Well, his friends were going to find out sooner or later. Tobias spends time adjusting, and Leandra has home furnishing plans.
Kirkwall is going to hell around him, but Tobias remains preoccupied.
Tobias is called to the Keep, and has to hear some unwanted advice. Also: terrible dwarven porn.
Facing down Ser Alrik was never going to be easy.
The descent beneath The Gallows begins.
Tobias prepares to venture beneath The Gallows.
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
When Tobias woke, everyone was gone. He’d been left alone in the tent, tucked up under two blankets and, on first waking, he felt a shudder of chagrined embarrassment at that, tinged with a strange kind of nervousness.
Odd, he realised, because it wasn’t as if he was unused to being alone. Yet, now, he felt… exposed. Almost afraid. He sat up, strafing his fingers through his hair and wincing at the taste of his own tongue, and surveyed the empty tent. Thin morning light filtered through the gaps in the heavy canvas, and the sounds of the camp came from outside the flap, quiet and unobtrusive, yet unmistakeable.
Tobias glanced down at himself, thankful for being fully clothed, and wondered where the others were. Had they already gone back down to the city? He knew Merrill never remained long among her clan—bad blood, he thought, momentarily appalled at the awfulness of the pun, until the sudden recollection of the Fade stilled his humour.
Maybe she and Aveline had both snuck off at dawn, too ashamed of their betrayals to face him.
He rose, stiff and aching, and tried to fold up the blankets. Every muscle protested at the movement, and his head had apparently been stuffed with rags. Tobias grimaced, swore to himself, and wondered why Anders hadn’t stayed. He had nothing to be ashamed of. He’d been… Justice had been… well… it had all been an experience, hadn’t it?
Tobias winced again, the blankets slipping from his fingers as he remembered in sudden, acute detail—untrammelled by the bone-shaking tiredness of last night—falling asleep with his head on Anders’ shoulder, his mind still half-wreathed in those terrible, tortuous things the demon had fed him.
Oh, Maker… I don’t talk in my sleep, do I?
It wasn’t a prospect he wished to contemplate. Neither was exactly how visible his dream had been to the others. Had he been stripped as bare as Aveline, or had the demon done its work inside his mind, painting the pictures there and just showcasing his shame with words, the way it had done with Merrill? Either way, he supposed, they all knew now. Anders knew, irrefutably, in a way that had nothing to do with all the months of flirting and drawn-out compromises, and Tobias hated himself for that.
He shivered, then looked up as a face appeared at the mouth of the shelter, dragging him unceremoniously from his guilty reverie.
“Oh, you’re awake!” Arianni exclaimed, rushing in with a wide, bright smile, and moving to seize his hands. “I’m so glad. I wanted to thank you personally, serah. We owe you so much. Feynriel’s up. He’s eating, talking… the Keeper says there may even be a way he can learn to control his abilities, if he could find somewhere to study, and that’s all thanks to you! I never imagined you would do us such kindness, I truly—”
“It’s all right. Really.” Tobias blinked, keen to extricate himself from the elf’s clammy grasp. She was already starting to make his head hurt. “Uh… yeah. Tevinter. It won’t be easy, but… I should speak with Marethari. There’ll be arrangements we need to make.”
Arrangements Anders needed to make, he corrected mentally. Getting Feynriel to Tevinter unchecked, let alone finding somewhere safe he could study—without the threat of blood magic or power-crazed magisters seeking to abuse his gifts as readily as any demon—was going to be a real test of the Underground’s power, if it was even possible.
Still, Arianni didn’t see it like that. All she saw was her son, alive, and she was effusively grateful. She ushered him to the Keeper’s aravel at once, mentioning that his ‘friend’ was still there, speaking with Marethari, and would no doubt be pleased to see him up and about.
Tobias suspected he looked confused when he stooped to pass through the doorway, and found Varric sitting at a small table with the keeper, apparently deep in conversation, and taking notes on a neatly folded piece of parchment.
“So, let me get this straight, this Elgahn guy killed the sun? The actual sun, right?”
“Elgar’nan,” Marethari corrected gently, the light of amusement twinkling in her face.
“Elgannan, right.” Varric waved his pencil dismissively. “And this—”
“—Mitthal rises from the sea and convinces him it was a bad idea—”
The keeper chuckled and shook her head indulgently. “Mythal showed to Elgar’nan the folly of his anger. At the touch of her hand, he understood his lust for vengeance had led him astray, and he vowed to undo the wrongs he had wrought.”
“Ah!” Varric exclaimed, pointing the pencil at Marethari, eyes narrowed in eager anticipation. “They knocked boots, right?”
The elf laughed—a warm, throaty, rich sound that Tobias was sure he’d never heard from her before, or even expected to hear.
Varric glanced up at him, and beamed widely.
“Hawke! You’re up. That’s good. I was getting a primer in Dalish mythology.”
“You’re honoured,” Tobias observed, as Marethari stood, swiping at her eyes with the back of one knuckle, and mopping away her laughter.
I will never cease to be amazed by the people that dwarf can charm.
“I don’t believe I have ever met one of the durgen’len with quite such an aptitude for stories,” she said, gesturing him to a seat.
“Thank you, Keeper.” He shook his head. “I should, uh, really be getting back. I—”
“Blondie headed back down to the city before first light,” Varric said helpfully. “Muttered something about, ah, making arrangements. Left this for you,” he added, proffering a folded scrap of parchment in his fingers.
Tobias took it, frowning, and peered down at the hastily scribbled words.
3 Ts, midnight. At least 250, if you can.
“Bugger,” he muttered, then glanced apologetically at Marethari. “Sorry. I mean, it… I know what it means. He’s arranging what he can for Feynriel. If it’s successful, I’ll meet with someone at… a place… tonight, and bring… the necessities. We’ll make a deal. If not, then we’ll have to find another way.”
She nodded solemnly, all traces of her laughter forgotten. “I see. Is there anything we can—?”
“I, er, I don’t think so,” Tobias said diplomatically, folding the parchment into the pocket of his breeches. Not unless you happen to have two hundred and fifty sovereigns lying around the place, anyway. “I’ll be in touch as soon as I can. Feynriel’s all right this morning, is he?”
“Well indeed,” Marethari said, though a trace of unease seemed to linger in her eyes. “The entire clan appreciates what you did for him, Serah Hawke.”
Tobias inclined his head politely, and squeezed out his best effort at a smile.
Funny, he thought, how people were always complimenting him most when he felt like death warmed over.
He looked enquiringly at Varric. “Did the others…?”
“Left early too,” the dwarf confirmed. “Fenris last night, Merrill and Aveline a little after Blondie. He made me promise to see you back safe,” he added, with the smallest hint of a smirk coiled in readiness at the corner of his mouth.
Tobias arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”
Did he? I wonder if that’s good or bad.
Still, for all the smirking, that was exactly what Varric did.
They took their leave of the camp, and headed back down into the city. The walk was, Tobias decided, a great deal more pleasant in the daytime. A light sea breeze crested the air, meeting the fresh, sharp smells of the mountain, and the hard land that lay further away from Kirkwall’s stranglehold on the sea.
There must be farmland back there, he supposed. Eventually. Once you put the docks and the crowded ledges of cliffs behind you, and started to travel north, past Sundermount and past all the old Tevinter mines and gravel pits, there must be lush places. He’d thought about trying to convince Leandra to move out of the city completely, away to some small village or market town somewhere between here and the Vimmarks, but she wouldn’t hear of it. The Marches were dangerous country, she’d said, and Tobias had been very hard pressed not to burst out laughing.
After their flight from Lothering, with Ferelden burning to ashes around them and darkspawn at every turn, after the Deep Roads, and his years of spitting teeth and shedding blood for smugglers… and she was concerned about rumours of bandits and sheep rustlers?
Besides, she didn’t want a peasant’s life again. He knew that, however hard he’d been trying to avoid the knowledge. Not even a comfortable tenant yeoman’s life. Tobias supposed he had to admit that he wasn’t exactly great farming material… but they could have got by, he was sure.
Maybe. If it wasn’t for the bloody estate.
She had it in her eyes now, more than ever, like a girl with her heart set on a pretty necklace. Every single day, the first light of dawn seemed to sparkle on diamonds for her.
Tobias sighed loudly as he walked, the breeze ruffling his hair, and Varric shook his head reproachfully.
“Hawke, please. You’re breaking my heart. It’s actually physically painful.”
Tobias grinned. “Sorry. Just thinking.”
The dwarf eyed him critically. “About the Fade? What was it like, anyway? I didn’t get much out of the others. Daisy looked upset, though.”
High overhead, a gull wheeled and screamed against the wide, crisp blueness of the sky. Tobias shrugged.
“Huh. It’s the Fade, that’s all. Nothing more or less. It’s boring and predictable and full of demons. They get into your head… show you the things you want to see, try to make you forget yourself. That’s how they get in.”
“Ah. And they did, right? Get in?”
“Merrill was tempted, yes,” he said guardedly, frowning down at his boots.
Each step crunched on the gritty, sandy ground. The path, such as it was, was fringed with the dark green, weedy plants that clung to the salt-stained, sour air up here. Embrium, Tobias noticed, and something that looked a little bit like a herb Anders had called bindwort. He wondered, briefly, whether he should cut some and take it along to the clinic, but he imagined the healer had his own sources and, in any case, Tobias wasn’t entirely sure there weren’t weird protocols about it. ‘Such-and-such only to be gathered in moonlight by a barefoot virgin’, and all of that business.
He blinked, aware that Varric had asked him a question.
“I said, tempted how? And don’t pretend you didn’t hear me.”
Tobias winced. “A pride demon. Made her believe she could be the one to save her people… saviour of the Dalish, if she gave it the power to help her.”
“Oh. And Aveline?”
“Saw her dead husband walking. Dreamed of redemption for failing to save him,” Tobias said shortly, suppressing a shudder at the recollection of Wesley’s all-too-real appearance. “The life they’d wanted… the life they should have had, I suppose. She blames—blamed, I mean, in the Fade—me, because I… well, because of what happened in Ferelden. Y’know. If it hadn’t been for meeting me, then the two of them might have got out alive.”
“Or died trying,” Varric said dryly. “I thought her husband was already as good as dead when you found them?”
“Mm-hm.” Tobias squinted at the pale jewel of the sun, glittering in the unclouded sky. “Didn’t make it easier, though. You know what I did.”
“Ah. Yes… there is that.”
There was silence for a few moments, broken only by the crunch of their footsteps. Kirkwall loomed up ahead, a series of jagged dark shapes slowly growing clearer, the way a painting yields the surprises of hidden details to curious scrutiny.
Tobias was aware of Varric watching him. The dwarf’s gaze settled on him like a weight, and he cleared his throat uncomfortably, determined not to answer the question until—or, perhaps, if—it was asked.
Bugger it. Can’t leave anything private, can you?
He shrugged. “I beat it. Didn’t succumb. So—”
“It doesn’t really matter,” Tobias said briskly, keeping his eyes fixed on the swelling vista of the city.
The closer they drew, the more he could see: plumes of smoke from countless chimneys, forges, and Maker only knew what else. Towers, crenellations, walls and the seething pits of the city gates, and plenty more besides.
Kirkwall: City of Infinite Surprises.
Of course, some of them are much less surprising than others.
“So, you’re really going to send that boy to Tevinter? You and Blondie?”
Tobias wrinkled his nose. “Blondie and the Underground,” he corrected mildly. “I’m just helping. But yeah… seems like it’s the only chance he’s got. I mean, I don’t know whether he’ll make it or not. I hope so. I hope he doesn’t end up a ravening abomination, or a blood-crazed magister or anything, but… well, what else can we do? If the Dalish can’t help him, and the Circle would kill him before they even bothered to try—”
Tobias grimaced. “He’s an apostate. And, if he’d fallen into a sleep like that there, do you think they’d have tried anything like as complicated as Marethari’s ritual? No. It would have been a sword in the chest and ‘good night, magey’ without even blinking.”
Varric chuckled quietly, then shook his head when Tobias frowned at him.
“Sorry. That’s not funny, I know. It’s just… you two sound more alike every day.”
Tobias shut his mouth curtly, and glared at the horizon.
He and Varric parted company at the edge of Lowtown, the dwarf protesting the need for a long hot bath and a stiff drink, and Tobias admitting that he ought to check in on Leandra.
She was, as he could have predicted, fuming. He got the ‘you’re a grown man now, and I don’t expect to know all the details of your life, but it wouldn’t kill you to tell me when you won’t be back, because you know how I worry’ speech and, about halfway through, he was mildly appalled to realise that she assumed he’d been at a whorehouse, or possibly with a woman. It seemed probable that, in Leandra’s mind, there was little difference.
“…I mean, it’s not as if it’s easy to bring people back here, I know,” she was saying, gesturing hopelessly to the hovel’s shabby walls, “and I can’t imagine you’d expect a woman like that to—”
Tobias blinked. “Wait, what? Who?”
Leandra gave him a withering look. “Your friend,” she said crisply. “The girl, with the….”
“Isabela,” he supplemented, wincing at his mother’s vague gesticulations in the area of her chest, and trying to convince himself that she meant the distinctive jewellery the Rivaini wore.
“The… pirate girl, yes.”
“She’s not a pirate,” Tobias said wearily. “Not really. Pirates have their own ships. Can’t be a pirate without a ship. And, anyway, she’s not—”
“Well, it doesn’t matter.” Leandra shook her head and gave him a tight, tired little smile. “You’re home now. Would you like something to eat? I expect you’re hungry.”
Tobias opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again as the sullen, empty feeling in his stomach prodded him into realising she had a point. He was tired, hungry, and wrung dry after the past couple of weeks. What with the Fade, and Feynriel, and the qunari and their bloody problems, Viscount Dumar and his manipulations—not to mention that whole business at the Rose—the days had been bleeding into each other in one great, faceless mess of chaos. It felt like the whole city wanted a piece of him, and Tobias longed passionately for the knife-edge security of working for Athenril. At least, among the smugglers, he’d been able to stay in the shadows. He liked that. He liked people not knowing his name.
It was so much bloody safer.
Still, he managed to put most of his troubles from his mind, and he sat at the rickety little table with his mother, listening to her news and the hopes she had for the estate. She served him hot tea and leftover barley stew, warmed and salted with a little dried pork, with a piece of relatively fresh bread on the side, and talked cheerfully while he ate. Another letter from Carver had arrived while he’d been out, and Leandra insisted on showing it to him.
Tobias read it obligingly, and smiled when she cooed over every little mundanity and gripe Carv had scribed down. He swallowed heavily, the thick and rather viscous barley stew forming a lump in his throat.
“Do we know how long it’ll be until he gets his knighthood?”
Leandra shook her head, folding the paper carefully as she tucked it away, nursing it as carefully as a newborn babe. She kept all the letters, Tobias knew, stored like holy relics in an inlaid wooden box in the bottom drawer of Gamlen’s writing desk.
“No. It may well be at least another year, maybe two. Well, there’s so much training, isn’t there?”
Tobias snorted, dropping his spoon into the blessedly empty bowl and reaching for the bread.
“Can’t imagine there’s all that much to sticking a sword in their hands and pushing them out of the door,” he muttered, swiping the sop around the bowl.
Leandra tutted reproachfully. “That’s not true. I mean, there’s so much to it, isn’t there? The Knight-Commander runs a very disciplined ship. And say what you like, but I’d rather he goes through as much training as possible before they let him loose out there. I dread to think of what he’ll face.”
She shuddered, genuine revulsion and anxiety lining her face, and Tobias stopped chewing, the bread sagging unheeded in his fingers.
“What? People like me?”
Leandra winced. “No, darling. That’s not what I—”
“People like Father? Bethany?”
He shouldn’t have mentioned the name, he supposed. Tobias’ gut tightened as he watched his mother pale, her lips growing thin and pursed, her eyes lanced with pain.
“You don’t have to be like that,” she muttered, looking away and brushing invisible crumbs from the tabletop with one worn, red-knuckled hand.
Interwoven threads of rage and pain spooled in his chest, and yet he couldn’t seem to bite back the words.
“People just trying to stay out of the Chantry’s way, though? Is that what you mean, Mother? Because bloody Meredith—”
Tobias sighed abruptly and reached for his tea. Leandra made a small, irritated sound in the back of her throat, and he wished he’d never said anything.
“I have to go out again in a bit,” he said, frowning at the pitted, well-scrubbed surface of the table, the wood almost bleached with its daily cleanings.
Gamlen had certainly never kept the place so tidy.
“You’ve barely been back,” Leandra said reproachfully, fingers cupped around her own tea. “You’ll wear yourself out.”
Tobias shook his head. “I need to see a man about some business, that’s all. Won’t be long. D’you need anything? I can call by the market.”
The tea seemed weak and tepid, with an aftertaste like silage. He swallowed it down anyway, and watched his mother’s face crease into a dissatisfied scowl. The dusty, grubby light that filtered in through the hovel’s small window fell with uncaring cruelty on her face, showing every line and every faded, papery plane of her skin. Her hair had grown brittle as it greyed, and her eyes dull and listless.
He wished he could believe it was just Kirkwall that it done it to her, and not the Blight, not losing the twins… not him.
She shrugged. “I don’t think so, dear. Oh, wait. No, if you’re going to be in Hightown, you could call into the draper’s. Master Linnabeck had some fabrics coming in I wanted swatches of. There was a green linen, with little white flowers on, and some nice thick velvets. He’ll have them put by for me, so you don’t need to worry. I was thinking about curtains, and upholsteries. You know. And some new clothes,” she added, eyeing his leather jerkin critically.
Tobias glanced up, wary of that analytical expression, and Leandra smiled indulgently at him.
“Well? Look at you. It’s about time you smartened yourself up.”
He said nothing. He liked the way he dressed. Besides, nice thick velvet wasn’t much good at stopping blades… not that he could say that much to her.
“You dress like a barbarian,” Leandra chided, her voice falling back into a set of old, familiar rhythms that almost made him smile. “I suppose, next thing I know, you’ll have a ring through your ear and a gold-capped tooth. Mind you, running around with that pirate girl—”
Oh, by the Maker’s hairy arse crack, woman….
“I’m not ‘running around’ with Isabela, Mother,” Tobias said wearily, and drained the rest of his tea. “I don’t even—”
He broke off abruptly, and set the mug down on the table. He didn’t know why the words wouldn’t pass his lips. The sky wouldn’t crack in two, and fire wouldn’t swallow the world… and yet he didn’t say it. Couldn’t say it.
“She’s not my type,” he muttered instead, pausing as he stood to give Leandra a quick peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you later, Mother.”
She nodded and waved him away absently, with a quiet little “hmm” of assent.
He looked back over his shoulder once as he left the house, and she hadn’t moved. Just sitting there… quiet and still.
Tobias wasn’t sure why that unnerved him so.
He tried not to think of it while he busied himself with the day’s errands. First, he dutifully collected Leandra’s swatches from the draper’s, then ran by a couple of merchants and old business contacts in the bazaar, and stocked up both on supplies and gossip. After all, Varric wasn’t the only one who could keep an ear to the ground.
There didn’t seem to be much going on. Lowtown was talking mostly about the qunari; the poison gas thing had not exactly endeared them to the city, and rumour had it a few headstrong groups of would-be militia wanted to see them burned out of their compound and sent back to Par Vollen.
That’ll be messy.
Still, Tobias supposed, it made a change from mage-bashing.
Hightown was buzzing with more genteel gossip, much of it about His Royal Shininess… who apparently hadn’t buggered off back to Starkhaven. Tobias found that peculiar in the extreme, and wondered precisely what it was about Kirkwall that—despite the city’s manifold imperfections—seemed to compel people to hang around.
He shrugged off the idle curiosity and, with the day slipping away around him, took time to pay calls and draw in a few favours. Vincento, the Antivan merchant, was just one of them.
It was his own fault, Tobias told himself. If the man had just taken a little more interest in Feynriel—shown just a little more willingness to help the boy, instead of shying away from his responsibilities—it needn’t have come to anything.
Still, the shouting didn’t break out until Tobias himself was almost out of earshot and—whistling nonchalantly as he walked away, the pouch of coins he’d lifted from the merchant’s unguarded trunk jingling in his pocket—he allowed himself a small smile, and the warm, fuzzy glow of virtue.
He stopped off at the di Bordi’s banking house and made a sizeable withdrawal from his own account before heading home, the weight of the coin purses he carried making every step seem longer.
Leandra was cleaning when Tobias got back. Gamlen was nowhere to be seen, but that wasn’t unusual. Maker only knew where he spent most of his days—like a rat scurrying about between dark holes and dead things, Tobias thought.
He set the leather bags down on the clean-scrubbed table, and enjoyed the smiles that came over his mother when she got to see her linens… even if did mean she wanted to talk about curtains, furniture and upholstery again.
She was eager for him to appoint a steward, to start the renovations and prepare for moving into the estate—and she was, in Tobias’ opinion, altogether far too keen on him taking up the interest in the mine. He wished he’d never told her about any of it.
“And what’s the man’s name?”
They were drinking tea again. It was a ritual she had—a way of chaining him to a chair with kindness, and stripping him of his defences—and Tobias couldn’t refuse it, even if he was fairly sure tea would start leaking out of his ears if he stayed home too long.
“Hm?” He swallowed heavily. Bloody stuff still tasted like silage. Maybe it was the water. “What, Hubert? The Orlesian?”
“No.” Leandra shook her head impatiently. “The steward. The one your friend—”
“Oh. Feddic. Bodahn Feddic… he’s a merchant. ’Bout as respectable a pillar of the Merchants’ Guild as Varric is, but it might work out. He was on the Deep Roads expedition,” Tobias continued, ignoring her wince at the mention of that particular escapade. “Owes me a favour or two, and Varric reckoned he’d be a good choice. We give him leave to store some goods in the cellars, he’ll probably be amenable to overseeing the work and the running of the place. Should get a good deal on supplies and materials, too, and Maker knows we’ll need them. Still trying to find a good stonemason… not to mention someone to look at the staircases.”
Leandra tutted reprovingly. “Oh, I can’t think it’s as bad as all that. It’s—”
“Been derelict for years,” Tobias interrupted. “Not to mention the slavers. They’re not exactly good tenants, Mother.”
She made another small grumble of reproach, and sipped her tea. “I don’t want to think about that,” she muttered into her cup, and Tobias stifled an exasperated sigh.
She never did, did she?
“I’ll get it sorted out,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
“Of course you will, darling. Still….” Leandra shook her head, frowning slightly. “I’m not sure I like the idea of having our home acting as some merchant’s warehouse.”
Tobias snorted. “It’s big enough, isn’t it? There’s only you and me.”
“And your uncle,” she added crisply.
Tobias winced, but managed to keep the stream of invective he wanted to spout constrained to an internal rant.
“Yes,” he managed through gritted teeth. “And Uncle Gamlen. Of course. And Carv, when he visits. I’m sure Meredith lets them out every so often to go for tea and buns.”
“Well? Anyway, the place is bloody massive, Mother. I don’t think it’d impact on anything to lease a room or two.”
Leandra’s frown deepened, and he supposed he couldn’t blame her for her reservations.
“I don’t know what people will say,” she muttered. “That’s all.”
Tobias gritted his teeth, and swallowed down the urge to snap at her. There were, in his opinion, far worse things than having Hightown look down their noses at the old Amell estate’s new occupants.
Besides, sitting on all that spare room… what else was he supposed to do with it?
“Thought I might take a bath,” he said, sneaking a sidelong glance at her. “Before I go out later. That all right with you?”
She nodded, her long fingers still delicately framing her cup, and her face set into a speculative sort of look, like her mind was still dallying down the corridors of her childhood home.
Sometimes, he wondered if there might come a time when she wouldn’t return.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Of course, dear. Fire’s up, you can heat some water. Or do you want me to—?”
“I’ll manage,” Tobias said swiftly. “Really.”
He patted her hand as he rose from the table, and went to stash the leather bags of gold under his bed before fetching the household wooden tub and bucket, and heading off towards the pump in the square outside.
Tobias bathed, then helped Leandra with the dinner—another of her thick, lump-strewn stews—and tried his best to avoid any conversation about the estate, or the templars, or anything else even faintly contentious.
“So, where are you going this evening?”
He cringed inwardly, and gritted his teeth as she ladled stew into two bowls; a third sat on the table, awaiting Gamlen’s return. The fire was burning cheerfully, banked low so as not to smoke too much, and a few candles cast warm, dancing light into the muggy little room. Outside, dusk had settled, and the whoops and yells of children running through the streets had just about given way to the sounds of men returning from the docks and warehouses. A dog barked and, somewhere, a woman called out shrilly.
“Just out,” Tobias said blandly, avoiding Leandra’s eye. “I’m meeting someone, late. Business.”
She huffed disapprovingly. “Is it dangerous?”
“No. Shouldn’t be.”
Stew slopped into the bowl, and the smell of hot barley tugged sluggishly at Tobias’ nostrils.
“I thought you were giving all that up. You said you were.”
“It’s nothing to do with Athenril,” he said—and that was the truth, whether she believed it or not. “Or the Red River boys, or anyone else.”
“No?” Leandra didn’t sound convinced. “Well, it’s not to safe to be out all night. I just wish you’d—”
“I can look after myself, Mother.”
Most of the time. Unless I’m drunk and there’s more than three of them.
She narrowed her eyes. “I know, but I’m still entitled to worry. And I will. When will you be back?”
Tobias shrugged. “Late. I don’t know. Depends on… well, on the arrangements.”
“Whatever arrangements have been made,” he said, as patiently as he could manage. “I’m… helping someone, that’s all.”
Leandra nodded slowly. “A mage?”
Tobias stopped, bowl in his hand, and blinked owlishly at his mother. He hadn’t expected her to jump to such an accurate conclusion… and he hadn’t expected the steel in her tired blue eyes when she looked at him, demanding an answer with quiet tenacity.
“That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? That’s why you’re so bitter about the Knight-Commander all of a sudden.”
“Huh.” Tobias scoffed, trying to defuse the inevitable and awkward questions. “Well, I was never exactly her biggest fan, but—”
The protestations died on his lips as his mother stared at him, looking so awfully weary and disillusioned. She shook her head.
“Your father would be very proud, I’m sure.”
And what’s that supposed to mean?
He held back the response, telling himself the bitter tone in her voice was just worry, just tiredness… no matter what else it felt like.
Leandra dropped the ladle back into the cookpot, and her warm, raw-boned hand rested briefly on his wrist before she picked up her own bowl and moved away.
“Be careful, though, won’t you, darling? Promise me?”
Tobias nodded. “Yes. Mother, I….”
He stopped, hearing the familiar shambling tread of weaving footsteps coming up to the door.
Always at the most inconvenient bloody time!
“That’ll be your uncle,” Leandra said mildly, setting the bowl down on the table and moving back to serve another. “Come along. Eat up, before it gets cold.”
The door opened and Gamlen shuffled in, smelling of sour wine. The intertwined light of the candles and the hearth picked out every wrinkled line and crumpled angle of his form, and he glowered at Tobias.
“Oh. Gracing us with your presence this evening, are you?”
Leandra sighed as she served her brother’s meal. “Can’t you both just be pleasant to each other for once? Is that too much to ask?”
Tobias eyed his uncle coolly as the older man shucked off his coat.
“Not for me,” he muttered, crossing to the table and taking a seat beside his mother.
Gamlen grunted something intelligible and came over to join them, pausing to toss a loaf of bread on the table before he sat.
Tobias watched it drop and settle, like a spinning penny coming to rest, the hard, soot-smudged crust making a dull scrape against the wood. Evenings like this, he supposed, the estate and all the responsibilities and privileges it entailed really didn’t sound so bad.
Dinner was predictably awkward, but Leandra’s icy peace-keeping avoided all-out verbal warfare.
Tobias grabbed a few hours of sleep, and left the house late. The full, greasy sluice of moonlight across Lowtown’s dirt-packed streets made everything look muted and unreal, with the occasional thin silver highlight running like water down the line of a roof or wall.
The hunched black shapes of bodies in doorways barely stirred as he passed. A cough or two, the mumble of someone considering waylaying a foolish night-time traveller—until they saw the blade in his belt and the determination in his gait—and that was all.
It didn’t take long to get down to the docks, where torches burned at the mouths of the alleyways, and life spilled out into the streets.
Tobias headed straight for his destination, glad of the thin cloak he’d thrown on before he left the house, and the defence it provided against prying eyes.
The Three Tuns was not one of the most salubrious taverns that lined the docks, but neither was it one of the worst.
Most of the clientele were Port Authority men, of dubious morality and a vituperatively bureaucratic turn of mind. The labourers and dockhands tended to drink elsewhere, with a few exceptions, so the Tuns generally boasted a relatively quiet and restrained atmosphere. This was probably enhanced by the fact that Fat Molly, the landlord’s wife, would beat the living snot out of any man who disturbed her house… or the quiet little operation she ran upstairs.
A hefty woman—of the kind who resembled a statue of some infamous barbarian king, but sculpted mainly from sausagemeat—Molly was the force behind the Tuns and the three things it was known for: strong beer, unloaded dice, and cheap, clean women. There were only a couple of girls who worked out of the tavern, but they offered one of the few places in Kirkwall the Coterie didn’t have a cut in and, as far as Tobias knew, because of that, there wasn’t a guild or company in the city that felt the irresistible urge to piss Molly off.
It made her place a very good, very quiet, very safe place to meet… unless she didn’t like the look of the person you were meeting. Molly could be very particular about anyone who resembled a guild man.
Fortunately for Tobias, as he slipped into the well-lit, smoky bar, pushing the hood of his cloak back, the very last thing he looked like was a respectable, well-upholstered thief. He’d spent a great deal of time at the Tuns during rough patches in Athenril’s employ, when dallying anywhere the Coterie had tendrils hadn’t been a good idea, and that lent a genuine warmth to the smile with which Molly greeted him.
“Well, well! Look what the bleedin’ cat dragged in!”
He grinned as the immense woman beamed at him, frizzy brown curls springing from the loose bun at the back of her neck and standing out from her head like a halo.
“Serah Hawke… well I never. I ’eard you was too good for us now,” she chided teasingly, leaning on the pitted wooden bar, a dirty dishrag slung over one shoulder.
Tobias spread his hands wide in a gesture of innocence, and eased his way through the comparatively genteel crush of bodies.
The quiet buzz of conversation and the clatter of plates and mugs filled the stale, warm air, and candle smoke wreathed the firelight. At The Hanged Man, a fight would probably have broken out by now or, at the very least, one of the regular drunks would be being sick over somebody.
“Me? Never, Molly! Where’d you hear that? It’s all lies.”
She cackled, her thick lips spread flat over yellowed stumps of teeth, and the wattle of her neck wobbled.
“They say you’re moving uphill, boy. Be your piss washing down to wet us next, won’t it?”
Tobias shook his head. “Not if I can help it, Moll. Still, funny old life, innit?”
Fat Molly’s laughter subsided into a squint-eyed look of intrigue, her mouth still twisted around a smile.
“Aye,” she said dubiously. “That it is. So, what you ’avin’?”
“Your best rot-gut, my dear, if you’d be so kind.” Tobias flashed her another grin. “And one for yourself. Leave the bottle? I’ll be meeting a friend.”
Molly nodded, and set two practically clean glasses down in front of him. She produced an unlabelled bottle of thick, dark green glass, uncorked it, and pushed it across to him as Tobias slid a couple of silvers towards her.
He remembered, before the Blight, back in Ferelden, when ale was no more than a couple of coppers a pint, and a bottle of spirits could be bought for less than half a silver. Sure, the price of everything had changed—refugees, plagues, darkspawn and Maker only knew what else had seen to that—but it still stung, and Molly set her rates high even given local standards. The price of impartiality was pretty damn steep, he guessed.
Nevertheless, he thanked her, and took the glasses and bottle over to a small, empty table in a quiet nook near the fire. A candle stood on the rickety table, burning low in a clay saucer. All that remained was to wait… and, ideally, not to drink too much of the rough, faintly brown liquid that Tobias suspected Molly probably brewed in a bathtub.
He watched the door for a while, and drank a couple of short measures of the… whatever it was. The familiar, comforting burn at the back of his throat made the memory of Leandra’s lumpy stew and awkward questions a little more distant, but midnight still seemed to be a long way off.
The tavern was too far from Hightown to reliably hear the chantry’s midnight service bell, but close enough to the docks to catch the ships’ mid-watch bells ringing out. Their solemn chimes drifted up—audible in the general stillness of the night—and, as if on cue, a hooded figure slipped into the tavern.
The clutches of patrons had begun to thin out, which made him all the more conspicuous. Dark folds of heavy fabric hung over a short, thin frame… not the man Tobias had been expecting to see, he realised. No shabby coat, no damp fringe of feathers; and yet whoever it was clearly knew why he was there.
The figure paused for a moment by the doors, surveying the tavern, and then headed straight for Tobias. His steps slowed as he drew closer, and a pair of lean, tanned hands rose to push the hood of his cloak back a little way, revealing a narrow sliver of a face.
Gethyn Drummer slipped into the seat opposite Tobias, and propped his elbows on the table.
“Serah,” he said, surveying Tobias coolly with those hard, black eyes.
Tobias inclined his head. “Nice to see you again.”
The other man, his hood still mostly covering his face, gave a small, eloquent grunt that suggested he really didn’t agree with that statement. “Hmm. Do you have it?”
Tobias poured out another measure of Molly’s rotgut for himself, and one for Gethyn.
“Is it arranged?” he asked, pushing the glass across the table.
Gethyn snorted irritably, but took the drink. “We don’t ask questions,” he muttered, knocking it back in a business-like manner. “Neither should you.”
Tobias shrugged. He supposed he shouldn’t be sitting here with his head uncovered, either, being so easily identifiable. Rather, he should have swathed himself up in fourteen yards of black silk, and pretended to be part of a street gang.
Bloody paranoid… and they say Anders is weird. Huh.
“Sorry,” he said lightly. “I haven’t done this before.”
Gethyn held out the glass, and Tobias topped it off, then downed his own shot and poured another. Whatever Molly made the moonshine from, it was strong stuff: the pleasant tug of light-headedness pulled at him, and what flavour the liquid had warmed his every breath.
“I still want to know, though,” he said quietly, peering at the other apostate. “Call it curiosity or genuine concern, but… I want to know the boy will be safe.”
The stub of candle burning on the table between them guttered, and a thin trail of wax began to drip from the saucer to the greasy, scarred wood.
Gethyn exhaled slowly, and glared at Tobias from within the folds of his cloak. “Of course he bloody will. D’you think this is the first run we’ve arranged?”
“No. But he’s not like most others, is he? I bet you don’t send many to T—”
“Shh!” Gethyn glanced urgently around the bar. “Are you stupid, or what?”
Tobias stifled a snort of laughter. “Andraste’s tits, man… who’s going to hear, or care, in here? I thought that was the whole point of—”
“Just be quiet, all right?” Gethyn whispered, leaning across the table.
The flickering candlelight painted shadows inside the folds of his cloak, making his eyes glitter dangerously, and shading hollows into his thin cheeks.
The smile fell from Tobias’ face, and he slumped back in his seat, raising his glass to his lips like an old habit.
“Fine,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”
There was a shuffle of movement near the front of the bar: a gaggle of men weaving unsteadily out of the door, homeward bound in the late dark. Molly wished them a loud and effusive farewell, and went back to wiping mugs with her dirty dishrag.
From upstairs, there came a few muffled giggles and the thump of a door closing.
“He did say you’d probably ask,” Gethyn said quietly, raising his glass to his lips. “Our mutual friend. He’s been busy. And yes… you’re right. Not many birds who fly that far north, if you know what I mean. That’s what’s made it difficult.”
“And expensive,” Tobias added. “Yes?”
“Yeah. So… do you have it?”
Beneath the table, Tobias’ fingers flexed on the coin purse. In total, he’d managed to cobble together nearly four hundred sovereigns—far more than Anders’ note had asked for, and far more than his last contribution to the Underground’s efforts. Obviously, getting Feynriel to Tevinter would be more difficult, and more expensive, than moving a whole group of apostates via the Ostwick road.
He only hoped it would work.
“Yes. When does he go? The boy. Because of his mother… it’ll be hard on her,” Tobias explained, as Gethyn narrowed his eyes.
“Hmph. Friend of hers, are you? Wondered why you took such an interest in this.”
Tobias winced. “I take an interest because he could be any of us,” he said, lowering his voice. “Besides—”
“They all could,” Gethyn said darkly. “And you would be best advised to learn how to keep things like this short and clean, messere. You understand?”
“Fine.” Tobias scowled. “Just tell me when it’ll be.”
Gethyn’s glare grew harder, and he hunched further forwards, brow heavily furrowed as he tugged his cloak tighter around him.
Couldn’t look less inconspicuous if you tried, could you, love?
“Within the week,” he said quietly, his voice a low rasp beneath the tavern’s bustle. “That’s all I’ll say.”
“It isn’t much.”
“No, and there’s good reason for that,” Gethyn spat. “We don’t know you. I don’t trust you. But our mutual friend does… more fool him. You’re only here because he said you’d be good for the money. So, are you?”
Scorn and ire positively oozed from his words, every line of his body set into a silent challenge.
Tobias shrugged minutely, trying to ignore the humiliating wash of angry recrimination in his veins. He should have known where he stood, he supposed.
“I have to be, don’t I?”
Gethyn’s eyes narrowed, his face a beaten quire of copper between the rough wool cloak and the jumping candle flame.
“Our friend made the deal,” he snapped. “You don’t like it, you talk to him.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. I just want to know what’s going to happen to the boy.”
“Maker’s cock….” Gethyn’s face twisted into a grimace of distaste. “I told you. That’s not the way we do things. It’s safer the fewer people who know. Why don’t you just—”
“I want to know,” Tobias said quietly. “And then I’ll give you what I’ve got.”
He met Gethyn’s angry stare unflinchingly, and waited calmly for the twitching of the other man’s thin lips to subside.
“Fine,” Gethyn muttered. “I mean, he’ll probably tell you anyway, won’t he?”
He hunched forwards, leaning further than ever across the little table, his words whispered like a dark chant.
“He’ll go via Antiva, in a merchant’s train. Don’t ask how we arranged it. There’s protection all the way—two of ours will be travelling with them—then there’s a man in the north who deals with safe places. I can’t say more than that.”
Tobias nodded thoughtfully. Incognito apostates planted in baggage trains, networks of safe houses and lynchpins of organisation… well, the Underground really was a vast and sprawling network, wasn’t it?
Gethyn snorted. “Hm. Dunno why you didn’t just wait for the pillow talk. Come on, then. You got it or not?”
Tobias blinked, bridling a little on that moment of surprise that shouldn’t really have been surprising at all. Gossip, naturally, spread its tawny fingers through everything. No great wonder that half of Kirkwall thought he and Anders were screwing—and yet it felt like an insult, like an attack on one or both of them.
The Underground would use it against Anders, he supposed, when they turned on him. And they would turn… at some point. He didn’t doubt that.
He eyed Gethyn curiously, trying to find a chink in the man’s armour of prickly irritability, and found himself rewarded only with another scowl.
Tobias pushed the bag under the table, nudging it against the apostate’s knee. “There.”
“How much?” Gethyn asked, as his fingers closed on the purse and he pulled it eagerly into his lap.
“Three hundred and eighty-six,” Tobias murmured. “I can get another thirty tomorrow, but no more than that for a while. Is it enough?”
Gethyn nodded curtly, making a manful effort at disguising his surprise. If he was impressed, he didn’t show it. “Hm. It’ll do.”
He knocked back the last of his drink, and rose from the table, the coin purse effortlessly concealed beneath his cloak.
“I suppose our friend might be right about you,” he added, looking down his nose at Tobias. “He says we can trust you. He says he trusts you. ’Course, I ’spect your kind stick together, don’t you?”
Tobias arched an eyebrow. “Oh? Do we?”
“Mm. Bloody dog-lords,” Gethyn said shortly, tugging his cloak around himself and glancing towards the tavern’s door.
From behind the bar, Fat Molly was eyeing them suspiciously. She nodded in Tobias’ direction, and he inclined his head, returning the gesturely evenly.
“Yes,” he said, with a small, thin smile. “I expect we do.”
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
It seemed logical, Tobias supposed, that two chief components of Feynriel’s nightmare should be pride and desire. He was, after all, a young lad, and of an age to be keenly shackled by such impulses… though the boy’s most closely guarded yearning was nothing like what Tobias expected.
This whole ‘stepping through doors and losing myself’ thing is getting seriously old. And why have I got tits? Oh, Maker, no….
He had taken Arianni’s form, and the dream placed him between Feynriel and his father, the mostly absent Antivan merchant. The demon impersonating Vincento was doing a good job of it, Tobias had to admit, and spun out wonderful-sounding futures, in which Feynriel would travel with him, help manage the business, and have the wealth to do whatever he pleased.
“I can’t wait, Father!” Feynriel exclaimed happily, clutching a pen between forefinger and thumb as he sat at a writing desk in the comfortable little shop the demon had created. “It’ll be perfect.”
His gaze fell on Tobias, despite the best efforts of the demon leaning over his shoulder, and he frowned slightly.
“Will Mother be coming with us?”
The demon glared at Tobias, and he shrugged laconically, too tired of this whole charade to do much more than note that the creature’s soulless black eyes suited the image of Vincento rather well.
“Your mother never loved you,” it growled. “She wanted to keep us apart. She didn’t want us to be happy. She wants you to go back to the alienage… and you know how you hated it there.”
Feynriel looked confused. “Mother?”
Ugh. I will never be able to get the image of him calling me that out of my head. This is worse than that time me and Carv tried smoking cloutweed….
“I think you should go with your father,” he said, wincing as Arianni’s voice spilled from him. “You always wanted to know him better, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” the boy said doubtfully. “I did. But… Father… why did you never write?”
The demon clapped him affectionately on the back. “Well, I did, my boy! Many times. If your mother kept the letters from you, I can’t be responsible. I told you… she is a bitter, bitter woman. She never wanted—”
“No,” Feynriel said dreamily. “She wrote to you, but you never wrote back.”
Clever boy, Tobias thought. Perhaps Feynriel was stronger than Keeper Marethari had given him credit for; even if he wasn’t aware of it, part of him was sniffing out the weakness in the dream, and starting to turn it back on the demon.
The creature narrowed its eyes, and the jolly, smiling false face flickered a little.
“Ah, but I was travelling,” it said, waving a hand evasively. “The life of a merchant is not an easy one. But, come… practice your letters. See how good you are getting?”
The walls of the shop began to waver slightly. Tobias eyed the changes curiously. A weaker dream, or a weaker demon? There didn’t seem to be as many hangers-on gathered here, eager for the creature’s crumbs. Maybe the earlier battles had scattered them… or maybe this particular demon disliked competition more intensely.
It snarled soundlessly at him over Feynriel’s head.
Tobias edged forwards, feeling distinctly uncomfortable in, once again, the wrong body and the wrong clothes.
“Your mother loves you, Feynriel,” he said, drawing closer with each step. “The Dalish love you. Ask your father where he was when the slavers took you. Did he come for you then? Did he come to see you were all right?”
“I was away!” the Vincento-shade snapped. “It was impossible. I… sent a letter. A… gift.”
“No, you didn’t,” Feynriel said mildly, frowning slightly. “It was Serah Hawke who saved me from the slavers. And… and you would never even have talked to me if it wasn’t for him, would you?”
“That’s not your father, Feynriel,” Tobias murmured. “And you know it, don’t you? You know you’re dreaming.”
The demon scowled at him. “Bitch!”
Tobias wrinkled his nose, briefly intrigued by the feel of a different face, and different muscles, even if none of it was real. “Now, dear,” he said, briefly enjoying the lilt of Arianni’s voice, “not in front of the child.”
The world pitched and spun again, and Tobias decided he really, truly missed the dependable aspects of the mortal world. Particularly those nice, comforting things like up, down, and sideways. Directions you could trust, instead of all this wild thrashing, and the feeling of reality bucking about like an angry donkey.
The room dissipated around them, and Feynriel faded before he could so much as grab at the boy, which was frustrating. Just as before, the vision the demon had made faded, and Tobias found himself back on sandy stone—equally unreal, but slightly more familiar—with Justice and Aveline close by. The spirit was already shifting into a defensive stance, power flaring through the shell of Anders’ flesh.
“Hawke!” Aveline started forwards. “What—?”
He shook his head and turned from her, still disorientated by the unnerving shifting of his body back into its usual form.
“This isn’t over yet,” Tobias said, nodding at the demon that had unveiled itself before him.
It had taken the basic shape of a woman, but paid little heed to the technicalities. He raised an eyebrow.
“Nice tits,” he said, surveying the voluptuous, purple-hued flesh, the gold-tipped talons, and the jewels spilling over the creature’s bare skin like a wave of molten metal, “but really not my thing.”
The demon bared its teeth angrily, fixing him with a gaze of livid fire, though the voice that purred in his mind was smooth and gentle, like a tart’s well-modulated murmurs.
“It is just as well. His desires were so… boring.”
The creature tilted its head to one side, full lips framing the words at an odd, distorted tempo. The voice was beautiful, Tobias realised, though he’d known it would be. He’d expected it; expected this whole rush of sudden want and yearning, because it was the way these things worked… and it seemed so odd that something so very perfect could offer anything shy of bliss.
Just like the Harimann place. Great. I was almost running out of nightmare fuel.
“The approval of an absent father,” the demon said sardonically, “and a mother’s love? Pfft. No… no fun at all. But, I wonder, what ache throbs deepest within you?”
It began to draw closer, the words spooling out like caresses, and Tobias took a step back.
“Hands off,” he warned, as the feel of the demon’s presence licked at him.
He was prepared—well-practiced, even, after the creatures of pride and sloth, and the repeated skirmishes the Fade had held for them—but he was tired, and the demon did have power… power which you crave, don’t you? Because power makes it all so much easier. And you want an easy life, I know. Poor thing. So much running, so much hiding… so much loss.
Tobias gritted his teeth. He half-expected to see his own family: Bethany and Carver at each other’s throats again, Leandra in silk and pearls, and Malcolm, risen from the dead and reunited with them all. A little cottage, like the place they’d lived in Lothering. Some nondescript, dull village, full of small perfections and the solace of security.
But the past is the past, isn’t it? You know that. Besides, you seek something new. Something brighter… something better.
He winced. He didn’t want to see. He didn’t want to feel it; to have that small part of him believe it was true, or that it could be true, but it was so terribly hard to resist.
Gold is pretty, but its glimmer doesn’t last. Still, coin feeds the world, doesn’t it? All your fun, all your little toys… fine wines, good whiskey, nice clothes. You know how good you look in deerhide, don’t you? Supple, smooth leather against your skin, the warm burn of liquid amber on your tongue, and a pair of strong hands against your flesh. Life is good when simple things please you, yes? Yessss. And it’s so easy to have all that you could possibly desire….
Tobias braced himself. He knew what would come next. He hated himself for it: this weakness, his predictable vulnerability, and the fact he almost wanted the demon to tempt him with it, no matter the falsehoods and the lies.
He held his breath, and opened the window, allowing the sweet spring air to fill the room. There was still a chill to it, but the sun had long since burned the frost away, and the cottage could do with an airing. Perhaps, after breakfast, it would be worth throwing on a thick cloak and wandering into town. The first imports of the season would be filtering down from Denerim, and it was early enough in the week that there might even be fresh fish on the stalls.
He stretched, luxuriating in every tiny pop and crack of his muscles, and grinned as he glanced over his shoulder at the rumpled bed. Anders was still snoring lightly, not much visible of him beneath the blankets except for a mop of blond hair and part of one shoulder. He shifted and mumbled at the draught from the window, and Tobias smiled as he passed the bottom of the bed, watching him drift into wakefulness.
“Mmm…. What are you doing up?”
“Getting breakfast,” he said as Anders sat up, scratching at his head and stifling a yawn. “Probably.”
“Well, it is chilly.”
Anders smiled that lazy, wicked smile of his, all sleep-smutted warm skin and bleary, honey-dark eyes. “True. You should come and warm up. Probably.”
Tobias grinned playfully. “Probably,” he agreed, slipping back into their bed, and into his lover’s comfortable embrace.
Anders pressed a soft kiss to his forehead, then pulled back to look at him, his smile growing hazy and small. Tobias’ fingertips traced the line of his unshaven jaw, and they drew close, happily tangled in each other. Outside the window, birds sang. Anders smelled of warm spice and sleepy musk, and his laughter rippled across the blankets like the rustle of silk. The pillow felt cool beneath Tobias’ cheek, especially compared to the heat of the lips on his neck, and there was the distinct possibility of protracted, lazy lovemaking in the imminent future, leading to a late breakfast and a dearth of fresh fish… probably. Not that it mattered. It was just the two of them, after all. No one else, unless they chose to visit friends or family: they lived free of intrusion and interruption. Completely free. Theirs was a peaceful, quiet life, set back even from the rest of the village. No demands, no responsibilities… no pressing urgency to do anything but what they chose. And, right now, Tobias chose to—
“Fuck off!” he yelped, lurching away from the creature, panting hard and fighting the fantasy.
The images fled from his head with painful speed, leaving behind the cold ache of a warm embrace suddenly lost, a flame abruptly snuffed out, and Tobias stifled a whimper.
The demon merely smiled.
“You would do well not to underestimate me,” it said smoothly. “But know this: if you take away my pets, I’ll take away yours.”
Tobias glanced behind him at Anders—Justice—and Aveline, just as the demon extended one graceful hand towards her. It wasn’t real. It messed with a person’s mind, that was all… and it stays in your mind, right? They don’t see it. They don’t see my dream, and I can’t see… oh, shit. This is going to be Merrill all over again, isn’t it?
“Your noble knight,” the demon cooed, its gold-tipped fingers tracing a suggestive spiral through the air. “What would she do to reclaim what she has lost?”
“Don’t listen to it, Aveline,” Tobias warned, aware of the shake in his voice, and attempting to conquer it.
He turned to her, just in time to see the ashy pallor of her skin, and the slackness of her mouth. It was as if she’d—
—seen a ghost.
There wasn’t much ethereal about the figure that emerged from behind the demon. The creature raised an arm, like a dancer introducing a new step, and he moved forwards, his gait easy and natural, his armour clinking gently.
Tears glimmered in Aveline’s eyes. “Wesley?”
He looked a damn sight better than he had the last time Tobias had seen him. No terrible injury, no darkspawn corruption; a tall, broad, handsome man with piercing blue eyes and a head of glossy black hair. His templar armour caught the reflections of the demon’s fire-chased skin, but he seemed real, and vital, and… alive.
The demon sighed, and it sounded more like a breath of triumph than the sad sympathy it seemed to be aiming for.
“You spent your whole life trying to be the chevalier your father wanted, but the one thing you chose for yourself, and the darkspawn took him. That’s not fair, is it?”
The words swaddled themselves in the air, the atmosphere thick and unyielding as Wesley and Aveline stared at each other.
Tobias inhaled sharply. Quite apart from the fact of the demon’s presence, everything he’d ever heard in a chantry or had read to him from Leandra’s prayer books told him what he was seeing couldn’t be true. The dead might pass through the Fade, but they went to the Maker’s side… didn’t they? Unquiet spirits might linger, perhaps, and Wesley had died a horrible death.
Tobias knew that; he’d pushed the knife in himself.
He blinked, struggling to hold onto the reminder that this wasn’t real. It was a demon’s trick, a manipulation of the Fade just like the dreams that tapped into Feynriel’s power. A mage might be blinkered by their own mind, but this was just a coarse attempt at fooling Aveline with something obvious, something as physical as this realm could be… and she wouldn’t fall for that.
The trouble was, as he looked at her, Tobias could see the pain and the yearning in her eyes. She wanted to believe it, and that was the danger.
He opened his mouth to snap a warning at her, try to pull her from this path, but there were no words. His tongue felt dry and thick, and it somehow seemed wrong to come between them. That was a stupid thought, and Tobias flinched from it, forcing himself back to that moment on the scorched, Blight-scoured plain south of Lothering, when Wesley lay dying and they’d had no time to spare for him.
He remembered the resistance of weakened flesh beneath his blade, and the look on Aveline’s face as she’d knelt by her husband’s side, clutching his hand and holding his breastplate up, baring the place for Tobias to strike.
Now, there was no blame or recrimination in Wesley’s face; just love, and the sweet sadness of longing.
“Is it you?” Aveline murmured, making Tobias feel like an interloper.
Wesley nodded, catching her hand against his breastplate. “I’ve been waiting for you, love.”
Tobias felt his upper lip curling into a sneer. He glanced at Justice, who was staring haughtily at the demon, and wondered fleetingly what the spirit made of this scene. Power crackled around him, but the opaque blue that obscured Anders’ eyes—together with Justice’s rather inexpert management of human expressions—made it almost impossible to guess what he really thought.
Not much help, then. There’s a shocker.
“Aveline.” Tobias raised his voice above the shade—vision, phantasm, whatever he was—of Wesley and his soft murmurs, and folded his arms. “You don’t really believe this, do you? It’s a demon. A demon in Wesley’s skin, but—”
She blinked and shot him an unfocused, confused look. Tobias sighed inwardly. It was all there in her face, in just that one small moment: the difference between knowing a thing to be false, and yet believing in it. Wanting to believe, he supposed.
Wesley touched her shoulder and, at once, Aveline snapped back to face him.
“All your doubts started when we met this apostate, didn’t they?” he murmured, jerking his head towards Tobias. “It’s his fault, love. All of it.”
“The creature is trying to turn you, woman,” Justice intoned. “This is not real. Hawke killed your husband. You know this.”
Tobias winced. Yes. Thanks. That’s… that’s incredibly helpful. Thanks a lot.
It was on a par with how foul Anders had been to Aveline when they first met. As soon as he’d discovered her husband was a templar, it was wall-to-wall sarcasm and crude, catty jokes about sex games and the impact of pious chastity on the libido. Tobias had been forced to take the healer aside and explain the story of the flight from Ferelden, and the precise circumstances of Wesley’s demise, but it hadn’t helped much. He had to admit, Anders had a decidedly nasty streak to his nature… quite apart from Justice’s total obliviousness.
“If it hadn’t been for him,” Wesley said quietly, taking Aveline’s hand in his, “we’d have made it out alive. We’d have been free, my darling. Kill him. Kill him now, and everything we lost will be restored.”
Tobias scowled. “Oh, come on, Aveline! You’re not seriously going to fall for this?”
She wasn’t listening. She raised her hand, touched her husband’s cheek… and the broken, agonised look on her face speared Tobias’ chest like a blade.
“It is not the form she wants,” the demon said, smug and sinuous, buzzing in his ear like a moth. “It is redemption.”
Tobias spun, glaring at the creature as its little puppet-shade danced, drawing Aveline close. She breathed a long sigh, the subtle tracks of tears wetting her cheeks.
“I failed you, Wesley,” she murmured. “I failed myself. If that moment could only be changed….”
A moment was a moment, of course. Wherever it came, whatever it meant; this one slotted into place with an almost audible click of precision, and Tobias swore under his breath. He’d lost her, and the demon had won.
“I told you, didn’t I?” The creature chuckled, its ripe, warm laughter rippling through the air like wine. “You want me, you come through her!”
The world shifted and pitched again, a blinding flash of light marking the place where Aveline’s dream was stolen from her, and with it her sentience. She was a puppet, a blind and unknowing weapon as she slashed and pummelled, a blow from her shield sending Tobias sprawling, scudding along the stones. He heard his name, called in a yelp of alarm that sounded strange wrapped in the timbre of Justice’s voice. A bolt of magical energy burst in front of him, sending splatters of blue searing his vision, and the roar of fire that rose up, defending him from Aveline and her possessor, reduced everything to shadows and neon-traced echoes of shapes.
He spat, tasting blood, and staggered to his feet, weighing back into the fight as Aveline swung at Justice’s head. She was easy enough to dodge if you were quick, but she was nimble, and she never seemed to make the same mistake twice… or to tire. The demon itself didn’t make anything easier. It seemed to treat the whole thing like entertainment, laughing shrilly as it rained vicious attacks on them, a never-ending whirl of spite and sparks.
Tobias fought until the weariness dragged in his bones like lead, his fingers shaking and his vision blurred. They came then… the keening, prickling feel of a hundred lesser spirits and demons, snuffling inquisitively at these traces of life, and power. He held firm, ignoring their whispers and their constant probing, but wondered what would happen if the fight lasted until he couldn’t resist anymore. Would he die here, and cease to exist beyond this place? Or would he be aware of lingering, even as his body withered, his soul lost in the changing paths of the Fade? Maybe he’d become an abomination, and Fenris or Varric—or maybe Marethari herself—would end him neatly on the floor of the aravel.
He didn’t realise what was happening at first, when Justice grabbed him by the back of his jerkin, and virtually flung him to the ground. Then, Tobias felt it: a great rise of magic, stronger than the demon’s power, and stronger than all the things it had done to Aveline. It was wider than the sky, deeper than the ocean, and more terrible than the most violent fire. He kept his head down—a part of him amazed at the fact that, though this was the Fade, the dust and grit of the flagstones below him had coated his chin and lips—and then there was the weight of another body above him, shielding him, and the scent of elfroot, soot, and singed feathers invaded Tobias’ nose.
He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, and tried not to hear Aveline scream. It was over quickly, and drowned out by the noise the demon made as Justice destroyed it—pretty damn effectively, judging by the sounds Tobias heard—but it lingered in his mind.
Would she wake? He wondered. He hoped so. She wouldn’t be Tranquil, the way he feared Merrill must be, if she’d woken at all, but what did a death in the Fade do to someone who wasn’t a mage? Would she go through the rest of her life never dreaming, never feeling, never truly living?
Tobias felt the weight lift off him, and he pushed himself up on his hands and knees, spitting and cursing. It all felt so bloody real, right down to the gritty, scraped elbows and the throbbing joints, and he began to question all the things the Chantry taught. Maybe thinking of the Fade as a dream—as the seat of all dreams—was wrong. Maybe it was more real than the mortal world, or almost so, and he couldn’t help thinking of something Merrill had once said, about how the Dalish saw the Beyond as simply another country, where the dreamers were guests, and the spirits natives, with a culture and society of their own.
I’m so sorry, Merrill….
He staggered to his feet, glancing suspiciously at the blasted landscape. There was no sign of the battle; no sign of Aveline, or the demon. The stones seemed weaker, blurrier… as if Feynriel’s dream was fracturing even further, allowing the raw Fade to seep in between the cracks. It shrouded everything, made it feel clouded and thick, until each breath seemed to ache with the feel of a thousand spirits sighing into it.
Tobias shuddered, then flinched at the feel of a warm hand on his arm. He looked up, and found Justice staring at him in apparent confusion. The long, pale, calloused fingers gripping his arm twitched lightly, and then withdrew, Anders’ hand falling loosely to his side, and those crackling, livid cerulean eyes unreadable shells in a face that seemed so painfully unfamiliar.
“Thanks,” Tobias managed hoarsely.
Justice nodded, seeming to regain some measure of confidence. “We must find the boy. He will be at the centre of this place; the centre of his dream.”
“Right.” Tobias watched unenthusiastically as the spirit headed off with that awkward, determined stride, and wished fervently that he’d stayed in bed that morning. “And then there were two,” he muttered to himself, rubbing his dusty, grit-coated elbow, and following in Justice’s wake.
He was right, of course. They found Feynriel deep in what would have been The Gallows’ central tower, pacing relentlessly amid the shivering ghosts of a wide chamber, its walls already fraying into nothingness.
The boy turned at their approach, his blond braid swinging wildly as he shook his head, throwing his hands up to protect himself as he caught sight of Justice.
“No! No more demons!”
Justice flared brightly, a scowl creasing Anders’ face. “I am no demon, boy! How dare—”
“It’s all right,” Tobias said quickly, holding up a hand. “Justice, I’ll… well, just let me talk to him, all right?”
The spirit didn’t look pleased, but he acquiesced. He stood, still scowling, like some sort of watchdog as Tobias stepped towards the boy, one hand extended.
“Don’t come any closer! Please!”
“It’s all right.” Tobias stopped, waiting for the boy to calm. “You know me, don’t you? You recognise me?”
Feynriel shook his head again, his pale eyes wide. “S-Serah Hawke… but I can’t be sure. I can’t be sure of anything. Please… I can’t spend another moment in this place! All I hear is screaming. Everywhere, the nightmares of people dying, fleeing, gnawing their own arms off trying to escape….” He hugged his arms around his middle, hunching over as he stared at the ground. “It’s a world of monsters,” he murmured, “and they all want me. You have to help me escape. Help me die.”
Tobias recoiled. It had been one thing to promise Marethari he would do this, but it was quite another to have the prospect face him so baldly. And yet, his fingers went of their own accord to the dagger at his belt, and its smooth, braided hilt seemed somehow even more solid, more comforting, despite the flickering breath of the Fade around him.
“Do it,” Feynriel whispered, one hand fumbling with the neck of his shirt, pulling the laces loose to expose the pale arrow of his throat. His eyes were wide and staring, round as marbles, and his whole body seemed to shake. “Kill me.”
Tobias hesitated, frowning. “If I kill you here, I only destroy your mind. You’d become Tranquil.”
Feynriel blinked rapidly, his hand relaxing and his long fingers curling themselves around his throat. “I was afraid of that for so long,” he said, almost thoughtfully. “I can’t even remember why.”
Slowly, Tobias’ fingers moved away from his blade.
“No. You don’t have to let this consume you, Feynriel. What you can do is special. Dreamers like you… they control the Fade, and the dreams of people in it. Look at this.” He nodded at the vaulted chamber in which they stood; cracked and dissipating now, but still very real, and enormous, bigger and more detailed than the finest public rooms of the viscount’s palace. “You’re doing this. All of it. You have so much more power than you realise. And you’re so much stronger. You saw through the demons, didn’t you?”
Feynriel looked frightened and taut, as if he wanted to flee. Not much point, of course, Tobias thought; not many places you can run from yourself.
“I see why the Chantry fears us,” the boy murmured. “I’ve heard tales of magisters who stalked their enemies and used their own dreams to destroy them.”
Out there, in the wild places of the Fade, things stirred. More spirits and demons alike were moving, scenting the dreamer. Tobias wasn’t sure how long they’d have before something else rose to try and claim Feynriel for itself… and he doubted he had enough strength left to defend him.
“Then be different,” he said quietly. “Make your own path.”
“I….” Feynriel shook his head, but he seemed less frightened, less unsure. “I think you’re right. I must master it, find someone to study under. The Dalish do not have what I need. Perhaps… Tevinter?”
Tobias shrugged. “Perhaps.”
He felt a slight bristling along his spine, as if Justice’s circumspection at the idea had actual, physical weight, but the spirit said nothing, and Tobias fought the urge to glance over his shoulder.
“Yes.” Feynriel nodded slowly, and seemed to brighten. “Yes…. The Fade feels different now. I see the stitches, the seams holding it together. I feel as if I could wake at any moment. There is a way out. I see it!”
He smiled, bright and beautiful, and lifted his hand, as if he was touching the air itself. Tobias shivered at the feel of the power that rippled over him, around him… through everything. The dream of the chamber flickered, then faded like ragged tails of smoke chasing across the sky and, as a pale glow suffused the place Feynriel stood, Tobias squinted and turned his head. He made out the shadow of a shape; of the boy just… moving through the very fibre of the Fade, like he was part of it, like he was making his own doorways in the world.
Then, as the light faded, Feynriel was gone, and the chamber was gone, and Tobias found himself standing alone in the blank, desolate plains of the Fade.
Only… not quite alone.
He turned, every inch of him aching with exhaustion and the long-suppressed panic of fighting for his life, which now finally threaded through his flesh like cold rain, and he drank in the sight of the figure standing nearby. Tobias sighed, because even squinting really hard didn’t completely obliterate the veins of crackling fire and the glowing, inhuman eyes, and he wished he’d never let Anders do this. He wished… well, a lot of things, he supposed. And, as Justice strode over to him, announcing that their work was done and Hawke, weakened as he was, should be returned at once to the mortal realm, Tobias found his chest tight and sore, his mind full of hazy, half-lingering dreams, and his body trying to collapse under him.
Leaving was almost like falling asleep, but not quite.
Tobias awoke in the aravel with a start, his vision spotted with white and blue, and his gut heaving. He clenched his teeth, groaned, and shut his eyes, lying still until the dizziness started to pass.
The smell of Marethari’s herbs lay thick and heavy on the air, and the whole room seemed to hum with the song of lyrium. Something cool and wet touched his forehead, and he cranked an eye open, gazing up into the keeper’s solemn, lined face.
“The boy lives,” she said softly, wiping the washcloth she held over his cheek. “You appear to have accomplished something I did not truly believe possible, Serah Hawke.”
“Oh.” Tobias’ eyes started to close again, just as his stomach heaved anew. “Good. Um, does anyone have a—?”
“Bucket,” Marethari supplemented calmly, helping him sit up enough to make use of the receptacle someone shoved in front of him.
Tobias spat, coughed, retched again, and gratefully accepted the cup of water the keeper passed him. He blinked, growing gradually aware of the flurry of activity around him. Three elves he hadn’t seen before—all women, about Arianni’s age—were flitting about the aravel, all laden with cloths and bowls. One of them removed the bucket and handed him a fresh washcloth, and as Tobias followed their movements, he saw Feynriel sitting up in the bed, Arianni cupping his face in her hands and thoroughly getting in the way of the women’s tending to the boy.
Tobias glanced down at the floorboards. The chalk circle was smudged, the need for the binding rite obviously now lessened, and he frowned as he looked at the places Merrill, Aveline, and Anders had occupied. There was no sign of Varric or Fenris either, and he looked nervously at Marethari, afraid to ask what had happened.
“Your friends awoke a time ago,” she said gently. “They are well, and waiting for you. We have set aside a tent for you, just outside, by the fire. You’ll be too tired to return to the city tonight… and we owe you at least a little hospitality.”
Tobias nodded groggily. “Thank you. Uh. Is…? I mean, are they…?” He stopped, and frowned, unsure how to say it. “Merrill?”
“My First is fine,” Marethari said, a touch of acid in her words. “As are they all. You did not harm her. If anything, perhaps what happened has helped her realise we are none of us immune from the temptations of demons.”
“Mm.” Tobias grunted, and took another crack at sitting up. “Apparently not. Still, no lasting damage?”
Marethari shook her head. “She is resting. You should join them. Do the same. We will look after Feynriel and, in the morning, plans will begin for his future.”
Tobias straightened laboriously, waiting for the floorboards to stop spinning beneath him. He frowned at the keeper. “He needs help if he’s to control this. I might know some people—or know someone who knows some people,” he corrected, “who can get him somewhere that can happen. Will he be all right for now?”
She narrowed her eyes, giving him a strange, serious look. “I believe so. You think Tevinter is his best hope? I had… entertained that notion.”
“I think it’s worth a shot,” Tobias said guardedly.
In truth, after what he’d heard about the Imperium, he didn’t much like the idea of sending anyone there but, if it meant Feynriel had a chance at life… well, there was no mandate demanding he become a power-hungry blood-magic-wielding magister, was there?
We just won’t mention it to Fenris. It’ll be fine.
He took his leave of Marethari, and slipped from the aravel before Arianni managed to tear herself away from her son’s bedside and intercept him.
Just as the keeper had said, a hazel bender tent had been set up for Tobias and his companions: a three-sided canvas shelter near the great fire. It loomed between the aravels like a pale sail, a beacon in the night, and he made for it on tottering, unsteady legs.
Tobias blinked. He hadn’t noticed Varric standing near the side of the tent, apparently enjoying the night air.
“Varric,” he returned quietly.
The camp seemed much emptier than it had when they arrived, though it was hard to know whether that was because it was late, or because the excitement they’d caused was over.
The dwarf looked thoughtfully at him, eyes glittering in the thin threads of firelight.
“That was some creepy-ass shit you pulled back there. You know that, right?”
Tobias shrugged and grinned mirthlessly. “Mm-hm.”
“You look terrible.”
“I’ve felt better,” he admitted. “But we did it. The boy’s safe, at least for now.”
Varric nodded slowly. “Huh. You realise I’m going to want to hear all the details when you’re rested, right? It’d make great material. No?” He chuckled as Tobias grimaced. “All right. Go on… go rest. You look beat. Oh, Fenris left, by the way. I guess he wanted to brood somewhere in private… or maybe avoid the questions about his, uh, expertise with lyrium.”
Tobias hesitated. The night’s coolness prickled against his arms, and the memory of the elf surged behind his eyes: standing there with a lyrium potion in his hands, his whole body alight like some slender ghost, raw with terrible power. He shuddered.
“I bet. And Merrill?”
“Sleeping.” Varric glanced reflexively at the tent, his features lanced with a brief moment of surprisingly tender concern. “Daisy looked pretty rough herself. Blondie, uh, gave her a little something to help her rest. Aveline too,” he added, waving his thick fingers in an approximation of the ‘Sparklefingers’ gesture that Anders sometimes used.
Tobias smiled thinly, recalling the banter and the hilarity of the tavern, and all that business with nicknames.
“Right. And you…?”
Varric flexed his shoulders, somewhere beneath the thick leather of his coat. Bianca, cradled in the harness he wore across his back, creaked softly as if joining in the conversation, and he smiled.
“Eh, we’re going to take the air a little while longer,” he said quietly, glancing at the darkened shapes of the camp, and the shadows lengthening away from the beacon of the fire. “Between you and me, I don’t feel much like sleeping right now. Not here, anyway.”
Tobias understood that, if nothing else. He nodded, and clapped Varric on the shoulder, hoping his unspoken gratitude was plain enough. The dwarf snorted gruffly, and he supposed that was all the answer he could hope for.
Inside the dim, grainy, blue-grey dimness of the tent, bedrolls had been laid out. Merrill and Aveline occupied two, both sleeping that deep, unmoving sleep of the magically assisted. Thin bands of light glimmered palely across both their brows, and soft echoes of firelight caught against the packed dirt that floored the tent. A further two empty bedrolls lay beside a pile of stuffed sacks, and a fifth sat next to that, with Anders perched cross-legged on it, watching the women sleep. He looked up as Tobias entered, and gave him a small smile.
The shadows painted wide planes across his face, gouging out every hollow and sharpening every angle, making him look tired, as if the skin was stretched too thinly across his bones. All the same, Tobias caught his breath, and they watched each other for a moment, the quiet of the tent almost oppressive. After what felt like an age, he cleared his throat, and padded over to the unoccupied bedroll, lowering himself awkwardly to the rough fabric, and taking the woollen blanket that had been laid atop it in his fingers.
“Good to see you, er, back to your old self,” Tobias said, fiddling with the selvedge of the blanket, because it was easier than actually looking Anders in the eye.
The healer snorted softly. “Mm. Well, I did say I wasn’t sure what would happen.”
“Do you remember it?”
The air inside the tent was cool, but not as cold as outside. It felt thick and strained, and the feel of the sleep spell Anders had left on Merrill and Aveline seemed to prickle at Tobias’ flesh, like the distant song of lyrium that had perfumed the Fade.
“Mostly,” Anders said, sounding a trifle doubtful. “It’s… odd. Are you—?”
“Knackered,” Tobias said shortly, slouching back against the pile of sacks behind him.
They seemed to be filled with straw, presumably for use as extra padding against the chill.
Anders smiled tightly. “I know how you feel. Do you want me to…?”
He wriggled his fingers half-heartedly, though he looked too tired to heal a grazed knee, never mind the pounding agony and thudding fatigue searing Tobias’ flesh.
“No.” Tobias shook his head as emphatically as he had the energy for. “Thanks, but no. No more magic. Not now.”
He glanced sidelong again at the women, frowning slightly. It was probably good for them both to rest. There were things there that needed to be talked about, however unappealing the prospect. Tobias’ gaze lingered on Aveline’s tall, broad form, her body somehow no less powerful at rest, without the heavy breastplate, arm- and shin-guards she wore. It was hard to forget her striking him down, even if none of it had been—
—real? Or was it? How do we even judge whether the Fade or the mortal realm is truer? Maybe they’re two sides of the same thing; maybe this is the pale reflection of the Fade.
I don’t know. I don’t even want to know. I just want… I want to sleep.
He sighed, aware of the rustle of cloth and feathers as Anders moved beside him. His coat was damp from the night air and the dew, and it had started to give off that familiar wet-dog aroma.
“Rest, then,” Anders suggested, as he leaned back on his hands, stretching his legs out in front of him, slouchy boots spattered with a generous layer of Sundermount mud and grit. “Sleep, if you can. You’ll feel better.”
Tobias snorted. “Huh. More Fade? Not sure I’m ready for that.”
“It’s different when you’re dreaming. You know that. Anyway, you’re in safe hands.”
He turned his head, finding Anders—that whole other bedroll, in fact—a little closer than he’d expected. The slim dapplings of firelight that reached into the shelter lent just a hint of colour to the blue-washed dimness, but Anders’ face still looked pale enough to be ghostly, his eyes two dark, shadowed sockets in a haggard skull.
Maker’s arse… I’m supposed to sleep here, next to you?
“I think so.” Anders shrugged. “I don’t see any demons sneaking past this close to Justice, anyway.”
Tobias winced. “Mm. He does seem to have an aversion to them, doesn’t he? Still, I guess I’ll take that in the comforting way I’m going to pretend you meant it.”
Anders smiled; a real, genuine one this time, and the light caught softly at the movement of his mouth. Tobias looked away, speared suddenly by the cold places dreams had left inside him.
He relaxed, as far as he could, and they sat in silence, side by side. Tobias watched the reflected firelight catching on the compacted dirt at the mouth of the tent, and allowed its dancing light to lull him, until his breathing slowed and sleep began to cradle him gently. The very last thing he was aware of—before falling into a blissfully dream-free slumber—was his head slipping to the side, and the coarse, springy feel of feathers prickling his cheek.
He didn’t give it much thought, and fell asleep wondering why the pillow in his room smelled of elfroot, soot, and old tallow grease… and why that seemed so very comforting.