples of its kind, however, and the fuzzy-headed sense of tiredness that tugged so insistently at him began to lift as he refused to succumb to it. The demon pulled back, trying another tack, its demeanour now wheedling and seductive.
“I merely wish to help,” it oozed. “The dreamer’s presence is disrupting our world. Two of the most powerful demons in this realm are vying for control of him. You will need help to defeat them.”
Tobias bared his teeth. “Thanks, but I came equipped.”
Torpor’s low, rumbling chuckle—a sound drawn deep from its ferreting in his mind, Tobias suspected, which was not comforting—sounded very like his father’s.
“You cannot trust them, these mortals you bring with you. And it is such a burden, isn’t it? Just relax, and listen to the proposal I would make. All I want is to secure my position against my own kind. I am no warrior, no fighter… would that I were, I might restore some balance here.”
“Do not listen to it,” Justice snapped. “Creatures such as this prey on your trust. It lies!”
Really? You think so?
Tobias sighed irritably. “We’re not here to make deals. We’re just here for Feynriel. And we won’t be bringing him to you, so don’t bother asking.”
The demon wavered a little, seeming momentarily uncertain, and then annoyed.
“You would heed this tiresome little spirit?” it demanded, indicating Justice with a furl of its fingers. “I ask only what it has already taken: a willing merger with a human host.”
Justice positively quivered with indignation. The light spilling through the Fade-held version of Anders’ flesh grew brighter, his face contorted into an expression of outrage that looked unnatural on him. Tobias swallowed heavily, wishing he’d never allowed the healer to make this trip. Would he still be Anders when they got back?
“This is a creature of complacency!” Justice howled, glaring furiously at the demon and then, just as suddenly, turning his anger on Tobias. “Of injustice! My kind and this have been opposed since the beginning of time. I will not let you treat with it!”
Tobias blinked. All right, so he’d never been entirely comfortable with knowing about Justice, but he’d never actually been frightened of the spirit before… never believed that it might really tear his head off because it disagreed with him. Yet, those terrible, inhuman eyes blazed, and it was so hard to separate the rage in that face that was not quite Anders’ from the memory of seeing templars virtually torn in half with the full force of his power… and that roiled on Tobias’ tongue: a metallic, bitter taste, crackling with the spark of potency.
Torpor tasted it too, he imagined, and the demon seemed to jostle impatiently, like a hungry dog, though it gave the impression of being lackadaisically unfazed.
“One wonders,” it said dryly, as Justice continued to scowl at Tobias, “what manner of human wanted to merge with a prig like that?”
Yes. Doesn’t one.
Tobias didn’t take his eyes from the raging, twisted visage he’d rather thought he knew quite well.
“I have no intention of it,” he told Justice quietly. “Do you want to do the honours?”
The spirit looked confused; an expression Tobias wasn’t used to seeing on Anders’ face. He sighed.
He concentrated, biting down hard on his lip until the feel of his power coalesced, magic crawling and sparking in his flesh. The crackle of energy began to swell around his fingers, brighter and purer than it ever was in the waking world and, as Tobias raised his hand, he felt the ripples of the action spread. Everywhere, in every corner of the courtyard, every whisper of the dream that saturated it, more demons were waking. They tasted it, smelled it… felt it, and they came spilling from the cracks in the unreal stones as he released the first bolt of energy, a violent wave of force that sunk itself into Torpor’s ragged frame. The demon squealed, recoiling and almost seeming to shrink as the magic splintered around it. He’d been right, Tobias realised: not a powerful creature at all, though that didn’t stop the demon fighting back.
He ducked, feinting and then diving left as it leapt on him. More magic burst through the Fade’s thickened air; Justice and Merrill, both striking out against the demons that now seemed to be everywhere, flowing towards them like a river of darkness, drawn by the promise of power. They were small things, and mainly insubstantial—little more than sprites or wisps, in some cases—but even the tiniest creatures were annoying, like a horde of mosquitoes whining and biting.
The fight was messy, chaotic… drawn out into a protracted, awkward struggle that felt as if it would never be over until they’d cut down every creature in the Fade. Aveline was at their centre, a whirling force of steel and shield striking and pummelling. Amazing, Tobias thought, what the simple force of will could achieve. She believed hitting them with a sword would work and, here, the sword was an extension of her, a part of the way she saw herself, and so it did work. He supposed it was probably best not to frame it to her in exactly those words, in case she started thinking about it too deeply.
Finally, it was over. The dream of The Gallows was as solid as ever, which meant Feynriel—and all those big, unpleasant demons that were so terribly interested in him—had either not noticed their presence yet, or just didn’t care. Panting lightly, Tobias ran a hand over his hair. There should have been blood all over the place, but there wasn’t. The shades didn’t even have the decency to leave corpses where they fell, and he hated that. It left him feeling unnerved, as if the whole thing was incomplete.
He glanced at the others. Merrill looked strangely focused—far more solemn than she did most of the time, as if she’d aged twenty years in ten minutes—and Aveline was as pale and unsettled as Tobias expected her to be as she sheathed her sword. She peered at the dull shine on the blade as it slid home, her brow wrinkled, as if she too would have preferred the honesty of blood.
Anders… Justice… was completely composed, which was a stark and frankly unpleasant contrast to the ferocity they’d just witnessed from the spirit. There was a joy he seemed to have in ending the demons that Tobias disliked intensely; it wasn’t even the roar of victory, the bloody mist of battle… it was like balm being poured into a hollow wound, as if every death fed some kind of internal score.
He found himself glaring at Justice, squaring up to the spirit wearing the borrowed body it should have had no damn right to, and snapping irritably.
“That would have a bloody sight easier if you could have shut up and let me handle it!”
The electric blue of his eyes dimmed slightly and, for a moment, Tobias almost thought they might turn dark, but there was no trace of Anders in the spirit’s perplexed, stilted response.
“It would have demanded the dreamer’s soul in payment,” Justice said, in that rolling, deep tone that had a slight unnatural echo hanging from it. “You acted well to end it, and I fought beside you.”
“Fine, but if we’d just lied to it, we wouldn’t have had to fight any of them at all!” Tobias growled, raising his voice further than he meant to. “Maker only knows how many more of the bastards smelled that dance. We’d better get a sodding move on before we’re knee-deep in every poxy demon in the fucking Fade, hadn’t we?”
Justice actually took a step backwards. Inasmuch as what he did with Anders’ face was recognisable as human, the spirit seemed bewildered but, when he spoke, a tremor of resentment moved beneath the words.
“I… could not let you parley with such a creature. It is wrong. And you would have… lied?”
He tilted Anders’ head to the side, still frowning in confusion, and Tobias suppressed the urge to shout, swear, and kick things. For a start, most of the blocks of stone in the immediate environment might not be real, but he’d certainly feel it if he smashed his foot into one.
“Yes! Lying is good! Lying makes life a lot easier! You, of all people, should bloody well know that,” he spat, even though he knew he wasn’t even talking to Anders.
You probably can’t even hear me, can you? You’ll never know about any of this. Just wake up with a sore head and wonder what we got up to. I hate you sometimes.
“Hawke,” Merrill said gently, placing her hand on his back.
Tobias stiffened. Whatever was real, or not real, or any combination of the above, he could feel her touch through the leather of his jerkin, and he nodded crisply.
“Right. Yes. Feynriel. Let’s go.”
They moved on in silence.
Of course, there was logic to the dream… at least of a kind. Feynriel’s mind had created the form of The Gallows, and so the things ensnaring him must have lain within it, or so Justice said.
Tobias nurtured a few misgivings about following the spirit but, as they edged ever deeper into the boy’s envisioning of the place—full of side passages, imposing doorways, and forbidding, heavily barred windows—he supposed he was grateful for Justice’s presence.
They came up against few other demons of significance. Oh, the things were distinctly there, snuffling about as a constant pressure on the fringes of his mind, but they were rats at a banquet… the ones that were too weak or cowardly to engage in the tussle Feynriel was caught at the centre of. Only a couple of them attacked; blind spirits of rage and hunger that only knew that they’d sensed life, and were infuriated by it. They were dispatched quickly, and everyone kept moving.
Tobias had never been deep inside The Gallows, and he had no idea how accurate Feynriel’s rendition was. Justice seemed to know the way, and he wondered just how many times Anders and the other members of the Underground had sortied into the fortress. He knew they had, even if the healer never spoke of it, and Tobias found—perhaps because of Justice’s presence, and the roiling, constant annoyance weltering in his own chest—he resented that fact more with every passing second.
Bloody Anders. Bloody mages. Bloody Kirkwall. Bloody… everything. Fuck it.
Perhaps Justice was simply following the scent of demons. That seemed equally possible, especially given the fact that, the deeper into the dream they drew, the more distinctive the pressure against Tobias’ mind became. He felt them, yet wasn’t sure if they felt him. Perhaps they were preoccupied, or perhaps he was beneath their notice.
One can hope, I suppose.
Either way, he didn’t look forward to finding out what was at the end of that oppressive sensation of dark, sinister hunger.
“This way,” Justice stated, gesturing towards a large door that stretched the entire height of the opposite wall, opening like a wound from the corridor’s blank stone wall. “A creature of great iniquity lies within.”
Great iniquity? You can’t just say ‘sodding big demon’, then?
“Oo-oo-ooh,” Tobias quavered, unable to resist, as his fingers curled around the cool iron ring of the handle.
He glanced over his shoulder, momentarily amused by the look of disapproval Aveline and Justice were sharing—probably the only time he’d ever seen Anders’ face have anything in common with the guard-captain’s—but the levity didn’t last.
Something felt wrong. Light enveloped him, and the world seemed to turn soft at the edges, and as Tobias spun, reaching for the door he’d barely stepped through, it was no longer there. Nothing, in fact, was where it had been—and he was entirely alone. He swore, and scrabbled at the stones that were no longer the stones of The Gallows, but the mellow bricks of a dappled courtyard.
Marethari was there, standing beneath a tree in full, sharp green leaf. At first, Tobias thought something had gone wrong enough for her to have followed them into the Fade, and visions flashed behind his eyes of demons pouring out into the aravel, swarming the Dalish camp and leaving none alive.
The keeper, however, was not herself. She had her arms raised, her voice ringing out clearly as she made some speech or other. Snatched words about ‘pride of our people’ and ‘blood of the Dales’ caught Tobias’ ears, even as the fibres of the Fade twisted and nudged at him, and he found himself enveloped in their weft. He was part of Feynriel’s dream, part of the fancies the demon was feeding the boy.
Something else felt different, too. Tobias looked down at himself in dismay. Dark robes hung from his frame, and he touched… hands that were not his to them, puzzled at the heavy folds of fabric where there should been nice, tough, dependable leather. A wide sash encircled his waist, and he fingered the insignia, grimacing as he realised what it meant.
Oh, fuck. I’m the sodding First Enchanter?
It seemed that a part of Feynriel’s mind—that not given over completely to the dream—was fighting back, casting the only anomalous thing here into the role of opposition, waiting for him to argue back against the demons.
Well, chin up. Only time you’re ever going to find yourself in a dress, so you may as well make the most of it!
Tobias frowned. Other shadowy figures peopled the courtyard: other elves, and Dalish, so perhaps Clan Sabrae? Some of the wispy profiles he wandered amongst seemed familiar enough, but he was hardly on first-name terms with most of them.
Tobias stopped pondering when he saw Feynriel. The boy was standing beside Marethari, and the power practically hummed off him, turning the air to a steady thrum. He stood still, his eyes glassy, his face a blank mask of acceptance, and he seemed to be listening to everything the keeper was saying, nodding his head from time to time in agreement.
“Though his features may mark him as human,” the Marethari-creature continued, clapping its hand to Feynriel’s shoulder, “this boy is of our blood. He came to us to learn his heritage… to release to us a power as ancient in lineage as our race….”
Uh-oh. This doesn’t sound good.
Tobias edged through the crowd. Most didn’t seem to notice him, but the few faces that turned his way soon lost their semblance of elveness. They were demons—weak, snivelling little thralls of things, bowing and scraping before the two here that had real power—and they retreated at the sight of him, hissing and glaring with their blank, dead eyes.
He bared his teeth at the nearest one, which seemed to be considering putting up a fight, and allowed a thin crackle of magic to coalesce around his hand. The creature snarled, but pulled back and slunk away, leaving him to face Feynriel, and the demon with its claws sunk into his shoulder.
It glared at him, oily flames leaping in eyes that were so unlike Marethari’s it was a wonder Feynriel could ever have been fooled.
Amazing what people are prepared to believe.
Ugh. I wouldn’t sound good as an elf. Or look good. And are robes really this draughty?
The boy blinked and looked uncertainly at Tobias.
“First Enchanter? What are you doing here?”
“Yes,” the demon in Marethari’s skin grated, tightening its hold on Feynriel’s shoulder. “What, indeed? Would you take this young man to the Circle, traitor? Shut him away from life, rather than let his talent burn free?”
A soft sigh seemed to run through the heavy air, like the shifting ripple of silk.
Ah, so that’s what you want….
The dreamer’s power, unchained, uncontrolled; blazing like a flame that would light up the Fade, and raze the mortal realm to ashes. The feeling of hunger, of teeth whetted on the furious hope of an idea, tore at Tobias’ mind.
He held firm, held out his hand, and hoped fervently that he was about to say the right thing.
“Is this what you want, Feynriel? To turn to the old magic the Dalish forgot?”
The boy’s brow crinkled, his eyes clouding for a moment. “I… I know you,” he murmured, beginning to move away from the demon, until it dug those thin fingers deeper into his shoulder, dragging him roughly back towards it. “You’re—”
“The Circle wants you to submit, child!” the demon growled. “They would chain you, bind you, burn the soul out of you. Are you not better than that? You are our scion, our hope… you are bringing Dalish magic back to the world!”
It glared at Tobias as it spoke, Marethari’s mouth moving out of time with the words, and those black, featureless eyes blistered with dark fire. Tobias bit the inside of his lip.
Happy thoughts, maybe?
He could feel it now. A powerful, violent presence—hard and glassy, like polished stone—pressing in on him; probing the boundaries of this insolent interloper. It took a great deal of his power to resist, and he succeeded in holding it off simply because it was so focused on Feynriel, and on defending its prize from the others of its kind. A demon of pride, he decided, trying to needle the boy’s insecurities and secret hopes.
“With you at our head,” the demon purred, lowering its mouth to Feynriel’s ear, “we will take back our land, our dignity… our immortality. You will be the saviour of your people, boy. Don’t you want that?”
It bared its teeth at Tobias in a self-satisfied challenge, daring him to try and tempt its toy.
Huh. There are two ways this could go. One is definitely not pretty….
“This one would stop you,” it whispered. “The Circle comes to take you. See?”
Feynriel shook his head slowly. “No… no, Serah Hawke saved me from the Circle. They don’t know about me. They’d never…. Why would they send the First Enchanter here?”
Hah. Screwed this one up, didn’t you, Ugly?
Tobias shrugged. “The Circle doesn’t want to stop you, Feynriel. All the mages should work together. Bring freedom for everyone, elf or human… or both, like you. Don’t you think? A brave new world.”
The boy started to brighten at that. “Can… can I do that?”
“I’m sure you can.” Tobias nodded enthusiastically. “Just ask Keeper Marethari how you should use your magic.”
The demon pulled its lips back in a hideous grin of triumph, at almost the same moment as Feynriel’s look of wonder began to fade. He shook his head, seeming troubled and confused, as if trying to recall something important through a mist of murmured lies.
“She…. You said these things—the things I can do—they’d been lost for generations,” he said slowly, turning to face the demon. “You said we would need to control them. That I—”
“You will!” the demon protested, the shell of Marethari’s form flickering slightly as it tried to maintain its grip on the boy. “You are our hope, Feynriel. You—”
“You said it was too dangerous,” he murmured, and then glanced at Tobias. “Why is she telling me to do the things she said would hurt people? Why?”
“Don’t listen to him!” the demon snarled, grabbing at the boy as he twisted away. “The Circle will bind you, trap you, take you away….”
The claws of a dozen demons began to scrabble at the fringes of his borrowed body, but Tobias held his ground. Feynriel was in front of him now, his pale eyes wide and full of fear, the glassy indulgences of pride and selfish hopefulness slipping away like rags.
“What’s happening to me? Tell me!” he pleaded, reaching for the heavy folds of Tobias’ robes.
Tobias moved to catch him by the shoulders, but the boy was insubstantial, like a reflection or a spirit himself.
Not all of him, then. Just one piece of the dream. Bollocks.
“This isn’t real,” he told Feynriel, with as much gravity as he could muster. “Do you understand? You need to wake up.”
The boy shook his head frantically, looking around the courtyard with wide, panicky eyes. The shadowy figures of other elves were moving, their forms changing as they shifted; no longer clanmates and friends, but attenuated, prowling demons, their bodies collations of shadows and hunger as they caught the scent of power fragmenting.
“Wake up, Feynriel,” Tobias repeated, feeling the fibres of the Fade shifting around his own body, taking away the fiction of Orsino’s robes, and finally starting to give him back his own form, and his own voice. “Wake up.”
Feynriel’s eyes widened even further, his mouth slackening in alarm, but it was too late. Everything seemed to change again, in that swirl of light and the plunging, nauseating fall of the world blinking.
And then, the boy was gone, and Tobias was back in the dream of The Gallows. The others were there, and he turned to reassure them—though he had no idea whether they’d even noticed he was gone, because who knew how time moved in the Fade—but they weren’t looking at him. Justice, Merrill, and Aveline were all staring past him, and all but the spirit had an expression of horrified shock.
The sensation of vile, concentrated power burned up Tobias’ spine, and he winced at the feel of the demon reaching out, tasting his mind.
I’m going to regret turning around, aren’t I?
The pride demon had every reason to pretend it looked like someone else. Anything else, really. It was massive, like some monolithic, scaly ogre, all spikes and club-like limbs, but with a dozen eyes set into its pointed head, as black and shiny as beetles.
“Yuck,” Merrill murmured.
Justice blazed with predictable anger, apparently infuriated by the mere fact of the demon’s presence.
“Destroy this creature!” he demanded.
Aveline just looked pale and nauseous, and Tobias sympathised. He rubbed his forehead wearily, tired and sore from being caught at the centre of so many different flavours of magic. The Fade itself, the demons, Justice’s incessant burning ire… everything hurt, and everything took so much effort, and all he wanted was just to lie down and—
No. Because that’s demons again, isn’t it? Maker, I’ll be glad to get home….
“You took my dreamer from me,” the demon rumbled, in an altogether darker and more unpleasant tone than it used to simulate Marethari; a sound like the buzzing of flies and the creaking of rotten timber. “You will pay!”
“Wouldn’t expect anything less,” Tobias said dryly, dropping into a defensive half-crouch.
The thing looked far too much like an ogre for his liking. Memories that had been behaving themselves better than they had for years started to surface, and their bitter taste made him itch to see some blood spilled… though preferably not his own.
The demon chuckled raspily. “You think it that easy, mortal? You have the arrogance to assume you can merely fight me? You assume you have allies?”
Tobias frowned. It… did seem harder to move than it ought. And no one else was exactly rushing to his aid.
“And what would it take to turn you, hmm?”
It spoke, but the voice grew low and soft, and the words seeped into Tobias’ mind without passing through his ears. He closed his eyes, fighting it, but that was a mistake, because you are Serah Hawke, are you not? The problem fixer, the man the low- and high-born alike come to when they want their dirty little troubles mended. You always knew you were too big for Lothering, too big for Ferelden. No… no piss-poor little barbarian mudhole for you, messere. They all need you, don’t they? Need your wit, your expertise. Your skill. You’re clever, aren’t you? Quick and ruthless, and I can make sure you get everything you deserve.
Why wait? Why content yourself with crumbs? This estate… the old Amell house… it will be a palace, and you the prince at its centre.
The jewel-like glimmers of bright colours flashed in the darkness of Tobias’ mind. Huge rooms festooned in tapestries, filled with people. Parties, balls… all the things Leandra wanted to bring back from her halcyon childhood. Fine clothes, good food, and his mother, smiling as she hung from his arm, propelling him past successions of noblemen: smiling, because he had made it possible. He had provided for them all, and restored their name. Made it happen….
I hate parties.
Tobias forced his eyes open, aware of the demon’s irritated hiss. He felt dizzy and groggy, like the world was swaying around him.
“No matter,” the creature purred. “You are not alone.” It gestured to Merrill, with a flex of one claw that almost seemed tender. “This little elf, with her innocent face. She already knows the power of an offer such as mine. That much, I can see….” Its dark, shiny gaze roved over her, like the scuttling of a dozen insects. “So? Would you take what I offered the boy? Scion of the Dalish? Saviour of elvenkind?”
Merrill blinked. “C-Can you… can you do that?”
Tobias groaned inwardly. Wonderful. Great job, Merrill.
“I am the greatest of my kind!” the creature snarled. “Whatever tricks your little pet has taught you will pale in comparison.”
“Merrill!” Aveline protested, as the elf moved forwards.
“Bring the power of the Dalish back to the world,” the demon crooned, as Merrill drew closer, her eyes oddly unfocused. “Give your people back their dignity, their honour… the Eluvian is only the first step….”
What’s an Eluvian?
Merrill turned and gave him a helpless look, her eyes wide and her lips trembling, and Tobias knew he’d lost her.
“I… I cannot put you ahead of the fate of my people,” she stammered. “I’m sorry, Hawke.”
“Traitor!” Justice bellowed, as the world flashed white, and the dream began to splinter.
The demon roared, and charged.
It was a hard, vicious fight, all the bitterer for the fact Merrill anticipated so many of their moves. Tobias even found himself hesitating to strike her, afraid of what a death in the Fade would mean. Would she wake Tranquil, or perhaps not even wake at all? The thought of inflicting either fate on someone as irrepressibly alive as Merrill seemed incredibly wrong but—when she threw him to the ground with a spell that felt like a fist of solid rock—he managed to get past the issue.
Like the demon—which they finally felled, with Justice roaring out his rage and vindictive fury in a wall of searing blue flame—she didn’t leave a body behind. She just… went… and Tobias had to struggle not to dwell on the questions that followed.
“What in the Maker’s name just—”
“Shh.” He held up a hand, silencing Aveline’s indignation. “There’s no time.”
“That demon could have had any one of us,” he said shortly. “Now, it’s done. Leave it, and let’s just find the boy and get the hell out of here.”
Tobias didn’t wait for her response. He hunched his shoulders and stalked away, scowling at the subtly shifting walls around them.
Wherever the rest of Feynriel was hiding, his dream was starting to fracture.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
After the day Tobias had been having, heading to The Hanged Man felt like going home.
His crotch was still sore, he was knackered, and all he really wanted to do was sleep for a week in a warm feather bed, but—since the only other option was going back to Gamlen’s, where there was a distinct lack of feathers, not to mention the added inconvenience of Leandra’s fussing—he decided there was absolutely no harm in a swift half or three before retiring. Besides, he rather wanted to forget the past few days completely.
Tobias slunk into the tavern and made for Varric’s suite, following the sound of drunken laughter and someone playing a particularly shrill pipe whistle.
Oh, Andraste’s tits. Not minstrels. Please let there not be minstrels….
There were minstrels. The doors to the suite stood wide open, and their performance spilled into the adjoining chamber. A man, with the offending pipe whistle, sat cross-legged on the floor, his vividly patched clothes contrasting with his shaven head and thick, dark moustache. A girl in matching colours—jewel-like reds and purples, her dress artfully cut to show off her shape without exposing too much skin—danced beside him, holding a tambourine in one elegant hand, and managing to catch the coins people threw into it as she jiggled.
Tobias edged around the crowd, many of whom were clapping in time, and headed towards the end of the suite that held Varric’s table. The fires were roaring, and the whole place smelled of sweat, beer, and meat stew.
The dwarf was, as usual, holding court, and Tobias noticed Fenris slouched at his right hand, a bottle of wine cradled protectively in the crook of his arm. It surprised him to see Anders there too and, even as a smile began to curl his lips, he stopped dead and stared.
What in the Maker’s name is she doing here?
Of all people, he certainly hadn’t expected to see Aveline sitting at Varric’s table, nursing a pint, and Tobias almost turned around and walked straight out again, but it was too late. He’d been spotted.
“Hawke!” Varric called cheerfully, lifting a goblet at him. “I was hoping you’d be in.”
Just my bloody luck….
Tobias swore inwardly, but plastered a smile to his face and moved over to join the throng. Discomfort aside, he still noticed the way Anders glanced up at the mention of his name, and that brief moment of gazes meeting and fleeting smiles touching faces that otherwise pretended blankness did warm him, however much he wanted to ignore it.
“Evening,” Tobias said as he arrived at the table and, folding his arms, jerked his head in the direction of the travelling minstrels. “They staying, are they?”
Varric grimaced. “I owed somebody a favour, all right? Here, get that down you. After the third one, it doesn’t seem so bad.”
He poured a measure of something that looked greasy and dark into one of his flashy glass goblets, and pushed it along the table.
Tobias took the drink and tried not to waste time wondering how it would mix with Lusine’s cheap brandy. He knocked back a mouthful as he folded to the bench, taking the empty seat one down from Anders, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it tasted faintly sweet, with a hint of perfume, like dark Antivan wine.
He slipped a glance along the table towards Aveline, and raised the goblet at her.
“Mon capitain,” he said teasingly, tossing off a haphazard salute. “Haven’t seen much of you recently.”
She eyed him suspiciously over her pint, the fingers of one large, broad hand perched delicately over its rim, as if she was afraid someone might try and spike her with something when she wasn’t looking. That wasn’t likely, and not just because it was Varric’s suite. Even before her rather unorthodox promotion to Guard-Captain, Aveline had been an easily recognisable—and very formidable—figure in Lowtown. Now, she might have a different insignia on her chest, and her armour might be a bit shinier, but that didn’t mean as much to the tavern’s clientèle as the sword at her hip… or the continuing legend of her reputation. Tobias would have wagered that at least three of the sodden regulars in the dimly lit bar out front would swear they’d once seen her knock a man’s teeth out with just her forehead.
“No.” She narrowed her eyes, but there wasn’t so much hostility in her face as weary resignation. “Well, are you surprised? You’ve been generating enough chaos to keep me busy, and confined to my office.”
Tobias raised his brows and tried to affect innocence. “What, me?”
Aveline’s gaze reminded him horribly of his mother’s. She had that same gift for spearing him on twin shafts of bright honesty… and that was a horrible place to be.
“You know perfectly well what I mean, Hawke. Everything you’ve been up to; and it’s been more than just scraps in the back alleys and a few dubious imports recently, hasn’t it? All that business with the Merchants’ Guild and those traders from Orzammar, now the qunari and their poison gas—that business with the Harimann estate—and every single time, your name always seems to crop up.”
“Oh, play nicely, children,” Varric admonished, as Fenris cracked open another bottle of wine. “Don’t make Papa come over there and spank you.”
Tobias grinned, aware of the snort of laughter at his elbow. He slipped Anders a glance, enjoying the bright-eyed mirth on the healer’s face.
“You’d enjoy it far too much,” Tobias told Varric laconically, without quite looking away.
Anders’ smile spread into a flat-out dirty smirk, and he shook his head disbelievingly, burying the grin in his cup of wine.
For all the abuses it had suffered over the past week, Tobias’ groin still managed a half-hearted contemplation of tightening, and he grudgingly returned his attention to Aveline.
“Maybe it’s your fault for keeping tabs on me,” he said lightly, smiling innocently at her terse sigh.
“I’m glad I have been,” she snapped. “And not just for your mother’s sake. How is she, anyway? I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had much chance to call in. I know she was finding it hard, what with Carver gone, and—”
Yes, Mother’s beloved baby, who is twice the son I’ll ever be, off fulfilling his shiny new duty. Thank you for the reminder.
Tobias winced, his good humour fading a little. “She’s all right. Worries about him, but then she would anyway, whatever he was doing. It’s good, really. Gives him the chance to be his own man.”
He peered into his goblet, because it was better than trying to lie while looking at Aveline’s face, which was altogether far too full of strength and independence, and memories which he never wanted to relive again.
“She’ll be better once we get out of Gamlen’s place. Won’t be long now.”
“Yes.” Aveline sipped her ale thoughtfully. “That’s another thing. I heard about the estate… and your new connections at the viscount’s office. The Keep’s been buzzing ever since you stormed in there. I’d have come to watch the fireworks if I hadn’t been out inspecting patrols.”
He smiled uneasily. The suite’s fatty candlelight was ripe with soot and smoke, and the noise of the minstrels’ performance was becoming increasingly intrusive.
“There, uh, there weren’t really fireworks. You know how many times we lodged that paperwork? I mean, if Seneschal Bran didn’t have it in for me—”
“You got it, though, right?” Aveline hunched her shoulders, and the dark reddish brown of her cloak and neckerchief—like the rich auburn of her hair, a sharp contrast to her highly polished guardsman’s uniform—made her seem vivid against the thin veneer of opulence in the suite; a further emphasis of the fact that she belonged here even less now than ever. “The estate? They’re hardly talking about anything else in Hightown. You’ve turned the whole place on its ear, and you haven’t even moved in yet.”
Tobias grimaced. “You’re well-informed. That’s your job, though, I suppose.”
“Yes, it is. And don’t think I can look the other way if you do something stupid,” she said, her voice low and her tone aridly serious.
Oh, go and preach to the beggars, you patronising cow.
“Wouldn’t expect you to,” he said dully, fingers tapping at the gaudy glass stones on the side of the goblet. “Anyway,” he added, looking up at her dispassionately, and raising his voice just enough to encompass the rest of the table, “I’m a legitimate businessman now. Well, practically. Worked out a deal on an interest in a mine north of the city, just this afternoon.”
Varric broke off from whatever he’d been talking to Fenris about, and shot Tobias a look of surprise. “Really? You struck a deal with Hubert? And you didn’t kill him?”
Tobias wrinkled his nose. “You could have warned me about what an annoying git he was.”
“Must have slipped my mind,” Varric said, with an unimpeachable smile.
Tobias snorted, and gave a brief, slightly cleaned-up summary of the business proposition Hubert had offered him… neglecting to mention the bit about the threat of extortion.
“So, all you’ve got to do is clear it out?” Aveline looked uncertain. “But you don’t know what’s down there, do you?”
Tobias shrugged, chugged back the rest of his drink, and stifled a belch. “Listen, how bad can it be? After the sodding week I’ve had, it can… it can be bloody demons, or— or things made out of rocks, or whatever. Doesn’t matter. I bounce, me. Bounce right back. Bam,” he added, slapping a hand flat on the table for emphasis.
“That’s not bouncing,” Anders pointed out helpfully. “That’s just going ‘splat’. It would probably be better if you didn’t do that. You know… when fighting unknown foes?”
Tobias turned to give him a withering look, but he was smiling that unconscionably attractive smile, laughter dancing in his eyes, and there wasn’t much use in pretending to be cross.
He chuckled dryly and looked away, and let his attention drift to the round of top-ups Varric was making with his pitcher.
It must be obvious to everyone, he supposed, as he held up his glass for a refill. How things were… the way he just sat here, making pathetic puppy-eyes at a man he couldn’t manage to bed. They were probably all laughing at him behind his back and, as Tobias considered that, the frustration and embarrassment welled up in him, and the suite’s smoky warmth started to burn against his cheeks.
The minstrels were still playing, and the conversation had moved on apace without him. Varric was furnishing them with a highly embellished tale allegedly about Isabela’s latest attempt to con a ship out of some poor unsuspecting buccaneer… which had apparently resulted in a bar brawl that had engulfed half the docks.
Aveline snorted. “Yes. I know. We had to dedicate four shifts of men to clearing up the mess.”
Tobias slumped back in his seat, drank, and was, just for once, happy to be ignored. By almost everyone, anyway.
He glanced up at the sound of Anders delicately clearing his throat, and he tried nominally not to breathe in the scent of boiled elfroot and wet dog that clung to that sodding coat, or to watch the long, pale fingers idling on the rim of a cup still half-full of the same wine it had held all evening… or to meet those dark, inquisitive eyes.
“Still, you smell… nice,” Anders said dryly. “Rose oil again?”
Oh, bloody wonderful.
Tobias stifled a groan of frustration, and braced himself for the inevitable lecture, even as he willed the tide of a blush not to crest his cheeks. Out of everything, the very last thing he needed was for Anders to find out exactly how he’d spent his afternoon.
“No. Almost definitely not. Well… maybe.”
It was a difficult thing to admit, this business of not being able to lie to him. All Anders had to do was give him that look, and Tobias somehow found the truth spilling out of him, the omissions and the half-fibs tripping over themselves as they scuttled away like beetles.
He wanted to say it wasn’t the healer’s business, and it wasn’t… but they were friends, weren’t they? If that was true, he had to be able to take the kind of gentle ribbing from Anders that he would have done from Varric, or even Carv, if he’d still been around.
That didn’t make it easier, of course.
“Ah.” Anders nodded sagely. “Doesn’t look like it was much fun. You look… peaky. You all right?”
The word was out too fast, a clipped and desperate response that meant the exact opposite of what it said, and Tobias quickly realised he’d given himself away. He snuck a sidelong look at Anders, watching the slow, considering, tight-lipped nod as the healer took a swallow of his wine.
Tobias winced. “‘Hmm’? What’s ‘hmm’?”
Anders sniffed eloquently, lowering his voice as the table erupted into another ripple of laughter at one of Varric’s jokes.
“Is it clap, drip, or hot itch? Because two of those just need a salve, but—”
Tobias closed his eyes, willing himself not be hearing this.
“—otherwise the infection can really take hold, and you’ll just feel worse, not to mention complications, so—”
“I’m fine,” he said through gritted teeth.
“You don’t look it,” Anders retorted quietly, still in that same infuriatingly calm, soft tone, looking straight ahead all the while, as if they were simply talking about the weather. “You’re pale, sweaty… walking like a hobbled goat. And don’t try to bullshit me, Hawke. I see enough cases in a week that I can tell one from thirty paces. Look, I know there are worse places than the Rose in the city, but all the same—”
The discomforted embarrassment congealed itself into a blade of nausea that speared Tobias’ gut, and he put his goblet down abruptly.
“Anders, I’d really rather not talk ab—”
“Well, that’s tough, isn’t it? Because if it’s clap and it hasn’t been treated—”
“It’s been treated,” he snapped. “All right? I… I’m fine.”
There was a beat of silence. Aveline appeared to be explaining to Fenris why the matter of his occupancy of Danarius’ mansion was a cause for concern among Hightown’s residents—not for the first time—and Varric was busy brushing away her complaints with a suave hand wave and a barrel of jovial excuses.
Anders frowned. “Ooh. So, clap, then? And you went back to…?”
“This afternoon. Yes.”
“And you saw Lusine about it?”
“Ah. Did she get Gabrielle to—?”
Tobias blanched, then tried to hide his surprise… and then realised how pointless that was. His shoulders slumped.
Shit. Shitting, fucking, bloody…. She’s part of the Underground, isn’t she? There isn’t a sodding mage in this town that he doesn’t know, and he’s going to hear all about it. Every single bloody detail. Oh, hell. What did I do to deserve this?
“Yes. She fixed it,” he said abruptly. “Lusine owed me a favour anyway.”
That wasn’t entirely true, but it was good enough. At least they were square now, and that was what counted. Heat climbed steadily up the back of his neck, and humiliation scalded his cheeks.
“Fixed it?” Anders winced as he sipped his wine. “Ouch. I’ve heard Madam’s preferred method for that. Bet you’re sore.”
You’re enjoying this, aren’t you, you bastard?
Tobias gritted his teeth and said nothing, fingers tapping against the sides of his goblet while Anders appeared to reflect on this new knowledge.
“You know, if you want me to—”
“No!” he blurted. “No. Maker, no, I…. Look, it’s fine. All right? It’s all… fine.”
“If you say so.” Anders smirked as he went back to his half cup of wine. “All the same, I admit I’m… surprised.”
“By what?” Tobias asked bitterly. “My boundless stupidity? My selfish hedonism in the face of all common sense?”
He turned to glare at the healer, bruised and chastened by Anders’ evident enjoyment of this particular torture. Anders just met his gaze calmly, with a quick flick of those dark brows, and an infuriatingly smug curl at the corner of his mouth.
“That, yes… and the fact you have to pay,” he said mildly.
Tobias gritted his teeth again, harder, and scowled. A self-satisfied smile twisted Anders’ lips and, ordinarily, Tobias might have found some delight in that. It was, however, difficult to do when all he really wanted was to smack the man in the jaw.
You are, you smug sod. You’re a twenty-four carat bastard… and I still wouldn’t change you for the world.
“No lecture, then?” he managed, unclenching his teeth just enough to scrape the words out. “No telling off because I might have given the game away? Revealed myself? Revealed myself to be an apostate, I mean,” he added, as Anders opened his mouth in a preparatory leer.
Anders shrugged, the feathers at his shoulders shifting like soft sand, and the grubby smile faded. “Is there a point? You’ll do what you’re going to do. Even if I think it’s a bad idea, I can’t stop you.”
Tobias slouched back in his seat, trying not to show how deep that one cut. It stung like a rejection, and yet packed with it the dull, aching thud of disappointment.
“S’pose it doesn’t mean I should stop trying, though,” Anders said eventually, in a contemplative sort of tone. He took a sip of his wine and shot Tobias a sly grin. “Come by the clinic tomorrow. I’ll, um, get you something to deal with the bruising.”
He chuckled to himself as he wrapped his fingers around his cup. “Well, ‘thank you, Anders’ would be nice, but never mind.”
Tobias glowered at him and, further along the table, Varric let out a guffaw of laughter at the punch line of one of his own stories. It had apparently been a good one; even Fenris was smiling… though that could potentially have been the wine.
Tobias finished his second drink and reflected on how strangely pleasant and convivial the evening was, despite the caterwauling of the minstrels, and this odd gathering of people who, in the main, could barely stand each other. He wondered why Anders was there; whether it was his bloody-minded stubbornness, or the kick he seemed to get out bating both Fenris and Aveline that had prevented him from leaving.
Maybe he was waiting for me.
Tobias tried to shake those thoughts, to lock them up and tuck them tightly away where they couldn’t do any further damage, but it was too late.
Nevertheless, they sat, and drank, and talked, and the evening passed well enough. It was certainly better than being at home, or being pressed under the weight of paperwork to do with the estate, or any further errand-running for Viscount Dumar.
He was almost feeling good when Merrill lurched into the suite, wide-eyed and rain-spattered, scattering chairs and patrons alike in her wake.
“Daisy?” Varric was the first out of his seat, the laughter dying on his face as he looked at her. “What’s wrong?”
The elf lurched across the room towards them, the firelight glancing off the tattoos that criss-crossed her face and making them look like fresh and vivid scars over skin whitened by fear.
“Oh, thank the Creators,” she murmured, those great leaf-green eyes flitting over the assembled group. “Hawke… I was looking for you everywhere….”
Tobias had already risen, and he gestured to her to sit, noting the way those long, thin hands were knotted in the shapeless grey cloak she had wound around her skinny frame.
“Well, you’ve found me. What’s so urgent? Sit down and—”
Merrill shook her head. “I can’t. You’ve got to come. Now. Please.”
He frowned. She was breathing hard, and he guessed she’d gone to Gamlen’s house first, found he wasn’t there—that’ll have pleased Mother, no doubt—and then run almost all the way to the tavern. What reason could she possibly have had for that? She looked frightened, but unhurt, and if there’d been serious trouble breaking out in the alienage, some hint of it would probably have spilled over. Proper riots were few and far between, but Merrill had been living there long enough not to get excited about a minor scuffle. That meant something bad was happening.
“Come where?” he asked, reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder.
Even beneath the voluminous cloak, Tobias could feel her shaking, and he glanced back at Anders. He apparently understood, rising to his feet and coming to Merrill’s other side, looking her over with that quick efficiency he reserved for patients.
“What’s happened, Merrill? What d’you need Hawke for?”
“F-Feynriel,” she gasped, replying to Anders, but fixing her eyes on Tobias, pinioning him with that glassy green gaze, as bright and fragile as spring buds. “The boy you saved from the slavers and brought to the People. The mage. He’s dying.”
Her words were breathy, panted whispers, but they cut through the suite’s thick air like steel. Tobias was faintly aware of the sudden silence… that intense quiet that comes only from a large group of people all trying to pretend they’re not listening to something that doesn’t concern them.
“All right, you gawpers,” Varric said loudly, ushering the nearest group of rubber-neckers towards the door. “Party’s over. Everybody out. My friends are tired, and I need my beauty sleep. Go on. Move it!”
He set to clearing the suite—which went much quicker once Fenris unfolded behind him and glared at a few people—and barring the doors, while Tobias tried to coax an explanation from an increasingly tearful Merrill.
“What do you mean, dying? How can he be—”
“Hawke,” Anders reprimanded softly, taking the elf by the elbow. “Merrill? Is Feynriel still with the Dalish?”
She sniffed and nodded. “I’ve been up at the camp all day. Keeper Marethari sent for his mother, but it’s not helping. He’s… he’s trapped in a nightmare. He can’t wake, can’t control his powers. Marethari said Hawke might be his last chance. I came to get you as quickly as I could,” she added, looking imploringly at Tobias, unshed tears trembling in her eyes. “Will you help him?”
Well, there wasn’t much refusing that.
Tobias sighed, aware of the weight of five gazes on him, and a whole breadth of expectation. “Fine. Let’s go. Sundermount, you said?”
She nodded, though the relief washing over her face didn’t push away the fear. Things were obviously bad indeed.
“I’m coming with you,” Anders stated flatly.
Tobias glanced at him, but the words were an undeniable refusal of any possible challenge. The thudding of leather packs and the creak of a chest opening in the corner of the suite heralded Varric bringing Bianca out from her velvet-lined resting place, and the dwarf all but cooed as he caressed the crossbow’s stock.
“Well, you never know, right?” he said, looking up with a fleeting trace of guilt on his face, like a man caught scratching himself in polite company.
“For once, I agree with Varric.” Aveline drew herself even further to attention than was her normal default posture, and tossed Tobias a steel-eyed glare. “It’s not safe to travel the coast paths at this time of night. Anyway, if you’re going to cause havoc, I might as well be there to keep an eye on you… just like old times, right?”
“Right,” Tobias echoed, not sure that this was a good thing.
It’s turning into quite the little social party, isn’t it?
Alone amongst his companions, Fenris hadn’t bothered to make a declaration of his support. He was simply waiting by the door, his face a taut mask except for his eyes, which glimmered with the anticipation of a hound scenting blood.
Tobias patted Merrill gingerly on the shoulder. “Right, then. Shall we, um, shall we go?”
There didn’t seem to be much point in suggesting anything else.
It was a long, dark, chilly route up to the Dalish camp. Several times, Tobias felt foolish for carting the others along with him. If what Merrill said was true, there probably wasn’t much anyone except Anders could do for the boy… although he did like the idea of having friends with him when he stepped into the camp. The Dalish were extremely standoffish at the best of times, and the handful of occasions he’d been there—despite the cordial hospitality with which the Keeper had received him—had always left him wondering whether he was going to come away with all his limbs intact.
Merrill explained more of the story as they walked, relaying Keeper Marethari’s words, and what she’d seen for herself as they tried to help the boy.
Feynriel’s gifts were complex. Of course, no mage was ever merely a mage; everyone had his or her own degrees of talent, and in different areas. Anders was a spectacular healer, Merrill—the blood thing excepted, Tobias thought with a shudder—excelled at drawing on the power of the earth around her, and Bethany had possessed an affinity for ice and water, like their father, while he was basically good at smashing stuff, and useless at anything intricate or complicated. Naturally, talent, as with so much in life, was not fair.
However, few could do what Feynriel could.
“He… I don’t know… he changes the Fade,” Merrill said, a trifle breathless as Kirkwall receded into the night behind them, a nest of vipers and winking lights in the gloom, and the mountain reared up ahead. “Forms it around himself.”
Tobias frowned as his feet bit into the sandy, scree-laden path. “That’s what everyone does. Even non-mages. When you dream—”
“No, I don’t mean like that. It’s… it’s an incredible power. He doesn’t just dream, he shapes it. Makes it real, inside the Fade. Makes it happen,” she insisted, thin fingers worrying at her cloak. “You can feel it. I felt it, when it started, and Marethari was so worried… only it was getting better, and then it started getting so much worse, and—”
“What are we meant to do about it?” Tobias asked bluntly, intending to stop her going into another panic. The reproachful look Anders shot him suggested he’d probably been a bit too blunt, so he tried to minimise the damage. “I mean, how am I going to be able to help?”
Merrill turned those great, quavering eyes on him, and he was unsettled by the way the darkness played across her face, throwing strange patterns of light and shadow over her skin, and obscuring the specifics of the pinched, guarded expression she wore.
“The Keeper has an idea,” she said quietly. “But we can’t do it alone. Anyway, Feynriel trusts you. He talks of you often, says how much he owes you for saving him from the slavers, and for not turning him over to the Circle.”
Fenris had been striding along in long-legged silence, but he snorted at that.
“Hm. Even though it would have been the better place for him?”
Anders scowled at the elf. “The fact you can even say that demonstrates you’re either ignorant beyond belief or crueller than anyone credits you for. I never have worked out which.”
Fenris curled his lip, the thin moonlight glinting on his hair, and tracing the lines of his brands in an eerie bluish grey. “You know nothing of cruelty, mage.”
Whoops. Best stand back and wait for the explosion, then….
Varric sighed wearily as Anders drew breath for what would probably have been a particularly vitriolic riposte. “Ladies, please. Enough. You know, this is why you two never get invited to the swanky parties. At least, not at the same time.”
The healer relented, his mouth snapping shut with a taut kind of finality, though he did glower quite impressively. Fenris muttered something that might well have been in Arcanum, but said nothing to the rest of the group.
Tobias wondered whether he ought to have weighed in, but he wasn’t entirely sure he disagreed with Fenris. Maybe Feynriel would have been better off in the Circle… unless he’d have died there anyway. In that case, rather a free death than one in fear and imprisonment, he supposed.
The first suggestions of Dalish campfires were beginning to leaven the darkness on the ridge ahead of them. They’d made good time, and without running into any trouble.
Tobias wished he could believe that augured well for whatever would come next but, as the lean figure of a Dalish scout—complete with longbow and haughty frown—appeared to melt out of the rocks and move towards them, he found he doubted anything would be that simple.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
Anders left soon after. Tobias wasn’t sure whether it was anger, embarrassment, or just the irritation of the whole mess. He wanted to find out, but the healer had been so quick to get away that following him just felt wrong. He wanted Anders to confide in him by choice, damn it—to trust him and, yes, want him, as a friend and so much more—instead of trying to tear the answers out of him. Only, he had so many doubts… so many sudden, painful uncertainties.
Anders had taken the money happily enough, hadn’t he? Somehow, at the back of his mind, Tobias felt worried by that. He’d taken the money and slid off early, back out into the darkness, and to the life he evidently had out there. And, oh, yes, quite a life, wasn’t it? All those people in the Underground whom he called friends, and with whom he shared things like nameday celebrations, and the secrets of saving lives and raising rebellion.
Uh-huh. Quite clearly it’s him that has the jealousy issues, and not you.
Tobias rubbed a weary hand over his eyes, and tried to believe it was merely the exertions of the past few days taking their toll. He made his excuses to Varric and His Royal Shininess—who was apparently making a very passable attempt at drinking the dwarf under the table—and headed home, telling himself that this leaden fatigue was the result of using so much magic. He wasn’t accustomed to it, or to being the centre of so much obvious attention.
It had, he supposed, been a crazy week. First, the qunari and their deadly gas… not so much the theft itself, or the lunatic who had appeared so neatly to be responsible, or even the idiocy of the qunari in setting a trap with that kind of bait in the first place, but the fact it was all so clearly part of something else. The dead elf in the warehouse, and Javaris’ sudden departure smacked of something too easy, too convenient to be true, though Tobias had, oddly enough, believed the little snake when he’d sworn he had nothing to do with it. He probably hadn’t. It probably was just a disaffected elven fanatic… and there were enough of the little buggers running around both Lowtown and the qunari compound for it to have been possible. That was what he’d reported back to the viscount’s office, anyway, and they’d seemed happy enough. He’d got his payment, which was the main thing, and the immediate threat of Lowtown imploding had been quelled. That should be enough. It usually was.
Tobias hadn’t mentioned Javaris, or the mercenaries he and Fenris had killed to get to the dwarf, out there on the coast road. No point, really.
Fenris, though…. He’d be the one to find out about things, wouldn’t he? If there was truly something in all this elven fanaticism and rebellion stuff.
As he meandered thoughtfully through the grimy, moon-stained streets, Tobias considered that. He made a mental note to find a way to put the questions to the elf; preferably one that wouldn’t involve Fenris deciding to take offence and potentially either calling in his gambling debts, or ripping his liver out.
Then, of course, there was the Underground itself. Tobias had been so caught up in being invited to attend the meeting that he’d not given as much thought to the qunari debacle as he should have done, and now he wondered if he’d missed something. They’d all known about it, hadn’t they? What had Elias Creer said… something about ‘nasty vapours’ on the air?
Tobias hadn’t trusted the Rivaini. He didn’t know much about the Fraternities of Enchanters, at least not the way Anders did, and he’d had even less interest in reading about the so-called secession of the Resolutionists from the Libertarians, or any other off-shoot of politics. Nevertheless, it all seemed to fit too closely together, and he didn’t like knowing that the Underground regarded him with such suspicion.
He wondered if that would still be true after his sizeable donation, and how long it might be until Anders would invite him to attend another such gathering… if he did.
Tobias bit his lip and aimed a kick at a lump of loose mortar on the ground of the alleyway he was currently cutting through. It scudded off into the shadows, and the cool air felt smooth and bright on his bare arms.
They probably all knew about Sebastian and the Harimanns by now… the Underground. Word travelled fast in Kirkwall, especially on wings of blood.
He frowned as he wondered just how many members of that shadowy clique had darker associations. Some of those people he’d met there, they weren’t all desperate and powerless, or motivated purely by the kind of righteousness that Anders was. No group of people ever had such simple motives, and Tobias found himself thinking of Gethyn, the dark-eyed little firebrand who reeked of nervous exasperation and, as he paused at the end of one darkened cross-street, Tobias paused to absent-mindedly scratch and rearrange his crotch. He’d been itching for a while, and there was no one around now, not even a mugger or idle street gang.
He decided he didn’t want to think about the Underground. He didn’t want to think about the Harimanns and the desire demon, either, but those thoughts kept on slinking back too, just the same. He wasn’t drunk enough, he decided, vaguely regretting the feeling he got ever since Anders had admonished him about his drinking: that actually getting properly hammered was somehow letting the healer down.
He quickened his pace as he got nearer to home, and grimaced at the sight of a familiar figure skulking along the outer row of the houses, near the tenement block on the corner.
Bloody man breathes like he’s stealing the air…. Don’t know how he does it.
Gamlen looked up at his nephew’s approach and gave him a smile that was half a sneer and half pure resentment.
“Oh. It’s you.” He started up the first couple of steps towards the hovel, wringing the advantage of height from the movement so he could peer down superciliously at Tobias. “Out on the piss again, were you?”
Tobias glanced at the coin purse Gamlen was making a poor job of hiding inside his coat. The smell of cheap ale rolled off him, and those weaselly, blood-shot little eyes did nothing to dispel Tobias’ mental image of his uncle as some kind of surly mongoose.
“Little bit. You won tonight, then, did you?” He nodded at the ill-disguised purse. “Can’t have been cards, in that case. Cock fight? Or boxing? I suppose it’s good you can’t stand the sight of blood. If you ever stood near enough the front to get spattered, Mother would know where you’d been.”
Gamlen scowled. “I don’t have to take this from you, you little—”
“What?” Tobias asked wearily, mounting the steps in two easy strides that not only brought them level, but made his physicality painfully obvious against the older man’s thin build. “Go on, Uncle. What?”
Gamlen glanced nervously over his shoulder, towards the darkened house and its closed shutters. “You’ll wake your mother. Got your key?”
Tobias sighed and brushed past him to unlock the door.
If civility had not been becoming quite so much of a problem, the two of them might have shared a moment’s camaraderie, sneaking in like rebellious boys beneath a watchful matron’s roof.
The fire was already out, Leandra evidently having gone to bed some time ago, and everything seemed dark and still.
The two men parted company and shuffled to their respective rooms, and Tobias stifled a deep sigh as he shut the door, not bothering to light a candle. He waved his fingers and, with the briefest flicker of concentration, a small orb of light winked into existence, piercing the room’s dimness with a thin, bluish glow.
Tobias watched a timber beetle scurrying busily across the wall as he pissed, then toed the chamber pot back under the bed with a wince. Peeing didn’t normally sting.
He supposed he’d have to track His Royal Shininess down in the morning, too… see if Sebastian had been serious about hanging around. He doubted it—probably just the drink and the adrenaline talking—but it could prove interesting, all the same.
Oh, yes, absolutely. A fitting companion, now I’m on first-name terms with the viscount….
Andraste’s tits, how did it all come to this?
Tobias smirked to himself as he stripped to his smallclothes. Definitely a crazy week. The craziest. Still, they had the estate deed now. That was what his mother had wanted, and if it made her happy it was worth it.
As for Prince Charming and his ridiculously shiny armour… well, he could probably be gently dissuaded, though Tobias wasn’t sure whether he actually wanted rid of Sebastian that much. After all, he thought, as he slipped under the covers and allowed the ball of light still hovering in the air to blink out, if his presence drove Anders so far up the wall he was tap-dancing on the ceiling, he’d get down on bended knee and beg the man to stay himself.
Tobias smiled happily into the darkness, but the smile didn’t linger. It was too easy to relive that lovely little moment of glee in the tavern when he’d believed—even if it was just for a while—that Anders had shaved and dressed up for him. The fragility of a hope that could be so eagerly crushed was too painful, and yet he couldn’t leave it alone.
It wasn’t a good thing. He knew that, and yet he kept coming back to it, playing the scene over and over in his head as punched his pillow into shape and lay awake in the quiet of his bunk. Gamlen was already snoring and snorting on the other side of the wall, and Tobias found himself taking refuge in the memory of Anders’ delicious display of territorial anger.
He’d found it profoundly exciting, because it proved—it had to prove—that there was something there and, however strenuously they were both trying to be good, the cracks in the façade were widening. Anders had to admit that much, surely, and maybe from there it wouldn’t be such a big leap to start breaking down his whole defence of lonely martyrdom.
It was good fantasy material, anyway. Tobias could easily picture being in The Hanged Man of an evening, chatting amiably in Varric’s suite… maybe Sebastian was there and, contrary to his apparent proclivities, being a bit flirtatious. Maybe it was Jethann, from the whorehouse. Didn’t matter; they both had similarly incredible eyes although, in the private space of Tobias’ head, Sebastian had a better body. No daft armour, just a slim cut tunic and breeches, showing off all the best bits.
Anyhow, there’d be some ribald banter, some casual touching, a few lingering looks, and then Anders would roll in, stone-faced and thin-lipped, those dark eyes flashing with fury. There’d be angry words, punches thrown, and then it was all too easy to picture Anders in that charged, livid state of jealousy, the power crackling off him like it did when they fought side by side, up on the coast road or something… that faintly metallic taste, and the heat that always lingered in Tobias’ mouth long after the scrap was over.
His hand slid beneath the thin woollen blanket as he recalled every detail, wiped it clean and pressed it to the fantasy, making something new from those cast off moments. How it would feel to have Anders slam him against the wall, kissing him with a breathless, passionate anger, goading his body with ruthless caresses…. No, actually: both their bodies, sweat-slicked and desperate, working towards the same cathartic elation in some anonymous imaginary bedroom. Anders touching him, fucking him, whispering perfect endearments into the nape of his neck, all hot breath and rough hands, pinning and biting—and where had that come from?
Fervid fantasies and surprising yearnings aside, it was easy for Tobias to hoard those scraps of enjoyment, to hold in the ragged breathing and the small whimpers, and muffle his pleasure against the pillow as he handled himself to a rough and uncompromising peak.
Nevertheless, once he was done, he felt inevitably hollow and faintly grubby, and all the warm thoughts leaked away, leaving him only with empty, absent places.
Besides, if anything ever did happen between them, it shouldn’t be immediate. It couldn’t be, he supposed, despite the intense agony of frustration. The kind of walls Anders had put around himself needed time to be disassembled—brick by brick, if necessary. Tobias just wished there was an easier way to make the stubborn bastard believe he wanted to be there for that; to get Anders to really, truly trust him, and perhaps even realise he didn’t need protecting.
That was what he was doing. Tobias was sure of it. His mind raced, trying to fill in all the gaps, pushing sleep right back to margins of possibility, even as tiredness seeped into the core of his enervated flesh. Anders was trying to protect him from the complications of it all: from Justice, and from the Underground, and from all the mess and the thankless bitterness.
It had to be that, because otherwise it meant the healer didn’t trust him or, worse, didn’t want him… and that wasn’t allowed to be true.
Of course, his continued resistance might not be a lack of trust, Tobias supposed, or even a conscious intention to keep him held at arm’s length. It could just have been a shred of sanity. Anders knew himself—knew Justice—better than he did. Perhaps he also knew that wanting something didn’t make having it a good idea… and that led to all those very quickly quashed thoughts about abominations and possession, which Tobias vigorously dismissed.
It wasn’t like that. He wasn’t like that.
It could happen. They could make it happen… make it work.
Anyway, all the received wisdom about spirits and demons came from the Circle, and therefore the Chantry. It stood to reason they would try to paint everything in shades of horror and demonic chaos; it made an excellent excuse for their attempts to maintain a stranglehold on power, and on mages.
Tobias was aware he was consciously rationalising. Yes, there were dangers… mages could be dangerous. Anders was dangerous—as the smoking stumps of several bandits on the Wounded Coast, not to mention numerous street gangs, outcast qunari who’d remained annoyingly uncooperative, and a handful of assorted petty thugs and Carta employees could have testified to, had they still had the ability.
And yet, mages were people, not mere vessels, or weapons.
Sometimes, he thought of Bethany, and the way she’d tried to fight the darkspawn as they fled from Lothering. They weren’t memories Tobias liked to linger amidst. Maker knew it had taken long enough for the bloody nightmares to stop.
Still, it mattered. They’d fought, all of them—Carver, fresh from Ostagar, knackered and already wounded, Bethany with her eyes wide as saucers and her hands clenched around flames, and him, half-blind with terror and fury and flinging lightning at the kind of monsters he’d never believed existed outside of bad dreams or bedtime stories. She had been so brave, and yet she hadn’t stood a chance. Malcolm had never taught them to fight with magic, never taught them to defend themselves in any real way except by running, and she’d paid for that.
It had been a horrific, impossible ordeal… and yet, had either of them turned to demons? Had Bethany reared up against that ogre, the wrath of blood magic rising from her in vile, terrible flails? Tobias winced from even imagining it.
Maybe she’d have survived if she had.
He turned over, the thin mattress creaking beneath him and Gamlen’s reedy snores echoing through the wall by his head. On nights like this, it was too easy to see the wet blood glistening blackly on the parched earth, too easy to hear the screams of those not as quick or as lucky as they had been… too easy to see his sister’s body thrown at his feet, torn and broken and lifeless.
She had deserved so much more. Not a captive half-life, a prisoner or a templar slave, the way Anders spoke of, but as a person—a woman in her own right.
He wanted to talk about that, Tobias realised. He wanted to tell people. He wanted to talk about mages, and politics, and power… and he wanted to be a part of changing it all.
With that in mind, he wanted to go and see Anders—and yet he didn’t quite dare to think of it. Not just marching down there, demanding to sign up for the revolution. Not like that… though that’s what it was, wasn’t it? That was what would happen, eventually. If people like Creer were involved, if the only way to challenge the templars was to disobey… well, the Chantry itself would ensure that all-out war was the only option.
Maker… why is it all such a mess?
Tobias stifled a groan and flung an arm over his head, then burrowed down beneath the stale-smelling blanket. The trouble was, he’d rather thought that, when he turned over all that coin, Anders would have at least mentioned inviting him to another meeting of the Underground. He’d said nothing about it, however, and Tobias couldn’t help taking that personally.
He was being an idiot, he told himself. If he thought about it from Anders’ perspective, he knew bringing someone like him into that close-knit, dangerous world was difficult. It would have been like him turning up to meet one of his old Coterie contacts with His Royal Shininess—or, Andraste’s tits, even Aveline—in tow. When people operated outside the law, they needed to know they could count on those they were asked to deal with… and he had yet to earn that trust from the Underground.
If he really thought about it, Tobias supposed he should have been grateful for Anders showing as much faith in him as he already had, but that only led to a night of vacillating, worrisome thoughts, and fears that he’d somehow done something wrong.
He wanted the Underground’s acceptance desperately, he realised… and not just because it was probably almost the same as gaining Anders’ acceptance, though perhaps that was part of it. Or, all right, most of it. However, nonetheless, the things they did, the lives they saved: Tobias believed in that.
He believed in the need to change the way people saw mages, and to quench that tendency of the Chantry’s to brand them all as dangerous, or cursed. Magic wasn’t a curse, no matter how many times he’d thought so as a boy; it was a gift. Admittedly, a gift he’d most likely have chosen to be rid of if he could—especially when Kirkwall was so full of unpleasant prejudices—but a gift, all the same. Surely, no one who’d been healed down in Anders’ clinic could argue with that, and if the templars, or that mad cow Meredith, could only actually see that….
But, dreams like that were a long way off, weren’t they?
Changing the world never happened overnight, anyway. Whatever great upheavals and violent revolutions occurred, people were people, and they trickled back into their old, familiar ruts soon enough.
Look at the elves, for instance. One great moment of glory, rising up beside Andraste’s rebellion, then smacked back down into the dirt.
Nothing ever changes that much.
No. Things didn’t change, and the time just creaked slowly by.
Finally, Tobias fell asleep on that thought, and tumbled through worrisome, unsettling dreams, perfumed with the memories of demons and the possibilities of so much more.
He pushed through the next few days in a tangle of apprehension and faint discomfort—as much mental as physical.
Fenris was as good as his word regarding dealing with the estate and examining the state the slavers had left it in… which was pretty much as appalling as Tobias expected.
The place was a desecrated ruin. It was huge, yes, but almost everything above the ground floor had been left to rot, while the slavers had kept their base of operations in the cellars. There were a handful of tunnels, too—storage, he supposed, given that most of them were filled with crates and mouldy old sacks—although Fenris didn’t seem so sure.
“You are aware that there could be secret passageways here, are you not?” the elf asked, prowling through the mess with his shoulders hunched and his eyes narrowed.
He never did stand up straight, Tobias noticed. Always bowed over a bit, like he was waiting for someone to try and hit him. He wasn’t sure whether it was even something Fenris realised he was doing—a last vestige of Danarius’ abuse, perhaps—or maybe it was a physical thing, and beneath that protective shell of armour there lay terrible scars, along with the lyrium brands.
No idea. Can’t help wondering how far down those brands go, though….
Tobias grimaced. “Please don’t say that. I don’t think I can cope with any more surprises.”
Fenris made a small noise in the back of his throat that was almost like a chuckle, and the dusty, dirty shafts of light thrown by the high widows glinted on his pale hair as they made their way back up to the main floor.
There was, of course, no Antivan walnut dining set. There was little furniture left to speak of, except the hulking, worm-ridden chifferobes and chests in which he and Carver had first found evidence of Gamlen’s fraud.
Ah, yes. That time we went breaking and entering together. Happy days. Where does it all go?
Tobias eyed the rotten fringes of tapestry still clinging to the cobweb-cloaked walls, and thought wistfully of his brother. Carver ought to be here for this. He should be part of it, not cooped up in The Gallows, not being one of them.
There wouldn’t be any going back, though. And that hurt. It hurt to know Carver had chosen a path so diametrically opposed to everything Tobias was, everything he stood for… and that, so far, he hadn’t regretted it.
There had been another letter. Leandra cooed over them all, and didn’t seem to notice the edge on the words that Carver directed at him.
It’s nice to find my place, to be part of something bigger than me… bigger than you, even, brother.
Tobias had never meant to occlude him. He hadn’t even known Carv felt like that until it was too late—and how thick did that make him?
“You will probably not be able to clean that,” Fenris observed, peering down at a particularly bloodstained rug. “I think perhaps gutting everything and starting afresh is the best idea.”
Tobias nodded dully. Varric had been right; there were a couple of rotted corpses still left down in the undercroft. Not much of them left after the rats had been at work all this time, but still… he’d have to see about getting that dealt with.
“Yeah,” he said absently, squinting up into the wide, high mezzanine of the main hall.
The estate was certainly a big chunk of stone. There was an enormous, sweeping staircase that, properly refurbished, would look fantastic, not to mention impressive marble fireplaces, a wealth of bedchambers, a library, dining chamber, kitchens that looked like they could butcher and cook a dozen oxen at a time….
I don’t want this.
“Varric said he had a recommendation for a steward for you,” Fenris said, apparently feeling far more talkative than he usually did.
Tobias wished he could return the favour.
I don’t want any of it. It’s too big. Too much. I… I think I just want to go home.
I only wish I knew where it was.
They poked through the rest of the rooms in a cursory kind of way, picking up anything looked saleable and closing doors on the worst damaged chambers. By mid-afternoon, the smell of damp plaster and mould had worked its way so deep into Tobias’ throat that it was the second most uncomfortable sensation he was experiencing.
Fenris shot him a suspicious look as he tried to surreptitiously scratch himself, and pretended not to notice. They had just finished making a brief examination of the small courtyard garden at the back of the house—little to it except weeds and overgrown vines, although there was a pleasant cupola and what looked like a fountain, somewhere under the rampant greenery—and Tobias was sweating lightly from the effort of scrambling through briars and over masonry.
That, he told himself, was why he itched. No other reason.
Later, after he’d left Fenris in Hightown and returned home to obediently report every infinitesimal detail of the excursion to Leandra, Tobias started to suppose that—just maybe—there might be a problem.
All the usual squabbles aside, the climate of the city was still pretty nasty. Lowtown in particular had an atmosphere of consistent spite, and every spoiled pail of milk or overturned cart seemed blamed on either mages or the qunari. Tobias supposed it was sensible for the Underground to be keeping a low profile… and maybe Anders just thought he was better off out of it.
Five days after the night at the tavern, Tobias was still stewing quietly in doubt and discontent, not quite prepared to venture down to Anders’ clinic.
One very good reason for that—besides his unease at the thought of talking to the healer about the Underground—was the itching, which was now accompanied by an eye-watering stinging every time he pissed, and a rather alarming discharge.
He was, Tobias realised, going to have to get it seen to.
Naturally, there was no question of taking it to Darktown. This was no quiet, discreet, trousers-buttoned request for redblossom ointment. It needed proper healing… and proper examination.
I am not dropping my keks in front of Anders for a full inspection. I’d rather die of it.
Um… can you die of the clap?
There were probably other healers in town, anyway. Paying Circle fees—though more affordable for Tobias than it had once been—was not an option. He wasn’t going anywhere near The Gallows; it was crawling with templars. Still, he was certain there must be somewhere else to go. He just wasn’t sure where, or how you asked without potentially putting yourself at the notice of the templars, and then it would probably all get back to Anders through the Underground’s grapevine anyway, and… shit, it was embarrassing.
Tobias ended up slinking back to the Rose, full of the intention to bluster and complain and demand not only a healer, but also his money back.
What actually happened involved having his privates thoroughly inspected by Madam Lusine and—when a woman like her, with a face like that, was peering at his tackle with her shrivelled up pout and narrowed, shrewd little eyes—well, Tobias quickly became convinced that death would probably have been preferable.
He stood, breeches and smallclothes around his knees, in the warmth and comfortable opulence of her private chamber. It was set back on the Rose’s first floor, a quiet space amid the house’s rowdy chatter… although Tobias wasn’t sure that the bookcases and ostentatious paintings lining the walls didn’t have peepholes cut into them. He wouldn’t have been remotely surprised if that had proved to be true.
A hearty fire blazed in the marble fireplace, its dancing light catching on the velvet-upholstered armchairs that stood opposite Lusine’s large, dark wood desk and yet—despite its heat—Tobias felt distinctly chilly.
In a strange and spurious way, the room reminded him of the grand cleric’s chamber in the chantry, and he fought the urge to laugh at that, aware it was a bad idea when the madam of the house was at eye level with his… pikestaff.
Lusine sucked her teeth thoughtfully as she straightened up.
“Ooh, that does look nasty, my dear.”
His fingers curled defensively on the edge of the ornately carved wooden table behind him. A bowl of strongly scented roses with deep red, dusky flowers sat in the centre of it, and they yielded up a heady, musk-threaded perfume, while the smooth bevel of the table’s pie-crust corner dug into the back of his thighs.
“Yes, well, I—” Tobias coughed, and started again. “I mean, I… haven’t been anywhere else, so—”
She tipped her head to the side, her mouth wrinkled tersely like a stewed prune. He could positively feel himself shrivelling under her gaze, and then she nodded, having had a moment of apparent consideration.
“Well, seeing as it’s you, Serah Hawke, I think I can help you out. I don’t want you telling tales, mind. Don’t want every grousy beggar coming in ’ere thinking they’ve a right to what they ain’t.”
Tobias bristled. “I wasn’t concerned about that, so much as—”
“I’ll clap it for you. Deep breath, now,” she said crisply, and he didn’t know why, but he found himself obeying anyway.
Lusine rolled back the fripperous sleeves of her pink-and-purple frock and crossed to the other side of the table. He turned to follow her with his gaze, and she smiled wolfishly as she patted the polished surface. The waft of her thick, heavy perfume and the scent of the roses enveloped him, and Tobias winced as he realised what she wanted.
“Come on. Sooner it’s dealt with, the better, don’t you think, my dear? Pop him just here.”
She turned to the bookcase, and her bony fingers moved briskly over the leather-bound volumes, selecting a tome apparently at random. Tobias stared as she clasped it to her bodice, then pointed sharply at the table.
“Come along! Quicker it’s done, quicker it’s over.”
The book was large, and rather thick, bound in dark, mottled leather with gold lettering on the spine. Tobias couldn’t make out what it said, but he doubted it was full of civilised aphorisms and quotes from the Chant.
“Uh, I don’t know about—”
“Nonsense,” she said briskly. “Now, don’t be such a baby.”
I can’t believe I’m doing this….
Tobias sighed, and moved to position his length on the table. He flinched as Lusine made a small censorious noise, then picked up the bowl of roses, pulled the lacy cloth out from underneath it, and slipped the fabric under his cock. It lay on the neat little protector, looking rather red and fat, the tip weeping with thick, noisome fluid that capped something slightly green and definitely unpleasant, and it itched like hell. He gritted his teeth, wincing at the combination of her scrutiny, the symptoms themselves, and the bite of the air on his abused flesh.
“There,” she said, apparently satisfied. “You can hold on if you want.”
He gripped the edge of the table, the smoothly curved wood feeling warm and cool at the same time as the world started to pitch and lurch around him. This hadn’t been a good idea. He should have just swallowed his embarrassment and gone to Darktown.
At least I’d have got Anders in my pants once before I died.
Tobias squinted, unable to watch and yet afraid of closing his eyes completely. There was a look of terrible calm on Lusine’s face, all businesslike efficiency as she tilted her head to the side, pursed her lips, then lifted the book and slapped it down, hard, flat across his penis.
It was the single most painful experience of his life. Even the cusses he bellowed didn’t come out as whole words, just raw, garbled wails of pain.
He bowed double, sweating and fighting retches, as everything south of his waist appeared to melt into flames. Tears squeezed from the corners of his eyes and gouged trails down his cheeks as bile rose in his throat. He barely even noticed Lusine drop the book to the table, cross to the door and then slip out for a few moments.
Tobias spent the fleeting seconds of privacy giving vent to a loud sob. He wasn’t sure he dared peer down at his privates. Judging by the pain, he was convinced he’d find them mashed beyond recognition.
Lusine returned before he’d fully investigated the damage. She had a small, pale elven girl scurrying obediently at her heels: a tart, judging by the gaudy pink frock and the long, glossy blonde ringlets. She had pale amber eyes and a very pretty face, not yet ruined by life and, for one fleeting moment, Tobias almost succumbed to an unbearable swell of embarrassment at her walking in on him like this—weeping, with his cock out, and that hardly being at its most attractive. Pus had splattered across the lace cloth protecting the table, discharge daubing the wood and also the book Lusine had used to clap him with. Fair enough, it had removed the blockage that had been making it so difficult to pee, but he could have wished there were easier, less agonising ways of doing it.
Shame and humiliation welled up in him, and Tobias rubbed the back of his wrist brusquely over his face and tried to breathe.
Lusine waved a hand, gesturing to the girl to approach him. “Gabrielle? See to our gentleman, would you? He’s been clapped. Full works, and don’t spare nothing. He’s a dear friend to this house.”
The girl nodded, and came towards Tobias like he was some kind of raging beast. She spread her small, delicate hands, and fixed him with that soft, sweet amber gaze. She couldn’t have been working here long, he supposed; she’d be far too popular.
“It is all right, messere,” she said quietly, her words rich with a pronounced Orlesian accent. “It’s all right. I am going to heal you. Deep inside, where the infection is, so he doesn’t come back anymore, yes? Potions and salves, they will only take away the burning. You need this to be completely cured.”
As she spoke, she flexed her slim fingers, and a gentle shimmer of light enveloped them. Tobias’ eyes widened, and a sudden ache of fear burst high and tight in his throat.
“Y-You’re a mage?”
He tried to make his surprise sound real. Well, it was, but not for the reason it should have been. Maker, did they know? Did Lusine know? He’d always been so careful… virtually no one in the city was aware of his secret, except for those he considered friends, and maybe a total of eight people whom he’d worked with during the time he’d spent in Athenril’s employ.
Quickly, he snatched at the moment of terror and brought his reactions as far under control as he could when it still felt like his tackle was about to drop off. He had to shield himself, he knew… hide his own power from her, pull it all in like his body was a shell, his soul caught behind its brittle walls, and no sniff of the Fade on his flesh.
Tobias swiped his tongue across dry, clumsy lips. “Well, I-I suppose it’s all right. Magical healing… it’s the best you can get, isn’t it?”
“That it is.” Lusine nodded. “Come along, now. You come and sit by the fire, Gabrielle will heal you, and then we’ll all have a nice little drink.”
Well, drink sounded like a good idea, at least.
Tobias nodded tentatively, still leaning heavily on the table, and very unsure as to whether he could actually walk.
He hobbled over to the armchair Lusine patted, and winced as she spread a blanket out on it.
Andraste forbid I should make a mess on the upholstery.
The elven mage-child took his arm and helped him while he waddled, breeches around his knees, and every breath of movement was blinding agony.
All your own bloody fault, isn’t it? Stupid sod… couldn’t keep it in your pants, could you? Couldn’t leave well enough alone. Whores and cheap booze, and where does it get you? Shouldn’t have happened, not with the amount I paid….
The litany of reproach and regret pounded inside his throbbing head, and above it all hung the memory of Anders’ admonishments, which had never before rung with such bitterness in Tobias’ mind. He was sure, if he even survived the death of his crotch and all the attendant agony it was bringing, he’d never be able to look Anders in the face again.
He’ll know. They’ll gossip… he’s going to hear all about this, and he’s going to know just what a dirty little sod you are. Of course he wouldn’t touch you. Why would he? You spend all your time getting bladdered and fucking whores. Why would he want you?
Fresh tears prickled at Tobias’ eyes as he lowered himself into the scratchy, velvet-upholstered chair, the soft blanket bunching up beneath him. The fire’s warmth bathed his legs, washing up to his hot, burning thighs, and he stifled a whimper as Gabrielle touched his arm.
He was fairly sure she hadn’t recognised him for what he was. He could barely feel her, which meant she wasn’t that powerful. And she wasn’t expecting him to be a mage, which definitely helped.
He glanced up as she leant over him, her pretty face locked into a well-trained expression of neutrality. If he disgusted her, she wasn’t showing it.
Gabrielle smiled encouragingly. “It won’t hurt, I promise.”
She lied. It did.
Every pulse and spark of her magic hurt—a ruthless, sharp feeling deep inside him—and what hurt worse than the magic was the holding back, the effort of trying to shield himself from her.
Tobias wasn’t sure whether it worked. He saw no sudden flinch in the elf, no moment of realisation as she looked up and nodded to Lusine.
He peered from watering eyes at the madam, and then squinted at Gabrielle.
“All done. There, now,” Lusine said warmly, as the mage retreated behind Tobias’ chair, wiping her hands against her frock. “Isn’t that much better?”
He took a breath. The burning was gone, and the itching, and even most of the pain of the clapping itself… so, yes, it all probably was better. So much better, in fact, that he was able to think clearly, and to realise just how vulnerable a position he’d put himself in.
You stupid sod….
Lusine gave him a tiger-sharp smile. “You’ll join me in a drink, of course, Serah Hawke?”
She gestured to a decanter of brandy and two glasses that stood on a small sideboard near one of the bookcases. Tobias frowned. He hadn’t noticed them there before… how many people had been in while he was sitting here with his tackle out?
“Good.” Lusine glanced up at the mage, who was still hovering near the back of the chair. “That’ll be all, Gabrielle. You run along now, there’s a good girl.”
The elf bobbed a curtsey, pausing for a brief moment by the door as she looked back at Tobias. A look of mild, fleeting confusion darted over her face and, one hand on the door, she hesitated, seeming to consider saying something before she blinked and, silently, slipped from the room.
Tobias rose enough from his chair to pull his smallclothes and breeches up and, feeling a little more secure once he’d tucked himself away, watched Lusine pouring them both a glass of brandy. The smarting and the throbbing had begun to wear off, and the warmth of Gabrielle’s healing was still sluicing beneath his skin, crackling in his joints and nerves.
“I am sorry, of course,” Lusine said, eyeing him levelly over the glass she passed him. “Naturally, it happens from time to time. Jethann works a lot of our… exclusive evenings. Wealthy clients, with sophisticated tastes and, uh, few inhibitions.”
Tobias nodded bitterly. He’d heard all about the private parties on the house’s uppermost floor. They didn’t interest him. At that moment, he’d gone off sex in pretty much all its forms.
“Oh, good,” he said darkly. “I caught noble clap. Well, I suppose that’s something.”
She chuckled, and folded into the chair opposite his, her drink clasped protectively in one thin hand. “I’ve always admired your sense of perspective, my dear. Stay a little while, hmm? Have a nice long bath. Soothe yourself. I’ll send someone up, gratis, if you like.”
Tobias curled his lip. He wanted to refuse outright, but the Rose had much better plumbing than Gamlen’s place, and the prospect of a long soak in a hot, stone tub, instead of a scrub down in lukewarm water in front of the fire did have its advantages.
She smiled. “Good. You know… I’ve always thought you and I understand each other very well.”
Tobias sighed. He should have known, he supposed. Lusine never did anyone favours unless she thought it would get her something in return. She’d been trying this kind of crap on him since the first time he met her… and yet he owed the bitch now, didn’t he?
He knocked back a mouthful of the brandy, and scowled at the fire. “You know I only ever give you crumbs, Madam.”
“I’m a beggar at your banquet, my dear.”
“Huh.” Tobias doubted that sincerely. “Fine. All right, let’s see….”
He frowned, thinking back over the past month’s crop of rumours, whispers, and general snippets of information. The Rose was a Coterie operation, though the house was strictly neutral turf, and Lusine herself kept up a pretence of non-involvement that was extremely strict.
Still… everyone needed to catch a break now and then.
Tobias took another swig of the brandy, its honeyed roughness a welcome heat on his tongue. “There’s a ship due to dock in Kirkwall at the end of the month. Rivaini vessel called the Mauraya. She’s meant to be carrying silk and tea, but the captain’s into running stolen jewels, and he’s bringing them to someone in Hightown. Don’t ask who,” he added, glaring at her. “I don’t know, but I think it’s someone in the Keep. A clerk, maybe… maybe one of Dumar’s advisors. Someone with a leg-up in the administration, anyway, which is why the Coterie doesn’t know about it.”
Lusine swirled her brandy glass, and the golden liquid danced in it, catching hold of the firelight and letting it burn, deep at its tawny heart. “And you do?”
Tobias shrugged. Drinking with Isabela had its advantages… especially when he was able to match the information to things he overheard from Aveline’s office.
“I have my sources.”
“Go on,” she said, completely still but for the movement of her fingers on the glass, and those sharp eyes that followed Tobias’ every breath.
He bit his lip. “Thing is… the guard does know. The Guard-Captain’s planning on arresting the Rivaini captain and his contact when the exchange is made. If someone was to, y’know, just… happen upon the merchandise before then—”
“They might make off with some pretty rocks and a smuggler captain’s loyalty?” Lusine enquired delicately, arching one thin, grey brow. “How’d you come by that, then? Your old acquaintance with Guard-Captain Aveline?”
Tobias tapped his fingers against the side of his glass, staring nonchalantly into the brandy’s amber depths. “I see her from time to time. I hear things. She’s a friend of my mother’s… and we left Ferelden together.”
Lusine wrinkled her nose. “Oh, I’ve heard the stories, my dear. Makes me wonder if your loyalties aren’t… divided?”
“Not really.” Tobias snorted. “I’ve got bugger all to be grateful to her for, and she’s never made allowances for me. But, if that doesn’t meet with Madam’s approval, how about the whereabouts of Javaris Tintop?”
She looked sharply at him, her façade of dispassion slipping for a moment. “You know where that two-faced little bastard went? We heard he was dead.”
He leaned back a little in the chair, the brandy beginning to take the edge off the remaining pain, and allowed himself a smug smile. “Yeah, I know. Headed up out of Smuggler’s Cut, making for the road to Tantervale. Had it in mind to become a used boot salesman, as I recall… if you know what I mean.”
Lusine’s thin lips pursed into a sneer. “You killed his men? All of them?”
“Well….” Tobias flexed a shoulder. “I was a bit ticked off. And they did start it. Plus, I had help.”
“Ah, don’t you always, though, my dear?” She fixed him with an odd, unpleasantly searching look. “Quite the little coterie of your own you’ve got, isn’t it? One wonders why you didn’t go to that healer of yours to get this nasty problem fixed.”
Tobias tensed, though he did his best to disguise it. Lusine jutted out her chin as she made a show of inspecting her brandy glass.
“He’s very good, from what I hear. A lot of my girls have been, from time to time. For… you know… or if they get themselves in trouble. Very clean work, I must say. We haven’t had one die yet. He does better than that old hag in the alienage, I’ll give him that.”
Tobias said nothing, and just clenched his jaw. The fire popped and crackled to itself, and he felt mildly sick. He wasn’t sure if it was the brandy on top of pain and an empty stomach, or the thought of Anders hunched over a succession of whores’ cunnies, treating diseases and hauling out brats before they had a chance to be full-grown.
“Figured you’d want to know,” he said, staring fixedly at the flames. “That, and I’m too good a friend to add to his woes.”
She laughed softly, but it was a rough, sharp sound and, as Tobias glanced up at her, he had the horrible feeling that she knew. She knew everything, he felt sure… knew his hopes and dreams, his fears and deepest desires.
Of course she did. The Rose was her house, and everything got back to Madam sooner or later. His mind fled guiltily to all those months of paying for the company of the Antivan with the blond hair and the pale skin… Esel, who had been so terribly accommodating, and still so very far from enough.
“I’m sure you are,” Lusine said dryly, her gaze fixed on him like a snake. “So… you’ve no interest in Javaris, then?”
Tobias shook his head. “No. I dealt with the qunari. They don’t want him, and I don’t want him. The guard does, and I’m sure the Coterie does, as do his many creditors. He’ll be a good way away now, but easy enough to find, I bet. Do what you like. Turn him in to one or the other, or make money of ’em both, Madam. I don’t care. I just don’t like being manipulated… as I’m sure you recall.”
Lusine’s expression shifted almost imperceptibly, and she inclined her head. “No. Of course you don’t, serah.”
“So? Are we even now?”
She smiled, and drained her glass, licking her lips as she swallowed. “Oh, my dear Serah Hawke… I do so enjoy our little chats. Don’t you?”
Tobias nodded grimly. He took the offer of the bath, though, and allowed himself to be sent up to a small but pleasant chamber, which held a large tub of steaming water, already drawn and—obviously—scented with the cloying stickiness of rose oil.
There was a whore, too: a stocky man with close-cropped dark hair and a lop-sided smile. Tobias gave him five silvers Lusine didn’t need to know about and sent him out, then relaxed into the warmth water and stared at the cracked ceiling.
It was a pleasant chamber, although the carpets and drapes were still, like most of the Rose, a little musty. Like most of his life, he supposed.
He dressed slowly afterwards, handling his privates with a degree of careful tenderness. His cock looked almost normal—testament to the usefulness of healing magic—though it was still sore, and the echoes of the elven apostate’s work still hummed under his skin, like an uneasy remnant of a foreign taste or smell.
Tobias left the brothel and cut through towards Hightown’s market, where he spent an hour trying to locate the merchant whose name Varric had given him. It seemed like a good idea at the time. If he was going to feel this horrible, he might as well take some of it out on somebody else.
Finally, he found the man: an Orlesian with plump jowls and hooded eyes, who seemed less concerned by whatever his workers had found up at the old Bone Pit mine than the fact they’d downed tools and refused to go back in.
“You can expect nothing else, I suppose,” Hubert said, turning his head and spitting onto the flagstones. “Putain refugees. I mean, they’re cheap to employ, no? But you pay for it every other way.”
Tobias folded his arms and stared at the man. They were standing in the shadow of the red awning above his stall. Boxes and trunks were piled high, goods spread out on the table that stood beside them, and Hubert’s girl—an elven wench with a low-cut blouse and curly red hair of a rather attractive auburn hue—was doing her best to sell a piece of Orlesian silk to a haughty-looking woman in a green dress.
The buzz of chatter and the cries of stallholders—though refined, compared to the sprawling chaos of Lowtown’s bazaar—filtered through the air and coloured the world. Scents of tea and spices mingled with the smell of dust and grit and stone, and the sunlight caught at the bright colours of the merchants’ banners as they flapped against the crisp strands of sky.
“So, what do you say, hm?” Hubert wheedled. “You do a little deal for me? I’ll make it plenty worth your while.”
Tobias sniffed. “What if I want more than a one-off fee? Does this place turn over a decent revenue?”
The Orlesian shrugged. “Ah, who’s to say, when the workers won’t go in? I tell you, messere, the burdens I have to contend with—”
Tobias scowled, his patience wearing thin. “Look, it’s been a long day. I’m tired, my temper is short, and it burns when I pee. Don’t test me.”
The man stared but, to his credit, recovered quickly. “Well, I suppose—”
Tobias leaned forwards, his arms still folded, aware of the presence of his physicality… and with absolutely no compunction over using it like a weapon.
“Way I see it, right,” he said, his tone low and even, and injected with a thoroughly false cheerfulness, “there’s a lot than go wrong with an operation like yours.”
The merchant’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Now, look—”
“No, I mean it. Lyrium smugglers, the Carta and the Coterie both sticking their nose in where you don’t want it….” Tobias sucked his teeth thoughtfully. “That’s not even mentioning the other two-bit operations in this town, or whatever else you’ve got roaming those tunnels. Might be that what you need is a partner, not a fixer.”
Hubert sighed wearily and held up his hands. “All right, all right. Fine. You clear the place and get those lazy swine back to work, we’ll make a deal.”
“Close.” Tobias grinned cheerfully. “But I’ll take, let’s see… thirty sovereigns down payment on the job, too.”
“What? You’re crazy!”
“Just protecting my interests, my friend. You pay up front and, if everything goes to plan, you’ll get twenty pieces back once I have the deed in my hand and my first month’s profits in my pocket.”
The Orlesian glared violently at him, fat fingers almost skirting towards the concealed blade he undoubtedly kept at his belt. “This is extortion!”
“No,” Tobias said patiently, flexing his shoulders ever so slightly. “Extortion would be if I told you I wanted a hundred gold up front, plus a majority share in the mine, then—in my capacity as a fellow Fereldan refugee—convinced your workers not to go back on the job until I’d been paid. But I can see how you’d be confused.”
Hubert scowled and muttered something that sounded very much like ‘dog-lord bastard’.
Tobias just smiled sweetly and waited for the money.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
There was a lot of cleaning up to do. The younger generation of Harimanns were confused, disorientated, horrified… all those things that, had he been slightly less battle-sore and exhausted, Tobias might have felt some sympathy towards.
As it was, he let His Royal Shininess handle it, along with Varric lending his substantial persuasive weight. He and Fenris spirited themselves off to the kitchen, out of plain sight, and Tobias winced when he heard Flora giving vent to huge, squealing wails of tears.
Something clinked on the table, and he looked up. Fenris had found a bottle of wine, and was removing the stopper with the tip of his gauntlet.
“Neat trick,” Tobias observed.
The elf shrugged, his eyes slightly narrowed as he glanced towards the door.
“You seem… shaken,” he said, sloshing wine into one of two delicate polished horn cups he’d found and pushing it across the cluttered surface.
“Just tired,” Tobias assured him. “I hardly ever use magic. It’s easy to forget how much it takes out of you.”
He stifled a yawn. If it hadn’t been for Sebastian, and the stink of demons everywhere, and the fact the family were nobility—and probably a dozen other things—he’d have volunteered to send for Anders. The girl sounded as if she was having hysterics and the whole family, such as was left of it, could probably use a healer. More than that, they were frightened enough to pay well.
Too risky, though, he decided. Let them brave Circle fees if they wanted, and the questions that would go with it, or find their own hedgemage.
Fenris frowned. “You are sure you should not go up there? Perhaps, explain—”
“No,” Tobias said shortly. “Best not. Anyway, I’ve never been able to cope with women crying. S’my whatsit… anathema.”
The subtle curl of a dry smile touched the corner of Fenris’ mouth, and Tobias toasted it with his cup. It seemed to be the elf’s equivalent of a booming, thigh-slapping laugh, and he rather liked being the one to put it there.
“Still,” he said, raising the cup to his lips, “I feel sorry for them. Losing everything in one blow like that. Shakes you up. Reminds me of running from Lothering.”
He didn’t know why he’d said that. Stupid, really. He watched Fenris fold slowly into the chair opposite and fix him with a considering stare, those shimmering green eyes as inscrutable as ever.
“You told me once that, when one stops running, one takes a deep breath, looks around, and begins to build anew.”
Tobias smiled mirthlessly. “Did I? You shouldn’t listen to me, Fenris. I’m full of bullshit.” He took a swallow of the wine, winced, and peered into the cup. “Maker’s balls! That’s… that’s not bad.”
It was good stuff, but he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. Fenris had an excellent eye for selecting the best out of any given rack of dusty bottles.
“Even so,” Fenris said carefully, still watching him over the rim of his cup. He sipped, swallowed, and was motionless for a moment, savouring the wine. “That is what you have done… what you are doing, is it not?”
Tobias shrugged. “Suppose so.” He narrowed his eyes accusingly. “You didn’t take my advice. You’re still squatting in Danarius’ mansion, and you haven’t even cleared the rubble off the floor. Have you?”
The elf flexed one shoulder dismissively, and the delicate plates of his armour shifted like the back of some scaled beast. The dim, dusty light that filled the kitchen glanced off his hair, and Tobias sighed, more in resignation than irritation.
“Listen, I… I need to take a look through the estate. For Mother. You know, see what needs doing, whether there’s anything left that’s salvageable, or…. I don’t suppose you’d like to tag along? I mean, knowing what went on there, if you’d rather not—”
Fenris nodded shortly. “I shall. You are right, Hawke.”
He set his cup down on the table with a soft clink, and Tobias blinked owlishly at it.
“Am I? Oh, good. Er… what?”
“It is hard to begin afresh when you are alone. Old habits… old grudges… they linger. To build a new life requires allowing oneself to—I don’t know how best to say it….”
Tobias arched an eyebrow. “Come down off your high horse and admit you need friends?”
The elf gave him a withering look, but it wasn’t filled with any true approximation of anger or malice. In fact, there was something rather restful about it, as if—after the filth and corruption of the Harimanns’ cellar, the desire demon, and Lady Johane’s bloody corpse—things were getting back to normal.
He grinned. “I’m glad you think that, anyway. And, if Danarius does make a move against you… well, you’ll let me know, right? I’d hate to miss out on the fun.”
The vaguest sliver of a smile passed over Fenris’ lips as he poured them both another cup of wine, and Tobias smirked. There was a grain of truth to it: he owed the elf enough to stand beside him, if the day came that his old master sent more than useless bounty hunters who couldn’t track their way out of a feed sack.
The thought made his smile widen, and not just at the prospect of gutting a few more slavers. It was good to think of Fenris being really, truly free.
“Indeed. And we will drink to your good fortune, Hawke. To… beginning to put aside the past, perhaps.”
Tobias nodded, and they raised their cups, and the wine really was quite good. He realised, as he slugged it back, that Fenris had a point, though whether the elf had meant to drive it home, he wasn’t sure. Still, it was true, wasn’t it? He’d been so caught up in one way of thinking, one way of being, that he wasn’t living the life he’d made for himself… he was still waiting for it to begin.
And there’s only so long you can wait for anything.
Tobias frowned at the tabletop, fingers tracing half-hearted patterns against the smooth sides of the cup.
He was still frowning when the clink of armour fitments heralded Sebastian’s appearance in the doorway, followed by Varric’s heavier footfalls.
“If you’re done hiding, Hawke,” the dwarf said, with only a slight edge to the words, “we should probably go. Before anyone decides to press charges.”
Tobias glanced up, gaze moving quickly from Varric’s look of mild irritation to Sebastian’s pale, tight expression. “Right. Can do,” he agreed. “Fenris?”
The elf rose gracefully from his seat. Tobias considered taking the opportunity to press His Royal Shininess about payment, but he didn’t look like a man who’d take well to questions concerning money at that particular moment. He blinked, and seemed to register Tobias’ presence in the room for the first time.
“Lady Flora and her brothers are resting. I must go to the chantry, arrange for a healer to be sent. Then there is the matter of… funerary arrangements, and the proper explanations must be presented to the viscount’s office, the guard, and—”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Tobias said smoothly.
“But I’ve said I’ll take care of everything,” the princeling protested. “It is the least I could do, after—”
“Yes, absolutely… but I’m sure the family won’t want all the, uh, unpleasant details splashed over everything, will they?”
Sebastian frowned. The dusky light filtering through the kitchen’s small windows glinted on the whiteness of his armour, throwing every thin highlight and highly polished fitment into sharp relief.
“I will not instigate a tissue of lies,” he said coldly. “And I shall assume that you did not just suggest it.”
The atmosphere thickened a little, and Tobias was aware of Fenris shifting his weight ever so slightly.
Varric cleared his throat. “Oh, now… lie is such a strong word. Why not, ah, ‘rendition of events’? Hm?”
“Exactly.” Tobias rose from the table, downed the rest of the wine he was still holding in one hand, and smiled encouragingly. “Just smoothing out the details for the greater good. It’s probably something you should talk to the grand cleric about… certainly before going to the guard. Believe me. I know the Captain, and she’s a very busy woman. In fact, you know what? I could accompany you, if you like. You never know. Might help.”
He thought, for a moment, he was getting away with it. That insistent rhythm, the comforting beat of a voice, a suave smile… it worked with people who were a bit rattled, people who’d just had the kind of shock that—if he was honest—Tobias had to admit that people often had in his company. Things blowing up, or bursting into flames, or people stabbing each other… it was the kind of mess that followed him around.
He thought, for a moment, he had His Royal Shininess as easily moulded as that, right in the middle of his palm.
Unfortunately, he was wrong.
Sebastian blinked, then narrowed those lovely eyes and glared at him.
“I will not be manipulated, Hawke. But… I do see your point.” He sighed, and shook his head wearily. “Rest assured, I meant what I said: I have no intention of turning you in, apostate or no. You have done me a great service, and I thank you for that. You have served the Harimanns, too… though I doubt Lady Flora is in much of a state to see you are rewarded. No, I shall indeed speak with Her Grace, and see what might be done to preserve the family’s reputation, despite Lady Harimann’s crimes. Her children have already suffered enough. If you would prefer, you may accompany me to the chantry. You will see, I trust, that you will have no reason to doubt my word.”
There was flint and steel underlying that delicious brogue, and Tobias suppressed the urge to wince and look shamed. He’d never felt quite so grubby for protecting his own skin before but, he reminded himself, he didn’t know this man, and it was dangerous to believe the promises of wealthy patrons in pretty armour.
He inclined his head. “Very well. I meant no disrespect… my lord.”
Sebastian gave him a look laced with annoyance and acute awareness, but said nothing.
Well, well… canny little thing, aren’t you?
They’d killed a good few hours inside the mansion, and the rest of the day had all but slipped away without them. The cool of evening bathed Hightown’s stones, casting shadows alongside the creeping ivy, and painting over the cracks in the houses.
Fenris peeled off first, saying he planned to head back to the mansion, though Tobias noticed he took a sidestreet that led to the west end of the market district instead, up near the dwarven traders’ hall. He assumed the elf had reason, both for the destination and the lying, but noted Varric watching him go.
Varric himself made his excuses before they got to the chantry courtyard, and muttered about getting back to his suite and making sure there weren’t any guild envoys hiding behind the curtains.
Tobias nodded. “See you a bit later?”
“I expect to,” the dwarf said with a smile. “You’re buying the first round!”
He grinned at Varric’s receding shape, and traipsed after Sebastian as the man strode purposefully up the great avenue towards the imposing sweep of white steps that led towards the chantry’s massive, gilded doors.
“You can wait here,” Sebastian told him, all clipped consonants and brusque politeness. “If it pleases you.”
“Take your time.”
Tobias didn’t argue, allowing himself to be parked unceremoniously beside one of the bronze votary statues of Andraste. He watched the armoured figure stride away, towards the galleried landing and the grand cleric’s chambers, and then glanced up at the Holy Prophet’s graven face. It glimmered softly under the candlelight, and her expression was probably meant to be one of sorrow at the fate of her people, combined with the holy zeal of the Exalted March, and the ethereal otherness that came with being the Maker’s bride.
From Tobias’ angle, it looked quite a lot like trapped wind.
He leaned against the panelling and picked at the seam of his bracer. He was going to need another new pair. New boots, too… good ones. Good, solid Fereldan boots. He’d have to go and see if Lirene’s import shop had anything in stock. She was still doing a good trade, last he’d heard, and everything she’d done for the first waves of refugees had built her a good and loyal clientele… even if some of the locals had objected. One or two gangs had taken a couple of pops at burning her out. Of course, Tobias reflected, it was unfortunate how tricky something like that was. Bunch of daft Marcher boys try to run a Fereldan business out of town, and end up running screaming into the night with their trousers on fire.
A small smile crossed his face at the memory. Still, Lirene had been very grateful, and the lifetime discount came in handy.
She had also been the first one to give him Anders’ name, he remembered. Well, not name, but the vague suggestion of where to find the elusive healer of Darktown. He wasn’t sure if that was something else to be grateful to the woman for or not.
Tobias would, he reminded himself, be seeing him tonight. Handing over the money for the Underground… and the substantial extra coinage he’d decided to give. He couldn’t tell if it was the prospect of just seeing Anders, or surprising him with the gift that sent a little shiver of pleasure through him. Maybe both, and how stupid was that?
He took a deep breath, inhaling all the dusty, rich, thick scents of the chantry: polish, dark wood, beeswax, tallow, flowers, stale incense… and that particular smell that seemed to come from sanctimonious women, like over-starched cloth and white soap.
Something had to give. Sooner or later, anyway. He knew that. They couldn’t—he couldn’t keep on like this. It was the whole thing; Carver, squirreled away somewhere in The Gallows, pretending his life’s vocation was to twat straw dummies with his sword and wear stupid armour, while Leandra twittered about trying to refeather a nest that had been empty for years. And were they meant to take Gamlen with them to the estate? Oh, she was so keen on all those things she said about family…. Tobias stifled a groan. She probably would want to, wouldn’t she? Share her good fortune and keep her kin together.
Maker bloody well preserve us….
Distaste beat a bitter tattoo at the back of his throat as he thought of that scrawny old bastard lording it over everyone. Not to mention, with Uncle Gamlen along for the ride, they’d be lucky if the money lasted longer than a blink, and there wasn’t another loan shark or numbers runner on the doorstep, ready to repossess everything they owned before they’d even moved the furniture in.
Tobias winced to himself, and watched the sisters and occasional penitents moving silently around the pews. It had been restful in here earlier, just allowing himself to stop, and breathe, and think.
Only, nothing seemed beyond the touch of being Hawke, did it? Even in a moment’s peace and prayer, someone had wanted his attention, wanted a problem fixed. And that was all he was good for, wasn’t it? Here, in this town, he was a hired blade, a temporary solution… and he was sick of it. Tobias had never thought he’d long for the studied anonymity of life in Ferelden—their quiet life in Lothering, always overshadowed by the possibilities of discovery and flight though it had been.
He remembered, once, Malcolm saying they should go to Denerim, or Highever, or some other city. A family with three mages in it was hard to hide, and they might have disappeared better among the bigger crowds, if it came to it. Leandra hadn’t wanted to—she’d wanted open country, and broad skies, and wholesome food on the table, even if there wasn’t much of it. Tobias recalled half-overheard snatches of arguments, cross words hastily hushed, and his father’s resigned relenting, bowing as he always did to the wishes of the wife he’d adored… and allowed himself to be ruled by.
True enough, he supposed, that if they had gone to a city, there would have been slums, and gutters, and some Maker-forsaken little tenement even worse than Gamlen’s hovel. They’d been lucky, really, for all the deprivations of life in the armpit of nowhere.
He missed it more than he’d ever thought possible.
Tobias blinked and looked up at the sound of Sebastian’s sabatons on the stones of the nave. The prince looked pinched and pale, his jaw tight and those terribly distracting eyes cloudy and hooded.
Seems safe to assume Her Grace was a bit cheesed off, then.
Tobias licked his lips as he eyed the moneybag dangling from Sebastian’s hand.
“Here,” the princeling offered, holding it out as he drew to a halt beside the graven Andraste that Tobias had, in deference to his patron’s apparent piety, stopped actually leaning against. “Your payment, Serah Hawke. And my thanks.”
Tobias took the bag, weighing it with practised fingers. Nice. About thirty sovereigns, by the feel of it. Extremely generous, even after the cuts were divvied up. He nodded his thanks.
“I’m glad I could be of help.”
There was a beat of silence, and the soft echoes of their voices whispered across the nave. In a side-chapel, someone coughed, and there was a squeak of a chair moving on flagstones. Tobias studied the other man’s tired, bruised frown, the chiselled lines of cheekbones and delicately defined patrician nose, the fullness of lips pulled into a drawn, set curve… and gave himself a good, hard mental kick.
Leave it alone. Just go. Just turn around, right now, and walk out. Because this is not your business, Hawke. You have the money. Now, go.
He cleared his throat. “It’s, uh… difficult to face the reality of a betrayal like that, I know. I’m very sorry, for what it’s worth.”
Sebastian glanced up, and as he met Tobias’ gaze, those clouded eyes began to warm a little.
Oh, you idiot…. Leave him alone. Stop fiddling and just go. Now.
“I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised,” he said quietly, and that burr of an accent caught at the words, made thicker and lower by the tail end of whatever emotions the man was battling. “It’s just that it had been so long since I was a part of that world. Perhaps I’d forgotten how far greed like that can drive a person.”
Tobias shrugged, wondering a little at the complex and shifting patterns of guilt, doubt, fear and anger that were so very plain on Sebastian’s face. He’d always thought the nobility were trained to keep their feelings hidden.
“Well,” he said, wrinkling his nose, “a throne and an entire city-state. People have killed for less. Much less. You should see the state of Lowtown the morning after payday on the docks.”
The princeling shook his head, and Tobias doubted he’d even heard the words. He supposed they had, perhaps, been a little ill-chosen. After all, the desire demon had said things that he hadn’t expected… touched on Sebastian’s old yearning to rule; something he was supposed to have put behind him, something he wasn’t meant to want.
And we all want things we shouldn’t, don’t we?
Sebastian sighed. “I… I feel like I’ve bathed in filth that will never come off.”
“Wash behind the ears,” Tobias said, before he could stop himself. “I find evil usually gets stuck there.”
The princeling blinked, and stared at him, apparently more in surprise than appalled disgust. Tobias bit the inside of his lip.
“Sorry. I don’t mean to… that is, I know what you mean. I don’t exactly deal in the highest strata of society. But it does go, that feeling. Eventually,” he lied, meeting those incredibly blue eyes. “And the words of demons are nothing but flames. That’s what my father used to say, anyway. It’s only when you dwell on them that you let them burn. Choke ’em off, give ’em nothing to feed on, and they die out. They don’t matter.”
He cleared his throat and looked away, mildly embarrassed at having—for some unfathomable reason—shared that little nugget.
“You are a man of surprising contradictions, Hawke. But… thank you. It sounds as if your father was indeed a wise man.”
Tobias shrugged, and frowned at the carvings on the end of the nearest pew. He couldn’t make out whether they were supposed to be grapes or ears of corn. Something signifying the bounty of the Maker’s munificence, anyway. It made him think, for one silly, quick moment, of Harvest back in Lothering, and the village dance, the year he’d spiked the cider and Carver had gone behind the barn with the feed merchant’s tarty daughter. They’d both been in terrible trouble, but it had been worth it, albeit in different ways.
He raised a hand and scratched awkwardly at the back of his neck.
“Look, er… I appreciate you’re either a priest or a prince, or possibly both, but I really need a drink and, y’know, you’re welcome to join me. If you want.”
Sebastian’s face softened, some of the despair and tension leavening out into just plain resigned melancholy.
“As a man, I’m technically a Brother in Faith, not a priest,” he said, a weak smile dimpling his cheeks a little. “Though I suppose the other part’s true. And I’ve certainly not taken any vows that preclude alcohol… at least not to excess.”
Tobias grinned. “Well, the night is young.”
Sebastian’s smile widened a little.
He offered Tobias a chance to wash up a bit before they left, though the experience of chantry charity—warm water, clean cloths, and a lay sister who listened to Sebastian’s ‘rendition of events’, as Varric might have called it, with wide and credulous eyes—was a trifle uncomfortable.
‘Encountered a skirmish’? Really? Maker’s cock, we need to watch this one. Too bloody good at lying by half….
The Hanged Man was filling up by the time he and Sebastian got there. Any other bar, and Tobias would have told him to change out of his armour and into something at least halfway inconspicuous, but it didn’t much matter. For a start, everyone who counted would already know who the princeling was and, secondly, if chairs started flying, it was probably better that there was some modicum of protection between the brawl and the possibility of injured royalty.
“This way,” he said, motioning to the back stairs. “Varric has a suite. Probably not as nice as you’re used to, but—”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sebastian said cheerfully, looking around at the rough wooden tables, the already none-too-fresh rushes, and the nightly crop of mercenaries, thugs, thieves, tarts, and ne’er-do-wells occupying the bar. “There was a place just like this back home… and have you ever been in Antiva City?”
Tobias couldn’t help the upward arch of his eyebrow. “No, can’t say I have.”
The princeling grinned, and it was a surprisingly lecherous one. Tobias jolted as he realised the bastard had actually slapped him on the back.
“Aha! If you ever get the chance, you definitely should. It’s quite a place!”
“Huh. I’ll… bear that in mind,” Tobias said carefully, as they made their way into Varric’s suite.
It was already fairly busy. The dwarf was holding court, and knots of people—humans, some of the less respectable dwarven traders, and even a sprinkling of elven mercenaries with money to burn—stretched from the centre of the chamber to the corridor, each one of them with a drink in hand. The buzz of conversation lapped around Tobias, tugging and pulling at him like waves, because that was how Varric did what he did in this town. A word in an ear, a little gossip or slander-mongering and a few well-placed tall tales, and he had half the city slipped into place as part of his complex network. People knew people, who knew people, and whatever Varric fed them filtered through until it became a truth, or a half-truth, or something that, somehow, everyone was just aware of; the way the whole of Lowtown knew Tobias Hawke was a name worth enquiring for if you wanted something done.
Tobias often wondered what the dwarf got out of it. He had certainly never paid Varric for his services, unless you counted the money he’d put into the Deep Roads expedition, but it would surely have been easy enough to find another business partner. That didn’t make him special.
No, he reckoned Varric just got off on the power. All that manipulating people, playing the whole city off itself like some elaborate clockwork toy… it amused him and, for whatever reason, Tobias amused him too.
It wasn’t a comforting thought, but it reminded him how well worth it staying on the dwarf’s good side was.
Could be worse. At least I actually like him.
He turned at the sound of his name, and grinned as Varric came squeezing through the crowd, tankard in his hand, beaming cheerfully. The smell of grease and ale and hearth-smoke came wafting up as the knots of people parted, and brought with it the undertone of stew and fresh bread.
Tobias nodded, his stomach beginning to rumble traitorously. He’d forgotten it had been so long since he last ate… not that Lowtown life tended to make one overly used to regular meals.
“Ah!” The dwarf’s grin widened even further, amusement dancing in his broad face as he looked at Sebastian. “And Choirboy! Wonderful.”
“Choir—?” Sebastian started, but Tobias shook his head.
“There’s no use fighting it,” he said quietly. “Everyone gets a nickname. Argue with ‘Choirboy’ and you’ll be stuck with something much worse.”
The princeling arched an eyebrow as Varric eased himself out of the crush.
“You don’t have one. I’ve only heard him call you ‘Hawke’.”
Tobias grinned. “Ah, yes… but I’m special. Besides, it’s hard to spread spurious stories about someone when you have to stop to explain the nickname.”
Varric slapped him on the back and raised his mug in a salute. “Come on, come on… come in. You too, Sparklefingers,” he added, chuckling wickedly.
“Hey!” Tobias narrowed his eyes. “I thought we talked about that….”
Varric just laughed, and Tobias studiously ignored the princeling’s enquiring look. They followed their host into his lair—past the gaggles of gossips and preening hangers-on—to the slightly more private part of the suite, where the table was laid with wine, ale, and food, the fire was roaring, and candles smoked in their sconces.
“Hawke!” Merrill bounced out of the chair she’d been occupying, and waved excitedly at him, nearly spilling her half-empty cup of wine down the front of her tunic. “Oh, it’s nice to see you. I haven’t seen you in ages!”
It had probably been less than two weeks, but Tobias supposed time went more quickly for someone with the elf’s attention span. She came over in effusive, ungainly bounds, and hugged him tightly, beaming with delight.
“Merrill,” he countered, trying to lever himself backwards before she actually broke his spine, and grimacing at the feel of wine sloshing down the back of his neck.
Beneath the curling linework of her tattoos, her skin was flushed, and those huge, leaf-green eyes glimmered with intense brightness. Tobias sniffed, and wrinkled his nose at the sharpness of cheap booze that rolled off her.
“Isabela’s been teaching me a new card game,” she said, raising a hand to her mouth to stifle a small belch. “Oops, pardon. I think I’m winning. Who’s your friend?”
Andraste’s dimpled arse….
He winced, and gestured to Sebastian.
“Merrill, this is Sebastian Vael. We’ve… been doing some work together. Sebastian, this is Merrill. She’s, er, Dalish,” he added vaguely, as if that might go some way towards explaining the… well, the everything that was Merrill.
The skilfully disguised look of surprise that flickered over the princeling’s face suggested that he hadn’t expected to be introduced to another elf, much less one as giddy and cheerful as she was, but Tobias supposed the contrast would affect anyone who’d recently spent time in company with Fenris. But for the pointy ears, it was hard to believe they were both even tangentially of the same race.
In any case, Sebastian recovered well, and began to make a polite greeting, but Merrill was staring at his breastplate, her head tilting curiously from side to side.
“Ooh,” she said, lips bowing into an almost perfect circle. “Ooh, you are shiny, aren’t you?”
Varric’s fingers closed on her arm, and he reached out with the other hand to remove the cup from her. “Come along, Daisy. I told you not to play the Rivaini for drinks, didn’t I?”
“But I was winning,” she protested, as he led her through the throng.
“Wicked Grace,” Tobias explained, glancing at Sebastian.
“Isabela?” he enquired.
“Ah. Yes. Another of my, uh, associates. It’s a strategy she has.” Tobias smiled ruefully, far more familiar with the ploy than he really wanted to admit. “She sets the ante for the loser buying the next round, then lets you win the first three draws. Once you’re well-oiled, she ups the stakes and takes you to the cleaners. Next thing you know, she’s got every penny you had, and the shirt off your back.”
Sebastian grinned. “The voice of experience, I see.”
“Hah.” Tobias pulled a face. “Just don’t play cards with her. Trust me on that one. Or at least stick to Diamondback.”
He lifted a hand and waved to the familiar, dark-haired figure seated at Varric’s table. Isabela smiled broadly, cutting a deck of cards in one hand, with one of Varric’s glass-studded goblets in the other. Her gaze fell on Sebastian—a look of open appraisal and appreciation—then she tilted the goblet at Tobias, and waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
He groaned, and was rather grateful that she seemed too occupied by fleecing her next opponent—a heavy-set, tattooed man whom Tobias had seen around the tavern often enough to think he’d know better—to come and introduce herself.
“That’s…?” Sebastian asked.
Tobias glanced over his shoulder and nodded as they edged through to the far end of the suite, where Varric was pouring drinks and beckoning them to a trio of comfortably upholstered chairs.
“She looks a bit like a—”
“Lot of things,” he interjected, before Sebastian could say anything impolitic. “But she’s dependable enough, and I consider her a friend. Besides, a word of advice? Think carefully about any comparisons you make. Legality is pretty much a fluid term in this bar.”
He caught the momentary tension in the princeling’s face—that suggestion of a man who could easily be riled to an inflexible, self-righteous anger—but it flickered away quickly, replaced with a surprisingly worldly grin.
“She looks a lovely young woman,” Sebastian said, without a trace of irony beneath those rolling, burred consonants.
Varric patted the back of one of the chairs invitingly, and proffered a tankard of something that, Tobias knew from experience, would be completely and utterly unlike dwarven ale. He took it, sniffed, and recognised the pleasant, honeyed sweetness of mead.
“So, Hawke, you remember you were asking about openings in business? I think I found you one.” Varric grinned, thrusting another tankard at Sebastian. “C’mon. Sit down, have a drink… I’ll tell you all about it.”
Distracted, Tobias cast a dubious look around the edge of the room. Stupid, really, he told himself. Anders wouldn’t be here yet. He’d still be clearing the clinic out.
He shook himself, smiled graciously, and sat down.
It was more enjoyable than he expected, just sitting and sinking a couple of tankards in convivial company… even if Sebastian and Varric seemed strangely dissonant companions. The princeling was different, though, away from the sunshine and the white stone walls of Hightown. He seemed relaxed, cheerful, happy to laugh and smile even at the more ribald bits of humour—yet something guarded always lingered, deep behind those lucid eyes. He talked, very briefly, of the events in Starkhaven; of the coup, and the chaos and unrest that Goren Vael’s ascent to the throne had caused.
Varric positively lapped it up, of course.
The business opportunity the dwarf offered was intriguing, too: an Orlesian merchant of dubious morality and even looser credentials, who’d bought an old Tevinter mine north of the city, and was struggling to make it work.
Not bloody surprising. If it’s got a name like ‘The Bone Pit’ and the locals won’t go near it, there’s probably a sodding good reason.
Tobias—quite possibly due to the influence of his second tankard of mead—agreed that it did sound like an option worth exploring, and he promised to go and speak with the man the following day. Varric nodded approvingly.
“Y’see?” he said, mug pausing on the way to his lips. “You’re going to be a legitimate businessman in no time.”
He guffawed as he downed his drink, and Tobias sneered, albeit with a certain degree of affection.
“That’s what you do, then?” Sebastian asked, looking pleasingly flushed in the firelight. “When you’re not fighting demons? You—”
“Fix people’s problems,” Tobias said dryly. “You know. Problems like yours, or like this… whatsit? Hubert?”
Varric nodded and swilled a mouthful of mead. Over at the table, the tattooed man howled in disbelief as Isabela slapped down a run of cards and cackled triumphantly.
Tobias shrugged. “Well… least I can do is talk to him, isn’t it?”
The princeling appeared thoughtful for a moment, then gave a small, strange smile, like he’d just solved some kind of puzzle.
“I see. So, you would do that—deal with whatever is stopping production at the mine—and then all those people working for him can go back to their jobs, and provide for their families?”
Tobias stared. “Er….”
Nah, I would do it so the poncey foreign bastard pays me. I don’t give a stuff what his workforce do.
Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to phrase it quite that way, not with Sebastian suddenly looking so peculiarly hopeful and… impressed? Yes, that was it. The princeling actually looked impressed.
“Yeah,” he said, with a shrug. “Near enough.”
Sebastian nodded approvingly. “I see.”
Tobias bit his lip, and swilled the rest of his mead around the inside of his tankard. The air felt hot and thick, and he had the strangest sense that the man was going to ask if he could come along.
Fuck… he doesn’t think we’re doing the Maker’s work or something, does he? I couldn’t bear it. I really couldn’t….
“Very worthy. If, er, if you should ever need my assistance, in whatever form I can—”
Oh, Andraste’s flaming twat… I don’t believe it.
Tobias swallowed a groan as Varric sat forwards, interest and utter delight gleaming on his face.
“Hawke would be thrilled,” he said suavely, ignoring the glare Tobias shot him. “Wouldn’t you? A Princely Adventure,” he added, in that particular, far-eyed way he reserved for gauging prospective book titles. “I can see it now. In fact, hold on… I wanna write this down.”
The suite was definitely becoming oppressive. Tobias slouched in the opulence of his padded chair, and found that the scratchy, velvet-like fabric made the backs of his arms itch. He drained his tankard, and cast an eye around the chambers, only half-listening to Varric interrogating Sebastian for potential plot points and details to embroider.
“No, he’s not twenty feet tall,” Sebastian protested. “And he doesn’t have claws for fingers. Goren was always a rather dumpy boy, as a matter of fact. Pudgy, and a bit slow-witted.”
Varric squinted. “He eats babies, though, right? And farts fire?”
He’d already produced a pencil from somewhere on his person, and was jotting something down on a scrap of parchment. Tobias dreaded to think of the details.
Sebastian laughed incredulously. “You’re not serious, I hope….”
“Oh, come on,” the dwarf pleaded. “At least pretend to be interesting, Choir Boy!”
Tobias chuckled, shaking his head when the princeling looked to him for back-up. He leaned forwards and let Varric pour him another tankard of mead. It was strong stuff—that sweetness masked a kick, and he promised himself he really would make this his last one—but it did seem to wash the taste of filth and demons out of his mouth.
He let the conversation lap around him, half-heartedly listening to Varric trying to make Sebastian say that Starkhaven was an exotic wonderland of dusky, nubile beauties and virile swashbucklers, instead of just another inland city-state. So far, it wasn’t working, but Tobias didn’t doubt that, after another couple of drinks, Varric would have something worth twisting out of the man.
Movement at the suite’s door caught his attention, and he glanced up, the mug stilling on his lips as he spotted a figure making its way through the thinning throng, shoulders hunched and ragged like a moulting crow.
Anders paused for a moment, scanning the room, and for those fleeting few seconds he seemed to be a totally alien creature, entirely at odds with the bar’s grubby squalor. He’d shaved, Tobias noticed, though his coat looked wet, and his hair was dampened to dark gold by what must have been a late rain shower. The light of the fire, and the candles, bathed him in an amber glow—encapsulated him, almost, like he was totally set apart from everything.
Tobias grinned. He knew by now it was pointless to resist or question that wash of joy that flooded him—like a real, physical warmth in his chest, just at the sight of the man—even though he was aware of its futility.
“Blondie!” Varric called, beckoning him over. “Good to see you. Drink?”
Anders saw them, heard Varric, nodded, and started to cross the suite. He looked exhausted, worn thin, but his smile was genuine… at least until he got closer, and saw Sebastian. Wariness touched his face then, combined with curiosity, and a touch of something a little darker.
“Ah, the gang’s all here,” Varric said cheerfully, peering across the chamber, to where Isabela was raking in her next round of winnings, and Merrill appeared to be asleep on one of the couches. “Except Broody, and Aveline… only she’s not really—”
Anders gave Tobias a questioning look, his posture stiff and trepid.
“Ah. Yes.” Tobias cleared his throat, and gestured with his half-empty tankard. “Anders, this is Sebastian Vael. You remember? The… er… from Starkhaven, with the….” He coughed, not particularly willing to dredge up the matter of the Flint Company right at that moment. “Sebastian, Anders.”
He didn’t mean it to sound so brusque. It just seemed like a good idea to give His Royal Shininess as little information about the healer as possible, only Tobias heard the way it came out: like Anders was just some other associate, someone who didn’t matter… someone who was intruding on a moment between friends. It probably looked like that, too, with the three of them sitting here, swilling mead, laughing and talking under the fug of warm air and firelight.
At that moment, the princeling stood, smiled, and offered a greeting in that lovely brogue of his, to which Anders replied with a terse and monosyllabic grunt. Tobias took a mouthful of mead and tried not to wince as Sebastian folded awkwardly back into his seat.
“I remember you,” Anders said, his voice positively arid. “Your bounty, anyway. We never met, but I was with Hawke when we fought the Flint Company.”
There was something almost possessive in the way he said it; something that brought a tiny thrill to life in Tobias’ veins, though he tried to ignore it, and— while the princeling’s attention was distracted—he mugged frantically at Anders to shut up. The healer either didn’t see, or ignored him.
“I… see,” Sebastian said, obviously a little wrong-footed. “Well, I am most grateful, I can assure—”
Anders sniffed coolly and, peering down at the other man with disdain, crossed his arms over his chest. “Is that supposed to be Andraste’s face on your crotch?”
Tobias’ mead nearly shot out of his nose.
“What?” Sebastian blinked, looking vaguely alarmed.
“That.” Anders nodded curtly in the general direction of his lap. “That belt-buckle… thing. Is that meant to be Andraste?”
Sebastian glanced reflexively downwards, but recovered quickly. “It’s not a belt-buckle. I mean, yes, it’s Our Lady, but it’s a heraldic— My father had this armour commissioned when I took my vows as a Brother in Faith.”
Tobias swallowed very hard, the back of his nose and throat on fire with the pain of alcohol sloshing where it wasn’t meant to go, and tried desperately not to laugh. He didn’t even dare look at Varric, although the strangled breathing suggested the dwarf was struggling to hold on, too.
“Huh.” Anders simply lofted an eyebrow, his composure complete. “Just doesn’t seem awfully respectful, that’s all. I mean, I’m not sure I’d want the Maker to see me shoving his bride’s head between my legs every morning.”
That did for Varric. He spluttered, guffawed, and thumped the table, and Sebastian turned a wide, blue-eyed look of surprise—and even slight amusement—on Tobias.
Well, well… not even offended, are you, Choirboy?
A half-smile that might have been a defence mechanism, or might have meant that he was just slightly impressed, curled the princeling’s lips. He shook his head incredulously, and looked as if he was about to dredge up a witty retort, but Anders didn’t give him the chance.
“Anyway,” he said crisply, “I’ll go and get a drink. Please, don’t let me interrupt any further.”
And, with that, he turned and swept out, leaving a stunned silence in his wake.
“I… don’t think your friend likes me,” Sebastian ventured, which set Varric off into another wheezy chuckle.
“Ah, forget it,” he said, shaking his head. “Blondie doesn’t like most people. The Chantry thing’s not working in your favour, though. I’ll give you that.”
Tobias glanced sharply at the dwarf. Unexpectedly congenial company though the princeling had turned out to be, there were things he didn’t need to know, and things it wasn’t safe to tell him.
“Oh, he’s not a believer?” Sebastian enquired, leaning forwards for Varric to top up his tankard.
Tobias drained the last of his mead, wincing at the remnants of it he’d almost expelled by unconventional means, and shook his head, declining a fresh pour.
“Not as such,” he said. “He’s just had a few bad experiences. But he’s a good man. A good friend. Um, if you’ll excuse me a minute….”
He saw the look Varric gave him as he got up. It was impressively complicated for someone who’d put away as much drink as he had that evening; a mess of vague reproach and concern, coupled with curiosity and a knowing leer. Tobias chose to ignore all of it, and made his way out of the suite and down into the tavern’s main bay.
Anders was leaning on the bar, cupping a clay mug of wine. Nearby, Corff was dispensing homespun wisdom to one of the slightly more sodden regulars and, further towards the door, an argument was breaking out between two dockworkers about someone’s sister-in-law… or possibly the disputed results of a game of Wallop. It was hard to tell.
“What in the world was that all about?” Tobias asked quietly, slipping in beside Anders, and propping his arms against the rough, greasy wood of the bar.
He breathed in and—somewhere between the sawdust and beer and hints of old vomit—caught a whiff of elfroot and soot, and something else. Some light, clean fragrance, like a good quality soap.
It was nice. And it told Tobias something about what coming here tonight—about what his pledge to the Underground, perhaps—had meant to Anders… or it might have done. It could be very hard to unpick the meanings behind many of the things the healer did. Tobias wanted to believe it was for him, though. He wanted to believe it very much.
Anders didn’t turn to face him. He just shrugged and glared at his cup.
Tobias snorted. “You know. You, and… and His Royal Whatsit, just now. You were a bit—”
“He’s a hypocrite,” Anders said crisply. “Don’t you think?”
He looked up then, real anger blazing in those dark eyes, though his voice stayed comparatively hushed. “I remember last year. This is the same man who paid us—all right, paid you—to take down those mercenaries as retribution for his family’s deaths, and then shilly-shallied all the way back to the chantry?”
“Ye-es,” Tobias began, sensing a trap he was about to blunder into. “But… I thought you believed in blood for blood.”
The hum and buzz of the tavern seemed to grow louder, sucking at the air between them, filling everything with sound and the chaotic thickness of life. Over by the door, the argument was heading towards a fist fight, and Corff sighed wearily, reaching below the bar for the hefty blackjack he kept under there.
Anders grimaced. “Vengeance is one thing, but this is different. Is he even bothering to think about what’s right for his city? To put himself above his own desire for retaliation?”
Tobias opened his mouth, words hovering on his lips that—as he started to say them—suddenly felt unkind. So it’s about the difference between Vengeance and Justice, is it?
He knew it was something that bothered Anders; he’d spoken of it a few times before in Tobias’ presence, but it had seemed an abstract thing, a concept that tugged at him after half a cup of wine and a long day. There was a line between justice and revenge that, once crossed, was forever blurred… and the thought of losing that distinction frightened Anders. Tobias had an inkling of how much, but he wasn’t prepared to try and confirm it.
Something’s happened, hasn’t it? Something’s got you rattled, and you won’t tell me what it is, even if I ask, because you’re a stubborn bastard, aren’t you?
He swallowed, and wet his lips, taking refuge in teasing. “Well, that’s politics for you. And there was me thinking you were just jealous of his sexy foreign accent.”
Anders snorted, though it didn’t sound as bitter as it might have done. “Accents, hm? No.” He shook his head, and took a sip of his wine. “I lost mine a long time ago, and good riddance.”
Tobias frowned. “You had a—?”
“Anyway,” Anders continued, cutting blithely across him, “I still say he’s a hypocrite, though I suppose I didn’t need to be quite so much of an ass. I just didn’t realise you were friends.”
Tobias opened his mouth to say they weren’t, and to explain the whole general chaos of the day, and the Harimann estate, but somehow the words didn’t quite make it out. He was distracted by the way Anders said that last word… that twist to it that sounded almost like bitterness.
Now, what with that little performance in the suite, if I didn’t know better, I’d think someone had a touch of the envies.
Delighted curiosity twirled in his gut, twining possibilities through his flesh.
He shrugged. “We’re not really. He had another job; bit of a rough one, so I brought him down here for a stiffener. Turns out the noblewoman who hired the Flint Company was a friend of his parents. I say was advisedly.”
Anders glanced up, brow furrowed.
Near the door, the first punch was thrown, and one of the men went careening into someone else’s table, spilling pints and generally annoying people. A roar of encouragement went up as the sprawled docker struggled up and attempted to barrel back towards his attacker, only to be pulled down and nutted in the forehead by a somewhat irate dwarf who—from his padded jack and facial brand—looked suspiciously like an off-duty Carta thug.
Tobias and Anders exchanged glances, then the healer picked up his wine and they moved quietly to an empty table in the far corner of the bar, tucked almost out of sight in one of the damp recesses close to the kitchen. A greasy tallow candle burned in a shallow sconce on the wall above, oozing wax and the acrid smell of fat into the thick, smoky air.
“Anyhow,” Tobias said, sliding into one of the rough wooden chairs, and taking care not to actually touch too much of the table, “maybe he is a bit of a hypocrite, but he had work going, and he’s good for the money. Not to mention,” he added, raising his gaze to Anders’ face in a fit of mischievous near-cruelty, “well… he’s pretty easy on the eyes. Don’t you think?”
A muscle flickered briefly in Anders’ jaw as he sat down. He blinked, then looked faintly appalled. “Hawke, you—”
“Oh, come on, don’t say you didn’t notice. Those eyes… and the voice, not to mention the cheekbones. He’s rather sweet, isn’t he?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Anders’ lips thinned as his fingers worried at the sides of his cup. “I haven’t licked him.”
Tobias spluttered, but couldn’t deny the delicious wash of glee that rampaged through him.
You are, aren’t you? You silly sod, you’re actually bloody jealous!
He grinned lazily, savouring the deliciousness of it all. Over by the door, Corff was breaking up the fight, and the docker was nursing a broken nose. The Carta dwarf looked like he was going to get a free pint out of it.
“Ah, well. Me neither,” Tobias said, and sighed in theatrical resignation. “Hmm. Probably won’t get a chance, either. Not only is he sworn to the Chantry but, apparently, he was quite the ladykiller before he reformed… and nothing else. Still, a boy can daydream, right?”
Anders shook his head, radiating incredulous disapproval, and tutted. “Tell me about this noblewoman, then,” he said, cupping his mug protectively. “What, you’re strutting around Hightown slaughtering the great and the good at random now?”
Tobias smirked. “Lady Harimann,” he said quietly, not that it was likely anyone who cared could hear them. “Turned out she’d done a deal with a demon. Her family, in exchange for putting her puppet on the throne in Starkhaven. It was a bit messy.”
Anders’ eyes widened. “He took you in there to face a demon that had possessed an entire family?”
It was difficult to meet the hard, angry look on his face. Tobias frowned.
“He didn’t know that. And it wasn’t really…. Look, it wasn’t that bad.”
“You could have—” Anders bit the end off the word, his voice low and sharp, and pressed his lips tightly together.
Tobias folded his arms across his chest and regarded the other man thoughtfully. There were a dozen snide, teasing things he could think of saying, but they all felt just a little bit cruel.
“I’m all right,” he said softly. “Really, I am. We took it down. It wasn’t a problem. And… I’m a big boy, Anders. I can cope.”
Anders gave him a withering look. “I know that. I don’t— I mean, I imagine he knows now, though? Hmm? About you? About…?”
He twitched his fingers lightly, and the gesture distracted Tobias. He’d seen Anders do it once before, on one of those raucous, bright evenings in the suite, when he’d mentioned his past… Amaranthine, and the Grey Wardens, and the legendary epithets those fearsome heroes of Blight legends earned.
Sparklefingers! Varric had crowed, utterly delighted with the name. Seriously? Wonderful! But, since you’re already ‘Blondie’, why don’t we call Hawke—
Not a chance, Tobias had said, shutting that one down before it even got started. It still occasionally came back to haunt him, just as it had done when he and Sebastian had arrived in the suite.
All the same, that brief flash of memory felt warm, full of laughter and wine, and at odds with the sudden intensity on Anders’ face. Tobias cleared his throat.
“Yes. All right, yes, he does. But I don’t think Sebastian will—”
“He’s a sworn brother,” Anders hissed, leaning fractionally closer… close enough, even across the table, for Tobias to catch the smell of herbs and wet dog that clung to his coat, and that smart, pleasing fragrance beneath it. “D’you really believe he won’t let it slip? That’s dangerous, Hawke. Too dangerous.”
“Well, what was I supposed to do? Run away?”
“Maybe, yes!” Anders winced. “No. Oh, sod… I don’t know. I just…. Well, he better be trustworthy. For his own sake.”
Tobias smirked as Anders lolled sulkily back in his chair. “Did you just make a thinly veiled threat against the Prince of Starkhaven?”
Anders looked tired, but a trace of that wonderful, wicked grin of his curled at the corner of his mouth as he shook his head. “Maybe. But only on account of you.”
Desire unspooled lazily in the pit of Tobias’ gut, and wrapped itself around him, tugging and yearning. Desire… and more than that. Having this man so close to him—so close and yet not nearly close enough—so concerned for his well-being and safety… and all wrapped up in jealousy and protective longing.
He knew, in reality, it was probably a lot more to do with Anders worrying about the Underground than Tobias’ own anonymity as a mage, but it didn’t stop his chest from twisting on the spikes of possibility.
Tobias had seen faces, heard names. If the templars took him, who knew how long he’d withstand torture? He supposed it must have crossed Anders’ mind although, looking at him now, it was hard to believe it could have done. Everything felt just a little bit too personal.
“I’ve got something for you,” he said, glad of the chance to change the subject.
Anders frowned. “Oh?”
“What I said I’d bring. Only… a bit more. Here.”
He pulled the coin pouch out from his jerkin and pushed it across the rickety table, watching the way those long, white hands cupped its weight. Anders’ frown deepened as his fingers dug into the leather, and he glanced up, alarm staining his eyes.
“Hawke… are you sure? This is a lot of coin. It—”
“It could do some good,” Tobias cut in. “So take it. Please?”
He still had hold of the bag, and he pushed it further into Anders’ grasp, their fingers brushing as he did so. For such a small action, it seemed to crackle with energy, that simple touch full of a galvanic power.
Anders pressed his lips together tightly, his attention never leaving Tobias’ face.
Real warmth bathed the words; the same sweetness that leached into those dark eyes, and washed the concern and alarm away.
Tobias swelled with silent, silly pride, a little ashamed at how intensely Anders’ gratitude touched him. He allowed his hand to leave the bag, and let his fingers flex against the grubby tabletop.
“You, uh, you look good, by the way,” he murmured shyly.
Anders blinked, and Tobias gestured vaguely to his own chin, indicating the clean-shaven skin, the neatly slicked back hair, and all those other little details that were becoming more enticing by the second.
“Oh.” His gaze shifted to the tabletop as he finished secreting the coin purse in his coat, and the faintest hint of a pleased flush touched those pale cheekbones. “Thanks. It’s, er, it’s Selby’s naming day. A few of us took her out to celebrate.”
Tobias swallowed, feeling the dull weight of stupidity clang in his gut as he watched Anders fiddle aimlessly with the half-empty cup of wine he obviously wasn’t going to finish drinking.
You see? It’s not always about you, is it?
That’ll teach you to make assumptions, smart-arse.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
The Chantry courtyard was filled with bright sunlight and, as Tobias made his way down the great, sweeping steps—walking with a certain degree of discomfort at the side of the Prince of Starkhaven—the paving stones seemed almost to glimmer.
“Your associate,” Sebastian said, peering inquisitively at him. “You said he doesn’t live far from here?”
“No.” Tobias gestured to the turning that led to the swankier end of the Hightown estates… and Danarius’ mansion. “This way.”
Booted feet echoed crisply against the stones, and Tobias caught a number of passers-by glancing at them. A couple of city guards seemed to notice, too, and he wondered how long it would be before the news filtered back to Aveline. Oh, she still watched him, he knew… watched out for him, she said, and he suspected it was on his mother’s request, although Leandra would never have admitted it.
Bloody women, always conspiring….
Of course, it might have had something to do with the fact that, since leaving the chantry, Sebastian was sporting a large, curved bow and an elaborately tooled quiver of arrows at his back. Tobias hadn’t expected that. If he’d thought about it at all, he supposed he’d assumed princes used swords and shields, like they did in children’s stories. Bethany had owned a book like that when she was little, with woodcuts of valiant heroes slaying dragons and… ogres. He blinked, but the memory that rose—so well-worn now, like a polished stone grinding against the inside of his head, instead of a whetted flint—barely made him stumble.
The princeling cleared his throat. “So, I, uh, understand you have come into the ownership of your family’s estate since last we met? Allow me to congratulate you, Serah Hawke. The Amells were always a fine family, a credit to Kirkwall’s noble—”
“Really more my mother’s relatives than mine,” Tobias said curtly, as they turned from the wide expanse of the courtyard into the shadier streets that opened out into the estates’ approach. “My father—”
—was an apostate—
“—was Fereldan,” he said instead, allowing the slightly bent shape of the truth to pull omissions around it like a silken cocoon.
Tobias gritted his teeth. He had no problem with lying, and he was good at it. However, with every passing week, he felt just a little more bitter at denying everything Malcolm had been, every grain of his history and motivations.
It’s hanging around with Anders that does it, I bet.
That was what Varric would have said, he supposed, and he had to choke down a small smile at the thought of the dwarf’s genially dirty grin.
Idealism, Hawke… it’s like the clap. Spread by proximity, and burns like hell.
Just one throwaway line over beer in The Hanged Man and, at the time, it had made him blush a little. Not that Tobias was happy admitting, even as concepts, that the conjunction of Anders and venereal disease had the power to do that to him.
He pushed the thoughts away, and realised that Sebastian was still looking at him, as if gauging an appropriate response.
“He’s… no longer with us, then?” the princeling ventured.
Tobias blinked. That accent really was interesting: all lilts and burrs. It was like every consonant was just waiting for a passing vowel to grab hold of and rough up, maybe even grope a little. He shook his head.
“No. We left when the Blight started, but Father died a few years before.”
“Ah. I’m sorry,” Sebastian offered, as they passed beneath a white colonnade. “Both for the loss of your father, and your homeland. Starkhaven was fortunate to see almost nothing of the Blight… I suppose the whole of the Marches got off lightly, with the exception of—”
“The refugees, yes.” Tobias nodded, squinting in the dappled sunlight. “We have tried not to make too much of a mess.”
“Oh, I-I didn’t mean—”
Tobias glanced up at the tops of the colonnade’s columns. They were decorated with a frieze of intertwining leaves. All very new, very fresh, very modern, he thought. Of course, a lot of the architecture around the estates was like that; either newly built, making ostentatious use of dwarven craftsmen and showy materials, or brand-new designs chiselled over the top of the old Tevinter ones. Better a twining vine than a row of shackled slaves, and all that.
There was another courtyard here: small, shady, and sedate. A tiny fountain stood in the centre of it, less bubbling cheerfully than burping quietly to itself and churning out brackish water from rusted pipes. On three sides of the courtyard, old houses reared up, their great, cracked façades speaking of generations’ worth of threadbare, dishevelled nobility, the painful burdens of both upkeep and decay inscribed across their stonework.
Old families, old houses… years and years and years of it, just stretching out into nothingness. Yuck.
Fenris’ door lay on the other side of the courtyard, the walls of the mansion cloaked with a heavy, obscuring growth of creepers. Tobias nodded towards it.
“You’d, uh, probably best wait here,” he said, shooting a sidelong glance at His Royal Shininess and his incredibly heraldic armour. “My… associate is a rather private man. Let me talk to him before I make introductions, all right?”
The princeling frowned, but nodded. “Very well. And I— I do appreciate this, Hawke. Truly.”
Tobias squeezed out a thin smile, and crossed the courtyard. He hated these buildings, with their hulking frontages rearing up so high they could almost block out the sky. They all seemed to have tiny windows, too; barely little chinks of light in so much grey and white stone, marked with years of decay.
He chewed at the inside of his lip as he stood by Fenris’ door, and—as he tugged on the bell-pull and heard the mechanism within creaking sonorously into life—Tobias considered quite how best to phrase this one.
Fenris! You look bored! Want to come assassinate a noblewoman?
No, maybe not.
Inside, the bell chimed. He wondered what the elf was doing in there. Drinking? Brooding? Both?
So, there’s this dynastic coup going on in Starkhaven. They’re paying well….
That was better. Not great, but better.
Maker’s balls, it’s past noon. He’s going to be drunk and ornery, isn’t he? Oh, this is going to be delightful, I just know it.
It was hard to hear much through the heavy oak, but Tobias thought he caught the sound of the inner door opening, and he stepped back as he waited for Fenris to greet him, thumbs stuck in his belt loops, and his most ingenuous smile plastered to his face.
The door creaked slowly open, revealing a suspicious—and apparently sober—Fenris, peering at him from the mansion’s shadowy interior.
That low, gravel-washed voice drew the word out, somehow managing to inject it with half a dozen different inflections. Why was he here, what did he want, and what was he looking so damn cheerful about, for starters, Tobias guessed. He widened his grin.
“Fenris! You look well.”
That much was true. Without that protective shell of armour—clad in simple breeches and a shirt open enough at the neck to show the winged lines of lyrium brands descending from his throat to his chest—there was something much more vital and alive about Fenris. A kind of alert intensity lingered in those pale green eyes, too, and Tobias wondered if he’d caught the elf in contemplation; perhaps poring over some of Danarius’ old tomes, or planning some great and mysterious revenge. Or, equally possible, devising new strategies with which to whip everyone’s arse on Diamondback night. Tobias already owed him a tally of some eight sovereigns, and was fairly convinced that Fenris was an even more vicious as a card player than he was as a warrior.
One dark eyebrow arched sardonically as the elf wrinkled his nose. “And you smell like a whorehouse.”
Tobias’ genial grin didn’t flicker, although he struggled to quash the sudden rush of thoughts about Jethann. He’d rather hoped the whiff of rose oil had worn off, but maybe the sharp sense of smell was an elven peculiarity, like the lack of body hair, or the eye colour, or the—
—size of that thing…. I wonder if Fenris—no. No, no, no. Don’t even think about it.
Maybe, Tobias reflected hurriedly, it was just a peculiarity restricted to Fenris.
He shrugged. “I could say it’s a new cologne, but you wouldn’t believe me. Anyway, so a man gets bored sometimes. It really doesn’t matter, does it?”
An odd look passed over Fenris’ face. “I merely meant—”
“Look, awkward thing,” Tobias cut in, pressing the unusual advantage of having somehow surprised the elf; he could gloat about that later. “But it’s business. You remember last year, that thing with the Flint Company? The bounty?”
Fenris’ lip curled slightly. “The mercenaries. Yes.”
“Same, uh, patron. Over there, by the fountain—no, don’t look—and he just found out some noblewoman hired the company to do her dirty work. Wants to confront her over betraying his parents, whole messy business… but wants a little back-up, if you understand my meaning? Yes?”
Fenris scowled, that shock of white hair falling forwards as he tilted his head, and those shimmering eyes narrowed.
“C’mon….” Tobias shifted his weight from foot to foot, allowing the movement to imply a little more anxiety than he really felt. “Are you in? You should come and meet him, anyway. You’ll want to get a look, if only for the laughs. I swear,” he added, leaning in conspiratorially, “you can see your face in his armour, it’s that shiny. And white. White. On Andraste’s cheek, I’m not lying.”
Fenris regarded him suspiciously and swayed back just a little. Tobias suddenly felt a little more sensitive about that whole ‘whorehouse’ crack, and stepped nonchalantly back, leaning an elbow on the vine-and-moss-covered balustrade that fringed the porch. He dredged up another small smile, trying to ignore the pricking lances of embarrassment and self-consciousness.
“He’s paying well,” he added helpfully. Well, he assumed the princeling would. He had before, and there was no way Tobias was going to admit he’d effectively been railroaded into this particular commission by the grand cleric.
Fenris’ eyes grew a little narrower.
“Do you intend to bring the abomination with us?”
“No.” The corner of Tobias’ lips jerked into a quick, involuntary smile. “But I’ll tell Anders how much you miss him when he’s not around.”
“Oh, come on. It’ll be a good split. You, me, maybe go pick up Varric if he’s around… that’s a three-way cut on the money, plus whatever you might slip into a pocket, and—”
The elf’s face tautened. “I am not a thief, Hawke.”
“Never said you were,” Tobias countered smoothly. “So? What d’you say? Beats sitting all alone in the dark in there, doesn’t it?”
Fenris sighed laboriously, although the tell-tale curl at the corner of his mouth, no matter how very slight it was, suggested his interest had been piqued.
“Some of us actually enjoy our solitude,” he chided, his face deadpan.
“Yeah, yeah… I’ll tell His Royal Shininess you’re not interested, then, shall I?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Tobias grinned. “Thought not. I’ll wait for you out front.”
The elf nodded, and shut the door.
As Tobias wandered back over to Sebastian, he allowed himself a very brief ponder upon the matter of Fenris changing his clothes, and held the thoughts up against his oh so recent explorations of the male elven form.
Funny, he thought, how different Fenris was to Jethann. All right, so slavery, and whatever it was that Danarius had done to brand the lyrium into his flesh—Anders reckoned a blood ritual, and had been known to comment darkly that it was a kind of magic that left unpleasant marks on people, inside as well as out—probably wasn’t comparable to alienage life. That was reputedly unpleasant, yes, and short, brutal, hard… all those things that he was familiar with hearing in disaffected tavern diatribes. Still, it was strange that, of the two elven men, one should so shroud himself in pride and secrecy, and the other should fly so far from social convention.
Still, you have to wonder how far down the lyrium goes….
He flashed a grin at the princeling, who was looking at him expectantly.
“Your associate will be joining us then?” he asked, voice ineffectively hushed against the stonework.
Tobias nodded. “Mm-hm. Just give him a few minutes. And, uh, just so I’ve mentioned it? He has… tattoos, let’s say.” He gestured loosely in the air, fingers describing the curves and patterns of Fenris’ brands. “In fact, he’s quite striking, generally speaking. Not, er, not like most elves you see in Kirkwall. But—”
“He’s elven? Oh. I mean, I… I didn’t expect that.”
Sebastian seemed suddenly wary, and Tobias suspected he knew why: “striking tattooed elf” usually equated to “unstable reactionary painted up to look like a Dalish and screaming about wresting his birthrights back from the human bastards”.
“Just, uh, try not to stare,” he suggested, giving the princeling an encouraging grin. “All right?”
Sebastian surprised him then. He smiled back; a disarmingly charismatic arrangement of terribly white teeth, stunning blue eyes and—Tobias stifled a disbelieving groan—actual, Maker-sworn dimples.
“I will endeavour not to make a fool of myself,” he promised, in that lusciously lilting brogue.
He was an extremely attractive man, despite the daft armour. Tobias smirked, and allowed his voice to drop to a low, seductive purr.
“Oh, I’m sure of that, my lord. It seems to me a man like you is always… in control.”
It was barely more than playful flirtation, glib and effortless, but it had bugger all effect on the princeling, and Tobias supposed that was typical. He seemed destined to be surrounded by handsome men who were all either oblivious to his attentions or too messed up to respond to them. Or, more likely in Sebastian’s case, were just not inclined to be interested in the first place.
He sighed inwardly. Well, the rumours were that, before his affirmation in the Chantry, His Royal Shininess had been quite the dissipated wencher… and apparently only wenches. Seemed that about summed it up, anyway.
Sebastian had turned his head, and was frowning at the paving stones.
Tobias blinked. That was a look he’d seen elsewhere; that blend of regret and grief, tinged with self-loathing but coloured over hard with anger and—in that brief moment—it confused him.
“Huh. Not as controlled as you might think,” the princeling said bitterly, shaking his head. He glanced at Tobias, those blue eyes worn from velvet smoothness to troubled clouds. “And please, not ‘my lord’. Sebastian. Elthina is right; I laid aside all that I was born to when I was affirmed. As a brother of the Chantry, I… I don’t know. What she says is true—I am betraying my vows by persisting on this path. But, if it was your family that had been murdered, Hawke… everything you knew ripped from beneath your feet… could you stand idle? Could you turn your face from justice?”
Bloody wonderful. He chooses now to have a moral dilemma. Great. If we’re really lucky, he’ll drop to the ground and have a life-changing vision.
“Er….” Tobias cleared his throat, uncomfortably lanced by the transparency in the man’s manner. There was an intensity to him: a burning, passionate zeal that struck seemed both dangerous and, in some odd way, humbling. “No,” he said eventually. “No, I couldn’t. I understand why you need resolution to this, m— Sebastian. Although, you must realise… confronting this Lady Harimann may still not give you answers.”
Sebastian inclined his head, and he appeared genuinely grateful. Tobias supposed—after a year of digging for information, with Elthina nagging in his ear about vows and duties—he was probably glad of speaking to someone who didn’t immediately brand him a selfish fool.
“Thank you. I-I know, but… I must do this. I have prayed over it for a time, and I do believe that—if I can just know why—then I can go on with my life. Maybe I could even learn to forgive.”
“Fu—” Tobias bit his tongue hurriedly. “Um, forgive? That’s… magnanimous.”
The corner of the princeling’s mouth curled, and a sneakingly wicked look flitted across his eyes. “I said maybe, Hawke.”
Tobias was about to formulate a response when, from across the sun-dappled courtyard, the sound of a heavy door opening distracted him and Fenris emerged from the mansion, fully armoured and with his greatsword slung across his back. The light glinted on the wicked metal of his gauntlets—claws for a feral creature—as he squinted at the surrounding houses, as wary and disdainful as a cat.
“That is your—?”
“Don’t stare,” Tobias murmured gently, as the elf’s gaze fell on Sebastian. “He can be a little sensitive about his looks. And… quite a lot of other things, really. But you’ll pick that up. And he certainly wouldn’t dream of killing you until he’s been paid. Right, then,” he added brightly, rubbing his hands together and raising his voice as Fenris loped across the stones towards them. “Quick stop at The Hanged Man, grab Varric, and we’ll get this done, shall we, gentlemen?”
Fenris nodded silent assent, and Tobias turned on his heel, heading for the nearest shortcut to the district’s mouth.
“Varric?” Sebastian echoed, perplexed. “The… the dwarf you mentioned? Wh…?”
“Not far,” Tobias called cheerfully, glancing back over his shoulder. “Oh, and where are my manners? Sorry. Fenris, Sebastian. Sebastian, Fenris.”
He smiled, delighting for a brief moment in the looks of critical suspicion his companions were giving each other, and proceeded to lead the way to The Hanged Man.
Varric, as things turned out, was more than happy to join them, as it meant a legitimate excuse to get out of a meeting with an envoy from the Merchants’ Guild. It was apparently something to do with a coalition of surface dwarves forming a union to improve the lot of traders outside Orzammar. As far as Tobias understood it, “going top-side” had always meant losing one’s caste and position—which were of vital importance in dwarven society—although, with things opening up so much under King Bhelen, those who had always been at the bottom of the dwarven heap were starting to buck the oppressive traditions of their forebears. It had been making substantial political, and economic, waves.
“Ugh,” Varric grumbled as their unusual ensemble cut back up through towards Hightown, heading for the Harimann mansion. “It’s not as if I even care. I’d be happy living my whole life without seeing the inside of the Commons. Bartrand was always the one who talked about going back to Orzammar. Me? Hah. You’re never getting me underground again, not as long as I live.”
“I second that,” Tobias murmured, brief but intrusive visions of the Deep Roads flickering at the edges of his mind. He shivered as he pushed them away. “You hear anything about your beloved brother recently?”
Varric snorted. “No. Trust me, if I do, you’ll be the first to know. Not that I think Bartrand’s stupid enough to show his face in this town again. Still, I’m working on tracking the son-of-a-bitch down.”
“Good.” Tobias glanced at the rag-tag party he was leading, and grinned. “Well, this is nice, isn’t it? Everyone’s got a grievous thirst for revenge to nurse.”
The princeling looked surprised, then faintly affronted. Fenris curled his lip, and Varric just scoffed.
“Well, I can think of better ways to make new friends, but you’re right… it’s good to share hobbies.”
They didn’t talk much as they made their way to the Harimanns’ house. Tobias wasn’t sure if it was his sense of humour or the sense of mild foreboding that put a damper on things but, either way, it was peaceful enough.
The mansion stood in one of Hightown’s quieter corners. Very upmarket. There were even a few trees dotted about, boughs nodding quietly in the warm afternoon breeze, their bark inscribed with the genteel graffiti of upper-class youths’ entwined initials.
Place must be crawling with illicit trysts after dark. Makes a change from street gangs, I suppose.
Sebastian changed as they got to the house, he noticed. He walked taller, his shoulders and his jaw set square, the mild sense of indecision about him evaporating like mist. It wasn’t even anger, Tobias decided, but more a kind of determination; a solemn, intrepid resolve to exact… well, to exact justice.
His thoughts flashed briefly to Anders, though he knew it wouldn’t have been a good idea to try and bring him onboard for this. Too much involvement with the Chantry, and too little notice, and… and Tobias really wished he was there. As they mounted the steps that led up to the mansion’s grey stone façade, all cloaked with thick green ivy, the hairs on his arms rose, and his mouth turned dry. Something felt wrong.
Something felt very wrong indeed.
The princeling couldn’t raise an answer at the door. No servants, no voices within. There was no response at the back, either, so Varric picked the lock and let them in. Tobias felt it as soon as he stepped over the threshold. Something had happened there, and it had left a residue behind it; dark, bitter, and foul.
The cold tendrils of a vile presence touched him and, as Sebastian prowled ahead through the still, silent rooms, voicing his perplexed concern that it should all be so quiet, so deserted, Tobias shuddered.
Varric glanced at him suspiciously. “What?”
“Do you feel that?”
The dwarf shook his head. “Feel what? I mean, this place is creepy, but—”
Tobias frowned. “There’s more here than things that go ‘bump’ in the night and funny-looking paintings. Something’s… off.”
Varric’s brow furrowed, and his gloved hand curled protectively on Bianca’s stock. “What, you mean like… off, as in—”
“Off,” Tobias muttered, glancing at the figure of the princeling, pacing ahead of them through the deserted hallway.
Candles burned in sconces on the walls, through jumping, shuddering slices of light to the dark floorboards and thick rugs. The kitchens they’d come in through had been neat and orderly, as if the last meal of the day had been served and the servants simply hadn’t got up to do breakfast yet, but this… this was weird. All the doors were tightly shut and locked, and there was nothing so obvious as the dim, oppressive wall of silence that shrouded the house.
Silence… except for the whispering. It was there, right on the edge of Tobias’ hearing, right on the edge of existence. Not words, not anything with real meaning, just… something.
“Oh, shit,” Varric said, curling his lip. “You mean ‘off’, like… that?”
Tobias nodded. “I think so. I can feel something, anyway.”
“Great. Just great.”
Despite their having tried to stay quiet, the princeling had obviously heard them, because he looked back over his shoulder, all wide-eyed inquisitiveness.
“Is there a problem, Hawke?”
Tobias glanced at Varric, who shrugged.
“No. No, just—”
Fenris had been prowling a little further along the corridor, investigating the locked doors and stagnant rooms. He stopped, haloed by the candlelight, and glared back at Tobias, his head tilted slightly to the side, not so much like a bird as a snake contemplating striking.
“You suspect dark magic, do you not? I would not be surprised. This whole place reeks of demons.”
The princeling’s eyes widened further—Tobias suspected he’d never seen anyone whose gaze quite so much merited the epithet of “limpid”—and he blanched.
“Demons? No, that’s not possible. It can’t—”
“I think it is,” Tobias countered. “I think it’s a possibility we should be prepared for. In fact—”
“Well, how would you know?” Sebastian demanded, looking between him and Fenris.
The elf glowered, and Tobias sighed deeply.
“I’m an apostate, all right?”
The princeling stared and, though he was clinging to that abundant charm of his and trying to pretend he wasn’t alarmed, Tobias was all too familiar with the look of mingled revulsion and fear that crossed his face. Sebastian opened his mouth to speak, but Tobias cut across him.
“Yes. Well, now you know. And, not that I’m in the business of threatening the people I’m working for, but… just so we’re clear? Breathe a word to the grand cleric, or anyone, anywhere, and I’ll say you knew when you hired me the first time.”
He held the man’s gaze steadily, hoping the way his pulse was thudding wasn’t obvious, and tried to ignore that horrible feeling this place gave him, like something wet and slimy was crawling up the back of his neck. Sebastian opened and shut his mouth a few times, looking a little bit like an incredibly pretty fish, and Tobias took the advantage of his royal silence.
“I also know how to buy a dozen witnesses to support that claim and, moreover, to swear on the Maker’s holy balls that you wanted to find a blood mage to put you back on Starkhaven’s throne. So, rat me out, you’ll go down too. I’m just saying.”
He kept his tone even, low, and reasonable, and was pleasantly surprised by the fact that, after the initial moment of shock, Sebastian seemed to pull himself together and respond in just as calm a manner.
“I assure you, Hawke, that would never have been my intention.”
“Really,” Tobias said dryly. “And here was me thinking the Chantry was all for the containment of mages.”
The princeling’s gaze seemed to harden, a flash of iron in those blue eyes, and a muscle twitched in his jaw.
“Perhaps this is not the time to discuss it.”
It was the most sensible thing Tobias had heard him say since they met. He nodded.
“I couldn’t agree more. Shall we?”
They pressed on, though the peace and the alliance between them both felt tenuous.
He wasn’t expecting the things they found.
Every member of the household seemed to have found their own private insanity. Lady Harimann’s daughter, Flora, was the first they discovered: sprawled across half a dozen empty casks of wine, drinking herself into a stupor in a kind of thirst that knew no slaking. Sebastian seemed truly distraught at seeing her in that state, so quick to say she was normally a temperate, demure girl. She got violent when he tried to take her cup from her, lashed out with a well-aimed kick in the kneecap, and called him a whoreson bastard. Tobias wasn’t even sure she knew who the princeling was.
She passed out not long after, and they carried her to the pantry, where they set her on her side among the cheese wheels and jugs of very off milk—suggesting, whatever had happened here, it must have been going on for a while—and locked the door.
Tobias wrinkled his nose, trying to get the smell of piss-soaked velvet and vomit out of his throat, and nodded at Sebastian’s litany of disbelief.
“She wasn’t in her right mind, that’s all. Whatever she was seeing, feeling… it wasn’t real. Demons do that. They trick people; give you what you think you want, and drown you in it. We’ll probably see worse before this is over.”
The princeling stared at him with a mix of apprehension and vehement, angry indignation, then stepped back and jerked his head towards the stairs that led to the next floor.
“Then lead on, Hawke. You know what you’re dealing with better than I.”
Tobias wished he had as much confidence in himself.
All the same, it could have been worse. The other surviving Harimanns were all ensnared in their own fantasies of avarice, one consumed by a madness of lust, the other a passion for gold. Neither was particularly edifying, but both were rapidly cured by a swift knock on the head and being safely bound and locked in closets, to be dealt with later.
Sebastian stared, aghast, as Tobias kicked the door shut on Lady Harimann’s half-naked son, who was still babbling about gold and jewels and the glory of precious, shiny wealth.
“That’s it?” The princeling seemed almost disappointed. “You’re just going to leave them there? I thought—”
“They’ll be fine. For now. Anyway, they’re nothing but playthings for whatever’s doing this.”
Tobias glanced along the length of the chamber they stood in, noting dryly the fine walnut dining table at its far end.
Sorry, Mother. Doesn’t look like that’s coming with us.
Most of the household’s gilt and plate was heaped up in the middle of the floor, and Tobias noticed Varric picking up a small, embossed golden charger to examine. He looked away, so he legitimately didn’t see it slide into the dwarf’s pocket.
“Does the house have an undercroft?” Tobias turned his attention to Fenris. “Danarius’ mansion does, right? Most of the old places around here have cellars, old passageways…. If we’re going to find this Lady Harimann, I’ll bet that’s where. Somewhere dark and quiet, where no one would disturb anything.”
Sebastian stared blankly at him, and he sighed.
“We haven’t found her anywhere in this mess, right? And there’s no body. The servants aren’t in evidence, meaning there’s no one left to clean up, so…? Stands to reason it’s her that’s responsible for this.” Tobias sighed again, growing impatient at the princeling’s confusion. “Look, demons don’t just pop out of nowhere. They have to be summoned… allowed to take control. All this?” He flung out an arm, gesturing to the chaos that had befouled the house. “A mage can’t just do this by not concentrating for five minutes!”
The man didn’t understand. Tobias knew that, and he knew it was pointless to lose his temper, despite how much what they were seeing appalled him. It might not have been blood magic, but it was the next best thing. The woman’s children—lost in those demon-twined fantasies, prisoners in their own heads—weren’t mages. They didn’t feel like mages, didn’t feel possessed. They were food, toys… things to keep a larger hunger occupied, and it was that he could feel, the dark presence prowling somewhere beneath the mansion’s shell of opulence.
He shuddered, half-tempted to say they should pull back and bring in… well, what? An advanced guard of templars to cleanse the place? No. The stink of demonkin all over everything meant that Lady Harimann herself must be an apostate—and wasn’t that sweetly ironic: all this money, and she still turned her craft to evil—and, though Tobias had no qualm about turning someone like that in, there was still a principle involved… and a hearty dose of practicality.
They get her, they’ll find me. Not worth it.
Whatever happened, they were on their own, unless he sent someone to fetch Anders, but that would mean running all the way to Darktown and back, and there was no guarantee he’d either come at all, or arrive in time. In any case, Tobias wasn’t about to risk being a man down while he waited to find out.
He was right about the cellars.
It should, he supposed, have given him a little thrill of victory. Instead, every sense he possessed was full up with revulsion and horror, like his own skin was trying to peel itself off, just to get away from all the dark, prickling things that screamed demon.
They found Lady Harimann grovelling in front of a shrine, of sorts. She’d clearly thought she’d known what she was doing, that building a prison for the thing she summoned—all decked out with runes and warding glyphs and bright, shiny objects, at odds with the dark, damp, gloominess and the smell of dank wood and earth—would keep it happy, keep it contained.
She’d been a bloody fool.
It wasn’t Tobias’ first desire demon. Kirkwall’s high proportion of demonic possessions and mages dabbling in forbidden knowledge—or possibly his own propensity to find himself in the middle of those darker corners of the city—had seen to that. All the same, the creature still disgusted him.
She, inasmuch as they had genders, took the form of a beautiful woman; a body of voluptuous curves and strong, sensuous lines, but made into something other, something impossible, by the artistic license the demon had granted itself. She was naked, but for some elaborate golden jewellery, and that seemed real enough. It chimed as she moved—on feet that never quite touched the ground—and it seemed to please her to make her own music.
The skin wasn’t human. The whole body was cast in tones of purple and indigo: fire-chased perfection, glimmering with flames and veins of silver. Horns rose from her head in great, curving sweeps, their ridges thick and dark, and the blazing eyes that she turned on him were pupilless, like pools of light.
Perfectly moulded lips moved at a speed fractionally slower than the words. At first, Tobias wasn’t sure whether everyone was hearing the same thing but, as the demon tried to beguile them, the way it had Lady Harimann—no longer a noblewoman bent on political scheming and hungry for gain, but a wracked shell shackled to this creature’s whim, thirsting with incurable greed for the sake of greed itself—he realised what was happening.
Oh, the demon spoke all right, in those beautiful, mellifluous tones. It gave them honeyed words that explained everything… words that caressed the desire in all of them, and nudged at Sebastian’s lust for vengeance; even prompted the hunger he’d once had for the throne.
But then there was the other voice. Tobias was fairly sure no one else could hear it. There wasn’t even much of it in the first place, just the faint buzz of a murmur. It was the kind of voice that sometimes leached into his sleep… the kind of voice his father had always trained him to block out, because you couldn’t even let them speak, not if you wanted to stay safe.
It wheedled, though, and it wasn’t like just hearing words he could simply ignore. It pulled at him, gave him feelings and sensations that chased through his flesh—the whispers of what it would be to have what he wanted.
I can give you that. All these things… everything you desire….
He tried to wrench himself away from that nagging yearning, and from the sneaking promises of fulfilment. His mother’s face, wreathed in delighted smiles because she was truly, genuinely happy, and proud of him. Clothes that were warm and comfortable, and didn’t have patches or the memories of bloodstains on them. A house that wasn’t a hovel, but wasn’t a cold expanse of stone, either… and—
—a warm fire, roaring in a wide grate, against the flickering light of which—
Get the fuck out of my head!
—pale arms moved to embrace his naked body, and kisses brushed his skin like vine leaves. Soft laughter rippled over him, bringing with it a sweet, ineffable sense of peace, and the faintest whiff of boiled elfroot, and Tobias supposed he should have given some signal before he struck.
It would have been sensible. Instead, he just surged forwards, full of anger and spite and outrage, and power burst from his palms in a great wave that he barely controlled. Light and ice split the air, the sheer volume of energy leaving him sick and dizzy in its wake, and with no time to recover.
Fenris reacted first, springing into battle with that easy, terrible violence of his, his blade ending Lady Harimann’s attempt at retaliation before she’d managed to choke out more than a limp fireball.
It left the rest of them to tackle the demon, Tobias pinning it with ice, force, and sheer bloody-minded determination, while Sebastian and Varric rained arrows onto the creature. It was flesh enough for them to do some damage, at least and, once the Harimann woman was dead, Fenris flung himself at the demon in a whirl of rage and lyrium.
It screamed as it crumpled, finally, to the cellar’s damp floor, but Tobias wasn’t sure whether it was more in pain or frustration. He felt it when it happened, though, like a blade right through his head.
The whole fight left him shaky and wet with sweat, and silence fell over the group as they stood, looking down at the bloodied bodies before them.
Tobias glanced at the princeling, expecting him to run off and throw up in a corner, but he was oddly calm. Tight-lipped and hard-eyed, Sebastian lowered his bow and went to Lady Harimann’s body. He knelt and, one hand extended and cupped above her lolling head, he began to pray.
Tobias stared, then shot a sidelong look at Varric, who returned it with equally awkward suspicion. Fenris had bowed his head, dark brows drawn into a solemn scowl a little different from his usual frown, so Tobias just held his breath and waited for the quiet litany of pleas for forgiveness and peace to pass. It was difficult, however; he really wasn’t sure where to look.
As His Royal Shininess straightened up, Varric cleared his throat.
“We, uh… we probably ought to go and let the others out. Make sure that’s everything.”
Sebastian nodded soberly. “I… I didn’t think it would be like this. I never wanted—”
Tobias turned smartly and started to make for the steps leading back up from the cellar, unwilling to meet that distraught, fractured gaze.
“Nobody ever does,” he said, a trifle brusquely. “Leave her there. It’ll be a shock enough for her children. They can come get her when they’re ready.”
He felt the waves of Sebastian’s cold disapproval slap against the back of his neck, but didn’t turn. None of the others spoke, and Tobias’ feet thudded dully against the creaking wooden treads.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
Tobias stared groggily at the liveried messenger. The man shifted his weight uncomfortably, and kept glancing over his shoulder as if he expected to be jumped at any minute. It wouldn’t really have been that surprising; people dressed like him didn’t tend to last long in Lowtown. Tobias blinked a bit, but it didn’t make anything any clearer, or get rid of the unpleasant furry sensation on his tongue. He frowned.
“What?” he said again, glaring at the messenger. “Me? Why?”
The man’s wiry legs, encased in pale hose, bobbed a bit as he took a step backwards on Gamlen’s narrow porch. The smell of tar and salt streaked the air, along with the filth of the alleyways, and the messenger looked decidedly unused to such a piquant atmospheric bouquet.
“His lordship, the Viscount Dumar,” he began, flaring his nostrils and then wincing, “has requested your presence specifically, messere. You are the one known as Serah Hawke, are you not?”
Tobias ran a hand through his hair. It had been a late night—a job down by the docks, escorting a dwarven nobleman free of the city, and free of the agents of King Bhelen, who apparently had something of a grudge against his house. Tobias hadn’t asked for details. He didn’t give much of a damn about dwarven politics, though Varric had been quite interested. They’d run into about half a dozen heavily armoured mercenaries, and then another fifteen or so Carta thugs, in on the chance of a profit, before Lord Whatshisface was safely ensconced on the first boat to Rivain. For a while, it had almost felt like old times, but his head was still throbbing this morning, and a long cut marked his left arm. Ruined a perfectly good leather bracer, those bastards had. Tobias had meant to head up to Hightown this morning and find a replacement… only to find himself disturbed by this peculiar summons.
“Well, yes,” he said doubtfully, “but whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”
The messenger stared blankly at him. Tobias sighed, painfully aware of Leandra industriously sweeping out the grate in the room behind him, and absolutely, definitely not trying to listen in.
“Look, is this about the claim to the Amell estate? Because it’s about bloody time something got settled there. Still, I didn’t think they normally sent—”
“I’m here to request your presence, serah,” the messenger said tersely, “and that is all. At your earliest convenience.”
Tobias glanced up at the bright, clear blue sky, and winced.
“Balls. All right, all right… fine.”
It didn’t take long to grab a few effects, run a washcloth over his face, and push aside his mother’s twitters of worry with outstretched hands and wide-eyed promises that everything was fine.
Tobias made his way to Viscount’s Keep and, by the time he was jogging up the polished marble steps, his headache had all but worn off, and he managed to dredge up a jaunty tune to whistle in time for his arrival outside Seneschal Bran’s office.
“Morning, Seneschal!” Tobias exclaimed cheerfully, as one of the clerks opened the heavy, iron-bound door and ushered him inside.
Bran glared from behind his desk. “Serah Hawke. You’re very cheerful today.”
Tobias shrugged, hands obstinately rammed into the pockets of his leather breeches. A soft grey linen tunic with gold embroidery at the neck had replaced his usual jerkin, and usefully disguised his wounded arm.
“We-ell,” he said, making a show of studying the coat of arms on the wall opposite, “it’s not every day a man gets personally summoned to see the viscount, is it? I wondered if it was in response to our numerous letters regarding the—”
“There is more in life than that damn estate,” Bran snapped, with uncharacteristic bluntness.
Tobias blinked in surprise and, taking in the fire in the older man’s dark eyes, decided to rein in his urge to bait him further.
The seneschal rose from his chair and paced around the desk, gesturing to the door at the far end of the office.
“You will recall your former dealings with the qunari,” he said, as he motioned Tobias to walk with him. “And you are… aware of the delicacy of the situation regarding their presence in Kirkwall?”
Tobias nodded slowly as they strode the length of the room. “Ye-es, but I don’t see—”
“That is what Viscount Dumar wishes to discuss with you.”
The seneschal rapped smartly on the large door before them, its rich wood covered with bas-reliefs and intricate heraldic carvings. A muffled voice within barked ‘Come!’, and sudden panic assailed Tobias.
The actual Viscount? Now? Here? Him? What in the Maker’s name was he supposed to say, or do, or… was this some sort of trap?
The door opened, and Tobias followed Bran inside. The viscount’s office was quite possibly the most impressive room he’d ever seen: a vast expanse of thickly carpeted floor, high white walls hung with paintings and draperies, and great, hulking pieces of furniture in carved dark wood. Everything seemed designed to a scale bigger than the normal human frame, as if men of power were truly of greater stature… and yet the figure of the viscount himself, as he stood with his back to them, facing one of the tall window that looked out towards the sea, was rather less imposing than Tobias expected.
Viscount Dumar turned slowly, allowing the fine silks and opulent fastenings of his clothes to catch the light, the slim circlet upon his bald head enclosing the pale skin like thorns around a white-petalled bloom. For a man so curiously devoid of colour—and everything about him did seem to be described in black and white, with only the subtlest shadings of grey—his eyes were startlingly bright. His gaze lit on Tobias, twin points of blue ice in a taut, sharp-featured face.
“Ah. Seneschal. Thank you.”
Bran bowed, and Tobias followed his lead, only for the viscount to wave away the gesture of respect with one narrow hand.
“Please… there is no need to stand on ceremony here. Seneschal Bran has disclosed to you the reason for your presence, Serah Hawke?”
Tobias blinked. “Er, the, um… the qunari, I believe, my lord. But—”
Bran shot him a reproachful look, his barely concealed distaste almost bubbling over.
“Even you must be aware of it, Hawke. There are concerns within the city that the qunari influence is no longer contained.”
“Was it ever?” Viscount Dumar’s voice held a tired melancholy as he cast a lingering glance at the window, and shook his head. “Kirkwall has tension enough between templar and mage, but these qunari…. They sit like gargoyles, waiting for Maker-knows-what, and everyone goes mad around them. Nearly four years I have stood between fanatics. And now this!”
He gestured contemptuously at the desk, and its litter of books and papers, several marked with heavy wax seals and written in an intensely formal hand that Tobias couldn’t even begin to decipher, especially upside down and from more than two feet away. He cocked an eyebrow and cleared his throat.
“Well, your lordship, don’t keep me in suspense.”
The viscount glanced at him with apparent surprise, those icy blue eyes inscrutable. People called Dumar weak-willed, Tobias reflected, but right now, he didn’t look it.
He peered superciliously at Seneschal Bran, and nodded to the door.
Tobias stared, half-expecting the seneschal to actually implode on the spot. Bran drew himself up to his full, and not inconsiderable height, and stalked past, his footsteps soft on the thick, opulent rug. He backed out of the room, and the almost soundless way he shut the door behind him seemed far louder than any amount of slamming possibly could. Dumar exhaled wearily.
“You see my dilemma, serah? Meredith at my throat, Orsino at my heels, and a city scared of heretical giants.” He folded his arms and turned back to the window, staring out across the bleached rooftops. The black shape of a gull arced against the sky. “Balance has held because the qunari ask for nothing. Even the space in Lowtown was a ‘gift’ to contain them. But now….”
“Now?” Tobias echoed, curiosity getting the better of him.
“Now,” Dumar continued dryly, “the Arishok has requested you, messere. By name, no less.” He looked over his shoulder, and fixed Tobias with that sharp, clear gaze. “What did you do?”
A tight, prickly silence spun out between the two men. They both knew what the viscount referred to, no matter how he played it for innocence.
Funny, Tobias thought. He’d not been accorded this degree of respect before, and neither had he asked for it. His sole involvement in the ‘qunari situation’, as the viscount’s office seemed determined to call it, had been through the merchant, Javaris, and his clumsy attempt to manipulate the Arishok into parting with that precious explosive… and those few skirmishes along the Wounded Coast, including the embarrassing incident with the viscount’s son. Of course, that had been hushed up, hadn’t it?
As Tobias recalled, all he’d done for Saemus Dumar was drag him home by the hair, kicking and screaming the whole way like the puling little brat he was. It had been another mercenary job, jostling for coin… and it hadn’t mattered any more than that. The viscount had never even met with him personally to say thank you, and he hadn’t expected it.
Perhaps he’d been naïve. He supposed he had, in thinking that the fact the outlanders were qunari didn’t matter. As far as Tobias had been concerned, it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference if it had been dwarves, elves, or moon-men… he was used to just being pointed at the task in hand and told to get on with it, and that wasn’t a problem. Business worked like that.
This, though… this smelled like politics. Tobias shrugged dismissively.
“What can I say? It seems I make an impression, my lord.”
His pulse quickened a little as the viscount’s expression grew dark. This was a dangerous game to dabble in, he knew, and it wouldn’t take much to overplay his hand.
Viscount Dumar arched one sparse grey brow.
“Yes,” he said, in a bone-dry tone. “In any case, Serah Hawke, it appears you are meant to have influence above your station.”
Tobias kept his face carefully blank, as if the insult had simply passed him by.
The viscount moved to his desk and traced his fingers thoughtfully over the edges of a thick parchment.
“You are aware,” he said, glancing up at Tobias, “that a treaty does exist between Kirkwall and the qunari?”
“Yes, my lord.” Tobias permitted himself a small frown; the expression of a soldier not quite ready to question orders, but prepared to pretend he didn’t understand them. “Have they dishonoured it in some way?”
Dumar shook his head. “No. No, they have… well. That’s just it.”
Wide shafts of light poured through the windows, lancing off the viscount’s thin circlet, and touching the sheaf of papers on his desk. He inclined his head, his brows drawn into a frown.
“They claim they’re waiting for a second ship, but it has been three years. They want something else, and I wish I knew what.” He folded his arms across his thin chest, and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “Honestly? I don’t think I’ve yet heard two direct words from the Arishok… other than his rather deliberate phrasing of ‘begone’.”
Tobias allowed the corner of his mouth to curl into a smile. He was finding, contrary to his expectations, that he rather liked Viscount Dumar. The smile faded as the older man glared at him, lips tight and thin, and impatience lighting his eyes.
“You are amused, messere? It does not amuse me to find myself playing messenger. Whatever ‘impression’ you made on the Arishok, your duty here is clear. Kirkwall cannot afford these tensions, and I cannot afford to see this city brought to the brink of chaos by these blasted qunari! So, you will speak to the Arishok, Serah Hawke. And you will give him whatever he needs to keep the peace. Can you do that for Kirkwall?”
There was as much desperation as irritation in the viscount’s face. Tobias wasn’t sure whether to be surprised or delighted. Still, the warm glee of having an advantage—and holding it, pressing it close to his chest like a blanket of wonderful security—filled him, and he let his smile return, broadening wolfishly and entirely without subtlety.
“Oh, I’m sure we can come to an arrangement, my lord.” He cleared his throat, summoning every ounce of available nerve. “You, er, may be aware of my family’s petition, regarding the old Amell estate in Hightown?”
It was possible the viscount was actually appalled by his audacity, but he looked rather as if he’d expected it. He gave a resigned, somewhat exasperated sigh.
“Yes, yes… you will have your estate, messere. Seneschal Bran intimated you would bargain in such a manner. The paperwork will be placed directly in your hands, provided the city can count on your support.” Dumar paced a couple of steps towards him, his dark clothes making his skin seem even paler, and those bright eyes bore into Tobias’ gaze. “Do I make myself clear?”
Ah, this was familiar ground. Tobias nodded.
“As crystal, my lord.”
“Good. We have a deal, then, do we? Or do you wish to extort further promises? Gold, perhaps? The hand of some ridiculously wealthy noble heiress?”
Tobias almost winced at that, though he retained control, and kept his face impassive.
“No, my lord. Just the estate, I think.”
Viscount Dumar snorted. “If you’re sure. Now, serah… the Arishok awaits. You will have what you are due once you have proved yourself willing to serve your city.”
Tobias bowed. “My lord.”
It still didn’t feel real when he was summarily dismissed from the viscount’s presence, and had the stones of Hightown’s walkways back under his feet.
Part of him wondered whether the whole thing could have been a set-up, but he chalked that up to spending too much time around Anders. Thoughts of the arrangement to come in just a day’s time—the alleged meeting of the Mage Underground that he was to attend—returned to needle him, and Tobias frowned as he climbed the steps towards Fenris’ door and knocked on the peeling wood.
The elf was at home, as he usually was in the daytime. The door creaked open, and he blinked blearily at Tobias, wincing in the sunlight.
“Hawke? Isn’t it a little early for you?”
“Practically midday,” Tobias said cheerfully, briskly pushing away all physical acknowledgement of how attractive that rough, sleep-sodden voice was, and following the elf inside. “Anyway, I’ve got a job for you.”
Those green eyes narrowed beneath the tousled shock of white hair.
“Mm-hm.” Tobias leaned against the least mouldy-looking piece of wall and smiled as he surveyed Fenris’ rumpled shirt and breeches, so different to the shell of armour he usually hid himself behind. “I need your understanding of the qunari mind. Probably best if you wash up a bit before we leave, though. Don’t worry; I can wait.”
Fenris curled his lip into something very like a snarl. “Now? You presume a great deal.”
Tobias shrugged. “Maybe. I presume you may be interested in why your favourite mage has been personally requested for an audience with the Arishok.”
The elf already had his mouth open—probably to make some comment about the phrase ‘favourite mage’, which Tobias took far too much pleasure in tormenting him with—but it snapped shut again at that, and Fenris looked genuinely surprised.
“And why,” Tobias continued brightly, “this may very well lead to the reclamation of my noble estate and sizeable fortune. So, are you in?”
Fenris eyed him suspiciously, which was no mean feat, when Tobias was of the opinion that the elf took every breath as if he thought it was laced with arsenic. Eventually, he nodded.
“You… are a very surprising man, Hawke.”
Tobias smiled suavely. “I try.”
He thought, as he waited for Fenris to get ready, about swinging by The Hanged Man to pick Varric up, but decided against it. This was probably one exchange that didn’t need chronicling.
So, with Fenris washed and garbed in his dark, sylph-like armour and those fearsome gauntlets, and Tobias as well-dressed as he could afford to be, they set off to meet with the Arishok.
It was not something Tobias did lightly, or enjoyed much. The qunari compound gave him the creeps, and there was truth in what Viscount Dumar had said. The simple fact of their presence in Lowtown made people act strangely. The small yet significant numbers of so-called converts didn’t help, either. The whole thing tasted wrong, Tobias thought, and the way the qunari looked at outsiders made his skin crawl.
Bas. That was their word for ‘thing’, Fenris said. Formless, purposeless… the unimportant mass of existence that fell outside their precious Qun. Tobias wasn’t sure he liked being counted as part of it, but he didn’t put up a fight.
The Arishok, in all his granite-faced, gold-shrouded glory, was just as bubbly and outgoing as Tobias remembered him. The whole meeting was a verbal wrestling match of double meanings, riddles and ambiguities. He was just glad he had Fenris with him; the elf’s experience of life in Tevinter and Seheron had lent him a useful perspective on the qunari and their worldview, and more ability with their language than Tobias possessed. It showed willing, though… respect, and a preparedness to at least appear to be meeting the Arishok on his own terms.
It didn’t make anything much clearer, right up until the words ‘poison gas’.
Tobias didn’t understand the qunari. He didn’t understand why anyone would store poison gas in what was ostensibly a civilian compound, much less what the Arishok meant by ‘allowing’ it to be stolen. Allow? What, as some sort of test? He got the distinct feeling the whole thing was some sort of game to the qunari, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it all.
But, what were they supposed to do? Ignore the threat and let whoever was responsible blow up half of Lowtown, either through ignorance or malice?
It was an ugly kind of crime, Tobias decided, sleeve wadded up and covering his mouth as he fought his way though the greenish clouds that cloaked the alley. It hadn’t been hard to find. Poison that turned the air to burning acid, clogging and clawing at the eyes, nose and throat… how in the Maker’s name could those qunari bastards just sit there and allow this?
The Arishok had as good as given them directions, practically set them up in the middle of this scene as if they were actors, players in some puppet theatre and—if it hadn’t been for the people who called these streets home—Tobias would have told him to shove it.
As it was, he was sorely tempted. Fenris had latched the last of the three barrels, they’d scouted out the old warehouse behind which the poison had been left, and done their best to calm the hysterical knot of people gathered at the mouth of the street. It wasn’t enough. A couple of guardsmen from the market patrol, alerted by the chaos, had come to investigate and helped push back the rubber-neckers, forming a cordon and talking of evacuating three or four streets around the spillage. Word was being sent to Guard Captain Aveline… which hardly filled Tobias with confidence.
He wiped his streaming eyes, his lungs sore and screaming with every breath, and inwardly swore that—once the estate was seen to, Leandra was comfortable and looked after, and he had the last of the proceeds from the Deep Roads treasure officially signed over to him—he was getting the fuck out of this pisshole of a town.
A woman sat sobbing on the ground, her arm around her young son as he heaved and wheezed.
“You should take him to Darktown,” Tobias said gently, hunkering down beside the woman. “There’s a healer there. He can—”
Her head snapped up and she glared at him with tear-stained, red-rimmed eyes, her fingers clenching protectively on the boy’s skinny shoulder.
“I know exactly who you mean,” she spat. “And we don’t want no bleedin’ Fereldan charity. ’Specially not from the likes of filthy mages! Bloody animals!”
She dragged the child to his feet, the brass symbol of Andraste that hung at her neck swinging against her dark skin, her hand bunching up the back of his shirt.
“Come on, Jorry. We’ll take you home, and Mama shall make you hot sage tea.”
The child’s coarse, phlegmy breathing rattled against Tobias’ ears, and he got slowly to his feet as he watched them go, a frown tightening his brow.
He wasn’t sure if it was worse that the perpetrator was elven.
They found her after the gas cleared. She wasn’t the only casualty—an old man had collapsed at the door of his home, while a woman and her baby had choked in another stairwell—but she alone was obvious for her placement. As if she was a clue, meant to be found. A wretched, sore-riddled creature, ragged and painfully thin, stretched out on the floor at the back of one of the warehouses, blood caked around her nose and mouth and a badly misspelled pamphlet clutched in her hand. She’d probably thought she’d be safe enough from the gas back there… if she’d even meant to avoid it.
Tobias carefully unfolded the paper and skimmed the text. It was pure hyperbole, ranting about the corruption and the filth of the city, and how they would all be cleansed, and how the downtrodden would rise and overthrow their oppressors. Dangerous, he thought… but not as dangerous as the words that had started to fly, even before he and Fenris left to take word to the Arishok, and the viscount.
Bloody elves. You know how many of ’em are turning convert to that sodding qunari cult, don’t you? Yeah… wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was one of them bastards putting ’em up to it. Well, they ain’t got the brains to organise it themselves, have they?
It seemed sensible to get away before Fenris lost his temper and ripped someone’s entrails out.
They didn’t discuss it. There didn’t seem to be a need to… or perhaps the possibilities were just too dark. Uneasiness stalked Tobias’ every step, and the feeling that he was being pulled along on strings someone else was controlling grew ever heavier.