Fear & Surprise, Chapter Thirteen

by artrald

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*

What happened to you where were you

A year and a day would fit I lose track in here

You and Dorian disappeared Blackwall died Magister Alexius got him and got away. Felix Alexius captured for bargaining.

Haven attacked by Alexius a hundred warriors and threeish hundred mages three nights later story of battle isnt important. Raven Cullen fell Varric Osprey captured and worse than dead by now. I escaped with Jenny Bull Mynah Solas eighty people mostly soldiers

Alexius and his people tore the sky open they have what I will call an army of demons

Solas did try something Alexius stopped him

Mynah decorating throne room
Bull on display in courtyard
Varric outside my cell
Jenny suicide when we were captured
Solas vanished one day
people lost in dribs and drabs
resistance grinds you away

Dorian you are wrong about who killed the Divine it was the Elder One it was there at Haven at the beginning when it all went mad

I do not KNOW its name I assumed you knew who I mean

is there more than one Eld never mind

it calls itself a god

The magister was given Ferelden — resistance still alive led by Maid and a Chasind witch

I can’t tell you her name can’t write it down
You will know her if she wants you to and not before — she changes her face

Empress Selene assassinated at Halamshiral summit 2mo after Haven Orlais surrendered without a fight after that crown given to Grand Duke Gaspard

Elder one literally cannot die
I was captured learning this
They know all I know of course

Seekers apparently immune to the red lyrium they wish to know how
so far they do not know
clearly not worth asking me

My voice —
because I knew how the game is played they became inventive

emanation is not a word in my
to find a hole in the sky just look up
there is a rift in this castle in the throne room I can show you

can you go back can you make it so this will not happen

[The paper is spotted with water.]

can you take me with you

mysterious scrawlings in blood found in a room in Redcliffe Palace, 10:2 Weeping
attributed to insane outlaw Leliana Rossignol

*

The dead guard’s sword was heavy in my hand, a poorly balanced thing compared to the weapon I’d been swinging for Krem, but the feeling at least wasn’t unfamiliar any more. Leliana had kept every knife and dagger we’d found. She led the way, padding catlike on silent feet. We ran into one patrol – one man fell to Dorian, the other suddenly found Leliana behind him and folded up with her hand over his mouth and a knife in his neck. I’d expected to feel more about killing these men. I found I couldn’t make myself care. It didn’t feel real enough.

Leliana got us into the lord’s solar, behind and above the hall. Stank of wine. Dozen cups and goblets, discarded plates, some with the remains of food. Every servant’s idea of what a rich man’s rooms would be like if we let them. Supposed to be the informal audience chamber, the one for honoured guests. You couldn’t let a guest in here. Shouldn’t let the master in here, come to that. Bah.

Steep stairs down to the lord’s pretty door. Dorian raised a hand to us to stop. “He’s in there. The magister. His amulet will serve us far better than the rift in there, if we can get it.”

“He’s not exactly just going to let us take it.”

Dorian shrugged. “He’s not exactly just going to let us waltz up and work magic on the rift. Hang for the fleece, my friend, hang for the sheep.” He killed his light, just leaving the eerie flicker of my nightlight, and then whispered to himself a tongue-knotting litany of words in what sounded like a mixture of Tevene and elvish, and the sounds were overlapping and tying themselves in loops around him and his last three words pulled them tight, tight, tight, and he grinned and suddenly there was very little in the world but him, larger than life, light and darkness come to coil about him like a snake. “I’ll keep him busy.” And he pushed open the door.

The rift lit up the room like a roaring fire in the grate, but it shed no heat, the whole place chilly and dripping damp. Trestles laid as if for a feast, but no guests and no food; a statue on a plinth at the far end of the room and my breath caught in my throat as I realised who Leliana had said it was, who it had to be. And in the bann’s high-backed chair there was a man sitting, and he looked up dully as we entered, and it was a moment before I recognised this gargoyle as the fat, confident magister I’d seen just that morning. His flesh hung loose on him, like an old dog, like a boy wearing a man’s coat. His piggy eyes had seen too much, his fine robes were spotted and stained, and he leaned on the arm of his chair like an old man as he stood. Some king. Some court.

“The hospitality of your hall is legend, master.” Dorian strode out, a performer taking the stage, and the shadows crawled down from his protective spells and out across the floor and the walls. “Glad to see you’ve kept up the tradition.”

“Oh, Dorian.” The magister’s voice grated and scratched like rough wooden hinges. “I was wondering what it would take to pull you up out of your own arsehole, or if you’d fallen down it forever.” He scowled. “I assume that means you’ve got the supposed chosen one stashed away somewhere, as well.”

“Oh, bollocks.” Dorian patted his pockets theatrically, still approaching at a measured pace. “Don’t tell me I left the Herald of Andraste in my other trousers – is my face red? -”

“You do realise that it’s too late. It’s over.”

“Don’t feel dead,” he said, with an expression and manner so eminently punchable that my own fingers twitched in sympathy. “Do I look dead to you, Gerry? Did I just not get the-”

An instant of flame. It rolled off Dorian like water from a duck’s back and he didn’t break stride. “Oh, please. You taught me that one when I was nine, you indescribably senile old fart.” He stepped between the two long trestles, started to walk down the length of the hall. “Children light their campfires with it in-”

A word that was a thunderclap. Took a moment to clear my head. Dorian just gave an irritating grin. “My, my. Has a power-word ever worked, in the whole history of mages’ duels?”

“Is that what this is?” The magister shook his head. “Why now? The anniversary of the Inquisition’s first sad defeat?” Another clash of energies, and again Dorian stood unharmed. “I’m afraid that was yesterday. This date’s irrelevant. This time’s irrelevant. You’re irrelevant.” He nodded, and lightning crawled in around the edges of the roof, forked down, took one look at Dorian’s sudden gesture of warding and set fire to a tablecloth.  “Look at the sky, Dorian, you’ve lost. If it wasn’t obvious a year and a half ago, surely even you-”

“Why?” Dorian had stopped in the centre of the hall. The rift was to his right hand. “By Andraste’s rosy sphincter, man, why? That was what I could never figure out. Your alliance with the Venatori, the ones you yourself called a bunch of insane dirtgrubbing elf-lovers. What under two skies possessed you?”

The magister looked down. “Felix,” he said quietly, and his voice carried in the silence. “For Felix. You aren’t a father. You don’t-”

“So where is he?” Dorian looked around, still with the theatric air. “Hale and hearty, no doubt? The Elder One’s bounteous generosity-”

The look in Alexius’ eyes was sheer hell distilled. His voice, ragged. “No,” he said. “He was too far gone. He’d shredded his treatment spells one too many times. He’d -”

Dorian spoke a word like an arrow and Alexius’ hands went up like something else was moving them – the floorboards and rugs around the throne were torn up in a neat vee, and the same shape etched itself into the wall behind him with a sound like a wave on a gravel beach, and the older mage hissed.

“Now who’s the incompetent? Shaking my defences by reminding me of your own best friend’s death?”

Fire danced in Dorian’s eyes. More than scorn and mockery in his voice. Deliberately raking over their oldest quarrel. “Go on, Gerry. Say it. Felix was more than a friend to me.”

My son was not a-”

Both of them threw their spells at the same moment and the air between them roared white-hot and furniture scattered and flames licked and guttered. “Not a what, magister? Not a man who liked the taste of a nice hard cock of an evening? Because that’s not the Felix I remember.”

“Side-effect of your thanaturgy, you perverted little shit. Any degenerate will tell you-”

“Oho! You think that out of the two of us, I’m the one more likely to use mind control to get me laid? I tell you, messere, I might have controlled a great deal of him, but one thing I never did grasp was his-” a circle of the floor around Dorian’s feet exploded into a cloud of splinters and he didn’t even flinch – “Do they not say that blood magic is the last refuge of the impotent?”

The magister’s expression twisted with anger and his reply wasn’t intelligible to me. He was three words into his chant before I realised that Dorian’s eyes had gone wide and scared: he’d immediately discarded his pretence of invulnerability and was going after him unspeaking each word as it was spoken, undoing each gesture. The magister started speaking faster; a sweating Dorian redoubled his effort.

And I stepped out from the shadows behind the magister. He was about the height of a practice pell, even if he was a little broader; I’d one hand on the hilt, one on the pommel, and I heard the blade whistle in the air as I swung it, knew that here was a strike that wouldn’t be glancing off or twisting in my hand –

Alexius reached up and literally caught my blade, and he smiled broadly and his words didn’t miss a beat; I saw blood well up around his fingers. I tried to pull the blade back for a slicing draw-cut as I’d been taught, but the simple inhuman grasp of one bleeding hand held it quite still.

Leliana seemed to appear out of nowhere on the other side of him, and, now, this did interrupt him. He spat a word that sounded hideous, dirty, corrupt, and the blood wormed its way out from his hand in a fine mist to force itself into her mouth and her eyes –

It didn’t even slow her down. Her blades flashed and laid his throat open to the spine: they flashed again and opened him up like a gutted hare and he fell silenced.

Dorian walked slowly up to the corpse, just staring at it, watching as the blood flowed and slowed and stopped, shaking his head. He bent down and retrieved the amulet from around the remains of the magister’s neck, heedless of the blood on his hands. “Huh. Wouldn’t have wanted that to be much closer,” he said, and Leliana mimed spitting on the corpse. “Quite.”

“So,” I was in the middle of saying, and I got about as far as opening my mouth for “what now?” when we all heard one of the hall’s side-doors slam open – Dorian swore and Leliana threw us a look that very clearly said to get moving as guards started to pour into the room.

“Right,” he said mostly to himself, wrapping the amulet’s chain around his wrist. “How hard can this…” His eyes unfocused. “Shit.”

“What?” I had my point up. Another door had opened on the other side of the hall. Four guards already here. Leliana held her blades loosely, her stance loose and open, and she cracked her neck and rolled her shoulders and looked at them with a demonic smile.

“This, uh. This thing isn’t what I thought it was, there’s an internal structure, a dozen – it’s like a spell-staff, only -”

“Any time now, Dorian. The rift will do, anyway, won’t it, if you don’t understand the amulet?”

“Sure. Rush me. Suggest things. Always wanted a holiday in Par Vollen, or in the middle of the ocean. Maybe we could go boating.” Dorian held up the amulet in front of him and the world started to go dark around the edges. “Why the bollocks is it labelled in Arlathani? Bride’s sake.”

The first three guards tried their courage. Leliana tangled two of them together, dropped them in a heap with a kick, landed a blade in the third one’s neck. I took a wary step backwards toward the mage.

“Ah! Ha! Aha!” His face – and the room – suddenly lit up green; a shock passed through my arm like I’d stuck it in a rift. “Got it. Now I just need to… be… two people. Uh. Maxwell, can I have a hand?”

Leliana killed another man: he started screaming and wasn’t about to stop. Unthinking, not really listening, I just held out my hand to Dorian, my left, palm up.

“Oh!” I heard him say, dimly. “Or that works. Hold it-”

right-

*

Again, it was a lot like waking up, like clawing my way up out of darkness and back to speech and life. We were on the Redcliffe road, spreading trees wide either side, sun clear overhead, shouting and confusion and chaos and I was astride my mare, my feet in the stirrups – she reared with a shrill noise of protest and I stood up in the stirrups, leaned forward as far as I could, forced myself not to pull on the rein –

what was it Leliana had said –

“Blackwall! Look out!” I cried. I couldn’t see him, but in the same moment I heard the magister’s voice, a word like a clap of thunder that I’d heard only a little while ago, and I heard Blackwall’s blistering oath an instant later – he’d ducked and whatever it was had gone right over him.

Hooves struck the ground again, with me somehow still in the saddle, and I remembered enough to get my mount to turn, stop her doing it again. A moment later I looked up, all prepared to spur after Alexius and give him a piece of my mind or something, but Dorian was already there. His voice lashed like a whip, and the magister’s horse tripped over its hooves and landed in a painful heap on top of the man it was still dragging and both of them screamed. A moment or two later and Cullen was there, dismounting like he could fly, pinning the magister to the floor by his neck, and then it was all over bar the shouting.

*

A dozen potential problems, all at once, and if ever I’d doubted it before, this was where I saw the true strengths of the people who would form the core of the Inquisition, this is where I saw why they had the titles and accolades they had. We’d just attacked and taken the mages’ new foreign ally, and we’d done it in the exact manner and fashion that the templars might, and we’d done it at the behest of a man who we’d taken a snap decision to trust on the flimsiest of pretexts; one misstep, one ill-placed rumour, and this would go wrong faster than you could blink.

The plan had us turn around immediately and enter Redcliffe while everything was still confused, get our troops inside and standing around politely before anybody was really sure who was whose enemy. Go to the market square, stand still and look stern, Cassandra told me, and if anyone noticed that my elvish shadow was in full if patchwork armour and armed to the teeth, nobody said a word.

And the rest of them split up, one purpose, many hands. Cullen had custody of the magister, his son and their five stooges; all of them had been taken alive, and they’d come with us under enough guard that nobody was about to try anything. The Inquisition troops had their own specific orders, and they stuck to them: they were accoutred very much like Redcliffe’s own guards, they were talking and acting Fereldan, they were striking up conversation with the locals, they were so southern they stank of it. Point being, of course, that the black-armoured, olive-skinned Vints stuck out like a sore thumb – the question to their minds really, really had to be that if push came to shove, would the Redcliffe people really side with allies they only met yesterday, whose language they didn’t even really speak?

Vivienne, who spoke Tevene, watched Dorian discreetly as he spoke to the magister’s guards; I caught her hiding a smirk for what it was he was actually saying, and when he’d finished, their officer surprised all hell out of the Inquisition guards by falling suddenly to one knee, hand over his heart, and two heartbeats later the rest of them followed suit. Later, she confided quietly in me: Dorian had explained to them that nobody gave a toss why the magister was dead, but the magister’s heir had turned his coat and so had the key to his strong-boxes, and the only way they could think of to keep all that gold out of Orlesian pockets was to convince us that all Tevene were mercenaries at heart. Then he’d asked all the mercenaries in the audience to bow the knee.

So what of mages, of their own declaration of alliance with the man we’d just very handily arrested? Well, it so happened that Dorian hadn’t been lying about Felix turning his coat, and the key was just to keep moving, as fast as we could. The young man had meekly turned over his staff to the templars when the fight had started, and he and Dorian – suitably escorted – had immediately set about making as if the magister had died of natural causes, to wit, being stabbed half a dozen times in the back while falling down a flight of poisoned stairs, or something equally innocuous. Their message birds flew before lunchtime. And the whole group of us stood up in front of a courtyard full of the mages and their allies in Redcliffe bailey and announced the alliance of House Alexius with the Inquisition against the threat posed by the Breach and those who opened it, and if it looked a lttle bit like sleight of hand, well, then, it looked a little bit like yesterday; and these were insane times.

I never saw Gereon Alexius again, of course. Cassandra raised an eyebrow and asked what I supposed had happened, and that was mostly that. It – I mean, the man had surely earned whatever fate it was, but somehow I’d expected more fuss. He’d been seeking to overthrow us all, he’d been – assuming our vision had been true – trying to bring about the very thing we’d been fighting to prevent all this time, and Cassandra had treated his fate like little more than a common criminal’s.

The other five Tevene mages had jointly announced – not least due to the templars who practically had them by the scruff of the neck – that their loyalties were now firmly with their bonds’ inheritor, Felix Alexius: I guess we’d see on that front. I suppose that Gereon Alexius hadn’t exactly inspired loyalty. Meanwhile, the templars and Vivienne and Grand Enchanter Fiona weren’t exactly a Circle, but they’d all trained in the same pattern and they all had the same rule-book to fall back on – and in a funny sort of a way, it showed our uncertain allies in Ferelden Circle that we were to be trusted, because here we were being trustworthy with a group of suspect mages. The Inquisition’s templars stood polite and sober watch, and the experienced enchanters laid down ground rules, and people were detailed to watch them, and it was all very civilised, and nobody was dead or insane yet.

A little more sleight-of-hand, and Vivienne was suddenly chief healer at the bedside of the Arl of Redcliffe’s son. A few choice Orlesian phrases concerning the care and feeding of idiot Tevene so-called doctors later and he was up and about, and suddenly of course the Inquisition had overthrown the evil magister and broken his spell, and in the grateful arl at last we had the big noble ally that Mynah had needed in order to be listened to in Orlais, and the flock of message-birds grew.

And against this tide of evidence, Grand Enchanter Fiona had little choice. On the conditions that Solas’ method be written up and published – to which the elf later retorted that if they’d pay him for words they could have all that they desired – and that it be made public record that good Chant-singing mages had solved this problem, the Circle agreed first in principle and then in practice to release the truly eye-watering quantity of lyrium that the magical working called for. And having spent so long working towards this, it all seemed quite terrifyingly quick once it was all happening. The stores would be released from Circle Tower that day, to arrive at Haven three days hence under suitably heavy guard, and we rode ahead to prepare for their arrival – after all, a bunch of unfamiliar troops just showing up on our doorstep unannounced wouldn’t exactly be greeted with open arms.

*

“What?” Nightingale looked up from the map where she’d been plotting pins.

I blinked. “Sorry?”

“Usually when a person stares at me so,” she said drily, “that ‘stare’ is rather more appreciative than unsettled, unless I have done a thing to deserve it. I am sure that Cullen would have told me if I were a ghost or a demon; and I have done nothing that could conceivably have offended you. Thus: ‘what?'”

“You.” Cleared my throat. “You, uh, heard about the vision Dorian and I saw.”

She nodded. “It crossed my desk. ‘Elder One,’ ‘Venatori’, terms we’ve seen before. The Venatori Antiquitatis are one of the secret societies beloved of the second-stringer magisters of Tevinter: absent temporal power and resource, they glean for lost magic in the picked-over bones of elvish ruins. Maybe a dozen noble families have links, but they haven’t much in the way of military power; Alexius was one of the greater of them. ‘Elder One’ is a descriptor that they’ve used for some kind of paragon or ideal figure towards whom they aspire. It’s been supposed to be one of the magisters – to be honest, I’ve a report swearing it is Alexius himself. The Venatori attack will not happen without a vengeful Gereon Alexius out to recover his son, and no Templar attack was seen: all in all, a good day’s-”

“I saw – you.”

She looked back to her work. “I am sure I would have recalled.”

“In the, the future. I know what I saw.”

“Indeed?” She glanced up. “It must have made an impression. ‘My’ testimony is in your report also. Concerning the Orlesian politics within, there is something we can use, I think. Gaspard is a troublemaker with a legitimate claim, and a grand duchy didn’t shut the man up; he’s currently leading a very polite little uprising in Dirthavaren and the West Dales, which the Empress is stamping on. If they were to come to terms, the summer palace at Halamshiral is a reasonable place to do it, and if she were to fall and he were to be right there with a promise that appealed?” An Orlesian shrug. “It’s all quite plausible. My agent in the area is redoubling efforts to uncover evidence of collaboration with Tevinter; such would sink his chances at the throne permanently.”

“Nightingale – I -”

“Ah.” She inclined her head. “This is about the manner of the statement. I’m sure ‘my’ condition was quite piteous: jailers are not kind to the supposedly high brought low, for all that my background is more like Harry Osten than Maxwell Trevelyan. Regardless, I read that ‘I’ performed acceptably.”

“If there’s anything I can do…”

“Your compassion does you credit; please imagine platitudes about starving orphans in Dirthavaren.” She turned a page in her notes and selected a green pin from her little box.

“It’s just that, you know. I’d be more than a little unsettled, and nobody needs to suffer in-”

She laid the pin down on the table with a harsh little click and looked down, silent for a moment. “The Chant teaches that the words that fly from our lips are like arrows, and just like arrows they can harm and injure. One might consider that this is more true for the Left Hand of the Divine than most; and while Divine Justinia was not exactly quick to call for such archery, nevertheless it is not unknown.” She put her hands flat on the table, possibly to keep them still. “And to continue my metaphor, I am an excellent shot. I do not have the luxury of being kept up at night by what-might-have-been or what-if-we-fail, my lord Trevelyan, any more than you have the luxury of using the name your mother gave you. The spectres of an already-averted future wish to keep me awake of a night?” She looked me in the eye. “They may get in line. They may wait their turn.”

And my big damned mouth wouldn’t let me leave it there. “I’m sorry,” I said, and for an instant I was talking to the person, and not the position, and she shut her eyes as if some weakness might escape.

Took a deep breath. “Would you rather that the arrows were loosed by someone to whom the consequences of those actions meant little?” The words fell in the silence like drips from melting ice. “Divine Justinia had the whole nest and brood of vipers of Orlais to choose from when she wished to replace her mistress of assassins three years ago. I was selected specifically because I do lose sleep over it.” And she opened her eyes, and I saw there quite the same steel-hard faith I’d seen in Cullen the first time we’d met. “Your compassion does you credit, but as I said. Orphans. Dirthavaren. Some of them my fault, even. But if this is because you consider that for some bizarre reason you owe me?” She tapped the first pin we’d ever put in the map. The one on Haven. “You have one job, Herald. It’s all any of us truly requires of you.”

*

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