“You fucks!” he screams, his voice echoing down the narrow tunnel, the red light pounding in his head even as the blows rain down on him. Samson throws a punch wildly, feels it connect and something breaks under his fist. He hears a shriek and grins, tasting blood. Then something catches him in the back of the knee - it feels like a cudgel or the flat edge of a sword - and he falls. Don’t take my blue is the last thing he has time to think before a boot catches him in the side of the head and the world goes dark.
The sound of voices.
Hands under his arms, pulling him up.
A gentle touch, pale green light, and Samson blinks himself awake. A careworn man gives him a thin smile and tucks a stray skein of red-blond hair behind one ear.
“Hello,” he says, “I’m Anders. What’s your name?”
Samson swallows. “Raleigh,” he says quickly, looking at the healer for a moment longer. He struggles a little, and the man moves aside, allowing him the space to rise to a sitting position. Samson looks around himself, then back at where the healer - Anders - stands. Everyone’s known about this clinic for what seems like a long time now, but this is the first time that Samson has ever had cause to visit. The rumours swirl in the illicit circles of Darktown; the man who runs it is an apostate, a rebel Warden, a Fereldan refugee, a demon in disguise trying to lure souls into temptation.
It’s dim here in the underground, too dim to see much more than the worried look on the healer’s face. Samson watches the healer, peering through half-shut eyes, trying to ignore the nauseous swirl of his guts and the rhythmic pounding in his head. Does the healer know about the rumours surrounding him? From the look of him, there’s nothing much unusual about him at all - sure, he’s a mage, but he’s just some human. Samson takes a deep breath and chokes it out again. The smell is putrid down here, but undercutting the stink of old shit and death is the clear, cold aroma of lyrium. In the darkness, his gaze shifts to the shelves, just visible on the far wall, trying to see if he can see one with a tell-tale blue glimmer. Arsehole, he tells himself, he's trying to do you a favour. He gives an involuntary shiver and clutches his arms around himself, then looks once more at the man before him.
Anders sighs once more, very softly, then says, “Well, Raleigh, let’s have a look at you, shall we?”
Samson looks directly into Anders’ eyes, then cuts his gaze away. Gentle hands are laid on his cheeks as Anders inspects him. He can feel Anders’ eyes on his face, then he holds up his hand. “How many fingers am I holding up?” he asks.
Samson squints at the hand, frowns a little, then replies promptly, “Three.”
Anders smiles. “Well done, you passed the tests! Don’t worry,” he says, “I’m not going to ask how you ended up here. It’s not my business. But…”
“Just some punks,” Samson tells him, looking away. “‘S’not a big deal.”
“Right,” Anders says slowly. He pauses, seems as if he’s waiting for Samson to say more, then silently, he bends closer to inspect the cuts the gravel had left on Samson’s cheeks, the deep bruise on his temple. Samson can smell him - sweat and elfroot. He clenches his jaw and the healer continues, “I think you may have got lucky this time. From what I can tell there won’t be any lasting damage.” Samson glances at him again, and in that instant, Anders looks as if he will say more. Then he smiles slightly, seeing Samson looking at him, and Samson looks away again. He smiles, tells Samson, “This shouldn’t hurt - it might feel a bit odd though. But if you feel uncomfortable, now or at any time, please do say something.”
Samson grunts to show he understands, and Anders puts both his hands with the palms covering Samson’s cheeks. There is a tingling sensation, a smooth, cold burn, then Anders removes his hands. “Easy,” he says, then frowns slightly, looking at Samson curiously. “I… don’t mean to pry, but… there’s a lot of lyrium in your system. Are you a..?”
Samson shakes his head. “Not anymore,” he murmurs. Anders looks puzzled, then appalled.
“You used to be a Templar. Shit. Shit, ” he says, and takes two steps backwards, glaring at Samson, his fists clenched. Samson watches him, then shakes his head again.
“Yeah. An’ I ain’t one anymore,” he repeats, and sighs. “Got kicked out.”
There is a beat of silence, in which Anders stands stock still, staring at him. Suddenly, he sneers and asks, “What for?” His voice is vicious, and he folds his arms over his chest, “Get a bit chummy with the apprentices, did we?”
“No,” Samson says, hating how tired, how resigned he feels in the face of Anders’ hatred. What is the man to him, that he feels he owes him this? Nevertheless, he continues, “That ain’t a problem for the present Knight-Commander. She doesn’t give a shit what you do with ‘em, long as you don’t leave any bruises above the neck and there’s no souvenir nine months later.” He clenches his jaw, winces as his guts swirl nauseously, “No. I was passin’ letters. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Huh,” Anders mutters darkly, then grimaces in disgust. “And now you’re addicted to lyrium.”
Samson nods and lowers his eyes. “Yeah,” he says simply. There is silence in the room, then Anders shakes his head. He huffs impatiently, seems to be thinking hard. Finally, he asks, “Who were you passing letters from? And who were they going to?”
“None of your business,” Samson repeats, lifting his chin. He sniffs and looks up at Anders. “Look. Supply’s thin at the moment. There’s not much on the dock, and the Carta’s got a stranglehold on it. I thought… maybe you…”
“No,” Anders says coldly. There’s another beat, just a moment of pure disdain, and then his shoulders sag. “I know supply is thin. The Chantry deals direct, so I’d never see the good stuff. Most of my stores either come from the black market or the Circle itself. But…” He licks his lips quickly and tells Samson, “It’s… it’s not that I don’t want to help. It’s just…”
“You’d rather help a mage. It’s alright. I get it.” Samson grins and shrugs, flapping his hand at Anders’ weak protest. “Nah. I understand. I know you ain’t gonna believe me, but I would too in your pos— ” He grits his teeth as the nausea peaks, swells, inside him. It is overwhelming, and Samson watches his vision grey, the mage’s face appearing to swim before his eyes. Anders stares at him, obviously concerned, then marches forward again, his hand on the swell of Samson’s bicep. “Breathe,” he says quietly, “Just breathe through it.”
Samson snorts, still hunched over slightly. The pain mounts, making his stomach writhe, and he gasps a quick breath, clapping a hand over his mouth. “Raleigh,” Anders says warningly, “If you puke on my robe I’ll be very disappointed.”
“Fuck you,” Samson tells him from behind his fingers and breathes out in a hard gust. He takes a long breath in and straightens as the nausea abates a little at a time. Eventually, he raises his head and catches Anders’ gaze upon him. Anders raises one eyebrow at him, and Samson looks away. “Sorry. Didn’t mean it like that.”
“There aren’t that many ways to take fuck you,” Anders snorts. Samson nods, feeling awkward, and sighs. He sniffs, shuffles to the edge of the cot and makes to get off, as Anders moves backwards again.
“I’ll be out of your way. Thanks for your help.” He rises to his feet, hesitates and rubs his arm. “Uh… I ain’t got enough to pay you right now, but I’ll...”
Anders shakes his head and waves his hand. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Nah, but… I mean, that ain’t right, is it?” Samson scowls, “You helped me. You did what you could. When I get some coin, I’ll come back.”
“You really don’t need to,” Anders tells him crossly, then moves to the other side of the room, effectively dismissing him. “Just… be more careful, alright?”
“Yeah, I’ll do that too,” Samson tells him, frowning at the mage’s back. There’s something about this man. He purses his lips and sighs. “Look. I’ll leave it by your door if seein’ me makes you… whatever. I ain’t part of that place anymore - Meredith saw to that. But I gotta do something. I mean, you ain’t exactly in the lap of luxury here.”
Anders bristles, picks up a roll of bandages and puts it down again. “That’s not…” he begins, then there is the sound of running footsteps and a young voice calls, “Healer! Please! Ma’s had… she’s had a funny turn and I…”
Without another word, Anders strides off, pulling his threadbare cloak from its hook on the wall as he goes. When he gets to the door, he turns slightly, telling Samson quickly, “There’s no need. You can go now. Anything gets infected… well…” he hesitates, wrinkles his nose, then tells Samson grudgingly, “Come back. I have to go.”
“Right,” Samson tells him and gets off the cot. He staggers slightly, the smell of the lyrium in the place still echoing in his head, then moves to the door. Anders almost pushes him out and pulls it shut behind him, the boy who had come running already talking to him in a high, panicked tone. As Samson goes in one direction, Anders and the boy go in the other. That’s the end of that, then, Samson thinks, listening carefully to the voices as they echo around and down the narrow tunnel, wondering why it feels like it’s only the beginning.
“Thank you, ser,” Samson calls, scooping up the coppers the man had tossed at him, “Maker bless you.”
Five measly coppers. If it weren’t for the fact that the last time he’d been begging up in Hightown, a guardsman had threatened to throw him headfirst down the steps if he was seen there again, that’s where he’d be. Pickings are better up there. But that’s what he gets for offending the noses of the aristocracy, he supposes. He looks up, makes eye contact with an elderly woman, who smiles at him pityingly and approaches.
“Oh dear,” she quavers, “Did you come on one of the Blight boats?”
“Yes indeed, ma’am,” Samson tells her, doing his best Fereldan accent. “Entire village swept away by the ‘spawn, so it were. After the army broke up when we were routed at Ostagar, I went home. Found my wife and children gone, blown to the four winds. I only managed to escape with enough coin to cover the voyage. I wish I didn’t have to beg - I’d rather work. But Kirkwall’s got no mercy for men such as me.”
“Now, that’s just not true,” she says, fumbling with her skirts. She takes out a worn purse, opens it, and draws out three sovereigns. “What’s your trade, son?”
“Was a cobbler before I joined King Cailan’s army,” he tells her, lying through his teeth. She smiles in a watery fashion, bends down and presses the three coins into his outstretched hand, closing his dirty fingers around them and holding his hand in both her own.
“My Johnny was a soldier too,” she tells him, “But he went to the Maker’s side three years back. He was a beautiful boy, so hardworking. It’s all I’ve got, but I’d rather see it go to a man who’s getting back on his feet than in tithe to the Chantry.” She sniffles, gasps, then stands too quickly. Samson watches, appalled, as she totters a little, tears now running down her cheeks. “He was a good boy,” she whimpers, then clutches her purse to herself and begins to walk away.
Samson looks down at his hand, scarcely able to believe his luck. The coins glimmer, fat and yellow, against the roughness of his palm. This is more than dust. This is the pure, cold beauty of liquid lyrium. This is a night of no nightmares, no shakes, no cold sweats. Samson beams delightedly then covers his mouth with his hand. Quickly, he rises, bends to pick his shabby cloak from the ground and hurries off, ready to find his connection at one of the Carta houses.
He is almost there when something resounds in his head, and he looks down at the coins in his hand, suddenly feeling a strange sensation pass through him. What is it? A memory flares and fades quickly in his head — too quickly to grasp. He stares at the coins, thinking hard, watching the way the colour gleams red-gold in the firelight of the tunnel. Suddenly, he snorts, remembering the mage with the clinic, the one named…
Samson glares at the coins in his hand, trying to remember. You really don’t need to , the man’s impatient voice tells him, and Samson shifts from foot-to-foot. No dreams , he thinks, then remembers the mage’s thin coat, the way his cheekbones had been too prominent, how badly it had smelled down there. He sighs, trying to will himself forward, toward lyrium, toward peace. One coin’s not gonna hurt, he tells himself, and huffs out a breath. He redirects his steps unwillingly, moving along an adjacent tunnel, down further into Darktown.
The lamp is burning outside the clinic, and the door set slightly ajar. There are several people waiting in the corridor; one, a human, pale and terrified looking, is pacing back and forth, his arms crossed over his chest. A sharp cry sounds from inside, and the man stops, looks at the door, his face contorting. “Oh Maker, Maker,” he mutters, then resumes his pacing. Samson cocks his head, watching, and an elderly woman grins up at him, showing her few remaining teeth.
“Healer’s got a birth,” she tells him, “This one couldn’t stomach it. She’ll be alright,” she addresses the man, who only shakes his head.
Samson arches an eyebrow then takes a deep breath. “Y’alright?” he asks the man, and the crone cackles. The man says nothing, and Samson blows his breath out. “Look,” he says cautiously, some part of him wondering why he is so set on this, why he doesn’t just take the money and buy himself some brief moment of dazedness, “I got something for the healer. You… want me to go in? Check how she’s doing?”
The man frowns at him, then nods. Samson notes how young he is, how very pallid even in the red light of the lamp, and narrows his eyes. “Maybe you better sit down,” he says, biting his tongue on what follows: before you fall down . “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The man nods, mutters, “Thanks,” and Samson shrugs. He pushes the door open a little more, taking a brief look around.
There is more light in here now - several lamps burn, but the shadows are still deep. “Breathe, Niisha. Try to relax,” he hears the healer’s voice say, and looks. The man has his arm around a slight elven woman, her belly huge in front of her. Samson swallows, clears his throat and Anders looks at him. “Not the time,” he says sharply, and Samson tilts his head, gesturing out into the corridor.
“Got a worried fella out here,” he says, “And I got your money.”
Anders huffs impatiently, appears to grind his teeth, then smiles. “Niisha,” he says quietly, “I need to get a few things. Take it slowly - walking will help at this stage, but do what feels right. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The elven woman nods, determination on her face, and Anders pulls his arm from around her shoulders. He crosses the room, his strides quick, and as he does his expression changes - becomes almost angry. “I told you,” he hisses, “I don’t need the money. I…”
Samson grunts. “You might not want the money, but you sure as fuck need it. Here,” and without thinking, he shoves all three coins at Anders.
Anders takes a deep breath, his nostrils flaring; there is a moment of hesitation, then he scoops them up, deposits them into a pocket of his cloak without looking at them. “Fine,” he says, then pauses, glaring at Samson. “If you really want to help, watch her while I talk to him. It’s going to be a long labour, and I need him to be prepared for what happens next.”
“Me?” Samson recoils, and Anders sighs, looking irritated.
“Don’t tell me you sicken at the sight of blood, Templar ,” he sneers, and Samson clenches his jaw. Anders narrows his eyes briefly, then sweeps from the room.
“Uh,” Samson says, and takes a deep breath before turning to look at the elven woman. She has both hands under her belly, her eyes downcast, shoulders hunched. As he watches, she takes a step forward, grits her teeth, and hisses a breath out. Samson swallows; he wants to help, but this feels… well, terribly awkward. He’s never seen a birth before; only seen obvious pregnancy a few times. “Hey,” he says, and the woman glances up, “Uh… you need some help?”
The woman grunts and puts her arm out - he hurries over to her, but before he makes it across the room, she moans, and her knees buckle. “Shit,” Samson gasps as he runs the last few paces - he is there in time to catch her before she lands too hard on the stone floor. The woman moves herself out of his grip without acknowledging his presence at all. Slowly, she shifts, coming to rest on her hands and knees and begins rocking backwards and forwards, panting. Samson, for want of anything else to do, strokes her back, sitting on the floor beside her. Maker, it’s fucking horrible down here, freezing cold and it stinks of shit and old blood - this is no place for a kid to be born. He licks his lip, bites it, and the woman groans again.
It seems to take forever for the healer to come back. The woman doesn’t speak - she seems too far inside herself, concentrating on something he can’t see. She makes hardly a sound. Samson sits as close as he dares, one hand on her back. The lamps burn ever-lower and Samson swallows nervously. What can he do but wait? But eventually, the heavy door opens again, and he strides into the room. “Right,” Anders says, “Marten’s fine, Niisha. He’ll be fine. Raleigh?”
Samson looks up, frowning. There is a moment where he thinks he sees a small smirk in the corner of Anders’ mouth, then the healer tells him, “We’ll need water. Fresh water. There’s a bucket in the corner. Think you can manage it?”
“Yeah,” Samson says, and rises quickly - too quickly, as the stars swim in front of his eyes. He takes a deep breath in, then nods. “Bucket. Fresh water. Got it.”
“Hurry back,” Anders says, already striding across the room and kneeling in front of Niisha. Samson watches him for a second longer, then walks over to the bucket, hefts it, and walks quickly from the room.
There’s a pump up the hill a way, almost half way between Lowtown and Hightown. It’s a common meeting place - somewhere that the aspirations of Lowtown could be fed and a reminder to those that lived up the hill that there was never that far to fall. Samson hurries, pushing his way through the marketday throngs which choke the streets. The bucket thumps against his knee and he swears under his breath. Water. He’s never really thought about it before, but how fresh is fresh? Maybe the pump isn’t good enough? Samson slows his steps suddenly, barely noticing the shoves to his back and the names muttered in angry voices. He frowns, looking from one side of the street to the other. Maybe the healer had some other place in mind? Coulda fuckin’ told me , he thinks, then clenches his jaw. Why is he even doing this? Too late now, he chides himself and shakes his head. The pump will have to do. He doesn’t know anywhere else. Samson sneers and pushes his way forward again.
“Here,” he says, “Here’s your soddin’ wat— ”
“Good,” Anders says, not even looking at him. “Bring me two of those long pieces of cloth, they’re folded on the top shelf, next to the door. And the soap.”
Samson narrows his eyes, then bites his lips together as Niisha groans. “You’re doing well,” Anders soothes, his tone of voice completely different. He bends forward, one hand on the sheet which covers the woman. “I’m just going to wash my hands, have a look, and if you feel you’re ready, then you can start bearing down.”
“Marten,” Niisha murmurs, and Anders huffs an impatient breath.
Samson clears his throat. “He’s fine,” he says, “Just outside, wearin’ a groove in the stonework with his pacing.” He smirks and Anders looks at him. It’s a strange look, both grateful and annoyed and Samson shrugs in return. “Yeah, yeah, I’m gettin’ them,” he sniffs and turns.
Marten wipes a hand under his eye and looks at Samson briefly. “I can’t,” he says, and Samson makes a face.
“Get in there,” he growls, “Go look at your kid. It’s all fine, there’s nothin’ bloody, if that’s what you’re worryin’ about. Everything’s where it’s supposed to…”
“No,” Marten says, “I can’t. You don’t understand. My Father will kill me, she’s… I mean, she’s an…”
“She’s the mother of your kid. Is that where the problem is?” Samson asks, his stomach knotting, “Or is it that she’s an elf?”
Marten looks at him, then nods, his expression petrified. Samson frowns, glances at the door to the clinic which stands ajar. The cries of the baby have quieted; Samson can hear Anders’ voice from within, and it relaxes him somewhat. He turns his gaze back to Marten, who shrugs.
“I can’t,” he says finally, sounding defeated. “I love her, but I can’t.”
“You don’t, you’ll regret it,” Samson tells him coldly. “No two ways about it. But either way, it ain’t none of my concern.” He sniffs and wipes his hands on his jerkin, then shudders. “Get out of here then, you fucking coward.”
Marten looks at him, his face a war of emotion. He glances toward the door of the clinic, his brows knitting - for a moment, it looks as if he will push past Samson and inside. Something in Samson’s heart lifts at the sight; then the young man turns, pulling his cloak around him more tightly and hurries away.
Samson can feel his expression curdle. After everything she did , he thinks wonderingly, appalled at the cowardice he’s observed, then licks his lips. How’m I gonna explain this , he asks himself, and exhales noisily. He looks at the floor, then considers that there’s no other option available to him - he has to tell the truth. It’s gonna kill her , he thinks, then shakes his head. Better she knows.
When Samson enters the clinic alone, Anders narrows his eyes at him and shakes his head. He hurries over, glancing over his shoulder at Niisha, who sits up in a narrow cot, nursing the baby in her arms. As Anders’ mouth opens, Samson shakes his head in return, and Anders sighs. “Bastard,” he mutters darkly, then clenches his fists. There’s a flicker of light which seems to run over the surface of his skin at that, and Samson frowns - it is gone so quickly it feels as if he might have imagined it. “Gotta tell her,” he murmurs, and again, Anders shakes his head.
“Don’t,” he says, “Let me.”
“No,” Samson says and grins humorlessly. “I don’t mind bein’ the bearer of bad tidings. Then you can pick up the pieces. I don’t have to deal with these people - I’m just some guttersnipe, remember?” Anders looks for a moment as if he will argue, and Samson looks at him steadily. But finally, Anders closes his mouth and shrugs, then steps aside.
Samson approaches the woman in the bed, his stomach roiling. It’s partly nerves, and partly need - his mind, fueled by adrenaline, had crushed the physical symptoms of the withdrawal. But now that everything is once more calm around him, the symptoms have returned with full force. It’s still early in the game, so he still has time go beg some dust… if the Carta house is still open, if they have supply. Don’t think about that , he tells himself sternly, and tries to smile when Niisha looks up. She looks at him tiredly, smiles, and says, “He’s gone, isn’t he? Marten.”
Silently, slowly, Samson nods. Niisha looks down at the baby in her arms, that tired smile still on her lips, and Samson glances at the nursing child then away again, feeling awkward. He didn’t mean to look, it just happened. He shifts uncomfortably, then looks back at her when Niisha says, “I knew he wouldn’t stay. I wanted him to, some part of me believed he would, but…” The smile grows for a moment, then she shrugs, just a tiny movement of her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter,” she says softly, “Now I have her.”
“Niisha,” Anders says from behind Samson, and he turns slightly, watching as the mage approaches the little cot. “Who do you have to support you? Babies are a lot of work for one person. And you need to take care of yourself as well. If you like, I can…”
“No,” she tells him, and her voice is gentle, “I have my mother and my grandmother. There are lots of children in the Alienage. It is another mouth, and they won’t be happy about it, but…” She smiles again and shrugs a little. It sounds like a weak plan to Samson, but what does he know? At least she has hope , he tells himself, and sighs. Anders looks at him briefly, then nods to Niisha and tells her, “You can stay here as long as you need.”
She laughs softly. “Anders,” she murmurs, “You have done so much for me. And for my little one. Thank you.” Her eyes move to Samson, and she tells him, “Thank you both.”
Samson shifts uncomfortably and looks away. He hears Anders say something, but can’t make out what it is; the rush of blood in his temples is thrumming now, the song of the lyrium in the clinic, in the walls, under his feet, it feels all around him. He blinks, shivers and tries to smile at the elf in the bed - what was her name again? - then feels a strong hand on his elbow, feels himself being pulled away.
Anders drags him to a corner of the clinic where a lone candle burns. Without speaking, he stares into Samson’s face, puts his hands either side of Samson’s head and tilts his face up. Then he uses his forefinger and thumb to pull the skin of Samson’s eyelid open wider, studying his eye. Samson pulls back, shaking his head and scowling, then asks, “What the fuck? ‘M alright.”
Anders huffs and narrows his eyes, then selects a small bottle from one of the high shelves. “Here. Take this.”
Samson sucks in a breath. Lyrium. Liquid lyrium - this is the Chantry stuff, this is the stuff they give to mages and Templars in the Circle. He looks at the bottle, clenching it in his fist, wanting to laugh out loud. He grins at Anders… then his grin falters and he passes it back. “Can’t. I’ll be alright.”
“Andraste’s Knickerweasles, man, you look like shit. Your pupils are all fucked up.” He sighs, scowling, then shrugs. “You helped me out today - it’s the least I can do.”
“I…” Samson makes as if to argue the point, then his face contorts. “Knickerweasles?”
Anders snorts a laugh and shrugs. “Yes. Are you not familiar with the greater Nevarran knickerweasle? A first-rate pest, they are.” He shifts and rolls his eyes, folds his arms over his chest. “Just like you. Now take it and get out, Templar.”
“I… yeah, I… thanks,” Samson murmurs, looking down at the bottle in his hand. The liquid inside seems to shimmer, and it’s all he can do not to simply run out of the place and back to his hovel. “Look, anytime you need me, I can… I mean, you’re a good sort, right, you do good work down here and I….”
Anders takes a deep breath and looks at the floor. “Get out,” he says softly, “I have things to do.”
“Yeah, yeah, alright then,” Samson babbles, grinning at Anders. “Thanks. Thanks again.”
Anders doesn’t reply, just waits, one eyebrow raised slightly. Samson hesitates for a moment longer, the bottle clutched in both hands, then turns, leaving the clinic rapidly. He feels, quite suddenly, both better and worse.
“...heard it. It’s only because the Knight-Comman…”
“...apostates even, and blood mages! I hear there was a demon summon…”
“...not him, not the healer! I can’t…”
Samson slows his steps. It feels like it’s been years since he’s seen the healer. And maybe it has been — Samson can’t tell. Not that he’d ever seen him often… but since that day, he hasn’t been too far from Samson’s thoughts. He loiters close to the woman who’d spoken, hoping to overhear more.
“...which was just like the Champion,” the woman tells the little crowd, gathered at her stall. “And that’s what I always said. So, he’d gone to live up in Hightown, but the clinic stayed open, didn’t it? Always down here, wasn’t he, always put the lamp out for us. And then those bastards went and…”
“Don’t talk like that, Marjorie,” an elderly man clucks, “Not about the…”
“I’ll talk about the Templars any way I please,” the woman says and Samson’s mouth quirks at the strident tone. “Especially after the way they treated him! Busted in his door, beat him to within an inch… it was only that Guard Captain and the Champion showing up that stopped it. Honestly, all this has got a bit much, I think I’m going to go visit my sister in Tantervale until Kirkwall’s problems…”
Samson stops listening. As he begins to move away, he wonders what had happened - from the sound of it, it would seem that the healer’s little operation had been well and truly routed. Had he been dragged back to the Circle? Everyone in Kirkwall knows that the Champion is an apostate mage; he’s not shy about carrying his staff around, not even covered up or anything, and right into the Gallows, right into the Viscount’s Keep. It’s beyond ridiculous, which means that it’s right on target with the madness that Kirkwall is slowly sinking into. But Samson’s here to meet a drop; anything else doesn’t matter shit in this place.
There she is now. A novice, hands tucked into her sleeves, walks down the stairs from Hightown. People move out of her way, affording her the respect that that big, ugly star on her chest and the red-and-black vestments give her. Samson shakes his alms bowl, the few coins dropped into it barely audible over the noise of the market, and squawks piteously, “Alms for the poor? Alms for the poor?”
The novice has disappeared in the crowd. It’s fine though; Samson’s an old hand at this game now. He waits, not watching for her, letting her come to him. Occasionally, he shakes his bowl at people, but he maintains as low a profile as he dares. And suddenly, she is there, right in front of him, eyes round beneath the hood of her vestments. “Within His creation, none are alone,” she mutters, dropping five coins into his bowl with one hand and tucking several tightly wound pieces of parchment up his sleeve with the other. “Maker bless you, brother.”
“His Light guide you, sister,” he bleats dutifully, then leans close to mutter, “That’s more than usual, isn’t it?”
“It’s from Thrask today,” she murmurs back to him, and then she’s gone, back into the swirling crowd. Samson lingers, turning slowly to face the opposite direction from which she’s come. He waits, shaking his bowl underneath the noses of the Kirkwallers around him; but in the hour he remains, there are no more coins for him. Eventually, he sighs, and moves off to deliver his letters. But first, lyrium. Thanks to Thrask, there is at least that.
It’s cold down here in the underground. The first parchment had gone to the warehouse, letting them know that there will be three more mages coming in tonight. Thrask is trying to keep to young people, people who at least have a chance of getting away, getting out from under the yoke of the Gallows. It’s a good idea… but it’s too little, too late. The second parchment had gone to the docks, to the seedy looking captain of a ship. Samson doesn’t know, but from the gleam in the man’s eyes, it was probably a promissory note. It’s fucking shit — they shouldn’t have to pay people to do the right thing. Still, if the ship is fast, and the crew keep their mouths shut, then maybe it’s worth it. Samson sighs, then breathes in through his mouth. If anything, things have gotten worse in Darktown… it’s probably just as well that that mage healer had moved on. On, and up, by the sound of it, if he really was living with the Champion. Maybe they’re fucking ? Samson wonders idly, then shrugs. It doesn’t matter a whit, not to him.
The last parchment goes to the door. He’s never been past it, never been inside; doesn’t really know if he’d want to. He knocks twice against the wood, waits a moment, then knocks three times in a more complex rhythm. A panel in the top of the door slides open, and someone peers out — it’s too dark to see much. “Here,” Samson murmurs, handing over the last of the parchments. “The number tonight is three. It’s all arranged.”
“Fine,” says whoever-it-is. There’s a moment of hesitation, then the voice tells him, “One more thing. There’s someone you need to meet.”
“Fuck off,” Samson hisses, “gimme what I’m owed.”
“Don’t be an arse,” the voice tells him grumpily, and there’s a strange familiarity in the tone. “You want what you’re owed? He’ll have it. Go to the Hanged Man. There’s a room in the back. Our contact will meet you there.”
“I ain’t got time to wait around all day…” Samson grumbles. The voice sighs and cuts him off.
“I know that. You think any of us do? There’s never enough time. So bugger off; he’ll be there in an hour, maybe less. Stop being such an arse, Templar .”
Samson bristles, narrowing his eyes. “Fuck you,” he growls, “If he’s not there in an hour, I’ll…”
“He’ll be there,” the voice says, “Watch for the feathers.”
“Feathers?” Samson asks, but the panel is closing with a final-sounding thunk , and then he’s standing there alone in the dark. He snorts in annoyance, beginning to shuffle away.
“Gonna be meeting the bloody bird-man,” he mutters, and scratches his arm. “Bloody bossy git. As if I wasn’t doin’ them a bloody favour…”
But you’re not, are you? something in his mind counters viciously, You’re not doing this out of the goodness of your heart. You’re doing it for lyrium, and you’re doing it to assuage your guilty conscience.
“Am not,” he mumbles to himself, and the sound of the denial rings dully around the sewer. He doesn’t sound convinced, even to himself.
The Hanged Man is crowded. Samson ducks his head, slumping his shoulders, avoiding anyone’s gaze. Templars come here, mostly the younger ones who’re wanting to establish themselves as hardasses. But there is an element of the older ones, Templars that would know him, that come here… mostly the bastards, fuckers like Karras and his little mob. It’s not that he’s afraid of them, not at all. Lyrium might have made it difficult to remember, and living rough has wasted some of the strength he had when he was a Templar, but cunts like Karras dominate by physical intimidation… and Samson won’t be cowed. That’s part of the reason that he’s not with the Templars anymore, of course. Karras’ breed of threat is only one step down the ladder from Meredith’s more subtle kind. But Samson doesn’t want to deal with it, not today, and especially not if he’s meant to be doing some kind of extra work for them . It doesn’t bode thinking about, drawing any extra attention, not with three young mages at large in the near future.
In spite of these thoughts, he makes his way to the back room of the Hanged Man without incident. The room is dark, only one guttering lamp lit, a lamp which flickers and dies as he approaches the open door. There’s a shift in the dark, he senses it, and for a second, Samson hesitates, one hand on the door jamb. The noise from the bar is distant-sounding, and he listens carefully for a moment, before taking a short breath and walking into the dark.
Slowly, he closes the door behind himself. As soon as the door clicks closed, a light flares; Samson winces, blinking in the sudden blaze, and throws his hand up to shield his eyes. “Steady on,” he murmurs, lowering his hand a little and peering over the top of it. He grins lopsidedly in recognition, then snorts. “Feathers,” he smirks, and Anders nods brusquely.
“Feathers,” he agrees dully, and drops his gaze. “We’ve got something we need you to do.”
“Yeah?” Samson asks, then shakes his head. “I want to get some answers first.”
“I’m not here for a fucking social call,” Anders tells him crossly, and Samson laughs, short and bitter.
“Just as well then,” Samson tells him, matching the bluntness of Anders’ tone. “‘Cause these aren’t social questions. Where’d you go, huh? You obviously never stopped working for the underground. Yet word is you’re swanning around Hightown with the Champion, forgetting all about the people you used to serve. You get too big for those boots of yours, didya?”
“What business is that of yours, Templar ?” Anders asks angrily. He sucks in a breath, obviously struggling not to shout, then hisses at Samson, “We’ll be damned before we let a lyrium-fucked guttersnipe criticise us for what you think we’re doing.” He cocks his head and glares at Samson. “You don’t know the half of what’s going on. Now, are you going to shut up and listen, or do I have to get someone else?”
“Big fuckin’ mouth on you, isn’t there?” Samson adjusts his posture, tilts his chin up and glares at Anders, who glares right back. “So use it. Tell me what the fuck is going on. Answer my questions! I know I can be more help than just passin’ letters, I can…”
“Maker, give me strength,” Anders sighs. “What do you think I asked you here for? Or are you so blinded that you can’t see the writing on the wall?”
Samson’s heart beats harder in his chest at those words, and he stays his anger. Slowly, he shifts again, and looks away from Anders’ hard stare. “No,” he says finally, his voice soft and sad. “No, I’m not. Things’ve gotten worse. They’re… they’re almost hopeless. This little plan of Thrask’s… I mean, the idea’s good, but it should’ve come ten years ago…”
Anders nods. When he next speaks, it seems to Samson that his voice is deeper, more resonant than before. “We know. It is a small effort toward justice, when the sea of iniquity threatens to overwhelm us all. The Gallows is cursed.” There is a short pause, deep with tension. “We need someone, less cautious than Thrask, who knows the cause, who has seen the streets of Kirkwall. Tell us — if there was a way to reinstate you as a Templar, would you take it?”
“No,” Samson begins to say, then narrows his eyes. “You keep sayin’ we . Are you talkin’ about our mutual friends… or someone else?”
“Answer the question, Templar.”
“Wish you’d stop callin’ me that,” Samson sighs. There is something deeply troubling to him in the subtext of this conversation; he can’t quite give it a name, but it’s there, undulating under the surface of each word. Samson swallows, suddenly nervous. “Yeah. Yeah, alright then,” he tells Anders softly. “But… I mean, they made it pretty clear, they don’t want me back. Meredith hates me.”
“But her Knight-Captain doesn’t.” As soon as the words are out of Anders’ mouth, Samson feels as if he’s been doused with cold water. Slowly, he shakes his head.
Anders nods, and a small smile curls his lip, though his eyes, Samson notes, are very sad. “The group of mages leaving the Gallows tonight is too large for the ship to take — there will be a group which will leave the city through passages. You’re to go with them, you and Thrask. Thrask will continue with the mages; you will wait at a designated location for Haw…” Anders pauses, swallows hard, then continues, “The Champion. He’ll have come from one of the warehouse locations… he’ll… probably be panicking…” Once again, Anders sighs, and the sad look in his eyes becomes something akin to pain. Samson scowls, wondering what it all means, then Anders continues, his tone of voice harder than before. “The Knight-Captain has been tipped off already; he has his suspicions, of course, but… it wouldn’t be an underestimation to say you were close once, would it?”
Anders pauses, a strange expression crossing his face. Samson grimaces, looks away and shrugs, then narrows his eyes. “I don’t get how this is s’posed to work. What’s the Champion’s part of this? And…” He almost asks then, if the rumours are true, if Anders and the Champion really are involved, but the look on Anders’ face is so fraught already he doesn’t quite dare. Anders sighs.
“Your closeness with Cullen is something on which this plan depends. Would he listen to you? Is he paranoid enough that he’d believe it if you… if you claimed to uncover a conspiracy?”
That cold feeling again — cold and suffocating. Samson frowns, his mouth opening and working silently, trying to figure it out. Finally, he can’t stand it any longer and shakes his head. “I guess… he… Cullen’s pretty far gone though. He’ll believe almost anything if it paints mages in a bad light. He’s not as bad as Meredith, not yet… but… but…” Samson pauses, rubs his chest and looks at Anders bitterly. “He’s a good man. He’s tryin’ to be. And he went through some bad shit when Kinloch fell… never talks about it, ‘sept for in his dreams…” Samson pauses, licks his lips. “I don’ feel right, usin’ him. His fear, I mean. It…”
“The time has past for half-measures, Templar,” Anders tells him, and it must be a trick of the light or… or something , because his eyes shimmer a brilliant lyrium-blue in the half-darkness. Samson stares at Anders, appalled, and those eyes, those eyes , they are terrifying and strange, and that cold feeling, it’s back, larger, deeper, and this isn’t suffocating, it’s drowning , and he can’t breathe, he can’t… because Anders is right. If the Order is to survive, if there is to be a renewed life to the true Order, the natural order, where mages are protected by Templars and there is no more fear… then this has to happen. Anders is right.
Reluctantly, mutely, Samson nods. Anders mimics the gesture, and the strange blue light in his eyes diminishes somewhat, but doesn’t leave entirely. When he speaks, his voice almost seems to echo. “There is no betrayal here. The Knight-Captain perpetrates injustices for his own ends — he cannot, will not, rise above his own fear, allowing it instead to warp his actions. And we know, as do you, that if he could forsake his vow to the Order, he would have done it, long ago. He would leave it all behind, just as fast as he could. He is ruled by fear.” Samson shakes his head at that, as if that will negate the truth of Anders words… but he knows, in his secret heart, that it is true. Anders merely looks at him for a long time, then tamps the end of his staff against the stone floor impatiently, shifting from foot to foot. “It’s nearly time. If it all goes according to plan, things will be set in motion tonight to see you reinstated, and we’ll be one step closer to our goal.”
“ Our goal?” Samson sneers and rolls his eyes. “What’re you doin’ while all this is going down? Sittin’ on your arse up there in Hightown?”
Suddenly, Anders looks sick. He puts a hand up to his mouth, shoulders hunching, and shakes his head. After a brief moment of silence, he mumbles, “I’ll be there. I… I’ll have my part to play.”
There’s another long silence after those words, and Samson scowls. He opens his mouth, meaning to ask what the Void that would be, but for some reason not clear even to himself, he changes his mind just before he speaks.
“And what does this have to do with Meredith? I thought… I thought the whole point was to get her out of it, take her down?”
Anders takes a deep breath and bites his lip. “We…” he begins, then shakes his head and makes a shooing gesture with one hand. He shifts, and Samson watches his lips move silently in the gloom. Finally, his shoulders sag and he looks up, once more at Samson. And the look on his face, it’s so fraught with pain that Samson’s breath catches in his lungs, and something in him wants to catch hold of this man before him, to show him the care that he seems to show everyone else except himself. He does none of that. Instead, he waits until Anders draws another deep breath and says on a sigh, “No more questions. Plans change. We need you. Are you with us, or against us?”
It’s a mistake to think I’m on your side . The thought appears so clearly and suddenly that, involuntarily, Samson takes a short breath. What? he asks of himself… and yet cannot answer. He takes a longer breath, struggling to compose himself, then gives a curt nod.
“Yeah,” he says slowly, though he still feels shaken, stricken by Anders’ words and his unspoken reaction to them. “Yeah. I’m with you. Your lot, I mean.” Silence for a moment, then he asks, “What do you need me to do?”
“There’s a place, down on the Wounded Coast…” Anders begins, his voice small and quiet. And as he explains the plan, the strange feeling in Samson’s chest only intensifies… a strange feeling of indecision, of standing on the brink of the precipice, of a moment which will change all.
Cullen turns, boots scraping audibly among the sand and shingle. His eyes are narrowed in the brilliant morning sunlight, and he blinks twice at Samson before peering into his face. “True,” he says thoughtfully, addressing the Champion’s words. The moment hangs thick around them, and for a second, Samson thinks Cullen’s not going to take it. Then his expression softens, and he nods. “Samson. You have done us a great service. Do you wish to take up the shield once more?”
His breath catches in his lungs. “More than anything, Knight-Captain, ser,” is all he can choke out, before his throat closes entirely. That’s it then. He’s in. He’s back. Cullen nods, and though his expression hardly changes, there’s a pleased note in his tone when he says, “Then I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you ser,” Samson tells him, then turns, and repeats the phrase. Although he addresses the Champion, his eyes slide sideways to where Anders stands, staring at the Champion’s profile. There’s a strange expression on his face: exaltation and a bitter rue seem to chase each other over the surface, a war of emotion. His coat is torn at the lapel, feathers hanging loose, there’s a smear of blood and sand on one cheek, but the physical costs of his being knocked out by blood mages and held to ransom seems like nothing in the face of that strange expression, both defeated and triumphant at the same time.
Samson pulls his gaze away, returning it to Cullen. He looks tired, even in profile, cheeks which once were full and neat now hollowed and shadowed with stubble. Intent on the Champion’s words, Samson can watch him without consequence. They’d shared a room once, and more, until that business with Maddox. And then you knew where you stood with him, Samson reminds himself, so don’t go getting foolish and think that you can get back what you once had. Remember where your loyalty lies.
And where is that exactly? he wonders, that same awful, truthful voice in the back of his head, the same one which had questioned his loyalty when Anders had bought him this plan in the first place. Samson takes a sharp, surprised breath, and releases it slowly. Cullen nods at something the Champion has said, and looks once more at Samson, catching his gaze upon him and smiling.
“Come then,” he says. “Let’s get these charges back to the Gallows, and find you some armour.” The smile widens, and Cullen drops his gaze, seeming almost shy for a moment, then turns and begins giving orders. Samson has one final chance; he turns again to Anders, but the man is turning away from him, the Champion’s arm around his shoulders. Samson’s lips part, he wants to say something, something like keep safe or good luck or I don’t think I can do this … but then Cullen’s hand falls heavy on his own shoulder, and Samson turns away.
The weeks turn into months; time at the Gallows rolls forward and around Samson, and through him. He’s reinstated, of course, Cullen saw to that. But he’ll never rise in rank, and the place will never be what it could be. All the mages are thinner than he remembers, and he can’t do a thing about it. He can’t seem to do anything about anything, it seems — not the condition of the mages, not the hatred and fear he sees in his brother’s and sister’s eyes, not the pervasive misery of the Gallows itself. Late in that first year back, a pretty young apprentice passes her Harrowing, and then a week later is found dead in a pool of blood. The official line is blood magic, but nobody looks too closely.
And the years move in that fashion, on and on, each year bringing with it something, some feeling, as if they shift ever-closer to the precipice. Samson holds his tongue in public, but writes the letters that have been requested of him, leaves the coded messages around the city when he can about what is happening in the Gallows. Rumour and fear in combination swirl in the air, thickening it, distorting everything like a heat-haze. Someone knows a blood mage; someone’s been hearing voices; someone said they’d seen someone else with a forbidden book. Someone and someone and someone else, endless and forever. The rumour mill keeps turning, and there seems nothing that anyone can do to stop it.
He sees Anders once more, in all the years. Standing at the Champion’s side, completely focused on his face as he speaks to Meredith. There’s the Guard Captain with them, and that bloody irritating dwarf, the one that always seems to be scribbling away in the Hanged Man. Samson has his visor down, and he’s moving — he glances down the corridor toward the sound of voices, and then he’s gone again. But the sight of Anders, standing there, bold as the new dawn in such a dark place as the Gallows, it makes Samson’s heart leap with a terrified exaltation. All the rest of the day he can hardly keep still; and it isn’t until he is laying in his narrow bed that night, listening to the snores of his roommate, that he finally realises what has made him so uneasy.
Guilt . Just one word, so simple, so pathetic. It’s guilt at not having done more; it’s guilt at putting himself first. The time is past for half-measures, Templar , Anders repeats in the ear of his mind, and Samson makes a face and turns over. Half-measures. That’s all he’s ever done. If I could just give up the blue… make it so it didn’t have such a hold on me… he thinks; but he knows that that will never happen. Samson blinks in the dark, and sighs. He’s lived with guilt for so long now, it’s a wonder he’s not more used to it. Truth is though, you can never do enough. Your Order on one side, mages on the other. None of them deserve what they got — no-one deserves the Gallows. It’s death. It’s cursed.
Yeah, and the Chantry abandoned us all to it , the thought continues, and Samson’s chest constricts. They tightened the leash around us all, made us fear ‘em takin’ the blue away, made us into dogs to do their bidding. Rabid dogs. And what person with half a brain don’t fear a rabid dog? It ain’t no-one’s fault but those cunts up in Val Royeaux. Something… something needs to change.
And how’re you gonna do that? Change doesn’t just happen. Samson exhales out of his nose and rolls over again to stare at the bottom of his roommate’s bunk. This kind of change doesn’t happen easy. It’s not like you walk up to Meredith and get her to play nice. And it needs more’n just you leavin’ messages for the underground. This is the kind of change that bleeds.
And with that thought, Anders’ face swims to the surface of Samson’s mind’s eye, a challenge in his eyes. Don’t tell me you sicken at the sight of blood, Templar , he sneers, and Samson swallows. He closes his eyes, but sleep is a long time coming.
The years move on, and so does life at the Gallows. “Hold your shield up,” Samson tells the recruit, who glances at him, then lifts the heavy kite shield higher. He’s a big lad, more than capable of it, but Maker, he looks tired. “Hold it up ,” Samson insists. The recruit does for a few moments, then gradually, as Samson walks forward, his own practice sword upraised, the shield drops. Samson scowls, sniffs, and raises his greatsword higher. The recruit steps back a pace, but too late — the wooden greatsword comes around in a huge, sweeping arc, the momentum behind the blow dragging it through the air. And because the recruit’s weight is on the back foot, because his shield is not high enough to take the brunt of the blow in the strongest section, the next moment, the recruit is howling, his shield and practice sword dropped on the dirt of the Gallows practice yard, mailed hands wrenching off his helmet, his long dark-red uniform kilt trailing in the dust.
Samson gives him a moment, then sighs and kneels on the ground next to the recruit. “C’mon,” he says, “It wasn’t that bad…”
“I miss my ma!” the recruit wails, “I hate this place, I wanna go home!”
Someone mutters something as a smaller group of Templars pass the yard, and there is the sound of laughter. The recruit continues to sob, and Samson pays them no mind. “C’mon,” he repeats, “You’re alright, it’s just a bleedin’ nose. You’ll be alright…”
“It’s not though, is it?” the recruit says desperately, and wipes his nose on the back of his hand. His hand comes away bloody, and the sight of it makes him whimper. Then he looks up at Samson with recrimination in his eyes. “I wanna go home,” he repeats softly, and shakes his head, his lower lip trembling. To Samson, he looks young — too young for this crap. “What we’re doing here… it’s not protecting them. It’s… it’s…”
“Yeah,” Samson mutters, and takes a long breath in. Slowly, he kneels down, then reaches out and puts a hand on the recruit’s shoulder. “I know. What’s your name, kid?”
“Hadley,” the kid sniffs, “It’s Hadley.”
“Well,” Samson begins, then blows out a breath. “Look. You’re doin’ good. And… I mean, I know the Gallows ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…”
Hadley looks at him strangely, then sniffs again and shakes his head. Blood oozes slowly from his nostril, and his lips twist. “If you know it, what’re you doing about it? I wanted this ‘cause I wanted to help people. It’s not their fault they’ve got magic, you know.”
“A fine sentiment,” a voice says from behind Samson. “But not one which will earn you many friends amongst your fellows.”
Samson turns, twisting at the waist, bringing his hand up to shield his eyes against the sun. The silhouette of the person which looms above him is unmistakable — the twisting serpents of the staff at the mage’s back notwithstanding, Samson would know his shape anywhere. “First Enchanter,” he mutters, then purses his lips. “Y’alright?”
“Fine, thank you, Knight-Templar Samson,” Orsino says lightly, as if he is just giving a rote response. There’s a short pause, then Orsino looks away and shifts uncomfortably. “Please. It does neither of us any good to be seen like this.”
Samson blinks, puzzled, then realises he is kneeling in the dirt at Orsino’s feet. “Right,” he says, and rises slowly, pushing himself up, dusting his hands on his kilt. He looks down, into Orsino’s face, and then away when their eyes meet. “You wanted me for somethin’?”
“Yes. You are required in the vault of the Grand Chantry,” Orsino tells him softly, folding his hands before himself and rocking up onto the balls of his feet then back again. A slight hesitation, then Orsino clears his throat. “Several mages require the presence of a Templar with your particular skills. The Knight-Captain asked me to deliver the message, and now I have done it.”
“Huh,” Samson sneers, “Didn’t realise you were a glorified messenger service… Uh, I mean...” he corrects, suddenly remembering the presence of the recruit behind him, “Yeah. Yes. Right. I’ll be off then, shall I?”
“That sounds like the appropriate course of action,” Orsino says dryly. His jaw clenches suddenly, and a strange expression passes over his face. Samson frowns, wondering, then shrugs internally and begins to move, readying himself to go.
“Knight-Templar,” Orsino says sharply, and Samson glances at him again.
A pause, then Orsino cuts his eyes to the recruit. Samson’s breath catches in his lungs, his stomach dropping with sudden trepidation. He grins, looking at Hadley. “Oi. Go get something for your nose, kid. You look like Friday night down the Hanged Man.”
Hadley looks at him, dark eyes wondering, then nods and turns away. Samson sighs, ducks his head slightly, then mutters, “What?”
“Do not mention this exchange to the Knight-Captain. I know I said that he had sent me here, but…” Samson sees Orsino’s throat work, and his eyes flash brilliantly. “All hangs in the balance, Knight-Templar. You will see what I mean when you reach the vault.”
Orsino takes a deep breath and glances around the courtyard. There’s the noise of the city, far-off sounding, but other than that the place seems abandoned. Still, when Orsino speaks again, his voice is low, almost a whisper: “I only have a few more words for you, and they are both a reminder and a warning.” Orsino pauses once more, and Samson sees that the knuckles of his interlocked hands are white with tension. “Knight-Templar — watch for the feathers. ”
Against all reason, Samson sucks in a sharp breath. Already, Orsino is turning, moving away across the courtyard, head held high, the fabric of his robes swirling around his feet, dust marring their dark colour. Samson watches him until Orsino turns into a narrow doorway, and then lowers his eyes. Watch for the feathers , he’d said. Swallowing against his dry throat, Samson lifts his gaze again, and hurries in the opposite direction to the one in which Orsino had gone. He leaves the swords on the ground behind him.
It’s cold, down here in the dark, and it smells like incense and burning shit. Samson’s armoured boots clank noisily against the stones, and he has trouble seeing further than an arms-length in front of him. “Hello?” he whispers, and thinks he hears a breath, further ahead. “Hello?” he repeats, putting his hand on the pommel of his sword. “It’s me. Samson. Who’s here?”
A faint crackle, and the rushing, pulled-thin feeling of the Fade surrounds him. The lyrium in his blood soars within him, the song of it spiralling in his head, even before Samson realises it — he doesn’t trigger it with his will, doesn’t do anything to provoke it, it’s just there . He begins to pull his sword free, and then there is a heavy hand on his shoulder.
Peace, Templar . The voice arrives in his head, deep, calm, sad. Sheath your sword. It will not be wanted here.
“Who… what..?” Samson begins, then scowls, blinking into the face which swims in the gloaming before him. “Is… is that..?”
Yes, comes the voice again. It is Anders. And more than Anders. We need a final act from you — a final act of assistance.
“Yeah,” Samson says quietly, then shakes his head. The smell is powerful, and coupled with the effect of the Fade and the lyrium in his system, it’s making him lightheaded. “What is that? Fuckin’ stinks in here...I can’t… can hardly breathe…”
We do not have much time. Our absence will be noted , the voice in his head assures him, and there is still much to do. We have laid the foundations for what comes after, Templar — we need to know that you will protect those that survive as best you can.
“Those that survive?” Samson asks, his voice rough. He breathes in through his mouth, struggles briefly with his gorge, and reaches out. Something soft meets his palms, and he clenches it in his fist — feathers. “Just what the fuck’re you doin ’? C’mon, this is…”
This is justice , the voice comes again. The Chantry will burn tonight. And it will not be the end of the burning, but only the beginning. Will you fight? Will you honour your vow, and protect those who cannot protect themselves?
“Yeah,” Samson breathes, and bites his lip. “‘Course I will. But what about you? And what’d you mean burn ?”
“Please,” Anders whispers, and the sound of it is so shocking, so tired and small that Samson feels as if his heart will break. “It’s the only way now. I never wanted this… but she wouldn’t listen. And now it’s too late.” A beat of silence, then he murmurs, “I have to go. Remember what you promised.”
He struggles in Samson’s grip, and reluctantly, Samson lets him go. There is the sound of soft footfalls, then of a door creaking. Light spills into the vault, and Samson blinks. He sees Anders’ face in profile for a second — his harried expression, the blackness of his cloak throwing the paleness of his features into awful starkness — and then he is gone.
Samson stands in the dark, biting his lip, his grip loose around the pommel of his sword. Is it too late? Yes. He feels that too — too late to save anything, too late to do anything but wade through the consequences of whatever has been put in motion. When did it all start? Samson doesn’t know. He chokes on a lungful of the foetid air, tucks his arms around himself and begins to move toward an exit on the western side of the building, one he knows comes out into an abandoned storeroom close to the barracks. As he steps forward, however, a light and motion catch the corner of his vision — he turns, watching a tiny flame dance across the floor. It moves slowly, and in a straight line, as if it follows something, something like… a fuse , Samson realises, grinding his teeth together. It seems as if he follows the little light with his eyes for a long time, a strange feeling of reluctant hope in his chest. And then he turns and stumbles through the dark, through the door and up the stairs, making his way toward the barracks.
When the explosion comes, it’s just after midnight. The noise of it roars through the building, the whole barracks shifts violently, dust and rubble raining from the ceiling. Samson leaps out of bed — he hasn’t slept, nervous energy and the hollow feeling of a too-small dose of lyrium keeping him alert. His roommate stares at him with wide eyes, mouth opening in shock. “Get the recruits!” Samson yells at him, fastening his swordbelt around his waist. “Bring ‘em into the yard, get ‘em out of here.”
“What the fuck was that? Where’re you going?” his roommate shouts.
“The Circle!” Samson tells him, ignoring the first question, “There’s apprentices, we need to look out for ‘em! I’ll meet you out there!”
He doesn’t wait for a response. The Circle is further away from the Grand Chantry than the barracks, but it’s an older building, and indifferently maintained. If he can find a couple of the senior enchanters, or better yet, Orsino, maybe he can help them keep the apprentices safe.
But there’s something bigger going down tonight, bigger than anything he’s aware of. When he exits the room into the corridor, there are already two Templars there, standing fully armoured at the end of the hall. When Samson looks at them, one nods, then tells him, “Get back in your room, Raleigh.”
Samson scowls and steps out, into the corridor, closing the door behind him. “Lamden. What’s goin’ on? Need a hand with anything?”
“Not from you we don’t,” Lamden snorts. “No-one gets past here. Karras’ orders.”
“Karras? Huh,” Samson sneers, “Last I heard he was just a jumped-up little shit. Didn’t realise they’d gone and made him Knight-Vigilant.”
“Fuck off , Raleigh. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be,” Lamden says, jaw clenching. “Get back in your room, or…”
“Or what?” Samson asks, taking a step forward. “You’n your mate here’ll give me a spanking? That shit might work on mages, but it don’t work on me. Lemme through.”
The younger man, Samson doesn’t remember his name, looks at Lamden. “C’mon, Harald. It’s just Raleigh. He’s a good guy.”
Samson bites the side of his tongue, tries to force his face to remain expressionless. However, he cannot stop the thought which rises to his mind — No’m not. Lamden hesitates, then thins his lips briefly, and nods, stepping aside.
“Fine. Jus’... just don’t tell Karras, right? You were already out.” There’s desperation in Lamden’s tone, and for the first time in their brief encounter, Samson looks carefully at him. There’s bags under his eyes, and a haunted, hunted expression on his face. They’re scared. Samson frowns, opens his mouth, wanting to ask more, and then in the distance, there is a groan — a moment of tension, and then a huge crash, followed by thin screaming. “Fuck,” Samson mutters, and pushes past the two guards without another thought.
By the time he has reached the Circle itself, he knows the way that the wind is blowing. From the high windows, he can see columns of smoke rising above the buildings — here and there, flames lick skyward, and he can hear shouts and screams. They’re rioting. City’s gonna eat itself before dawn , he thinks disjointedly, watching the corridor as three senior enchanters escort a small knot of crying apprentices down the stairs toward the Gallows yard. Is it safer for them in the Circle? Probably. But if their instinct is to flee, who is Samson to stop them? Maybe they know something he doesn’t — maybe the underground has orchestrated all this. That was something which occurred to him as he lay in bed. And if they can get out, go a million miles away from this place, make a life for themselves… Stop it , he tells himself, You know what’s out there for ‘em. They’ll be hunted, and unless they stay together… fuck, even if they do, they’ll have to learn to do everything for themselves. Everyone will be against them. And what happens to the tranks? Fuck, what’s happened to..?
“Oi,” he says, reaching out to catch one of the enchanter’s by the sleeve of her robe. She looks around at him, angry, terrified, and snaps, “What?”
“Sorry,” he says quickly, and her look of suspicion intensifies. “Just wondering where the Tranquil are.”
“I don’t know,” the enchanter tells him, and pulls her sleeve from his grip. There’s a hesitation, as if she’s waiting to see if he’ll censure her for it, then she makes a face. “I don’t know,” she repeats, and looks away, toward where the little group of enchanters and apprentices are still moving down the corridor. “You can’t ask us to take them as well as the young ones.”
Samson nods. She glances at his face, and seems to take this as her cue to leave. Samson follows her with his eyes until she rejoins the group — then he turns quickly, and hurries in the opposite direction.
The deeper he gets into the Circle, the worse it seems. Two Despair demons — abominations, almost certainly — surprise him around a corner. It’s barely a fair fight, they’re inside his head before he realises what’s going on. You/you’re a dis/disappoint/t/ment, whispers Meredith’s voice, and Samson takes a step back. He feels cold all over, can feel his sword arm drooping. Everything feels too heavy, too much — it would be easier to just give up. It/It’ll never be enough, you’ll never/er be en/enoug/h, that’s Cullen’s voice, and Samson feels the light, clammy brush of the rags the demon wears across the skin of his chest, under his armour. Do you/do you follow the Knight-Commander’s word on everything? Orsino asks him sneeringly, and Samson gasps. “No,” he says, struggling against the overwhelming feeling which the demons are seeking to invoke, stroking his mind, trying to find a foothold.
Sicken/n at the sight/the sight of blood, T/templar? That’s Anders, standing in his clinic, goading him to action, knowing that whatever he did, whatever they tried, it would never be enough. The words and images echo and crash now, like waves, impossible to tell who’s voice is who’s — s ickennnn at the siiiiight/the sight of blood/the sight of blood, dissssssapointment, it’s enough, you’ll/you’ll never be/never be enough, follow the Knight/the Knight-Commander, follow her Temmmmmplllllarrrrr the sight of blood, appoin/disappoin/disappointment, enough, you, you’ll never never/r nev/never be, follow her and siiiicken sicken sicken at the sight…the sight of blood...
On and on and on… it’s spiralling, inside his mind, and he can’t, it’s so easy just to ride it, let it take him, let the voices pull him down into himself. Gentle, soft now, aware that he’s giving in. “No,” Samson moans, the softness of the rags no longer unpleasant, now just cool and soft against his fevered skin. One more time, he struggles against the feeling, knowing he can’t save them, knowing he can’t do anything for anyone, least of all himself. It feels like teeth in his skin, under it, but he concentrates, reaching inside himself for anything which will quell the tide of these words… and he finds a paper bird.
He opens his eyes, grip on his sword firming. The demons float just above the ground; he kneels before them. “You fucks,” Samson tells them, gritting his teeth, hefting his sword in two hands, brandishing it. “You fucks ! Get away from here! You’re nothin’, nothin’! So get outta my way! ”
One of the demons moves backward, clearly hoping to reclaim its advantage at a later stage, but the other continues to press forward. The sword is heavy, impossibly so, but Samson summons all the strength he can muster and drives it up, forward and up. The demon, taken by surprise or stupid with what it thought would be its victory, it doesn’t matter, because it flies forward as Samson yells, as he raises the sword and drives it home. The thing before him screams, it stinks of the Fade, the air rushing out toward Samson, the heat of it, the bright ozone stench. In that moment, Samson squeezes his eyes closed, pushing with all his might against the thing, until he feels the resistance against his sword arm start to relent.
When he opens his eyes the second demon rushes toward him, rags trailing in the air, deep cowl not enough to disguise the horror of its skeletal features. But Samson’s blood is pounding now, he rises to his feet in the seconds it takes for the demon to get to him, and he makes short work of it as well.
“You fucks,” he tells the piles of rags at his feet. “I might not be much, but I know who I am. Cheap pieces of shit,” he sneers, kicking the rags. He sniffs, looking up, assessing the dim corridor. Torches burn fitfully in the sconces, and all is silent. Samson keeps his sword up, still clenched in both hands, and continues forward.
It doesn’t take him long to find Maddox after that. There’s an alcove in the Library, private enough to be quiet enough for in-depth research, but not hidden enough to make it a popular trysting spot… or a place to plan an insurrection. When Samson rounds the corner, he sees the desk turned over on its side, and a dark hairline and part of a forehead with an ugly scar just visible over it. “Maddox?” he calls quietly, and Maddox raises his eyes over the edge of the desk.
“Knight-Templar Samson,” he says expressionlessly, “I was told to wait here by Knight-Corporal Hendriss. She went to check the whereabouts of two apprentices.”
The abominations. He had seen no sign of Hendriss; she was probably dead. Samson nods and smiles slightly, then casts his gaze around the room. All is silent — it doesn’t bode well. Has the fighting died off? Or only moved? Doesn’t matter, he tells himself, then asks Maddox, “Yeah? Well, I’m here now. Just you, eh?”
“Yes. I believe the other Tranquil were taken to the dungeons by several of the Templars at the order of the Knight-Commander. I do not know what happened to them. I went with them, until Knight-Corporal Hendriss ordered me to hide here instead. She said you would come looking for me, but if you did not, then she would come back.”
“Right then,” Samson says slowly, his stomach clenching. Maddox only gazes back at him until Samson tries a weak smile. “C’mon, Mads. Let’s get you out of here. You hurt?”
“No, Knight-Templar Samson. Thank you for your concern.”
“Right,” Samson repeats gruffly and clears his throat. He holds his hand out to Maddox, who puts his hand into Samson’s, allows Samson to haul him to his feet. Together, they leave the Library, Samson going first, his sword clutched in one hand. Maddox walks behind him, his slippers scuffing softly against the stone. Around and down they go, through the enchanter’s quarters, Samson tensing every time they must slip around the corner. There aren’t many bodies, and the building seems surprisingly intact… but the lack of people is alarming. “When the others were taking you lot downstairs,” Samson mutters, glancing over his shoulder at Maddox, “did they tell you what for? Tell me quietly, eh?”
“Yes, Knight-Templar Samson,” Maddox whispers. “They did not tell us why they were taking us to the dungeons. We heard a loud bang, and the building shook. Felicia said she heard someone moving outside, but nobody came for us until three Templars came to take us away. I do not know what happened to the others.”
Fuck, Samson thinks. Have the Tranquil been murdered? There isn’t much he can do, not on his own, not now. Where in the void is everyone? As they descend the stairs, closer to the courtyard now, he can hear the sound of fighting; it only gets louder as they approach. “Shit,” Samson mutters when they reach the last external door. There is a scream and a thump, someone yells, “...Winter’s Grasp, Winter’s fucking Grasp, you fucking…!” and then is abruptly cut off, the words dying in a screech and a gurgle. Samson looks at Maddox, who meets his eye. His expression betrays nothing.
Samson takes a deep breath. “Right,” he says softly, barely audible amongst the yelling from outside, “Things sound pretty bad out there. So here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m goin’ through this door. I need you to stay here and count to a hundred. If I’m not back by then, don’ worry ‘bout it, just nick back upstairs to the little alcove — you know, the one the Templars use. You know it?”
“Yes, Knight-Templar Samson,” Maddox murmurs.
“Good,” Samson tells him. “And Mads… thanks, alright? For… whatever.”
Maddox nods silently. Samson looks at him for a moment longer, then gives him a grin. It feels completely false on his face; his heart is hammering in his chest, and his palms feel sweaty. “Wish me luck, then,” he grins, and Maddox nods again.
“Good luck, Knight-Templar Samson,” he mutters. Samson exhales, gestures Maddox a little further back into the shadows, then opens the door.
A blaze of light streams across the narrow courtyard at the top of the stairs. Orsino’s staff whirls through the air, and he directs another huge fireball into a group of Templars. Two of them are knocked back, right off their feet — they lie still, their kilts aflame, their armour red-hot. “Get back!” Orsino yells, his voice breaking, “Cast a barrier and get back! I will hold them off!”
There’s a crackle a little further back from Orsino, and Samson’s eyes go immediately to the source of the sound. “No,” a figure states — a figure which seems to be made of blue light, beautiful and terrifying. “Take the young mages and go. I will hold them back.”
“Anders!” yells a voice — a dark-haired mage, his chest drenched in sweat, blood dripping from a bad gash on his forehead, standing with his feet planted firmly on the cobbles, “ Please! Aveline needs you! This isn’t the time for arguing, now that Meredith’s down who knows what they’ll do!”
It takes seconds for Samson to realise who the third mage is — the Champion. But before he can do anything with the information, there’s the sound of clanking, discordant and heavy, and Samson’s heart drops. He’d know that sound anywhere. It’s the sound of Templars running, their mailed boots over the cobblestones. “Oi!” he yells, and the three mages ahead of him turn, each bringing their staves into fighting stances. “You got incoming! Let me help!”
He doesn’t wait for their permission; instead, he steps through the doorway, kicking it closed behind him even as he reaches for his sword. The knot of Templars are all helmed, their armour making them slow, but two of them are bigger than him — a lot bigger. Samson widens his stance and braces himself for the faster of the group to reach him. He feels the crackle of magic behind him — the residual lyrium sings in his bloodstream — and he sees one of the Templars in the back go into the stance for a Smite or a Silence. “Oi! Fuckwits!” Samson yells, then runs forward, as hard as he can. He deflects a glancing blow off his greave. It barely registers, so focused he is on knocking the Templar wanting to perform whatever magic-nulling action they have in mind off their stance. That Templar is now kneeling with both hands on the hilt of their sword, the point of it on the cobbles, eyes down, trusting to the others to cover them. Samson dodges a shield thrown wide when the Templar who was holding it is hit with a fireball. He doesn’t hear their screams, doesn’t care in that moment who it was under that helm, what their name was. He only knows what is right, in this moment, and it is not the cause that they fight for.
It doesn’t take much to throw you off balance when you’re performing a magic-null. They’re delicate, in spite of their field of effect — sometimes, Samson’s wondered if maybe that’s because they’re real magic cast by non-mages. It’s certain that they tend to be more effective if the Templar casting it has had lyrium recently. That’s not a chance Samson’s willing to take though — he’s breathing hard as he reaches the first of the larger Templars, the one who is kneeling on the ground. As he raises his leg to kick the sword-point off the ground, he hears a roar behind him — he pivots quickly, bringing his sword up as he does, and just in time, too. There is a clang as metal meets metal, and Samson finds himself staring up into the eyes of the other huge Templar. The maul he uses is massive, and Samson has to shift his feet in order to continue to deflect the blow. “Traitor,” the Templar roars through his helm. “They killed the Knight-Commander!”
Samson can only grunt in response. It’s taking all his effort to push back on the force that the other man is exerting. The Templar in front of him roars again, inarticulate, and Samson summons all his remaining strength and shoves him off.
It’s enough. The Templar staggers backwards a step, the weight of his armour forcing his centre of gravity to shift. Instead of pressing his advantage, however, he turns again, bringing his leg up and swiftly kicks the sword-point out as he’d intended. The Templar about to perform the magic-null falls forward slightly, but Samson doesn’t stay to watch. He steps to one side, certain that the Templar at his back will be recovered and about to hit him. Sure enough, the maul comes down in a hard arc on the spot he used to be, cracking the cobbles, causing shards to fly up into the air. Once again, Samson pivots; as the Templar with the maul hauls it up again, he lunges forward, driving his sword hard at the place where the breastplate meets the rerebrace, at the Templar’s shoulder.
There’s no way he’s winning this fight. The Templar before him is simply too big — Samson is too short, too lightly armoured, outnumbered. But while he can fight, he’ll keep his promises — all of them. Serve the Maker all your days; aid the mages under your care; keep them safe, help them walk in the Light of Blessed Andraste . Those were the words of his vows. Someone screams behind him but the Templar with the maul has shaken off the blow like it’s nothing, and now the other one is rising as well. Fuck, he’s a big lad. “Come on, then,” Samson goads them, panting, grinning, “come ahead.”
The Templar with the maul steps forward, hefting his weapon again. Samson clenches his jaw, bracing himself for the struggle to come. There’s a crackling blaze which sizzles the air — the feel of the Fade is huge, all around them — and then both Templars are twitching in their armour, seeming to rise in the air in front of them. Samson steps back, his mouth opening, sword drooping in his grasp as the Templars before him shiver and scream, lightning dancing over the surface of their armour. He feels as if every hair on his body is standing up, that the electricity is everywhere… and then the Templars drop suddenly, crumpling, their bodies bent into unnatural postures on the ground.
It takes him a minute to realise that it’s over. Samson listens carefully, but aside from the sounds of people running, the sounds of panic from the city, it seems as if the bulk of the fighting is done. Slowly, he turns, looking at the three mages. One is standing with his hands on his knees, doubled over, retching by the sound of it. Taxed his mana too hard , Samson thinks, his face contorting into a worried expression. The second, the one in the dark robe, has his hand on the other fellows back — as Samson watches, the second mage shifts and kneels in front of the first, tucking a loose hank of hair behind his ear. In profile, there’s no mistaking who it is. Raleigh, the voice in his head says, If you puke on my robe, I’ll be very disappointed. Samson gives a small smile, breathes a sigh of relief, and then notices that the third is approaching him.
Blood runs in rivulets down from Orsino’s wrists, drips from his fingers in slow, fat spatters. He’s ripped both his long sleeves at the elbows, perhaps to facilitate the cuts that he needs to make. Blood mage, blood mage! Samson’s mind gibbers, and he fights with himself not to step backward. “First Enchanter,” he manages to croak, and Orsino inclines his head.
“Not anymore, it would seem,” he says quietly. His voice is hoarse, perhaps with yelling. “Thank you for your service, Knight-Templar Samson. We… were not expecting aid from your side.”
Samson can only nod. His eyes flick past Orsino — he can’t bear to look at him for too long, the previously-unknown fact of his blood magic colouring all the recollections that Samson has of him. For a moment, his eyes rest on Anders and the Champion. The Champion has risen, but he has both hands over his eyes, and Anders has his hands on the Champion’s shoulders. They’re talking softly, and the way Anders is looking at the Champion, it couldn’t be anything but love. Samson smiles, then looks at Orsino when Orsino clears his throat.
“We will leave Kirkwall soon. If we might imposition you further… you were a friend to us, all of us, when we needed one. If you have a desire to continue this service, seek us out. We need eyes and ears in Kirkwall. We need friends.”
Samson nods again. “Yeah,” he mutters, then shakes his head. “Gotta look after Mads. The Tranquil ‘n that.”
Orsino nods. “Of course. Knight-Templar Samson…”
But he hesitates, looking away. Samson looks up, into the sky — the new day is upon them, the sky red and orange, clouds bleak and bloody, amassing as if for a storm. The city smells of fire, and he shakes his head again, wondering why it took so long to come to this, why it had to happen this way. There was no other way , he thinks, and looks back at where Orsino stands. Orsino has turned, is regarding Anders and the Champion. Samson follows his gaze, lifts his hand when he sees them both looking at him.
The Champion does not return his wave, only looks at Anders once again. But Anders nods once, gravely, then raises his own hand briefly. A flap of the hand, nothing more. Orsino clears his throat and Samson looks at him again. “I am sure you will know where to find us. So write, if you will,” he says softly, and smiles. “But if we do not see each other again… thank you.”
“‘S’alright,” Samson says gruffly, “Get outta here.”
Orsino nods, and turns, quickly striding back toward the other two. However, before he is halfway, Samson takes a step forward and calls after him. Orsino turns.
“Just… look after yourself, alright? After all of your lot. I mean, I know you can, but…” Samson catches his breath and gestures at the sky, “‘Coz, I mean… it looks like there’s a storm comin’.”
Orsino nods, smiling slightly. “Perhaps a storm is just what we need,” he says musingly, then sighs. “Goodbye, Knight-Templar Samson.”
“‘Bye,” Samson mutters. He watches the small group until they’re out of sight, and then he turns his face up, once more toward the sky. The first drops of rain fall onto his upturned face, and he smiles.