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XI. The Tower

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The Inquisitor is not the person Anders had imagined, but Anders supposes very few people are what they are imagined to be. Hawke both is the Champion and is not, and he supposes that he has joined their ranks as well. He’s heard them while in hiding: the uncomfortable and distorted bard songs, because he doesn’t feel like a hero, but he will never allow himself to be the villain either.

The oil lamp and candle light illuminate the room dimly, their glow warm toned and soft, almost intimate. The Inquisition soldiers brought him here, to a room where an ironbark staff leans against a desk and a Dalish banner is draped over a wall. Wooden statuettes populate one of the bookshelves, each set with its own altar. Elfroot smell, familiar and pungent, wafts in from the balcony herb garden. The room is a home Anders thinks Merrill would have built, had she not been reduced by the alienage to a hovel. A halla decorates the stamp with the Inquisitor’s seal, its neck long and arched, horns held tall.

The Inquisitor frowns at his manacled wrists, unlocking them before drawing up her own chair to sit before him. All of Thedas has heard of her, the Herald of Andraste, but in the place she calls home, Andraste’s presence is conspicuously lacking.

“I’m sorry about the chains and the hood. Secrecy was a necessity, especially considering you,” she says.

“I can’t imagine why,” Anders retorts, rubbing at the damp patch of skin around his wrists. “There’s nothing about me that could possibly suggest danger or controversy.”

“A sunny disposition is always helpful for a fugitive on the run from all of Thedas, I’m sure.”

“It endeared me to my captors all seven times I was caught before,” Anders says before he can stop himself. “I don’t see why it couldn’t help me now.”

That draws a laugh from her, a quiet thing, no more than a sharp exhale. She leans back, tension seeping from her posture, but she’s watching him still, her gaze steady. The skin beneath his collar crawls.

“Each moment I spend harboring you endangers what peace the Inquisition has built, so I’ll be blunt. You are the host of a Fade spirit, yes?”

“Yes, Justice, right, not Vengeance,” he says, because he’s never learned to shut up or quit while he was ahead. “He’s a friend. He hasn’t been anything like Vengeance or what he was in Kirkwall. He’s better; we’re better. He’s not-”

“I’m not here to call you an abomination or whatever word the shemlen use. I brought you here because I want a truth confirmed. During an investigation I conducted with Cassandra-I’m sorry, Seeker Pentaghast-we came across some secrets the Seekers have been harboring for centuries.” Her face twists. “The touch of a Fade spirit cures Tranquility, although considering the circumstances of your capture, I suspect you knew this already.”

“Right,” Anders murmurs, because he doesn’t trust himself to speak more or louder, not with his mouth dry and his tongue flopping nervelessly in his mouth. “That’s right. You’re right.”

“You don’t need to fear me, Anders,” the Inquisitor says, her expression gentling at last. “I’m not your enemy.”

Then what are you? Anders can’t help but think, but he’s interrupted by knock at the door before he can say something stupid.

“Inquisitor Lavellan? I was informed that you summoned me.” The intonation is flat, toneless, Tranquil.

“Helisma! Your timing is impeccable as always.” The Inquisitor waves her hand, the lock on her door clicking as her magic telekinetically slides it open. Briefly, Anders spots the Anchor: its sickly green Fade glow. It has twisted her magic into something that sends a shivering whisper of home through Justice. “The door is not locked, please, come in.”

The sunburst brand upon Helisma’s forehead catches Anders’ breath in his chest, a more paralyzing wound than the time dragonfire had caught Fenris from behind, roasting his skin crisp and melting the metal edges of his armor until it ran into his bone.

“Was there an aspect of my research you wished to discuss, Inquisitor? I most recently received materials from a high dragon killed in Emprise du Lion-”

“Your work is excellent as always, and I don’t think I’ll ever have any problems when it comes to the your research. My concern is over something else. Do you remember the conversation we had when the Inquisition first arrived at Skyhold?”

“I remember it.”

“Good! Draw up a chair and sit down, Helisma. Do you remember me asking about your interest in creatures?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember what you told me?”

“I have an interest in animals from,” Helisma pauses. “Before the Rite. I believe it has made me well-suited for the pursuit of my research.”

“So, you believe the efficiency of your research derives from an interest in animals you held from before you chose to undergo the Rite of Tranquility?”

“That is correct.”

“Do you, on occasion, find your research disrupted over concerns that you cannot recall where this interest originated, or why you have it?”

“At times.” Helisma’s brow furrows. “I thought you found the quality of my research satisfactory.”

“I do, and it is.” The Inquisitor smiles. Helisma, logical in the way all Tranquil are, eats every tantalizing crumb the Inquisitor dangles before her, following the trail of loaded questions into a trap she cannot see. Anders’ palms itch as he realizes exactly what she has planned.

Undisturbed, the Inquisitor continues. “But, Helisma, if you think your interest in animals from before the Rite of Tranquility is what drives your research, would you agree that returning it to you in full would further improve the quality and efficacy of your research?”

Helisma closes her mouth, tilting her head in expressionless contemplation before responding, “There is no method to reverse the Rite. Your query is ultimately irrelevant.”

“This man here,” the Inquisitor says, taking note of Anders for the first time since Helisma entered the room, “may be able to reverse it. Do you consent to allowing him to try? As my actions from before have demonstrated, I would not allow you to come to harm. I promise he will not hurt you.”

Anders sucks in a breath as Helisma turns her placid gaze to him.

“How is the Rite reversed?”

“With a touch,” Anders replies, something hysterical bubbling beneath his words. Justice burns in the back of his mind, his eagerness latching onto Anders’ latent wish to heal, to make whole, consuming his thoughts until his vision goes blank.

“That does not seem logical. How have you come across this information? What distinguishes your ‘touch’ from another’s? I have touched Inquisitor Lavellan and a multitude of others with no changes to my status as a Tranquil.”

“I have some unique circumstances,” he says, wrestling to keep his skin from cracking apart in lyrium blue. Not now, he thinks, it’s too soon. Not yet. Let her say yes. “The Inquisitor can do things with her Anchor no one else can, right? I’m the same way.”

A moment passes.

“I consent.”

The Inquisitor nods at him, and Anders moves from his seat to stand before Helisma. She lifts her head to meet his gaze, hair slipping to the side to unobscure the sunburst brand as Anders draws the Fade into his palms and allows Justice into him. Like the time Anders had supplicated before the spirits to regrow Fenris’ flesh; the time he clasped his palms over the blood gushing from Hawke’s throat and opened his heart, thoughts empty but for one: let them live. Each time: his unambiguous purpose as the lens through which Anders allowed the spirits to pass, focused into one singular point. Because allowance is the key Anders had always known yet had not mastered.

He does not know why he does it, if it was Justice who compelled his body, but he grasps Helisma’s face with his fingertips, bowing his head forward to press his lips to her forehead. A touch, a kiss, an act of intimacy like a mother to a child come home, or, perhaps, like the memory of Kristoff’s wife kissing him in welcome. Emotion bursts upon Anders’ lips: relief, anguish, joy, anger, purpose long forgotten. Oh, oh, Anders wonders how he could ever have been afraid of giving himself to the Fade when people are so beautiful through its eyes. The sweet taste of Helisma’s relief, how her regret embitters it, the crisp aftertaste of her joy clear as a bell and rippling through him more melodically than lyrium song. They draw a clamor as the spirits sing, welcoming her, their song crescendoing to a sob that wracks Helisma’s body and knocks her forward into his arms as Justice recedes in satiation.

“By the Maker,” she gasps, knotting her fingers into Anders’ coat so tightly he fears it may rip. “Oh, by Andraste, what have you done,” she cries, sobbing so loudly it shakes her whole body. “It’s back; it’s all back. I’m back.”

The Inquisitor gazes at him, mouth open in stunned awe, and the expression, vulnerable and honest, looks strange on her. She crouches down beside Helisma and places a hand upon her shoulder.

“Helisma,” she murmurs, “Helisma, how do you feel?”

“I feel; I’m feeling. By Andraste, please, please don’t ever make me go back. I never want to, please, I beg you. Everything was gone. Everything. I wasn’tmyself, oh, I don’t want to go back. If I knew. If I knew, I would never-”

Anders wraps an arm around her and rubs soothingly along her back. “It’s alright now. You’re healed. It’ll be alright. It’s fine. Everything is alright. You’re whole again.”

“He’s right, Helisma. I’ve never sentenced a mage to Tranquility once, and if I have my way, no mage will ever be subject to the lyrium brand again. Do you understand?”

Helisma nods from where she’s soaking through Anders’ shirt with her crying, and Anders almost feels the urge to cry with her. Justice is tired, but satisfied, basking in the warmth of Anders’ joy as he realizes they have done thistogether, can do it together, will do it together.

Anders doesn’t know how much time passes with the three of them on the ground: Helisma crying, Anders murmuring comforting nothings to her, and the Inquisitor rubbing her back until she calmed. When Helisma’s sobs slowed to a hiccup, the Inquisitor speaks.

“Helisma, are you feeling better now? Do you think you feel well enough to return to your quarters?”

She nods in reply, but doesn’t move.

“Do you think you could do that? Some rest would be good for you, after such an ordeal. Tomorrow morning, we can talk after you’ve settled down a little more.”

“Okay,” Helisma says, her voice hoarse and small. “I’ll go.”  

Together, they help her to her feet. Anders keeps a hand clasped to her shoulder as she walks towards the door, rubbing his thumb in a circle against the muscle. The Inquisitor shuts the door and locks it once Helisma is out of sight and turns to Anders.

“I must confess I’ve never. I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I’ve certainly seen my share of strange things.”

“That’s me,” Anders jokes weakly. “Always trying to keep things fresh.”

Inquisitor Lavellan laughs. “At any rate, it’s terribly late. Let’s try to wrap this discussion up quickly so we can both rest. It’s been a long day.”

She settles back in her chair and motions for Anders to follow. “Let me ask you a question, Anders. What do you think would happen if it were made public that you’ve been found?”

Anders runs his tongue against his teeth, smart words suddenly gone. “Nothing good, I’d expect.”

“There’s an understatement if there ever was one. The peace right now is a tenuous one. There might not be Templars anymore, but the College of Magi is still navigating its independence from the Chantry, do you follow?”

“I believe so?”

“Self-governance for mages is new, and the extent of its independence remains to be seen. Tensions, particularly anti-magic ones, remain high throughout Thedas. Enchanters Vivienne and Fiona row day and night over how to lead the College of Magi, but in particular, they argue about you. They can’t decide whether to honor you or to condemn you.

“What I mean to say is, the College of Magi, as it is now, is not strong enough to withstand the controversy your existence would bring should it be made public throughout Thedas. You’re a controversial man, Anders. That’s why I dedicated so much of the Inquisition’s forces to locating you.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Anders says, nails digging into the wooden armrests and Justice unfurling protectively. “This sounds an awful lot like, ‘You’re too much hassle to keep around, Anders. You’re better off dead,’ and Ireally don’t like that at all.”

“If you were looking for someone to condemn you for your crimes, Anders, I’m not the person you’re looking for. I defended Kirkwall from Starkhaven. I’m hardly the type to mourn the loss of a Chantry of all things, and if I truly had wanted you dead, why would I have waited so long? Would I have brought Helisma before you?

“Anders, look at me.” The Inquisitor’s voice is soft and kind, and like a plant starved of sun, Anders turns to face her. 

“If I didn’t believe in redemption, would I have instated another Divine? What I want from you, Anders, what I want to give you, is redemption. With Mythal’s blessing, I will give you the protection to make it so.”