This was not Anders’ day. He had woken up manacled in a prison cell and surrounded by armed guards. He had been yelled at by a woman in Chantry armor. He had been accused of killing the Divine and setting ablaze the Conclave called to end the war between the mages and the templars. Worse, he was currently a cat and crouched under a bush outside of a Chantry, a magical mark on his paw, and the woman in Chantry armor screaming at him.
Her voice grew more angry and in response he flattened himself under the bush and tucked his tail firmly under him. He gave a pitiful meow as he cowered. Next to her appeared a face, the woman in the hood who had stopped the angry Chantry armor wearing one from hurting him.
“You have scared him, Cassandra. We need him to help us, not cower under a bush.”
“He is deliberately baiting me.”
“How can you say that? Look at him. He has a torn ear. He’s shaking in terror. You poor dear, come on. Come out.”
The hooded woman was scary, but less scary than the one named Cassandra. Anders inched towards the woman in the hood and allowed himself to be pulled out from under the bush. She cradled him to her chest and pet his head.
“This cat is positively riddled with wounds. Who would do such a thing?”
“That is a mage, Leliana.”
“You poor dear,” Leliana cooed. “Can you be a mage again?”
“You are too soft.”
“I can’t help it. I love cats. And nugs. And puppies.” Leliana put Anders down and he shook himself and shifted.
He rubbed at the back of his neck and ducked his head. “Sorry. It’s a reflex. I get scared; I turn into a cat.”
“How did the templars manage to keep you in the Circle if you were always...oh.” Cassandra seemed to finally catch on and frowned. “What Circle were you in?”
“Kirkwall’s.” Anders scuffed his foot. His hand flared with green light, lancing pain shooting up his arm and making him grit his teeth. “It’s killing me.”
“We must reach the rift to fix it.” Cassandra stared at him. “I am Cassandra Pentaghast, Seeker and Right hand of the Divine. This is Sister Leliana, Left Hand of the Divine. We are asking for your help.”
Anders stared up at the swirling green that tore through the blue of the sky. His hand trembled, fear working its way through him. “I will go with you. No need to drag me or anything.”
“Um, did you happen to see an elf in the refugees? White hair, giant sword, and white brands?” Anders looked at both women, fear and hope in his gaze.
Cassandra grunted. “We found him with a dwarf.”
“Varric?” Anders’ eyes lit up.
“Indeed. They are with you, then?”
“They, well, they came with me. I remember telling Hawke I would go to the Conclave. She didn’t want to go.”
“We know. We asked. You are the representative she sent? You are not her sister.”
“Hah. No. No, I’m not Bethany. And she asked me to go because I’m sort of...not...a Circle mage?” Anders ducked his head again. “Fenris and Varric came with me to keep me out of trouble.”
Cassandra snorted. “I can see how well that worked.”
“Yes well. Well...I was...I was in the temple.” Anders’ face scrunched up. “The ashes, maybe? I don’t really remember. I remember walking into the temple…” he shook his head.
“Come, perhaps what happened will return to you on our trek to the temple.”
“Or I’ll end up dead in a ditch,” Anders mumbled.
“Nonsense, we’re here. You’ll be fine.”
Anders sighed and followed Cassandra down the path from the small Chantry he had been held in. Haven was little more than a village - a tavern, a blacksmith, an apothecary, and a couple merchant tables all surrounded by small wooden homes with thatched roofs. It buzzed with an excess of people - bloated by the conclave and spilling over from refugees. All looked at Anders with malice and hate.
Anders curled his shoulders and kept his head down. It was terrifying to walk among these people. They whispered for his death or worse - for him to be made tranquil as an example. He wanted nothing more than to disappear into himself, to turn into a cat and hide.
Leliana laid a hand on his shoulder. “They are grieving and scared. You are an easy target for their anger.”
“Comforting…” Anders sighed the word.
“We must get you to the rift. After, there will be time to decide what to do with you.”
Anders grimaced at Cassandra’s back but didn’t say anything. He followed her out of the village and onto an icy road. It would have been beautiful if he wasn’t terrified for his life. He longed for the simplicity of his life in Kirkwall - healing, home, Fenris. Things he had gained and now appeared to have lost simply for doing a favor for a friend.
It frustrated him to no end that he was only in the situation because Hawke had asked him to go to the Conclave. She had begged for him to be her representative since he was a free mage in Kirkwall - a success story. One who helped the city and used his magic for those in need. Fenris had argued against him going, and he had disregarded both his fears and Fenris’ words.
He wished that he had listened to Fenris. They would be home.. He would be safe. Instead, he was watching Cassandra cut down shades and minor demons. His hand throbbed with his heartbeat. He could feel the Fade through the mark on his hand - cold, sinister, alien. Between the pain and the fear, he wasn’t able to do much more than stumble along and pray that he wouldn’t be killed.
They crested a rise. The shriek of demons and the clash of metal alerted them to another fight. They stepped through a teetering archway that used to belong to an elegant structure, and Anders saw demons swarming a small group of fighters. There, in the middle of the fight, was Fenris.
Anders sobbed in relief. Fenris’ sword sliced through a demon, and he turned and saw him. Anders took off for Fenris and tripped over some rubble. As he fell, he heard the scream of a demon. He rolled to his back in time to see one loom over him. He gasped and cast without thought.
A cat dashed away from the demon, the demon’s claws barely touching him. He streaked towards the only safety he could see - Fenris. Fenris scooped him up and turned to hand him to somebody. The smell of wood oil and smoke surrounded him, and Anders relaxed into the arms of Varric.
“Relax Blondie, I got ya. Let’s let Broody finish up.” Varric crooned.
He watched as Fenris gutted the last demon before coming over to take him from Varric. “You’re awake. I thought...I was sure…”
“We don’t have time for this.” A bald elf holding a staff rushed to Fenris. “He needs to turn back.”
“He won’t if he’s scared.”
The elf growled and snatched Anders from Fenris. Anders yowled in fear, and Fenris’ markings lit. Before Fenris could attack the bald elf, Anders found his marked paw lifted and pointed at the rift. There was a pull of energy, the crackle of the Fade, and then the rift closed.
The group stared at Anders. Anders yowled again and bit Solas. Solas cursed under his breath and dropped Anders. Fenris growled at Solas and picked Anders up.
“He closed it…” Cassandra sputtered as she spoke.
“He’s a very good kitty.” Leliana added. “May I pet him?”
Fenris sighed and nodded. Leliana slid her fingers over Anders’ head, around his ears, and under his chin. Anders relaxed and began to purr.
“I think he is safest as a cat. He may stay with me if he wishes as we travel to the front.”
Anders reached for Leliana and she cuddled him. “Shall we?”
There was a Chantry Brother screaming for him to be arrested. Anders yawned and wiggled out of Leliana’s arms so that he could sit on the Brother’s table. He looked up at the older man and began to groom himself.
“This...this...apostate...cat...is a murderer.”
“He has been nothing but helpful. I am not so sure that he is as dangerous as you say.” Cassandra said.
“He’s hidden as a cat in all fights.” Leliana added.
Anders lifted one leg and began to lick the base of his tail. Fenris’ groan was accompanied by a chuckle from Varric.
“We need to get to the Temple. I recommend we go in with the troops. A frontal assault will be faster.”
“But we have scouts missing in the mountains. Surely, we should go find them.”
Leliana and Cassandra glared at each other and then looked at Anders. Anders sighed and leapt down from the table. There was a pulse of magic and he stood before them while rubbing the back of his neck.
“Why is it my decision?” Anders whined.
“Because we cannot decide. Because you can close the rifts.”
Anders looked up at the mountains. Snow sparkled in the sunlight. “The soldiers are trained to fight and have a good leader, right?”
“The best. Commander Cullen leads from the front.”
Anders stiffened. “Did you say Cullen?”
“Yes. He was a Knight Commander in Kirkwall. We offered him the position as our Commander and he accepted. Why?”
“We’ll take the mountain path. Anything to keep that...ah...to keep the Knight Commander...I mean to say…”
“You knew Cullen in Kirkwall?” Cassandra squinted at Anders.
“He was going to make me tranquil.” Anders cleared his throat and tried to smile.
“The mountain path it is then,” Leliana beamed at Anders.
“Stop that, Leliana.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just as sweet like this.”
Anders stepped back to stand with Fenris who sighed and took Anders’ hand. “I am going to kill Hawke.”
The mountain path was less a path and more of a trek through an abandoned mine. Anders ranged ahead of the group in cat form. He could see better in the gloom and was small enough to be overlooked by just about anything terrifying. They came across no enemies, but no scouts either.
The mine opened out onto a narrow trail that wound down the mountain. Anders shifted back to human and took his spot behind Fenris. The cold air was crisp and clean, sharp tasting when he inhaled. It carried a light scent of the Fade, the biting smell making Anders’ head throb.
The reason for the smell was found around the curve of the trail. A rift shimmered in the air, demons circling it and keeping a small knot of scouts pinned down against a stone wall.
“We must save them!” Cassandra pulled her sword free. Fenris followed suit and the two of them rushed to battle.
Anders barely had time to get barriers over them before the shades were on them. The fight was fast, Anders more focused on keeping his barriers up than on the actual combat. The rift pulsed and a rage demon clawed its way into being.
Fenris wasted no time in gaining its attention. He sliced into the demon and danced away before he could be burned. Cassandra followed up with a shield bash that sprayed fire in an arc around her body. Fenris leapt back in with another vicious slice that took the demon in its shoulder. The demon let out an unholy shriek of pain and backhanded Fenris.
Solas gestured at the demon and ice swirled around it and froze it to the ground. Arrows and crossbow bolts peppered the writhing fire-covered demon. One more hit from Cassandra’s sword and the demon gave a mournful sigh and seemed to melt into rift.
Anders took a step towards Fenris and found himself held back by by the bald elf who had introduced himself as the walked through the mine as Solas.
“Close the rift first.”
The mark on his hand pulsed with the power of the rift. Anders could feel the push and pull of the Fade - a tickling of power that crept over his hand. He held his hand towards the rift and thought of doors closing, of locks being turned, of walls going up. The rift flared and then winked out.
Power snapped back at Anders and he stumbled. Solas steadied him. “Well done.”
“Like a door closing,” Anders murmured.
“What?” Solas’ grip tightened and Anders shook him off.
He rushed to Fenris’ side, healing magic already spilling over his fingers. Fenris groaned and sat up, then grumbled as Anders pour healing over him in a wave of blue magic. Fenris’ markings reacted, lighting and flickering as the healing magic spread and sunk into him.
“I’m alright. Anders. I’m fine.”
“You hit your head so hard.” Anders pressed his face to Fenris’ shoulder. “I was afraid…”
“Fool mage,” Fenris whispered. “I’m fine, Amatus. Fine. Go see to the scouts.”
Anders nodded and pressed a light kiss to Fenris’ neck before standing. There were four of them and all were suffering from bruises, cuts, and burns.
“I can heal.” Anders showed them his hands. “If you wish.”
“You...you saved us.” A woman with short brown hair and wide grey eyes stared at him in awe. “And you closed it. Maker’s blessings. And you wish to help us more?”
“Please. You’re hurting. I can’t help.”
The woman nodded. “Yes. Yes you can help. Thank you. Thank you for coming. We would have died. We would have…” She stopped to choke back a sob. “Thank you.”
Anders smiled and took her hands in his. His healing magic washed over her. “Thank you for not being afraid of my healing.”
Behind him, he could hear whispers. They were probably about him - about his inability to fight or his ability to close the rift. He tuned them out and knelt by a bloodied young man who had burns across his face. These people were more important to him than the whispered words of some Chantry types.
“Will you close the big one?” The young man asked as Anders worked.
“That’s where we’re going now. And I am going to give it a good go of it.”
The young man wrapped a hand around his bicep and squeezed. “Good. I’m glad.”
Anders smiled at him and brushed his fingers over his burned face. His skin healed with no mark. “It’s just another form of healing, I think..”
He thought about doors and tears and magic that could stitch them closed. Something niggled in the back of his head - something regarding magic and the Fade. But then Fenris was there to help him up and they were walking again and whatever thought was forming just...disappeared.
“Maker’s breath.” The words left Commander Cullen’s mouth in a rush.
Anders ignored him, focusing instead of the feedback from the mark. Power rushed up his arm and down his body. Pain sang along every nerve as the energy washed through his feet into the ground. He could feel the rift close. It felt quite like healing closed a huge gash.
“You!” That one word had Anders’ head snapping up and his eyes widening. Cullen was advancing on him and he scrabbled back, gave a terrified scream, and turned into a cat.
“What is he doing here?” Cullen’s voice seethed with barely held annoyance. “Don’t tell me he’s helping.”
“Now Commander, look what you’ve done. Oh. Come here.” Leliana’s voice hardened around Cullen’s title before smoothing out into a coo.
“I will get him. Anders. Come.” Fenris crouched down and stared at the cat cowering behind a burnt body. Anders shuffled out and to Fenris. Fenris sighed and scooped him up. “You will stop harassing him.”
“I didn’t...I mean he’s...but…” Cullen swallowed in the face of the group’s displeasure.
“He is helping. We will speak of this later.” Cassandra glanced back at Fenris. “Bring him into the Temple. We must fix this.”
Anders draped himself over Fenris’ shoulder and glared at Cullen. Cullen rubbed the back of his neck before sighing and following them into the dimness of the temple.
Red lyrium grew from the walls. The entire inside was a mass of twisted, melted rock and sickly feeling spars of lyrium. Varric was muttering behind them, the muttering growing worse as the group passed more red spikes.
“Seeker. This is red lyrium.”
“I know, Varric.”
“But what’s it doing here. This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all.”
“There is a giant hole in the sky and this is when you start to decide it’s bad. We need to talk, Dwarf.”
“Har har, Broody.”
Fenris put Anders down. “You need to be a mage, Anders.”
Anders huffed and let his magic swirl around him. When he was once again human, he shook a foot and scratched his chin. He took in the large rift swirling in the center of the room. Above the rift sat an even bigger hole into the Fade - a breach that swirled with power. His breathing hitched as he stared at it.
The urge to change back into the cat was nearly overwhelming. Instead of giving in, he moved down the stairs that circled the room. The moment his foot hit the bottom of the stairs, magical energies swelled and burst.
The room wavered and disappeared behind a vision of two red eyes, swirling mists, and the Divine. She was held in place by bands, her face pinched with fear and anger. Her voice reverberated through the room as she called for help.
Suddenly, Anders stepped into the vision. He was a cat - small and timid. The sight of the Divine had him rushing forward and changing. Even as he turned human, the Divine lashed out at the glowing red eyes. A strange orb - carved and glowing - fell to the ground and rolled to Anders. Anders bent and picked it up and the vision winked out.
“That was your voice. And the Most Holy.” Cassandra gripped his arm.
“Mage.” Fenris had his other arm. “You picked up a magical item, didn’t you.”
“I...don’t know? I must have?” Anders looked at Cassandra and then Fenris. “Honestly, I don’t remember. I know Hawke sent me to represent her. I was in the Temple looking for...looking for something... But that’s...I don’t remember that.”
Cassandra released him and paced away. “But that was proof that it was not you that did this.”
“We can discuss this later, after this rift is closed. It’s the first. It must be re-opened and then closed properly. Opening it will attract attention. We need to be ready.”
“Attention means demons,” Cullen said. “Men! Take positions!”
Anders shook his head and shivered. He didn’t want to do this. Fenris’ grip turned gentle and Anders looked down at him. “I am here.” Anders nodded, held out his hand, and concentrated. There was a snap of power, a flair from the rift, and then a demon.
Singing. A gentle baritone that whispered the song as a hand brushed over his hair, over and over, the touch gentle. Anders screwed up his face as consciousness returned. The singing stopped.
He opened his eyes. Fenris was sitting next to him on the bed. He turned his head and saw that he was in a small cabin. He cleared his throat and tried to sit up, and Fenris slid his arms around his back and fluffed his pillows.
“You closed the rift and stabilized the Breach. They are calling you a hero, the Herald of Andraste. Sent to save us.” Fenris chuckled. “Leliana has taken to calling you Herald Meow. Cassandra is pretty sure nobody needs to know that you can become a cat. Cullen is apologizing left and right.”
“I am here with you. As I always will be. I am very mad at you.”
“I know Hawke sent us here. I know she asked you to speak to the Divine. But what possessed you to go into that Temple? You could have…” Fenris clenched his hands and closed his eyes. “You could have died.”
Anders reached out and touched one of Fenris’ hands. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes well...well. We are just going to have to…”
“I love you.”
Fenris sighed. “I love you, too.”
“So what is this about being a Herald?” Anders sat up and began to untangle his hair.
“I think it’s best if you speak to Cassandra about that.” Fenris stood and held out his hand. “Come with me?”
“I just...oh bother. Fine.” Anders threw off the covers and stood. He made a face at the pants and tunic he was in. “Who dressed me?”
“I did. Those were the clothes I was given. I do have boots and a cloak for you.”
Anders huffed and sat down to pull on socks and boots. “It’s like the Circle all over again. Beige and brown and white and red.” The words were sing-song sung. ‘All with the Chantry burst on them. So fashionable.”
“I believe this was all they had that would fit you.”
“Pft. I doubt that.”
“Less whining. More dressing.”
Anders grumbled but finished lacing his boots. He stood and swung on the offered cloak - blue wool with the ever-present Chantry sun. Anders grumbled at his cloak, pulled it close, and stalked to the door of the cabin. He opened it and came to a stop.
The people outside stopped what they were doing to stare at him. A wave of whispering rose up, the muffled sound making Anders clutch at the door. Fenris shoved him out of the cabin, looked at everybody, and snorted. “We go to the Chantry.”
“Of course we do.” Anders side-eyed the crowd as he turned to head up the path that would take them to the Chantry.
They wound through Haven. The path was lined with whispering people. Soldiers came to attention, scouts drifted back into the crowd, and everywhere there was pointing and hushed talking. By the time they reached the Chantry, Anders was about to turn into a cat and flee. Fenris, sensing this, pressed a hand to his back and walked him through the Chantry and to a back door. He opened the door and ushered Anders in.
A long table stood in the middle of the room. Around it stood Cassandra, Leliana, Cullen, and a woman Anders didn’t know. They faced the Chantry Brother he had briefly met on the path. The man turned to Anders and opened his mouth to talk and found himself being frog-marched out by Fenris. The door closed behind him and Anders turned to face the group.
“You’re awake. Good. We have much to discuss.”
Anders gaped at Cassandra. “Discuss?”
“Yes. You closed the rift. The breach is stable, as is your mark. We have time to plan our next move.”
“Cassandra. You’re being rude. Please, let us introduce ourselves and tell you why you are here.” Leliana said as she laid a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. “You have met Seeker Cassandra and myself. And you know Commander Cullen…”
“I want you to know that I am no longer a templar. I...I apologize for my response at the Temple.”
Anders snorted. “Right. Sure you do. Just a few years ago you were ready to make me tranquil.”
“Times change. I’ve changed.”
“You honestly expect me to believe that? You still have a Chantry sunburst on your armor!” Anders shook his head. “It would be foolhardy for me to just accept your word.”
Cullen’s face tightened. “Then I’ll just have to prove it through my actions.”
Leliana huffed as they glared at each other. “Well then. And this is Josephine Montilyet, our Ambassador.”
Josephine gave a little head bob. “Herald. It is good to meet you finally. Let me assure you that we mean you no harm. In fact, your work with the rift is already spreading.”
Anders wobbled as anxiety gripped him. People knew about him. They were talking about him. Magic shimmered around him and Cullen stepped forward. “Anders…”
“Not too fond of the spotlight, sorry. I’m fine. Step back, Cullen. I turn into a cat, not an abomination.”
“Do you...always...do that?” Josephine’s hand was poised over some paper as if to make notes. “I should know so that we can adjust how you deal with the public.”
“Um…” Anders sheepishly smiled at Josephine. “Yes. But I’ll work on it.”
“Good. Though I am fairly certain I can spin this in a positive light.”
“The point of you being here right now, Herald, is for us to tell you that the Inquisition is being restarted.” Cassandra cut into the conversation. “And we need you. Not just because of your mark, but because of who you are. A mage who heals, who will save others’ lives, and soothe their pain. The scouts you helped are already spreading stories of your gentle nature.”
Anders paled. “Oh...dear…”
“This breach is bigger than the war between the mages and templars. The Chantry is in shambles. Rifts are sprouting up across Ferelden and Orlais. This threatens us all.”
Anders stared at Cassandra and then the rest of the group. “I’m no fighter, nor am I a politician.”
“But you are a healer. And that is what we need now,” Leliana said.
Anders looked down at the book Cassandra had placed on the table while he spoke. The symbol of the Chantry was emblazoned upon its cover.
“The Divine’s last directive. Her order for the Inquisition.” Cassandra stepped towards him. “I am sorry that I scared you so when we first met. I was...I still am grieving. However, you have proven yourself already. I will stand by you, protect you, if you will allow me.”
From the doorway, Fenris’ voice caught the group’s attention. “Varric and I won’t let you go into this alone, Amatus. I’m with you in this.”
“I’m still going to kick Hawke’s ass when we see her again.”
“Well...well then. I guess my answer is yes. But can we not call me Herald?”
Cullen snorted. “Good luck convincing anybody of anything.”
“Right well…” Anders straightened his spine. “Then my first order of business should be to check on the refugees.”
“But…” Josephine held up her hand.
“Refugees first. You all plan what I need to do. You’re my advisors, right? Advise. And, um, I need to talk to Fenris. Yes. That’s all. I’m...I’m going to go do what I do best. Heal people.”
Fenris chuckled and followed Anders out of the room. They stopped in a small alcove and stared at each other. “Anders…”
“What did I just agree to again?”
“You just joined the Inquisition.”
“I think I’ve lost my mind. I need to lie down. I need…”
“I’m proud of you.” Fenris grabbed Anders’ hands. “I’ll stand by you.”
“I know. I do. I just…”
Fenris squeezed Anders’ hands. So...Herald of Andraste…”
“Don’t you start with me.”
“Tell me about her knickerweasels.”
Anders stared at Fenris and burst into laughter. Fenris chuckled and pulled him into a hug. From the shadows, Leliana watched them and smiled.
Let's meet Bull!
“My Dear, we simply must talk.”
Anders’ head popped up at the words and panic filled his face. Lady Vivienne stood at the door to his cabin. She hesitated before closing the door behind her and moving across the room to perch on the second chair at his table.
“My lady. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Anders’ highly doubted there was any pleasure to be found in this visit, but he didn’t wish to be rude. Not to an enchanter of Vivienne’s caliber.
“I was most put out that you were not the one to meet me in Val Royeaux. Could you explain why you sent two of your companions in your stead?”
“Did Fenris and Cassandra not handle themselves well?” Anders put down his mortar and pestle and pulled a box of unrolled bandages towards himself.
“They were a delight, Dear, but not who I was expecting.”
“We figured that, um, that I would go see about some Red Jenny business while they went to speak to you. I am not good when I get nervous and upset? I didn’t want to embarrass you or them by turning into a cat at your soiree.”
Vivienne raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing else. He swallowed and placed one rolled bandage on the table. Reaching into the box, he pulled out another strip of cloth. “Did you need something?”
“You were in the Kirkwall Circle. A runaway. A troubled mage. And then an apostate. I wish to know how you will handle the the rigors of being the Herald and most importantly, how you will handles mages and templars.”
“Me? Handle them?” Anders’ brow furrowed. “Is it my place to handle them?”
“You are the Herald of Andraste, are you not?”
Anders put down the bandage and gave Vivienne his full attention. “I don’t know if I should decide anything. I did not have a positive experience in the Circle. We were treated like criminals: locked away and abused. My lover...he was made Tranquil for no reason other than to punish me.”
“Such things were a rarity. Kirkwall was the worst…”
Anders held up his hand. “The templars there delighted in hurting us. If you did not experience this then...I am glad. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. As far as the mages and templars, that’s something I am still thinking over. Slowly. And with much reluctance.”
Vivienne’s lips twitched. “I see. From where I’m sitting, you are a man thrust into a situation you are unable to handle. You must rise to the occasion, Herald.”
“Please call me Anders. I knew a Harold once and he was an ass.”
Vivienne pursed her lips and glared at him. “As I was saying, you must rise to the occasion. You must learn to stand tall in the face of adversity. And you must, my Dear, make a decision on the mages and templars. You, despite what you wish, are the Herald of Andraste. You cannot hide behind a lyrium lined elf forever.”
“I don’t know. I think Fenris is better at this than me. Nobody ever argues with him.”
“Having him beside you is statement enough, I should imagine. Even the Orlesian Court heard of the Lyrium Ghost.”
Anders stiffened. “Fenris. His name is Fenris. He’s not some...thing...to be talked about. He’s had enough of that in his life.”
Vivienne frowned. “He is…”
The door to the cabin opened and Fenris stepped in. He slowed when he saw Vivienne and then quietly closed the door and moved to Anders’ side. He took in Anders’ clenched fists and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Lady Vivienne. What an honor.” Fenris gave a crisp half-bow. “What may we aid you with?”
Vivienne looked up at Fenris. Fenris’ smile was polished and practiced.. She inclined her head. “I was simply visiting with Anders and discussing how important it is that the Inquisition be seen in a positive light.”
“She was implying that you’re not positive.”
“Varric does like to call me Broody.” Fenris tightened his hand on Anders’ shoulder. “I know how my presence will be viewed. A runaway Tevinter slave. The famed Lyrium Ghost that once belonged to Danarius, who cut down his former master in cold blood in a tavern. I would be concerned, but I know exactly what my presence does for Anders. I increase his standing, I provide a level of security, and I am a conversation piece.”
“Hush. I am not upset. Lady Vivienne is well-versed in the Great Game of Orlais. It is not so different in Tevinter. I was trained to see past it.” Fenris relaxed. “Even if my reputation was a poor one, Anders would not send me away.”
Lady Vivienne tilted her head as she looked at them. She nodded and stood. “I am here to help and to provide much needed advice and recommendations. I believe I made the correct choice in joining the Inquisition.” She gave a bow, turned, and showed herself out.
The conversation stayed with Anders as they traveled to the Storm Coast. The trip itself was quiet. Anders had brought the people he trusted: Fenris, Varric, and Cassandra. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Sera yet, Vivienne wouldn’t have enjoyed the weather, and Solas made his inner cat hiss.
They were heading towards a small camp situated on a craggy hillside. He was hoping the mercenary company he was traveling to meet would be there and not, say, further up the rain-swept coast.
Sadly, that was not the case. He was met by Scout Harding as his gelding plodded into camp. Her freckled face was hidden by an oiled leather hood that glimmered in the sputtering torches and rain. She took the reigns of his horse and waited, patiently, for Anders to slide off.
“Harding…” Anders whined.
“Well I can’t call you Anders.”
“Yes you can. You really, really can.” Anders widened his eyes and pushed his lower lip out into a pout. Harding laughed.
“Mage, you are ridiculous.” Fenris dismounted with a grace that Anders envied. “She is simply being polite.”
“And you need people to show you respect.”
“Fine. Fine. Just, how about we stick to Herald and not Your Worship. I hate it less.”
“Will do, Herald.” Harding laughed as she spoke. “The good news is that the mercenary company is here. The bad news is that they’re down on the beach goading a group of Vints into a fight.”
Anders’ shoulders slumped. “And of course, I must be there since I’m the Herald.”
“That’s not all. A group of scouts went missing. They were East of our position and in the hills. Further down the coast, a dragon was sighted menacing a giant. There have been some signs of Wardens, and of course there have been the usual problems with rifts.”
Anders scratched at his chin as he thought. “We didn’t come equipped for a full excursion. That said, we do have a good camp set-up right here. We can send out scouts to do some searching for signs of our missing people. Maybe the dragon and giant will kill each other and I can avoid that bit of fun. Let me discuss the Wardens with Leliana. She was getting me information on a Warden in the Hinterlands. He might know something. And...are there settlements here?”
“Not that we’ve seen.”
“Then the rifts are ok to leave.” Anders glanced at Fenris who gave him a proud smile. “What?”
“You are managing this as well as you managed your clinic.”
“I’m just prioritizing. It’s what you do when there’s an influx of patients. Triage.”
“Your words are well-spoken, Herald.”
“Not you too, Cass. Please. Just call me Anders.”
Cassandra looked aghast. “I couldn’t...it wouldn’t be proper...you should be…”
“We’re in camp. We’re wet, tired, muddy, and about to slide down this hill to meet with mercenaries. You’ve seen me as a cat.”
“Oh. You are so cute as a cat.” Harding cooed. Cassandra sighed.
“Well, are we going to stand around and chat or go down and get these people. Bianca isn’t enjoying this rain at all.” Varric nudged Anders. “Sooner we get them, the sooner we can return to Haven.”
“Not sure if that’s better, Varric. But, you’re right.” Anders pulled his cloak tighter around himself and headed towards the path down the hill. Fenris rushed after him, scooting around him on the path to take point. Cassandra headed down next. Varric winked at Harding and followed.
The path wound around brush, short trees, and boulders. The closer to the bottom of the hill they went, the louder the sounds of steel ringing against steel became. Anders heard the hiss whomp of a fireball and reached out to grip Fenris’ shoulder.
“There are mages.”
“They are Vints. Of course there will be mages.” Fenris grumbled out the words but reached up to squeeze Anders’ hand. “Do not worry, my mage.”
“I’m only a little bit worrying. What if they are Magisters. What if...”
“You are worrying more than a little bit. If you keep going, you will turn into a cat and how will that go over with the Mercs?” Anders grumbled, squeezed Fenris’ shoulder, and tried to relax.
The path made one final turn before ending on a stretch of wind-swept beach. Waves crashed against the shore; the dark water curling in and sweeping out tinged red. Swords clashed, magic sizzled with lightning and fire, and arrows flew. Anders cringed at the sight of a person in black armor being hit by a giant maul. Their scream of pain was cut off by another solid hit by the maul, the black armor denting from the force of the blow.
Fenris nodded at Cassandra and then stared at Anders. “Go get them? Go on. Do your thing.” Anders waved his hands at the fight.
Fenris’ grin was feral. His brands lit as he streaked to the back of the combat to engage a mage. Cassandra removed her shield and sword, gave a battle cry, and charged in the middle of the combat. Blue nimbuses flared around both fighters as Anders cast barriers before stepping back to stand with Varric, who let loose a volley from Bianca.
Bianca’s twang joined the other sounds of battle. Anders cast a spell to keep track of both Cassandra and Fenris, healing them as they took damage and refreshing their barriers. His eyes swept the field of battle, and widened when he saw a man with a large sword headed towards them.
He laid down a glyph of paralysis and fought the urge to turn into a cat and flee. The man hit the glyph and froze. Before Anders could fumble up a fireball, the man with the maul was there. He slammed the maul into the chest of the paralyzed man. There was a crunch of metal and a whine of pain. Anders cast a barrier around the man with the maul as a thank you. Anders received a wide grin as a thank you.
The fight wound down slowly. Fenris chased one mage across the blood-soaked battle field while Cassandra put down a small knot of swordsmen. There was a terrified scream as Fenris caught the mage and the beach went quiet. The man with the maul approached Anders and Varric, his maul held loose in his hands.
“You’re the Herald of Andraste, yes?”
“Cremisius Aclassi of The Bull’s Chargers. Call me Krem.” Krem offered Anders a short bow. “Care to meet with the Chief?”
“That is why we are here, yes. Thank you.” Anders widened his eyes at Varric in a plea for Varric to accompany him. Varric shook his head and shouldered Bianca. Anders released his barrier, gave Varric one more glare, and then followed Krem.
“Chief’s idea. Wanted you to see what we could do. Got to take out some Vint assholes at the same time. Win-win situation.”
“Right. Could have picked a dryer spot.”
Krem grinned. “And miss the joys of fighting in the rain? Never.” He led Anders over to some rocks that faced the churning tide.
There, on a boulder, sat the biggest Qunari Anders had ever seen. His horns were massive, he was missing an eye, and his chest was easily the size of two of Anders. Anders swallowed as Krem led them to stand in front of the Qunari.
“Chief, this is the Herald of Andraste. Herald, this is The Iron Bull.”
“Hey Krem. Good job in the fight. We lose any?”
“Naw, a few cuts and scrapes. Couple wounded. Nothing Stitches can’t handle.”
“I...um...I could take a look. After we talk, I mean. I’m a healer.”
“Herald of Andraste and a healer. I like it.” The Iron Bull grinned. “Go take a load off, Krem. Gotta talk business.”
“Gotcha. Nice to meet you, Herald.”
“It’s Anders really but...Herald works…” Anders watched as Krem walked away and left him with The Iron Bull. “So...um...Bull’s Chargers...are yours?”
“Yep. Best Company you can find. We’re fast, we’re smart, and we’re not cheap. Thought you might want to see us in action, get an idea of what you’ll be getting.”
“And you can see if we’re worth working for, right?”
“That too. Look, I don’t just bring my boys in this deal. I may have more I can offer. See, I’m with the Ben Hassrath.”
“You’re a Qunari spy, you mean.” Fenris’ voice had Anders’ jumping. “A Hissrad?”
“Fenris…” Anders left off the “thank the Maker” part of his statement.
“The Lyrium Ghost, right? Saw you in the fight. Sexy.” The Iron Bull leaned forward and fluttered his eyelashes at Fenris.
Anders snorted. He covered his mouth and tried to hold back a guffaw. When The Iron Bull did it again, the laughter broke free. “Are you winking at Fenris?”
“Hey! It never hurts to try.” The Iron Bull leaned back and grinned at Fenris’ pinking ears. “Look. I wanted to make sure you knew about me. I didn’t think it would be a secret best kept, not with your Spymaster.”
Anders nodded. “Leliana is deadly with secrets.”
“Yeah. And a redhead. I love redheads.”
Fenris nudged Anders. “What do we get out of it, then? You, obviously, will be sharing our secrets with the Qunari.”
“Nothing major. All reports will be passed through your Spymaster. In return, you get access to my network. And you get my men.”
Anders stared at Fenris who nodded. “We accept, The Iron Bull.”
“Call me, Bull, Boss.”
“Finally, not Herald. Or Your Worship.”
“Or your furriness. We could go with that, Blondie.” Varric wandered over. “We hired a Qunari? Don’t you remember Kirkwall?”
“Right, right. Sorry. Look, Cass is antsy to get off the beach and Bianca is getting waterlogged.”
“And that means we should head back up to camp. Bull, do you and your group wish to join us?”
“Krem!” Bull bellowed. “Gather the men up; we’ve been hired.”
“But Chief! We’ve opened casks. With axes…”
Anders tuned out the back and forth yelling to stare at Fenris. “He winked at you.”
“And...and…” Anders sputtered.
Fenris gave a sigh and snagged Ander’s cloak. He tugged Anders close and wrapped his arms tightly around Anders’ waist. “And nothing.”
“Oh...oh well then…” Anders relaxed into the hug. “ I just...he’s so...and I’m so…”
Fenris gave an amused snort, bent at the knees, and hefted Anders over his shoulder. With a practiced move, he pinned Anders’ thighs down with one arm and started off towards the path back up to the camp. Anders hummed in contentment and wiggled to find a better position against the spikes.
They walked past Krem and Bull and the two stopped arguing. Anders looked up and caught Bull’s eyes. Bull fluttered his lashes at Anders, his lips quirked up into a wicked grin.
“Hey Fenris. Lucky catch. Redhead and all.”
Fenris chuckled as Anders nearly hissed. “Anders, behave.”
“What about me catching you?”
“Mage, I believe you just appeared in my life.”
Anders sighed, but relaxed. “Yeah. It was a lucky break. More like Divine intervention.”
“You do seem to inspire those.”
Anders sighed again and clenched his glowing hand into a fist. “Yeah...let’s maybe not think of that.” Fenris squeezed his thighs and began the climb up to the camp.
“When we get to our tent, I’ll give you something else to think about.” Those words made Anders purr.
“So...Boss…” The Iron Bull was staring into the eyes of a tattered looking tabby. “Um...Knew you were a mage but…” Anders meowed.
“Is he alright? Anders. Come here.” Cassandra snapped her fingers. Anders slinked away from Bull and allowed himself to be picked up by Cassandra. “It was one bear.”
“That is the Boss, right?”
“Yes, Bull. That’s Anders. He’s a shapeshifter.”
Fenris watched Bull flinch. “That’s his only shape. And he turns into it when he gets scared.”
There was a snort-laugh from behind Bull. Krem waved his hand as he tried to swallow his laughter. “Wait...are you saying that the Herald of Andraste is a non-combatant? And he turns into a cat?”
Fenris shrugged and Cassandra grunted.
“He got away from the Kirkwall Circle as a cat. And he is one of the most accomplished healers I’ve met.” Varric stroked Anders’ chin. “He doesn’t fight, but he can bring you back from the brink of the void itself. And he’s a good cat.”
Anders purred and reached for Varric. Cassandra grumbled, but passed him over. “Why Seeker, I believe you’re jealous that he wants me.”
“I am not.” Cassandra sniffed. “We should keep going. Anders...we need to move on.”
Anders yowled and clung to Varric. “Don’t think he wants to be a mage just yet.”
“I’ll carry him if somebody will lead his horse,” Fenris said.
Anders sneezed and leapt from Varric’s arms. He sauntered over to Bull and twinned around his ankles. “What’s he doing?”
“Anders, no. Leave him be.” Fenris scolded him. Anders ignored Fenris and sat back. He reached up with one paw and snagged Bull’s pants. “Anders…”
“Chief, I think he wants you to pick him up.”
“Come on, Chief. He’s a cat. I think you can handle one cat.”
“Krem. I swear...fine. Come here.” Bull scooped Anders up so that he could look into his eyes. Anders reached forward and patted Bull’s cheeks with his paws. He stroked one paw over Bull’s eye patch and gave a sad little mrrp. Then he began to purr.
Fenris smirked at Bull. “Guess you’re carrying him.”
Bull looked down at the purring cat. “You aren’t going to turn into a demon are you?” Anders yawned and nuzzled Bull’s chin. “Yeah...alright then. No clawing.”
Anders stretched one paw out and tapped Bull’s leather harness. He yawned again, showing white teeth, and then began to groom Bull’s arm. Bull let out a little “aww” before he realized what he was doing.
“Don’t worry, Tiny. We’ve all been there. The last time he did that to Cassandra, she held him through dinner.”
“The Herald is a menace.”
“You’ll want to stay on his good side, though. He’s eaten holes into one of Curly’s socks and tore up his pillow. He’s a cat through and through.”
Bull looked down at Anders. “No eating my socks.” Anders purred in response.
The camp’s fire crackled warmly in the cool evening air. The last leg to Haven included a night at a campsite right at the edge of the path that led into the mountains. Temperatures were colder and there would be frost come morning. The camp fire would be left going all evening to ward off the cold and bears.
Anders sat near the fire with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. It was that peaceful part of the evening where Fenris was prowling the camp perimeter with Cassandra and Varric was oiling and cleaning Bianca. The Chargers added a little bit of noise to the usual quiet, but not enough to bother Anders.
He didn’t look up when Bull settled down next to him. His fingers twitched in his blanket, a nervous move that he hoped Bull had missed. The sigh from next to him meant that Bull had seen it.
“I’m sorry about earlier.”
“Hey. It was kinda cool the way you rode on my horns like that.” Bull slapped his back with a large hand, and Anders let out a little “oof” as he was nudged forward. “Was a little thrown at first, but you’re a cute little guy.”
“Thanks, I think.”
“Gotta ask, were you licking my horns?”
Anders blushed. “Grooming them. Sorry. I get cat instincts sometimes to groom people or rub against them…”
“Or eat socks, from what I hear. Isn’t Cullen your Commander?”
“From Kirkwall. Was the Knight-Captain there. Oh…” Bull slanted a look at him. “You were there, then?”
“For most of my life, yes.”
Anders turned so he could face Bull. “It was a bad place, yes. And yes, I...was...well. I got away. Cullen was one of the templars sent out to try to find me. He threatened me with tranquility.”
“Harsh. For running?”
“Well, after seven times…”
“You ran seven times? Why did it work the last time, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Anders shrugged. “I turned into a cat and broke into Fenris’ home. I got lucky.”
“And you and he are…”
“Together, yes.” Anders rubbed his nose.
“You are the strangest Qunari I’ve ever been near. Never met one. Well, one of my escape attempts happened during the Qunari battles in Kirkwall. Let’s just say that one wasn’t planned well.”
“Yeah, no shit.” Bull scratched his chest and watched his Chargers chat and laugh. “The Chargers and I will help. Don’t you even worry. And hey...can you close rifts while you’re a cat?”
“We could make you a little harness so you can ride my horns into battle. Think of it Boss, right there in the thick of things.” Anders paled as he thought about it. Bull grinned and laughed, slapping Anders’ leg as he rocked and chortled. “Your face!”
“The Herald of Andraste will not ride you into combat like you are a steed,” Cassandra said as she sat down at the fire. “The camp is clear, Anders.”
“So wait...who called him the Herald? Gotta know.”
“I think Josephine helped come up with it, why?”
“Get it. Hair...ald...he’s a cat?”
Anders groaned and pulled his blanket over his head.
“That makes no sense. It would have to be Furr-ald. Purr-ald? Andraste’s Feline? No, that would cause rioting in Ferelden.” Varric joined them at the fire. From under Anders’ blanket came a sad whimper.
“I suppose it is better than the Holy Pussy.”
“Fenris!” Anders threw off the blanket.
“I’m only filling in for Isabela.”
“Gotta say, Broody. You surprise me.”
“And you rarely surprise me, Dwarf.”
“Can’t I just be called Anders?” Anders looked at the group sitting around the fire. The group shrugged.
“Sorry, Blondie. I guess you’re just stuck.”
Anders sniffed and turned back to face the fire. Fenris moved behind him and sat down, leaning forward to cuddle against Anders’ back. Anders let out a little purr of contentment.
“So, are we going to Redcliffe next for mages or to find the templars?” Cassandra asked.
“Redcliffe. We’ll be in the Hinterlands anyway. Leliana was getting me information on a Warden there.”
“And do you plan to at least talk to the templars?”
Anders sighed. “I suppose so. Though how I’ll manage to not turn into a cat while I’m talking is a mystery. Still, one of the templars in Val Royeaux sent me a letter. I never thought of them as people. Not really. Not in Kirkwall. But, this Ser Barris, he was pleading for help. I can’t just ignore that. Not if I’m...”
“Not if you are going to be a leader, you mean.” Cassandra’s look was filled with understanding. “It is a hard road to travel.”
“So you’re going to talk to them both, Boss?”
“I can’t imagine the templars will be much help closing the Breach. Except the amount of magic we’ll be summoning is dangerous.”
“And templars can help keep the magic from going wild.” Cassandra finished his thought.
“Never thought I’d hear you say templars are good for something.” Varric said.
“I worked with rebuilding Kirkwall’s Circle, remember? Cullen was a stubborn fool, but some of the younger templars were willing to move past what happened. And Bethany, well, her and Fenris helped me see how templars and mages could work together to be better, more.”
Fenris hugged him tightly. “You helped yourself.”
“Hah. I suppose.” Anders sunk into the hug. He glanced over at Bull. “Want to come with us to the Hinterlands? There are so many bears and bandits to kill.”
Bull grinned. “Sounds like a plan, Boss. What about my boys?”
Anders perked up. “Maybe have them work with the troops. I’ve been treating a lot of injuries received in training, and it seems like a lot of them involve jammed fingers and bruises from not blocking.”
“Hear that Krem?”
“Yeah Chief. We’ll help whip them into shape.”
Anders nodded at Krem. “Thank you.”
A pack of cards appeared in Varric’s hands. “So. Wicked Grace?” The group around the fire murmured agreement and Varric began to shuffle the cards. Anders yawned and let Fenris arrange him against his side. Night settled around the group, punctuated by laughter and taunts, and Anders purring gently against Fenris’ shoulder.
His advisors were arguing again. Anders stood next to Cassandra and listened as Leliana and Cullen bickered over mages and templars, while Josephine threw out lamentations of the Inquisitions lack of political clout. Cassandra sighed as Cullen slammed his fist down on the table. In response, Josephine raised her voice to be heard over the now constant pounding by Cullen’s fist. Leliana threw up her hands and walked in short circle before returning to yell at Cullen.
Anders yawned as Leliana began to poke Cullen in the chest. In response to the poking, Cullen puffed out his chest and slammed his fist harder on the table. Josephine executed a delicate dance step that brought her to stand between the two of them and began to shake her pen - first and Leliana and then at Cullen. Black ink splattered in tiny arcs over the map and dotted a line over Haven.
Anders let his magic swirl around him. The room grew as he shrunk down to a cat. From this vantage, he had a glimpse of muddy boots and delicate heels. Cassandra was watching him with amusement, her lips twitching and eyes dancing. Anders rubbed against her ankle and leapt up onto the table.
He landed gracefully and pranced over the map, took careful aim, and swatted the marker designating the templars at Cullen. It flew through the air and bounced off of his hand. Anders then knocked over the marker designating the mages. He gave a loud yowl and then sat down to groom his arse.
“Herald..not on the map…”
“Maker’s Breath. Anders. That is unsanitary.”
“We should get him a tiny bell. To warn us of when he’s going to do this.”
The three advisors honed in on Anders, who appeared to be too busy to take note. Cullen reached out to nab him and Anders was up and off the table. He pranced around Cassandra before turning back.
“Are you three done?” He rubbed at his neck and shook a foot. “Because I’ve already decided what to do.”
“Why didn’t you say?”
“He tried, Leliana. You were too busy molesting Cullen.”
“She wasn’t...there was no…” Cullen stuttered, his cheeks pink from embarrassment.
“Leliana has given me news on the Warden in the Hinterlands. A Blackwall, I think? We’ll find him and then swing over to Redcliffe. We can visit with the mages and see what they are up to. If I can get their cooperation, so much the better. Once we are done there, we’ll make a stop here for supplies and then head to the templars.”
“I’m not sure we even need the mages.” Cullen picked up the thread of his argument. “Templars can nullify the magic of the Breach and…”
“And what about me, Cullen? Does your grand plan to elevate the templars include me?” Anders slammed his hands down on the table. “Do you even understand what you are suggesting?”
“I was a templar…”
“Exactly. One in Kirkwall - the most oppressive Circle in Thedas. So perhaps you’ll forgive me if I don’t just agree to your plan to throw Silences at the Breach.”
“It would work.”
“It could kill me.” Anders’ words hung in the air of the room. “A room full of templars, all focusing on the breach, all deadening the connection to the Fade...no matter how talented the templar, how narrow their focus, I will still be caught in the blast of the collective Silence needed. The Mark might still work, but what about me? What would it do to my Fade connection?”
“Then it is as I said, we need the mages…”
“And Leliana, as much as I agree that we need more magical focus to generate the power necessary to close something as complex as the Breach, you are also missing a point. That much power would be dangerous. We need the magical energy, but we also need safeguards. We need them both.”
Josephine cleared her throat. “I do not know if we can leverage enough power for both.”
“The rebel mages will not require political clout to win over, only the truth that we do not see to enslave them. And it is not the entire Templar Order that I would be seeing but a small segment that has grown fearful of what’s happening.
“I believe the Herald’s plan is a sound one.” Cassandra shifted to show support.
“Then that is the plan we shall use. I look forward to your report, Herald. Keep me posted on the Warden.” Leliana gave Anders a blinding smile before nodding at Josie and frowning at Cullen.
“I shall send out letters to our templar contacts to let them know you will be visiting.” Josephine scribbled some notes. “Leliana, care to walk with me?”
“Of course, Josie.”
Cassandra exhaled. “I shall go everybody know. We leave…”
“Tomorrow I suppose.” Anders sighed dejectedly. “It feels like we just got back.”
“Then I shall tell them. Get some rest. Herald, Cullen.”
Anders reached out and righted the little marker over Redcliffe. He glanced up at Cullen and shifted a hair back from the table. “Cullen…”
“I apologize. You have every right to be wary of templars. I just…”
“You refuse to look past your hatred of mages.”
“It’s not hatred. I swear it’s not. I have my reasons. Good ones. For being wary.”
“Fenris says the same thing.” Anders let his shoulders drop. “Maker knows, he’s right. A slave to a Magister? One who experimented on him? He has his reasons.”
“I...I was in Ferelden. Before Kirkwall.” Cullen leaned over and braced himself on the table. “Back during the Blight.”
“I remember that you came to us shortly after. So you weren’t always so stick up?”
Cullen groaned. “No? Yes? I don’t know. The Blight happened and theCircle fell to abominations. I was...tortured...I watched my friends die horribly. I blamed the mages. All of them. Even if all of them weren’t responsible. I’m sorry to say that I was ripe for Meredith’s manipulations. I knew...Maker, I knew what they were doing. To others. To you. I even...I threatened you. How many times did I threaten you?” Cullen stood and began to pace.
“Bethany Hawke took over and I knew i couldn’t stay. Not there. Not under the changes. It was too much. I was contemplating my options when I met Cassandra. She lured me away to the Inquisition. I admit, leaving was cowardly.”
“I need to be able to rely on you, Cullen. You’re the Commander here. And I know nothing about swords or armies or fighting. But I can’t be looking over my shoulder wondering when you’ll…” Anders wrapped his arms around himself. “I see you, and I’m back in that hole again. It’s so hard…”
Anders squeezed himself tightly. “How do we move past this?”
“How did you and Fenris work it out?”
“Well, I was highly motivated by being attracted to him.” Anders grinned.
“Hmm. I can see how that might be a problem with us.” Cullen chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck.
“Perhaps we could try simply talking. Maybe that will help. Perhaps...perhaps with Fenris present?”
Cullen nodded. “I’d like that. I’d value his help in training, as well. He’s a whirlwind on the field.”
“Oh. Are we scaring the troops into behaving now?”
Cullen burst out laughing. “We could have The Iron Bull join in. Make it terrifying for everyone.”
“Maker. I want to be there for that.” Anders exhaled at the mental image. He gave Cullen a shy smile. “I should go pack. They don’t let me sleep in you know.”
“Tell me about it.” Cullen walked around the table, hesitated, and laid a hand on Anders’ shoulder. “We’ll work it out. Somehow.”
Anders nodded and stepped away. But he didn’t run. Instead, he opened the door and followed Cullen out. No trembling, no fear, and no urge to turn into a cat.
“Are we sure we want to do this? I thought you said they would be expecting you.”
Anders shrugged at Warden Blackwall. He wasn’t sure how to explain it any other way than he had. “I met Grand Enchanter Fiona in Val Royeaux. Not that I’d ever really met her before but...anyway...I met her and she invited me to Redcliffe. So I came.”
“I do not like this entire setup. That rift was acting weird.”
“That’s another thing. How often do you turn into a cat?” Blackwall glared at Anders.
Bull laughed. “So far when bears, demons, bandits, and that one stampede of rams happens.”
“The rams were scary!” Anders protested, though he quieted with Cassandra sighed.
“Mages not remembering things are dangerous. We need to get to the bottom of this.” Fenris cut into the banter.
“What Broody said. Let’s get this solved so we can head back to Haven. All this outdoors is making me itch.”
Anders rolled his eyes at Varric and pushed open the tavern door and stepped in. The main room was quiet and fairly empty. First Enchanter Fiona stood by a man dressed in stark whites and reds.
“Herald. How lovely to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. I am Magister Gereon Alexius. I bid you welcome to Redcliffe.” Next to Anders, Fenris shifted. Alexius held out his hand in greeting. He made Anders’ hackles rise and Fenris growl.
“Do not touch him, Magister.” Fenris spit the words.
Alexius slowly smiled. “You are Fenris, are you not? Danarius’ Lyrium Ghost. Rumor has it that you ended his life.”
Fenris bristled, his brands beginning to hum. Anders could see the diplomatic talks disintegrating from where he stood. Gereon Alexius had stiffened at the sight of the lyrium glowing. Tension began to coil in the room, the strain brushing against Anders like a cat brushes against ankles.
“I am here to discuss the mages,” Anders said.
Alexius smirked at Fenris. “Ah yes. I was very pleased to offer them what aid I could. They have agreed to my protection, for a minimal cost of ten years servitude.”
The word servitude left Alexius’ mouth and Fenris surged forward. Anders tried to grab his arm, but missed. Behind him, he could hear Cassandra, Bull, and Blackwall yelling and Varric cocking Bianca. There was a scream and a young man rushed forward to intercept Fenris.
Fenris was stopped with his hand buried in Alexius’ chest. The young man could be heard begging, pleading with Fenris to stop.
“Please. Please, do not kill him. He will tell you everything, just...don’t. Please. Don’t.”
“And why should I believe you, Altus?”
The young man slumped. “I am his son, Felix Alexius. And I swear my life to the Inquisition - what is left of it, at least.”
Alexius gasped. “No…”
“Let my father live and we’ll surrender. The mages will be yours. He’ll tell you everything.”
Fenris glanced back at Anders, and he stepped towards Fenris with his hand out. “He’s not Danarius, Fenris. And we need to know what happened here.”
Fenris growled, but pulled his hand from Alexius’ chest. Bull stepped up and laid a firm hand on Fenris’ shoulder.
“Come on, Fenris. Let’s go cool down.”
“I will not leave Anders alone with them.” Fenris pulled away from Bull. Bull held up his hands but didn’t leave Fenris’ side.
“I think we should have this discussion in the Chantry. I had meant to talk to you there but...this was not how I expected the visit to go.”
Anders chewed on the corner of his lip. Next to him, Fenris was tense, a hair's breadth from attacking Alexius again. “I need answers, but we can do this in the Chantry. I don’t see how one location is better or worse than the other. If you try anything, I’ll let Fenris finish your father.” Felix paled, but nodded in agreement.
“Felix…” Alexius groaned.
“Father. This is wrong, and you know it.”
“I’d rather die doing what’s right than live knowing I allowed you to ruin yourself. Please, let them help us.”
Alexius stared at Felix and slumped. “I’ll need help to the Chantry. I don’t believe my legs will support me.”
“I got this, Boss,” Bull said. “You lead us, Felix. I’ll carry your Father.”
Felix looked up at Bull and sighed. “A Qunari carrying a Magister that was almost killed by a former slave. The grimmest of jokes.” Bull cracked a smile, but nobody laughed.
Anders pressed a hand to Felix’s back. “Show us to the Chantry. Let’s get this over with.”
There was a rift in the Chantry. It seethed with rippling waves of magic that whipped out unpredictably. Where the magic touched, time seemed to stand still. Demons screamed from the Fade with each pulse of the rift. Battling them was a man in white leather.
“A little help, please?” The man yelled over his shoulder as he gutted a shade and turned to take on another.
Cassandra, Blackwall, and Fenris surged forward. Anders hung back by Varric and Bull and managed to get barriers up around everybody before beginning to hyperventilate.
“You’re not attacking?” Felix watched Anders bend over and work to modulate his breathing.
“No. No I don’t fight.” Anders wheezed.
“Hang in there Blondie. They almost have this mess cleaned up and then you can do your thing.”
“Yippee,” Anders muttered.
“Are you...wavering?” Felix was watching magic surge around Anders.
“Shit, Boss. Concentrate. Not a good time.”
“Yeah, yeah. Never a good time. Alright...alright I got this.” Anders pulled himself up and strode forward towards the rift. He held out his hand and pushed his will through the mark. Magic lashed out and gripped the rift. He pulled, hard, and closed it with a resounding snap of magic and ozone. The room went quiet.
The man in white turned to Anders and his eyes lit up, then widened. “Is that Gereon? Being held by a Qunari?”
“Dorian. What are you doing here?”
“He’s here to stop you, Father. Hello, Dorian.”
“Felix. You were to bring the Herald. Not your father and a Qunari.”
“Fasta vass, another magister.” Fenris spat. Anders took a step closer to Fenris just in case there was a repeat of the tavern.
Dorian drew himself up. “I am Dorian Pavus of House Pavus, recently of Minrathous and now of nowhere. Altus Pavus. Not Magister. That’s my father. I know, a niggling little fact, but there it is.”
Fenris sneered. “Not much better.”
Dorian turned to look at Fenris and arched an eyebrow. “Fenris, former slave of Danarius. Well…”
“Dorian, don’t antagonize him.”
“Does everybody know who you are in Tevinter?” Anders asked Fenris.
“I told you Danarius liked to show me off.”
Anders’ expression saddened. “I’m sorry, love.”
“Wait. Are you...with...the Herald of Andraste?” Dorian perked up. “How absolutely wonderful.”
Fenris growled and Anders touched Fenris’ shoulder to soothe him. “Um, introductions. Yes. I’m Anders, Herald of Andraste and all that. This is Fenris, yes. The large Qunari is The Iron Bull. And that’s Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, Warden Blackwall, and Varric Tethras. I think that’s everybody.”
Dorian laughed. “You’re absolutely delightful. So is that the mark, then? Do you even know how it works? Or do you just wave your hand and...poof!”
“It’s rather like healing. See a wound, heal the wound.” Anders stared at his hand. “Or like slamming a door closed. The actual mechanics behind the magic are...well...I don’t understand it. I don’t even know how I got it. But in terms of what it does, I understand that fairly well.”
“Another mage! And one who is intelligent. The South is not lost.” Dorian beamed at Anders. “But...why is Alexius here.”
“Because Fenris almost tore his heart out. In return for his life, he’s supposed to tell me what’s going on.” Anders turned to Alexius.
“I can help with some of it. He’s joined a cult. Predictable, I know. A cult in Tevinter? Why, they exist like vermin. But there it is. It’s called the Venatori. And like any cult, they wish to bring back the greatness of the Imperium. Or some such rot. Why Alexius joined, I have no idea.”
“Because of me.” Felix said. “When Mother and I were attacked, I...I contracted the Blight.”
“The Elder One promised that if I killed the Herald of Andraste, he would save Felix. My only son is dying, Herald. Dying and I can’t save him.”
“How quaint, the leader is named the Elder One.” Dorian sneered at Alexius.
“He is anything but quaint, Dorian. He desires nothing more than to rule from the Black City. He would set himself up a god. I knew it was a poor decision but...Felix…” Alexius sighed. “I have papers, plans, contacts. I will give it all to you if you save him. My life is worth nothing, but Felix...he’s worth everything.”
Anders pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright. Fine. Release the mages to the Inquisition…”
“A large portion of the mages have already left. I can’t get them back.”
“Then the ones still here will be released to us. They’ll become recruits. Cassandra, I can feel you frowning. We’ll go see that Ser Barris next. Felix will come with us to Haven. You’ll be a prisoner and Felix will…”
“I would help in anyway I can.” Felix thumped his chest and bowed.
“I as well. I did not travel all the way to the South just to get muddy,” Dorian said.
“We’re bringing the Tevinters with us? All of them?” Fenris looked faint. “Anders…”
“What? They want to help!”
“They’re Tevinter magisters!”
“Only one of them...the other two seem quite nice.”
“Broody, I don’t think you’re going to win this one.” Varric moved over to stand with Fenris. “We have Cassandra. She’ll make sure they’re kept in line.”
“They are joining as allies. Nobody is keeping anybody in line!”
Varric continued as if Anders hadn’t been talking. “And we’ll just tell Cullen and he’ll…”
Anders groaned. “Not Cullen.”
“Look...Anders...as the Herald…
“Be reasonable Herald…”
“Argh!” Anders stomped his foot and turned into a cat. He fluffed his tail at the group and stormed out of the Chantry. Fenris sighed and rushed out after him.
“I think he’s tired of dealing with this issue.” Bull said.
“The Herald is a cat…” Alexius sounded faint.
“I felt the same way when I saw him do that earlier today. It was a huge shock.” Blackwall nodded in commiseration.
“A shapeshifter. Very difficult magic to wield. He’s quite good at it.” Dorian looked absurdly pleased. “Plus, he’s a handsome fellow.”
“Vints,” sighed Bull.
“Let’s go find him before something happens. Like a child tries to adopt him. Again.” Cassandra grumbled. The group shrugged at each other and filed out of the Chantry.
“Hey Boss.” Iron Bull waved to get Anders’ attention.
Anders changed course o walk over to Bull’s encampment. Across his chest was slung a large deep sack filled with herbs. It bounced across his chest as he walked, leaves waving in the light breeze. Behind him, Stitches chuckled.
“He’s about to lecture you. I know that face the Chief is making.”
“What?” Anders turned his head to look at Stitches and almost ran into the Iron Bull. “Whoa. Sorry, Bull.”
“S’alright Boss. Listen. Tell me you had that elf with you when you went out to pick herbs.”
“I had Stitches with me.”
Bull shook his head. “Next time, take me.”
“Good grief, Chief. We were just down the ways a bit. There were scouts.” Stitches scowled at Bull.
“No good. Sorry, Boss. But you don’t fight. One of us should be with you.”
Anders rolled his eyes. “Yeah Bull. If you want to come pick herbs with me then fine.”
“Hah. Knew you’d see it my way. Besides, we could bring a bigger sack. Get more.”
Anders patted Bull fondly and smiled at Stitches. “Thank you for coming with me, Stitches. I’ll send word when I’m ready to make the poultices.”
“You are taking me along, right Boss?”
“Bull, you’re at the top of the list.” Anders patted Bull’s arm again and turned to head to the front gate.
He had to pass by the army’s encampment - an area of tents and a large practice ring. It was filled with ringing steel and the bark of orders. Recruits sweated in the cold as they were put through their paces. Near the practice ring stood Cullen, arms crossed over his chest and face reddened. In front of him was Dorian. He was leaning forward and talking while jabbing Cullen in his chest plate. Anders sighed and changed course.
“It’s nice to see you both working together.” Anders stopped next to Dorian. “What’s going on.”
“Ah. Herald. This Southern Barbarian refuses to allow me to practice.”
“It would be unsafe to allow a mage to simply cast at training dummies. Besides...blood magic…”
“For the last time. Yes, I am from Tevinter. Yes, I am an Altus mage. No, I am not a blood mage. How many times must I explain this?”
“Probably till you fall over from the cold.” Anders glared at Cullen. “Dorian joined us to help. He needs to stay in fighting shape just as much as your men.”
“Oh. Don’t Anders me. Where’s Cassandra…” Anders spun around to look and found her shield bashing a young recruit. The man tipped over and lay on the muddy ground. “Ah. Come on, Dorian.”
Anders heard Dorian grumbling behind him and the clank of Cullen’s armor. In front of him, Cassandra was bent over the prone form of the recruit and patting his cheek. “Cass, did you give him a concussion?”
“I did not mean to, Herald. Commander, Dorian, what is this?”
“The Commander…” Dorian started.
“This mage…” Cullen spoke at the same time. Anders shushed them both.
“Dorian needs to practice his forms. He’s a battlemage and that means practice like any other fighter. Cullen is concerned this includes blood magic. Which I am sure it doesn’t. He has no scars.”
“Ah. And you came to me because…”
“Well, I was hoping you could come up with a solution that would keep me from dealing with it. Then I could take these herbs to my cabin. Well, first I could heal this recruit and then I could take the herbs to my cabin.”
The recruit gave a groan and opened his eyes. “What happened?”
“You did not block. If this had been a combat, you would have been dead.”
“As opposed to concussed. Up you go, let’s go find someplace for you to rest.”
“Herald?” The recruit was little more than a young man. His face went whiter when Anders wrapped an arm around his shoulders to help him to a bench. “What…”
“Hush. You’re hurt. I’ll heal you and then you’ll need to rest. Head injuries can be a tricky business. Cullen, he’ll need at least two days to rest. Don’t want this to be permanent.”
Cullen sighed. “I bow to your superior knowledge.”
“This is all well and good, but what about my practicing?”
“We could set up a separate training yard at the end of this one. Mages only. If you are agreeable, I would wish to station a templar there for the Circle mages.”
“Dorian, why not train some of them?”
“You wish me to take on the training of mages? You do realize that I am the evil Vint.”
“There you are. Why are you down here? What is going on? Is everything all right?” Fenris appeared at Anders’ elbow, startling the group.
“Good grief. I was almost home when Bull stopped me. And then Dorian and Cullen were having a row. And this poor recruit received a concussion.”
Fenris grumbled and wrapped an arm around Anders’ waist. “Enough. You have been gone for too long. I began to fear that somebody had injured you. Mage, you are not a fighter.”
“That’s what Bull said,” Anders muttered as he cast a healing spell over the recruit.
“And you should have had an escort.”
“Also what Bull said.”
“From now on, you go nowhere without me.”
“Oh the joy…” Anders waved at everybody as Fenris led him off. He could see Cassandra trying to hide a grin while Dorian laughed into his hand. Cullen was shaking his head. The recruit stood and rubbed his healed head. He waited till they were through the main gate to talk.
“I was fine.”
“I missed you.” Fenris pulled him into their cabin.
“I was just down by the water gathering herbs.”
“You were gone too long.” Fenris divested him of his bag and coat before pushing him to sit so that he could pull off his boots. Anders sagged back against the chair and groaned when Fenris kneaded his feet.
“The boots are great, but my feet still get so cold."
“I agree. I can barely stand the boots, but I would hate to walk around without them.”
Anders pulled his gloves off and placed them on the table before reaching forward to brush Fenris’ hair back. “I had to break up a fight between Dorian and Cullen.”
“I do not know if I want to talk to him or just scoff. He is…”
“Very powerful, surprisingly funny, and makes Cullen’s face screw up like he just bit into a lemon.”
“You are keeping him around to torture Cullen, then. Not me.”
“Not you. I promise.”
Fenris stood and braced his hands on the chair arms, caging Anders with his body. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead to Anders’. “Amatus. I do not like the thought of you going to talk to the Templars.”
“I know. I’m scared too. Just the thought makes me want to hide under our bed.”
“Ser Barris’ letter was pleading. Something is happening with the Order and if I can help...if we can help...how would it look if I just turned my back on them?”
“Even the ones who hurt you? Caged you?”
Anders stroked Fenris’ cheek. “I have a chance to prove that mages and magic can do good. That means looking past my own fears and history.”
Fenris sighed. “Let me hold you a while. I know you’ll have to meet with the Advisers soon to plan our departure but...let me have some time. Please?”
Anders smiled. “Not even Cassandra could drag me away.”
“So Boss. We meet with these Templars and then we’re heading South?”
“Yes. To a place called the Fallow Mire. Apparently some of our troops have been taken by an Avvar tribe or maybe just one Avvar, the reports were a little sketchy. The point is, we have troops missing in a swamp filled with undead.”
“And you brought me?” Dorian’s voice was filled with outrage.
“You said you were a necromancer. What better to have with me than that?” Anders glanced back at Dorian. “I’ll make sure your armor is cleaned.”
Dorian snorted, but looked appeased. Cassandra glanced at his preening and scoffed.
“So why am I here?” Varric piped up from his pony. “You coulda brought Sera.”
“I asked. She laughed so hard she fell out of her chair and sprained her wrist. I then had to wrestle her down so I could heal her. Don’t worry. We’ll be heading back after the Fallow Mire for clean clothes, fresh supplies, and to make sure the Templars are there. Assuming I don’t turn into a cat…” The entire group grimaced a little. “Anyway, I’ll leave you there, grab Sera, and head back to the Storm Coast. Word finally reached us that our scouts were killed by some local group.”
“Uh Boss. When will you try to close the Breach?”
“When Solas and Lady Vivienne finish whipping the mages and templars into shape.”
Fenris chuckled. “I cannot believe you have them working together. The look on Solas’ face.”
“Like I had just sacrificed a herd of halla. I know. I apologized. But he’s the best source on the Fade we have. And Lady Vivienne speaks the language of the Circles. I need them both.”
“And you need me covered in mud? Is this because I am, by far, the best looking mage?”
“Anders is the best looking mage.” Fenris growled.
“I have to agree with Fenris. Boss is pretty good looking.” Fenris’ growl increased with Bull’s words. “But you’re awfully pretty, Dorian.”
Dorian spluttered while Anders giggled.
“Be careful, Bull. It’s always the pretty ones that you have to watch out for the most,” Fenris said.
Bull broke into loud laughs while Anders and Dorian protested. Fenris just grinned and took Anders’ hand.
Therinfal Redoubt loomed in the distance. The ancient fortress stood amidst the rain like an immovable giant of grey stone. No flags fluttered from its walls, nor did any lights shine from its windows.
“You pick the best places, Blondie.” Varric groaned. Next to him, Cassandra scoffed.
“This used to be where the Seekers trained. Till it became too unwieldy to run. Why here? I do not see anybody...”
Anders shrugged. “Ser Barris sent us a letter inviting us here. The bulk of the templars left with the Lord Seeker and refused to speak with us.”
Cassandra frowned at his words. “Where did the Lord Seeker take the templars?”
“Ser Barris didn’t know. He said it felt strange. The templars who swore allegiance to the Lord Seeker began to act erratically. Some spoke of power and showing the Chantry what the will of the Maker truly was.”
“Sounds hokey, Boss.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound good.” Anders words lingered as they rode through the front gate.
The bailey was empty. Anders had expected to see fighters training, horses being saddled, or even just a welcoming party. All they found were dead plants and shadows. The air hung heavier here; it was a tangible press of damp and cold that snuck under cloaks and boots. Anders halted at the front steps and slid from his horse. Fear was bile sour in his mouth. He had to lock down the urge to change, to run, to hide.
That fear grew as he forced himself to take a step up the broad entryway to the Keep proper. The air grew colder as he pressed forward. There was an overwhelming sense of pressure and then a sudden burst of relief. Blood poured from his nose.
“The veil has been sundered here.” Dorian’s whisper was both overly dramatic and flatly pragmatic at the same time. Anders wiped at his bloody nose and nodded in agreement.
“This is an enchantment to turn people away.”
“How are you able to push through it?” Dorian slid off his own horse, but didn’t step forward.
“The mark, most likely. We could dispel it.””
“I would rather face an enemy I can see than linger and be caught cowering at shadows.” Fenris also dismounted. His brands flared and he took a step forward. He grimaced and pushed forward another step.
“Wait, Fenris. Let Dorian and I work.”
“Could I do something?” Cassandra stood behind Fenris. “I could remove the spell, I think.”
“As much as I am loathed to agree to the use of any templar abilities, I’d say that would be wise.”
“A bit of a blunt hammer response, but better than the careful unraveling we’d have to do.” Dorian pulled Anders back.
“Do not touch him, mage.”
“Don’t you call him mage?”
Fenris growled and Bull grabbed his shoulder before anything could happen. Varric, still on his pony, was scribbling in a small book. “Look, can you all move back? I’d like to record this.”
“You are not...certainly you do not wish…”
“And the Gallant Seeker stood firm against the Demon’s gaze…” Varric rambled as he wrote. “Go on, stand firm.”
Cassandra huffed, her cheeks pink and lips pursed. She turned away from the group and closed her eyes. The pressure grew incrementally. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she strained forward, her body leaning towards the Keep. The air flickered, fade-blue fire rippling in zig-zagging lines across the entrance and down the stairs. Cassandra’s hands clenched into fists as the pressure grew excruciating. Suddenly, she yelled and power burst from her.
It flared up the stairs and slammed into the stone walls of the aging Keep. Dust and dead leaves rained down in the aftermath of her resolve. Quiet settled and with it came relief. They could hear the rain as it pattered down, settling around them and washing away the smell of fear and blood.
The entire group stared at Cassandra. She turned to them, her face reddened and set, and stopped. “What?”
“That was the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Varric mumbled as he scribbled.
Cassandra gazed at him, her mouth open, and then grunted in disapproval. “It is gone. A fear spell and nothing more. We should be quick and find the templars.”
“Right. Very good. Excellent. Remind me to never anger you, Cassandra.”
“Herald, be assured that I would never use that on you.” Anders relief was short-lived. “I would simply punch you.”
“Right! Well…” Anders glanced around. “Fenris and Cassandra up front. Dorian and Varric with me. Bull, you have our backs.”
“Got it, Boss.”
“I can stay with the horses…”
“You’re coming, Varric.” Anders narrowed his eyes.
“Just thought I’d ask…”
The inside of the Keep was dank and dim. No sounds could be heard but the quiet drip of moisture and their breathing. Anders glanced around with curiosity and dread. He saw nothing but old suits of armor, tattered tapestries, and mouldy rugs.
“A waste of a perfectly good Keep,” Dorian murmured.
“Has that air of Old Circle,” Anders whispered back.
“Smells like the Archon’s breath,” Dorian added.
“Like the room they kept all the bandages that needed washing…”
“The worst tavern in Minrathous…”
“Oh, I believe you win. Good job.” Dorian nudged Anders.
“Would you two be quiet?” Cassandra hissed.
Anders shrugged at Dorian and let his magic swell. Dorian chuckled when Anders flicked his tail and padded ahead. Fenris hissed, but Anders ignored him in favor of peering around a doorway set against the left wall. When he saw nothing, he turned to head down the hallway.
The hallway held little light. The doors on either side had been broken open, and the rooms held ghostly shadows that hinted at violence and bloodshed. Anders ignored them as he padded forward. There was an intact door at the end of the hallway - one that glimmered with a spell.
He could feel the magic, a sticky and malignant curtain that pulsed and shifted and smelled like old blood and demon. He fluffed his fur and stopped a good bit from the door. The magic reached for him, but couldn't’ quite touch him.
A voice had Anders leaping into the air and hissing.
“The door is hungry for your mark. They are in there, in his thrall.”
Next to Anders sat a young man. Pale hair and paler eyes were visible from under a large-brimmed hat. Anders shuffled forward and sniffed him.
“You came to help and I want to help you. But to help, you will need to touch the door.”
Weapons unsheathing had Anders looking up. Fenris and Cassandra stood ready to skewer the young man. Behind them, Dorian was gripping his staff tightly.
“Uh Boss, come away from the spooky kid.”
Anders sighed and let his magic play out. When he was rubbing his neck, he sat down and stared at the young man.
“I know. I’m Cole.”
“So I need to touch the door?”
“He put it there. To block, to sunder, to feed. But you have the mark. It can open and close. It can heal...and kill.”
Anders stared at his hand. “Who did this?”
“A demon. Lord Seeker but not. Two likeness of one. He went to Val Royeaux, but was here.”
“Envious of your power, Envious of you. It wants to feed. It wants to know.”
“An Envy demon. How lovely.” Dorian pushed his way forward. “And it left this little trap here? Delightful.”
“So I just touch the door and I save them?”
“It will make you want things. It will make you envy…”
Anders stood and touched Cole’s hat. “I know.”
“I can do this, Fenris.”
“I have to do this.” Anders looked at Fenris. “I do this, or we leave the templars in that room to the mercies of a demon.”
Fenris punched the wall and growled. “Fine. But we will discuss this later.”
Cole opened his mouth and Dorian shook his head. “Later,” he whispered.
Anders exhaled and walked to the door. He could feel the mark on his hand sputtering - the call of the door’s spell waking the energies of the fade. He let his magic flow into the mark and then pressed his hand to the door.
He was falling, or perhaps flying. Sideways and then down. Then up. Then solid and and in the Circle. A young man against the wall - chained and collared while a Templar ran a bare hand down his naked back. The scene shifted to a dark room, bars, and whimpering. The drip of water and the soft meow of a cat. Another scene. A man with a dark beard, laughing eyes, and a smile and slowly morphed into a vacant stare.
Then an opulent hall. Mages that talked to each other and used magic as if it was nothing. Powerful, rich, in control. He saw himself, a fine robe upon his body and his lover on his arm. Dark beard, laughing eyes...but it was wrong. Wrong. That wasn’t his love. That wasn’t his…
Power snapped up his arm and pain exploded in his head. Anders grit his teeth.
“I have you...I have you...I know you now…” The demon chanted from the shadows.
Anders ignored the mocking words and focused on the pain shooting up his arm, on the solid feel of stone under his feet, on the electric-ozone tinge of lyrium from Fenris.
“You will give me that mark mark to use,” The demon hissed and lunged from the shadows. “You will serve me.”
“Like. The. Void.” Anders gritted out.
“Little mage, lost in the dark. Who will save you? Who would want you? A lyrium lined elf who stabs at shadows?” The voice turned singsong. “Give me yourself and I will give you power beyond belief. All I want is the mark. Then you can keep him safe.”
“Go fuck yourself.” Anders pushed out with his healing magic, through the mark, and into the door. The demon shrieked as it caught on the blue-green light. Anders gripped his throbbing wrist with his other hand and screamed as his magic surged through his hand. The demon’s scream matched his and then rose in pitch until, with an ear-shattering wail, it disintegrated.
When Anders came too, he was being held by Fenris and he was surrounded by haggard men and women in templar garb. “Did we win?”
Fenris cradled him close. “I thought you dead.”
“Takes more than a mouthy demon to kill me,” Anders groaned.
“We thank you for your aid, Herald. We would have died.” A handsome dark skinned man was crouched down next to Fenris. “Delrin Barris, former templar.”
Anders tried to push himself out of Fenris’ arms to no avail. “Fen…”
“You can speak to him from here.” Fenris said. “I am not letting you out of my sight.”
“Fine, fine. Ser Barris. Do you promise to serve the Inquisition and aid me in closing the Breach?”
“Just Barris. And yes.”
“And you and your people have no problems working for a mage or with mages?”
“I swear to you that my people will treat everybody with the utmost respect, Herald.”
“Call me Anders, and welcome to the Inquisition.”
Barris laughed. “As long as you call me Barris, Anders.”
“Deal. Now. Can we go? My head is killing me.”
“So...back to Haven?” Dorian smiled hopefully.
“Nope. I’ll rest and heal myself and then it’s off to the Fallow Mire.”
“You have got to be kidding me…”
“Can I be of service?”
Anders looked at Dorian and then back to Barris. “Not kidding, and if you want to come fight undead in a swamp...then sure.”
“I’ll send my people back to Haven. I have my armor and weapons. I will fight with you.”
“Oh goodie. I hope he doesn’t sink.” Dorian said with a pout.
Anders snorted and looped an arm around Fenris’ neck as he stood. “We have Bull to pull him out. Bull, do you think your Chargers can blow this place up?”
“Boss? If anybody can blow this place up, it would be Rocky.”
Anders gave a pleased hum. “Excellent. Alright everybody. Let’s find a place that isn’t in this creepy Keep to camp. And then it’s off to the Fallow Mire.”
Anders stood under a soggy tent and watched the rain steadily patter down. It was chilly, wet, and smelled like rot. So far, the Fallow Mire was living up to its reputation of undead riddled swamp. The Inquisition camp was situated on a bit of solid ground butting up next to the start of the marsh. A scout had tripped over a tree root and disturbed the water. After the camp had fended off the small wave of undead, the scouts were pulled back to guard the tents.
Scout Harding huddled next to Anders and sneezed. She snuffled into her arm and looked up at him with bleary eyes.
“Herald. Welcome to the Fallow Mire.”
She waved her hand. “We tracked the Avvar to someplace North of our location. In the mire itself. We’re hoping our people are still alive.” She coughed wetly.
“Very sick.” Anders tutted and knelt on the wet grass. He pulled off his gloves and settled his warm, dry fingers over her cheeks. Harding’s eyes grew wide and she went still.
“Chest congestion, infection, swollen sinuses. Harding, you’re a mess. You could be laid up for quite a while if I don’t heal this.”
“You have so many more important things.” Her cheeks were turning redder than her hair.
“Relax. You’re not the first pretty girl I’ve healed. You are, however, one of my favorites. And I won’t let you stay sick.” His magic sank into her cheeks as he spoke.
She gave a shuddering breath and then sighed as the pressure in her chest eased. She sneezed again and looked horrified. She had sneezed on Anders.
“I am so sorry.”
“Sneezing isn’t too bad. It’s the vomiting that gets me. Usually my boots to be more exact.” Anders patted her cheek and stood. “There. Can’t have my favorite scout being ill.”
“Anders.” She stomped and he applauded.
“Very good! Now just keep saying my name and all will be well with the world. Or at least more comfortable for me.” He grinned at her huff of annoyance.
“Anders. There you are.” Barris stepped under the tent and shook off in a shower of water droplets.
Anders’ eyes widened at the sight of plate mail bearing the templar insignia. He could feel the blood rush from his face and he cowered back. Harding put her hand out to stop him and he turned to look at her.
“Yep. Just me, Anders.” Harding kept his gaze. “That’s Barris. Remember him? You introduced us yesterday?”
“Barris.” Anders felt out the name. He clung to his human form by the tips of his nails. Finally, he lifted his gaze to meet Barris’. “Yes. Sorry. It was the armor.”
“I’ll have a new suit made.”
Anders looked back to Harding. “Thank you, Harding.”
“Hey! You didn’t see me when we first got here. I ended up treed by undead.”
Anders barked out a laugh and stood. “I don’t blame you.”
“You could leave Dorian here while you go traipsing off into the undead-infested swamp.”
“I admit that watching one undead beat another to death is good fun. However, I have a feeling I’m going to need him out there. Sorry?”
“Fine. I’ll go get your maps together. Will you set out tonight?”
“No. Morning. I’m not wading through that muck by moonlight.”
“Always so smart. We’ll make a scout out of you yet.” Harding patted Anders’ arm, nodded to Barris, and rushed off.
Anders grimaced. “I’m sorry.”
“You were in the Gallows. I think I can understand why you’d flinch.” Barris stepped up to stand next to Anders. “I really am sorry.”
“I suppose I should go ahead and tell you this now before we end up in combat. I don’t fight. I’m pretty decent at getting barriers up and laying down glyphs. But actually fighting enemies? I freeze. I’m a healer first and foremost.”
“I’m sure every warrior in your group has sworn to protect you. Allow me to say that I, too, will keep you safe.”
“Well, there’s more. I turn into a cat.”
Silence fell between them. The wind picked up and rattled the branches of a nearby tree. The rain fell sideways and then settled back into a pitter-patter pattern. Anders shifted and rocked on his feet. Finally, Barris’ armor creaked.
“Want to see?”
“I had better, yes.”
Anders let his magic swirl out. It only lasted a moment and then a cat stood at Barris’ feet. Anders shook a back paw and twitched his whiskers. Barris stared at him and then snorted in amusement.
“A tabby. I like tabbies.”
Anders perked up and pranced in a circle. He shook a damp pawn and then twined around Barris’ legs, yowling his displeasure at being wet.
Barris chuckled, bent down, and picked him up. “Well, you’re cute. I can see how you got away...and I can see why. Don’t worry. I don’t mind. I mean, if you had been a mage in my circle...well…”
Anders flattened his ears and Barris grinned. “I would have set out some cat mint for you.”
Anders went limp in his hold. Barris cradled him against his armored chest. “Want to go find a blanket that’s not out in the cold?”
“And Fenris, right. Right. Gotcha.”
Anders looked very smug. For a former templar, Barris was very perceptive.
“This place smells.”
“Duly noted, Sparkler.”
“And my feet are damp.”
“And I am pretty sure I’m getting a sniffle.”
Anders snorted as Varric grumbled under his breath. Dorian had been keeping up a litany of complaints since they had set out that morning. He had taken to moaning at Varric and trying to gain sympathy, a tactic that wasn’t exactly working as everybody was miserable.
Anders glanced back at Dorian. “I’ll make sure you won’t get sick.”
“But my feet…”
“I can fix that too.”
Bull sidled closer to Dorian and nudged him. “I could carry you if it’ll help. You know, to keep your skirts from getting sodden.”
“I am not in skirts.”
“Look like skirts from where I’m standing. Boss’ in skirts.”
“Robes, Bull. Warm and comfortable. Besides, Barris is the one in skirts.”
“Technically, it’s part of the under-robe.”
“So Boss, should I get some skirts too?”
“They would be preferable to those pants.” Dorian sniffed at Bull’s pants.
“Hey! My pants are great. Pink and purple plaid is a fashion statement.”
“Well, it’s a statement.”
Anders grinned as Bull and Dorian began to bicker. Next to him, Cassandra huffed in annoyance. That made Anders grin more.
“Herald, how are you handling Ser Barris being with us?”
“Barris loves tabbies.”
“He does? Oh...Anders…”
“I needed to show him what happens when I get scared. He likes cats. And he’s not a templar anymore. Which I guess means we’ll have to discuss the lyrium issue.”
Cassandra nodded and grimaced. Behind them, Fenris joined Bull in teasing Dorian. Anders watched the water next to them ripple and tensed, not relaxing until the water lay placid once again.
“Cullen isn’t taking lyrium, is he.”
Cassandra sighed. “You figured it out so easily.”
“I’m a healer. I know the signs of withdrawal. Why did he stop?”
“He’ll have to explain his reasons to you. I cannot.”
“I can understand that. Well, what do we have here?”
Anders slowed as they came to a small rise. A column of grey stone rose from the damp floor. A dark metal sconce sat on one side, sigils scraped into the curved tines. Anders stalked around the column, tracing the writing on one side while examining the sigils on the other.
“Veil fire.” Dorian murmured. “I bet that’s what it calls forth.”
Anders frowned and gazed out at the water that surrounded them. He glanced at Fenris. “We should make ready.”
“I’m going to light to this.”
Fenris didn’t get to finish his statement. Anders gestured at the sconce and pale green fire burst into existence. There was a breathless moment where nothing happened, then the waters around the column erupted with undead and demons.
Anders swallowed down a squeak of terror as he cast a barrier over Fenris and Cassandra. He turned and cast at Bull and Barris. Then one over himself, Dorian, and Varric. Backpedaling, he pressed his back to the stone pillar and wove a glyph in front of him in time to snare a skeleton. The skeleton snarled, and Anders swung out with his staff. The force of his wild swing was enough to shatter the brittle bones and release the angry spirit animating the skeleton.
He heard a wild laugh as several skeletons turned and began to beat on a lesser terror demon. The demon struck out, but another skeleton joined the group and dragged it down. There was a piercing scream and the demon went still. The skeletons turned as a group, saw that there were no more foes, and gave a quiet sigh before collapsing into a pile.
Anders slowly lowered his staff, looked around, looked down at his feet, and giggled.
“I didn’t become a cat.”
“There’s hope for you yet, Boss. I saw that swing you took at the skeleton. Good job.”
“Is anybody hurt?”
“My pride and my hip,” Varric said. He had been knocked off the small hill and had rolled down and landed in the water. A lily pad was draped over one shoulder and he was limping. “Bianca’s fine but I took a hard hit on my hip.”
Anders rushed over to him and dropped to his knees so that he could assess the damage. “Let me see you. Is anybody else hurt?”
“Barris was injured.” Fenris called out.
“You are bleeding.”
“It’s a head wound. Head wounds bleed.”
Anders rolled his eyes at the bickering and finished healing Varric’s hip. He got up, winced as his knee popped, and approached Barris.
Barris’ face was covered in a wash of red. His helmet lay on the ground at his feet, the obvious reason why there were gashes decorating his forehead. They were long and thin shallow cuts that bled sluggishly.
“I was standing near Varric when that demon popped out of the ground. Varric went rolling down the hill and I got knocked back. My helmet came off and well...it got a good hit in.”
Anders rummaged in a pouch and pulled out a bandage that he used to wipe at Barris’ face. He hummed a little as he examined the cuts, giving a little grunt and healing them with a long swipe of his hand. Barris’ skin reknit and was left smooth. Before he let Barris go, Anders pulled out a small tin of salve and rubbed a tiny bit into the healed skin.
“Maker, you’re amazing. That’s the best healing I’ve ever witnessed.”
“The Herald is a gifted Healer. I agree.” Cassandra picked up Barris’ helmet and handed it to him. “The strap on this is broken.”
“That happened during a fight with the rogue templars. I haven’t had a chance to fix it yet.”
“It is a liability in a fight. Be more careful.”
“Yes ma’am.” Barris gave a stiff nod to Cassandra. When she turned to glare at Varric, he winked at Anders.
“And you. Falling into the water. You could have drowned.”
“Why Seeker. I didn’t know you cared.”
“I do...not...necessarily worry for you. I mean, I do. But…” Cassandra pursed her lips. “Watch your surroundings better.”
Anders stifled a giggle. “Well then. I think...we should continue on. Great job with the skeletons, Dorian. See, bringing you was a great idea.”
“I feel like I am gaining mold in my boots.”
“Still a great idea. Let’s move on before something else jumps out of the water to eat us.” Anders didn’t wait for anybody to speak. He set off down the small hill and further into the swamp. After a minute, Fenris appeared at his side. Anders grinned at him, his grin growing when Fenris bumped his shoulder against Anders’.
“Good job with the skeleton.”
“I learned from you, love. Best teacher ever.”
“Four pillars with mobs of undead and demons, three separate sets of murderous Avvar, three rifts, and an Avvar who talks to the Sky...haven’t we dealt with enough?” Anders muttered.
They were crouched behind a low wall. Beyond the wall lay a road to a dilapidated keep, the Avvar holding the Inquisition soldiers, and a mob of undead. Anders peeked over the wall at the mob and then ducked back down.
“What are we going to do?”
“I could take control of most of them. I think.” Dorian sounded thoughtful. “Of course, there’s the small problem of me being unable to move while I use that amount of power…”
“No way we want to fight them, Boss. They’ll tear us limb from limb.”
“We could try running through them…” Barris said.
“Look Skirts, there is no way I can keep up if we run.”
“Did you just call Barris Skirts?” Ander asked.
“No reason.” Anders turned back to peek at the mob. “Too bad we don’t have Rocky here…”
“I get where you’re going with that thought, and while Rocky can be useful, he’d probably blow up half the Keep with those undead.”
“I do not see why we do not simply fight our way through.”
“Because we’ll die, Fenris.”
Dorian tapped his chin. “I can’t control all of those undead...but…”
“Those Avvar we killed earlier? I can control them. They’re rather large and capable of a lot of damage…”
“I like where you’re going with this.”
“Oh Bull, it’ll be fine. A few shambling undead Avvar versus that mob of skeletons?”
Bull mumbled but nodded. Dorian rubbed his hands together, a gleeful smile on his face. “Let’s create a little havoc, shall we?”
Fenris kicked in the door to the keep. There were handles on the door and the door hadn’t been barred, but Fenris was tired, muddy, and he could smell himself. His foot connected to the rotting wood and it splintered. An arrow whizzed past his ear, and he gave a growl, activated his brands, and charged into the keep with a roar.
Anders shook his head and rubbed his ear as Bull let out an answer bellow and charged in after him. Cassandra raised her sword, yelled a charge, and followed, Barris hot on her heels. Varric trotted after them while fumbling to get pen and paper out. Dorian ambled up, brushing at a mud splatter, and leaned against Anders’ shoulder. From inside the keep came screams of pain and manic laughter.
“We’ll wait till it gets quiet. I think watching your undead Avvar decimate the mob of skeletons pinched their pride a little.”
“Plebeians,” Dorian said, fondness warming his voice. “Your Fenris is quite the sight to watch.”
“Mm. He is.”
“Mind if I ask a question?”
“If it’s about Fenris’ brands or sex, then no.” Anders leaned closer to Dorian and grinned when Dorian laughed.
“Do people mind?”
“What? Me being a mage? Fenris being an elf?”
“That you two are men?”
Anders frowned at the wistful tone to Dorian’s question. “No. Not at all. Or if they do, they haven’t said anything.”
Anders wrapped an arm around Dorian’s waist. He wasn’t sure how to approach the topic, Dorian’s wistfulness, or even the touchy subject of lovers. He gave Dorian a squeeze. “I don’t know how Tevinter is, but it’s more shocking that I’m an apostate and he’s an elf than we’re two men.”
“What’s shocking is what they make you wear when in camp. Really, beige under a beige jacket?” Dorian stiffened at the sudden affection and then leaned into the one-armed hug.
“What’s shocking is what Bull forgets to wear. You’d think he’d want a shirt at the very least.” Dorian sniffed and Anders laughed. “I’ve seen you looking, you know.”
“How could I not? The beastly man wears plaid pants.”
“I’ll thank you to not tease me.”
“Mm. How about how Cassandra looks at Varric.”
“Now there’s a topic worth discussing. Preferably over a bottle of red.”
“You Vints and your red wine.”
“We do like to marinate ourselves.”
The screaming stopped and Fenris appeared in the keep’s doorway. Anders and Dorian started a slow amble forward. The closer they got, the heavier Fenris’ frown grew and the wider Anders’ grin.
“There appears to be blood covering your lover.”
“Is he going to kill me?”
“Nonsense. Hello love. Have fun?”
Fenris stared, hard, at Anders’ hand around Dorian’s waist. Anders chuckled, gave Dorian one last squeeze, let him go, and moved to lace his hand with Fenris’. “Find anything useful?”
“The one holding our men is further into the keep. We were waiting for you two so that we could go kill him.”
“Right well...go on. Go kill him.”
Fenris grumbled. “You are my mage. Not his. Mine.”
“He’s a friend, Fenris. Stop with the possessive growling.”
Dorian held his hands up. “He hugged me.”
“He has a crush on the Iron Bull.” Anders whispered to Fenris. “Don’t tell, it’s a secret.”
“I can keep secrets.” Fenris looked affronted. “And Bull is...very pleasant.”
“Pleasantly large.” Anders sighed and waved at Bull.
“But his pants…”
“They come off.”
Fenris chuckled as Dorian’s eyes crossed. “Come, Amatus. I do not want you alone here. It is too dangerous.”
“Yes. Fine. Here I am. Let’s go kill the big bad Avvar.”
Fenris sighed as if annoyed, but there was a smile forming on his face. He nodded at Dorian and led Anders back to the group. Cassandra and Bull turned towards the door that would lead them further into the keep. Barris took up position behind Anders and Dorian. One good punch from Bull and the door fell inward.
They advanced with weapons drawn.
The scouts were fine. While some had been injured while being captured, they had been kept safe and dry in a room off the main hall. Anders set about healing them while Cassandra and Fenris checked the rest of the rooms for stragglers.
The Avvar chieftain had fallen quickly. Surprisingly, it hadn’t been one of the warriors that had taken him down, but Dorian and Varric. Dorian had frozen the man solid and Varric had hit him with three bolts. The third bolt had shattered the thick ice and the fight had been over. The Iron Bull had been eyeing Dorian with great appreciation ever since, and Cassandra had shot Varric an appraising look before joining Anders in rescuing the scouts.
“This keep wouldn’t be a bad one to salvage,” Anders said as he finished healing a young man. “I know the Fallow Mire is terrible, but the area could be cleansed of whatever taints it.”
“Do you believe that?”
“I do. This is good land. People used to live here. They could live here again. With the rifts closed, the veil should stabilize. We’d need to burn out the rest of the undead and do some repairs, but it wouldn’t be a bad place. Damp yes, but there’s worse places to live.”
“Like where?” Barris stepped into the room and nodded to Cassandra.
“Kirkwall was a shithole.”
Cassandra chuckled. “I have to agree, Herald.
“This does border the Kocari Wilds, does it not? Wouldn’t this land be blighted?”
Anders pondered Barris’ question. “All the more reason to set up an outpost. Something that could help Ferelden could help us.”
“That’s political thinking…”
“Hey! The Circles are filled with political machinations. We don’t have much else to do in there but bicker and read.” Anders hand was grabbed and he looked down at the Scout. “Are you alright? Still have pain?”
“Bless you, Herald. Bless you. I always thought you mages should be locked up but...seeing you heal us...save us. I was wrong. Thank you. And forgive me.”
“Oh good...you’re forgiven. I expect you to have a good meal and go back to Haven safely. Yes? Alright. Ok. I think everybody is healed. Which means we should all get cleaned, eat, and rest. Then it’s back to Haven for the lot of us.”
“And then onward to the Storm Coast?”
“I thought I’d take Blackwall with me, Cass. That way you can make sure the templar recruits are settling. Bull wants to go and I’m taking Solas and Sera with me and leaving Varric in Haven. He wants to write some letters.”
“May I come with you, Anders?”
“You don’t want to be with your men?” Anders raised an eyebrow at Barris.
“If Seeker Cassandra is going to be there, then I know they are in good hands. I’d like to keep you safe, if you’d let me.”
“My own personal templar guardian.” Anders’ nose twitched.
“Or perhaps a friend who simply wants to make sure you come to no harm.” Barris laid a hand on Anders’ shoulder. “Man to man, not templar to mage.”
Cassandra turned away, but Anders still caught her smile. Barris looked hopeful. Anders caved under that hope. “Oh fine. What’s one more sword between me and some demon?”
“I was thinking of getting a small harness made when I get new armor. Something you could ride in...as a cat…”
“Sweet Andraste’s nipples…”
“I would like one as well,” Cassandra said.
“And her knickerweasles.”
“We should make one for Bull, Blackwall, and Fenris.”
“I am not...a...a…”
“It would limit the amount of time spent getting him down from trees.”
“I’m standing right here!”
Cassandra and Barris grinned at him.
“Can it have a soft lining and maybe some cat mint?”
“We’ll see what we can do.”
“Herald, we’re glad that you returned safely from the Fallow Mire. Our men are singing your praises.
“Quite. Several of them have started spreading around how you healed them despite being covered in muck and fresh from a fight.”
“To be fair, I didn’t fight. I cast one spell, and Varric hit the guy with a few bolts and that was that.” Anders said first to Josephine, his gaze bouncing to meet Leliana’s. “And of course I healed them. I wouldn’t leave them injured.”
Leliana shared a smile with Josephine. “Be as that may, Herald,” Josephine said while tapping her board. “The story of your giving and sacrificing nature grows. The fact that you are, effectively, not a fighter only increases the story that you were sent by Andraste herself.”
Anders groaned. “Josie, I’m just...doing...my best. Alright? I’m not holy. I’m not special. I’m just a mage with an extra magical mark on his hand.”
“And who turns furry when scared.” Cullen dodged the pen thrown by Josephine. “Hey!”
“His being a cat is actually adding to the allure.”
“No...what?” Anders looked aghast.
“Apparently, tabbies are well liked. And a few scouts have seen you as a cat now. They described you as “adorable” and “well mannered” and still sporting the mark of Andraste. This has caused a small uptick in cat ownership among Inquisition followers.”
Anders groaned. “Can we, maybe, talk about something else?”
“Yes. Let’s.” Cullen shifted and tapped a marker on the map. “Scouts have sent back reports from the Storm Coast. Our missing men were found slaughtered. A search of the area revealed a group calling themselves the Blades of Hessarian.”
“We have two ways we can approach this.” Josephine picked up the thread. “A direct assault on their base of operations could be done. They are not overly large and we could easily handle them.”
“Or we can challenge their leader in a fight.”
“That sounds...how? Just their leader? If we win, the rest of them won’t attack?”
“It is, apparently, a fight defined by honor. Only the one blessed by Andraste would win. The challenger must wear a particular amulet and walk into their hold. We have managed to procure the amulet necessary.”
Anders stared at Leliana. Her face was a placid mask, though he saw tiny crinkles around her eyes. He snorted. “Right. I’ll see if Fenris would be willing to handle this for me.”
“Are you sure you wish Fenris to do this? A Tevinter elf claiming guidance from Andraste…”
“I know. It would be like a runaway mage claiming to be the Herald.” Anders raised an eyebrow at Josephine. She buried her nose in her notes and cleared her throat. “I suppose I could ask to see who might wish to handle the fight for me.”
“If you could see to leaving him behind this time, I could use his assistance with the recruits.” Cullen said. “He has invaluable weapons training and knowledge.”
Anders rubbed his hands against his thighs. “I was already leaving Cassandra here.”
“So take Barris, Bull, and Blackwall.”
“I’ll ask him, but there are no guarantees he will stay. We’ll leave in the morning. Unless there is anything else…”
“Training of the mages and templars is almost complete. We’ll be ready when you return.” Cullen smirked. “Tell Fenris I expect him to get in some training time after we close the Breach.”
“Good. Yes. Ok. Then, um, we’re dismissed. Go on and do...things.”
Leliana patted Anders arm as she walked by. “Do be careful out there.”
Anders rolled his eyes, but nodded.
The Storm Coast was as wet and miserable as he remembered it. He huddled under his cloak and grumbled as he trekked to the forward camp set up by the scouts. Next to him, Fenris chuckled.
“You look like a wet cat.”
“I am a wet cat. And I miss Dorian.”
“Is Solas not equal to the task of bantering?”
Anders glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the group and then back to Fenris. “Between you and me, he smells a bit like a dog. Plus, something about him just makes me nervous.”
“I have never noticed a dog scent around him.”
“I only smell it as a cat. It’s truly strange. Anyway, it’s not enough that he smells like a dog, he’s also rather smug. As if he knows something I don’t.”
“Dorian is smug.”
“Dorian is teasing you terribly, Fenris. He know exactly how to make your ears twitch in annoyance. Solas is more sly. More...I can’t describe it. He just makes me antsy.”
“Then I will make sure you are not left alone with him. What of Sera?”
There was a sudden spate of angry elvish followed by peals of laughter. Bull’s deeper rumbling laughter joined in. Anders stopped and turned around. Solas was brushing at his cloak frantically while Sera was doubled over and Bull was trying not to smile. Next to Bull, Blackwall was busy attempting to hide in his beard.
“Elfy-tits here got spiders.”
Anders parsed the meaning out and then went to help Solas. “Let me see your cloak.”
Solas grumbled and worked open the clasp to his cloak. Anders swallowed down a chuckle of his own and removed his cloak, holding it out to Solas. “Wear mine and I’ll get the spiders to leave yours.”
“No fair. You're going to do your cat thing and yeah…”
Anders grinned at Sera and then disappeared from view. There was a yowl, some hissing, and then several brown spiders scurrying away. Anders peeked out from under the cloak and grumbled.
“Whiskers are gettin wet.”
Fenris scooped him up in Solas’ cloak and held him against his chest. “I suggest we move on unless we wish to soak in more rain.”
“Piss. Spiders. Fun.” Sera flounced past Solas to stand with Fenris. “Gimme.”
“I do not think…” Fenris stopped when Anders meowed. “Do not indulge him.”
She turned her nose up at Fenris and buried her face against Anders’ fur. “Like’em when he’s all fluff. Soft and warm, yeah? And purrs. Never had a cat.”
“Did we stop for a reason?” Barris slogged up to the group. Next to him, Cole leaned his head back to allow the water gathering on his hat to drain away.
“You are fuzzy.” Cole wandered over to Sera. “You are both.”
“Look here you…”
“I just wanted to see him…”
“Solas had spiders in his cloak. We should move on. We are not far from camp.”
Barris shook his cloak, walked over to straighten Cole’s hat, and nabbed Anders from Sera. “Good. I’m waterlogged. I got stuck in the mud back there.”
“He is very heavy.”
“Cole here was happy enough to help me unstick myself.”
Cole smiled and pet Anders. Fenris pinched his nose. “Camp. We should get there before we all drown.” He didn’t wait for any other conversations and instead turned and began walking. After a moment of feverish whispering, the group joined him.
“I can help.”
“Cole, I brought you with us to help. But Fenris has this.”
“Please. I can be quiet and not seen.” Cole twisted his hands together and pleaded with Anders.
“We’re all going in with Fenris.”
“But he will be the one to fight. He will be hurt if I do not help.”
“If he wishes to help, allow him to help.” Fenris said while draping the Mercy Crest over his armor. The amulet glinted against his black breastplate. “After all, what guarantee do we have that they will honor the amulet?”
“Fine. Are we ready?”
“Fuzzybutt, I’m cold.”
“That means we are. Alright - let’s...do this.”
Fenris sighed. “We need to work on your commands.”
Anders grinned as Fenris stalked towards the fort entrance. He followed with Barris and Blackwall flanking him. Iron Bull and Sera took up position behind him. As they walked he could hear a furious conversation whispered between Bull and Sera.
“Come on Sera. If I throw you…”
“Ya daft. Not lettin ya do it…”
“Ya tit, I’d end up squashed.”
Anders shared a look with Barris, who was trying to laugh quietly. Blackwall was pretending to wipe rain from his eyes, though there was a small shake to his shoulders.
“What if I rode inta battle on yer shoulders?”
Anders sighed. Bull snorted. “Well...that could work...wait, firing arrows?”
Iron Bull grunted. “Could work. We’ll practice it.”
Anders was just glad they had made it to the fort’s entrance. Two men stood guard, both grabbing for their weapons as the group approached. Fenris stalked forward, his hand already reaching for his sword.
“He’s got a Mercy Crest.”
“Let him in! He’s here to challenge the leader!”
Fenris ignored the two guards and instead strode into fort. Anders picked up his pace and the group followed. They made it through the gate in time to see a large man holding a two-handed axe stand.
“Come to challenge me.”
“Lay down your weapons and surrender and you can live.”
The man laughed. “This is the so called Herald of Andraste? A knife ear with a kitchen blade?”
“I never claimed to be the Herald of Andraste.”
“Then it’s a lie. Your death has been sealed. Andraste will not allow me to fall to one such as you.”
Anders opened his mouth to inject that he was the Herald and found Blackwall’s hand on his arm. Fenris had tensed. The man hefted his axe. They stared at each other, eyes narrowed and bodies tense. The air behind the man shimmered and then settled.
In one smooth motion, Fenris pulled his sword and charged. The man gave a roar and leapt forward. Howls broke the air as two mastiffs stood and lunged forward. Their forward momentum was arrested by chains pulling tight and both dogs found themselves unable to do much more than bark. Fenris gave a laugh, parried a swing and phased. He plunged his hand into the man’s chest and pulled out his heart.
The man managed one gasp and fell to his knees. The entire fort went quiet, even the dogs. Fenris dropped the heart and kicked it away. Next to him, Cole materialized.
“They don’t want to hurt you. They hurt.”
Anders gave a sudden gasp and rushed towards the dogs. Fenris reached out to stop him, but missed his wrist. Anders fell to his knees next to one of the dogs, who growled and showed his teeth.
“Let me see where it hurts, sweetums.” The dog whined and flinched as Anders ignored the teeth and growls to run his hands over the dog’s narrow flanks. “That bastard, these dogs are starving.”
“We heard word that you all were coming. He stopped feeding them to give them an edge.” A man had stepped forward and was bowing low to Fenris.
Anders growled and removed the collar from the around the dog’s neck. He rummaged in a pouch and pulled out some jerky, holding it out to the dog. The dog looked at him, at the jerky, and then took it with his front teeth and laid down. The other dog whined and Anders stood to go take care of it.
“Why do you bow to me?”
“You are our leader, Herald of Andraste.”
Anders snorted in amusement while Fenris grimaced. “I am not the Herald.”
“The man healing your dogs is the Herald.”
Anders waved and went back to gently petting the dog eating the jerky. “I don’t like dogs normally, but I really hate to see animals hurt.”
The first dog had finished its piece and ambled over to Anders, snuffling around his belt. The second perked up and stood, also aiming to find more jerky, Anders found himself on his back with two dogs nosing his pouches and licking his hands. “Help?”
“That is the Herald?” The man had stood and was stroking his beard. “I find that I prefer it. We are yours. Do with us what you will.”
“Well, I can’t get up Fenris. There’re dogs.”
Blackwall whistled and both dogs perked up and trotted over to him. Barris offered him his hand and Anders took it and allowed himself to be helped up. He brushed off his robe and walked over to the man. He held out his hand. “I’m Anders, Herald of Andraste and all that. The Inquisition can use good men and women to help keep the Coast clear of dangers and help travelers.”
“Sal, Your Grace.”
“My name is Anders…”
“Oh for...call me Herald.”
The man grinned suddenly. “We pledge our allegiance to you and your champion, not the Inquisition. Whatever you need, we will do.”
“Then...ah...yes. Coast. Guard it. Keep your ears open for travelers. Send word if you see rifts.”
“We will, Your Grace.”
Anders tried to not wilt in the face of the man’s refusal to use anything but titles. “Um. The dogs belong to…”
“Our former leader.”
“Do you want them?”
“Fenris, they need care, and I think I know who will provide it.”
“Aww Boss, you softy.”
“The dogs are yours now.”
Anders nodded. “Well, we’ll...um...rest up here. And then tomorrow it’s cleaning up some rifts. Then, back to Haven.”
“This fort is yours. Allow me to show you to your cabin.”
“And my friends?”
“We have room in the bunk house. I will tell Freja that they are to be allowed free reign, she is in charge of security. And Tam handles the food. He will make sure there is plenty to eat.”
“Too right then. Good job, Fuzzybutt. Got us a dry place. Plus, we helped.”
Anders rubbed his face and glanced down at the dogs. They both sat up and wagged their stumpy tails. “Well then. Thank you, Sal. Let’s get some rest.”
“Herald. If I can speak for a moment? Just us?”
“Sure Solas. Um, Fenris? Barris? Blackwall?” Anders glanced behind him. “Cole, can you scout ahead and make sure it’s safe?”
Cole flitted past Anders and disappeared. Fenris stared at Solas before nodding to Anders and falling back to walk with Iron Bull and Sera. Barris and Blackwall walked faster and took lead. Ser Bed-fur and Lady Waggles refused to leave. Anders shrugged at the dogs.
“Can I help you?”
Solas smiled. “It bothers you. To carry the weight of a title.”
“I’m not a leader. No matter how much Leliana, Josephine, and Cassandra push, I am not a political or military leader. I’m a healer. I know how to cure disease and heal wounds.”
“And this is not the same thing? There is a tear in the Fade. We need to heal it.”
Anders sighed. Lady Waggles nuzzled his hand and he rolled his eyes. “I’m not a dog person.”
Anders glanced at Solas. “I spent a year in solitary, due to my rebellious nature. In between long stretches of dark and quiet and visiting templars, I befriended a cat I named Mr. Wiggums. He would come and sit with me and purr. He and Ser Squeaks…”
“You mean you had a mouse and a cat as companions. Who did not fear each other?”
Anders pet Lady Waggles. “Ser Squeaks would visit when Mr. Wiggums couldn’t. They kept me alive and sane...or as sane as I could manage. I learned how to shapeshift into a cat because of Mr. Wiggums. He was what I knew best.”
“...I do not see the correlation between dogs and that.”
“Templars like dogs. They can help find apostates. But now it seems I have two dogs. Strange company for a mage who turns into a cat."
“We’ve all found ourselves in strange company.”
“Indeed. Qunari, grey wardens, Tevinter mages...elven apostates…”
Solas was quiet. Ser Bed-fur woofed and trotted ahead to circle a tree and mark it. He returned to Anders’ side with another soft boof. “You don’t trust me.”
Anders scrunched his nose. Behind him came laughter as Bull told a story. In front of him, Barris and Blackwall were in deep discussion. Solas was a quiet presence at his side. “I may be carrying some lingering ill will from our first meeting.”
“I see. Because I picked you up.”
“I didn’t enjoy the manhandling, that’s true.”
Solas gave a chuckle. “How feline of you. I apologize for the manhandling as you called it. Certainly, I did not mean to ruffle your fur.”
Anders groaned. “That was terrible.”
“My actions were not meant to intimidate you, but a result of the severity of the situation. I cannot apologize as I would do it again."
“Well, there was a rift spitting out demons. I can, now, understand the need for swift action.”
“I wish to help the Inquisition solve this problem. That is why I have stayed.”
“Maybe we could...talk...in the evenings. You know a lot about the Fade and about spirits. I’m a spirit healer.”
“I believe I’d enjoy that.”
“I’ll have Bull keep Sera occupied.”
“I would appreciate that. She has managed to put nugs in my bedroll twice now.”
“I would not joke about nugs.”
Anders grinned. “Well, perhaps I can help you pay her back a little.”
“Herald, we should not stoop…”
“Nonsense. Ser Bed-fur here just loves to cuddle at night. Isn’t that right?” The dog smiled at Anders. “Trust me, there won’t be any more nugs.”
“Fine. But I did not have a hand in this.”
“Oh me neither. Very immature. Not the actions of a leader at all?” Anders hummed. “Completely thought up by my dog. I mean...the dog...not mine. Oh shut up Ser Bed-fur.”
“Oh for the love of the Maker.” Anders waved the group on to Haven’s gate and turned away to go see Cullen. Fenris turned to walk with him. He got halfway to Cullen when a snowball hit the back of his head.
“For the dog slobber, right?” Sera yelled as she skipped towards the gate.
“I’ll get you back later. You’ll see.”
“Too right, Whisker-britches. Later, yeah? Drinks!”
“Oh stop frowning, Fenris. She’s a good sort. I like her.”
“I was not frowning. I was planning.”
“Well, that’s not what I expected.”
“Bull and I have been planning...things…”
“Herald. Can I have a moment of your time?” Cullen had met them halfway and was looking flushed and breathless. “Scouts saw you and I wanted…”
“Breathe Cullen. Breathe.”
“Right. The mages and templars are ready.”
“Well, I was kind of hoping for a bath and maybe some food…”
There was a howl. Then another. Lady Waggles and Ser Bed-fur came running into view. Anders watched as they both charged up the path towards him. He braced himself and went down under the combined weight of the dogs. Lady Waggles dropped a dead nug on his face.
“Thank you, Waggles.”
Fenris chuckled. “I figured that was where they went to.”
“I was worried. Bed-fur, off...get off.” Anders shoved at the dogs and rolled to his feet. The dead nug dropped to the ground and both dogs sat and stared at the nug and then Anders. “Oh for...yes. Good dogs. Both of you. Good doggies.”
“I don’t know. Maybe? I’ve never seen mabari this color. They followed me back.” Anders squinted at Fenris’ snort.
“Maker, they’re gorgeous. And they have names?” Cullen had crouched down and was letting both dogs sniff him. Ser Bed-fur nosed Cullen, gave a boof, and lunged forward. Cullen fell backwards. Taking advantage, Ser Bed-fur lay on top of him and began to lick his face. Lady Waggles sniffed and moved to sit with Anders.
“That’s Ser Bed-fur. And he really seems to like you.”
“Ser…” Cullen giggled under the licks. “Bed-fur? Haha. Stop...oh...stop it!”
“Well, have you seen his fur? He looks like he just crawled from bed.”
Cullen managed to sit up and looked over the dog. “He’s a little skinny, but in great health. And friendly. And...yes. I can see what you mean by bed fur.”
Ser Bed-fur’s fur stuck out at awkward angles from behind his ears. His whiskers were fluffed in different directions. Cullen chuckled and rubbed behind Bed-fur’s ears.
“Tell you what. I’ll leave Bed-fur with you if you promise to let me at least wash up, change, and eat.”
“I suppose that’s a fair deal. He won’t mind?”
“He seems rather attached.”
“And who is that?”
“This is Lady Waggles. I think she’s his sister. We rescued them from the leader of the Blades of Hessarian. I fed them and well…here we are.”
Ser Bed-fur leaned against Cullen and barked. Lady Waggles nudged Anders and made a whining noise.
“It’s ok, Waggles. Bed-fur’s staying with Cullen. You’re coming with us.”
“She is not sleeping in the bed.”
“Don’t you listen to Fenris. You’re sleeping with us.”
Cullen chuckled. “Then I will see you in a few hours. Then, we plan the closing of the Breach.”
Anders turned to look up at the swirling maelstrom hovering over what was left of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. The anchor on his hand sparked to life and crackled. He closed his fist and clenched it. He nodded at Cullen, turned, and headed to Haven. A good rest and then maybe they could end this and everybody could go home.
There were two lines of mages, a line of templars, Solas, and Cullen waiting for him outside of the temple ruins when he and Fenris arrived. They were all looking at him and it took every ounce of Anders’ resolve to not turn into a cat and hide.
“Herald. What we will do here today is simple. The mages are going to focus their magic into you. You must channel that power into the mark and hold it. Don’t release it until you feel as if you can’t hold any more. Then, release it up towards the Breach. The mages will continue to cast until the Breach closes. You must remain steadfast. Do not waiver. Do not doubt. Do not worry over the mages. The templars are here to assist them.”
Anders pinched his nose and then dropped his arm. “I can do this. Let’s just get it over with. The sooner the better.”
“I go with him.”
“I understand your desire, Fenris, but it wouldn’t be prudent…”
Fenris cut off Solas with a wave of his hand.
“Fasta Vas. You know and understand nothing, mage. I go with him. It is not up for discussion.”
Solas glowered at Fenris. Anders looked between the two of them and then looked at Cullen.
Cullen shrugged. “If he wishes to be there, let him. He’s been in worse places.”
“The amount of magic we are pulling could kill him.”
“You are not focusing through me. I trust Anders’ control. However, should something happen…”
Solas stalked closer to Fenris.
“Do you seriously doubt the mages? Do you doubt their abilities?”
“Yes and no.”
Before Solas could continue, Anders began to walk into the temple. Fenris rushed after him, ignoring any calls and grabbing hands. Anders smiled when Fenris slowed to walk next to him and reached for his hand.
“That man is a fool. As if you would ever use me. The other mages, perhaps. But you? I trust you.”
“I think he was worried you would get caught in a magical backlash.”
“Pfah. I have been through hundreds of rituals. This one is dangerous, yes, but not the most dangerous I have seen.”
“And isn’t that terrifying to think on.”
“I will not leave you alone with them, Amatus. I will take precautions. I shall stand back and not touch you. However, should you need help…”
“I won’t use you. Not even for this.”
Fenris squeezed Anders’ hand. They were quiet as stepped down into the central depression and stopped under the haze of the Breach. Green power twisted and coiled into tight knots that pulsed around a silvery opening. Anders quivered at the sight.
“You can do this.”
“I don’t know. It seems impossible.”
“I believe in you.”
Anders was interrupted by Solas calling out directions to the mages.The mages spread out in an evenly spaced line along the rim of the depression and planted their staves against the packed dirt floor.
Armor jingled as the templars settled behind the the mages. Cullen’s order of “kneel” was crisp. The solid “thud” of armored knees hitting the dirt filled the quiet of the room. Swords were unsheathed and placed point down on the dirt.
Cullen stepped up next to Solas. “They’re ready.”
“So are the mages. Anders?”
“I am in position as well,” Fenris said from the back wall.
Anders turned back towards the Breach. His magic thrummed under his skin, a responsive and cool liquid coil, and he pulled on it, spooling it down his arm and into his hand. He barely heard Solas give a command. Suddenly, magic poured into him. He felt like a water bladder being held under a waterfall. It built and built until he felt stretched tight, bloated and fat with power.
His hand spasmed as the mark crackled. He could feel the Breach now - a black stain marring the smooth veil that held back the Fade. The magic still poured into him. He felt more than full and it began to hurt - a crawling heat that traced over his veins and ignited his blood. He gritted his teeth and held on.
The pain tipped over into agony. The Breach snapped, a hungry maw looming high over his head. The mark lashed out and green energy curled up Anders’ arm. He held out another second and then thrust up, unleashing the magic through the mark.
He felt it grab ahold of the Breach. The Breach fought back, straining to stay open, but the magic pouring through Anders was too much. Anders reached out through the mark, twisting the magic into something nearly healing - a blue-white explosion of power that sealed the Breach with a snap.
The magic whiplashed back in a wave of bluish green energy that shoved Anders across the clearing and into the wall. His head impacted the solid rock. It should have hurt, his skull slamming into the jagged rock left bare from the temple explosion. Perhaps it should have killed him, the force of the throw strong enough to snap his neck. But the power enveloped him in a hot wash of healing and fade.
His blood sang as his mana well was refilled by the backflow of energy. With nowhere else to go, it flitted across the rock and ignited Fenris’ brands. Lyrium burst into blue-white light as Fenris reeled back. A pleasured gasp had Anders turning his head to smile at Fenris.
Fenris’ fingers found his wrist and wrapped around it. The lyrium buzzed in a pleasant counterpoint to the singing of the magical energies. His knees gave out and he slid down the rock facing to sit in the dirt, Fenris collapsing next to him.
“Tickles something terrible.”
“It is definitely a tickle, yes.”
“I closed it. Did you see?”
Fenris turned his head and smiled. “I did. And it was amazing.”
The clatter of armor had both Anders and Fenris looking up. Cullen had hopped down into the clearing and was running towards them. Behind him was Solas, also running. About the time Cullen reached them, Anders looked up to see the entire group of mages and templars peering down at them.
“I’m fine, you know. It looked really bad, but it wasn’t.”
“My mage is perfectly capable of handling himself.” Fenris sat up and raised his chin at Cullen. He managed a serious expression for nearly a minute before dissolving into giggles.
“It still tickles.” Fenris choked out the words in between laughs.
“Hah. Well. Backlash of energy. Haha. Lyrium. Heh. Tickly. Nerve endings.”
“Seriously, name is Anders. Anders...And-ders...say it. I know you can, Cullen. You used to yell it all the time.”
“Is he alright?”
Solas peered down at Anders. He grabbed Anders’ chin and turned his face.
“He is drunk on magical energies. My guess is that the backlash also hit Fenris. Fenris’ lyrium is giving him the same feelings of euphoria.”
“Tickles.” Fenris slid down Anders’ arm and curled into a ball. He began to rock while he muffled his noises against Anders’ leg.
“Not a good place for that, Fen.”
“So they’re fine?” Cullen asked.
“They are, yes. And they will be back to themselves in a few minutes.”
“Aww. I like the sparkly feelings under my skin.”
“You both would be more comfortable back in Haven.” Solas released Anders’ chin. Anders smiled up at him.
“It is. You did well Herald. Anders, I mean. You did quite well.”
“Here that, Fen? I did well.”
Fenris let out a little sigh and curled tighter. He had fallen asleep.
The sounds of music filtered through the cabin’s window. Anders shifted, the covers slipping from his shoulders. Next to him, Fenris let out a soft hum and nuzzled closer to Anders’ chest. Fenris’ cold nose brushing against his nipple finished waking up.
He turned his head to look out the window. A couple went dancing past. Anders looked back down at Fenris and was unable to suppress the smile at the sight of mussed silvery white hair. He pressed a kiss to the top of Fenris’ head and smiled wider when Fenris grumbled.
“Is there a reason you are awake?”
“There’s music playing. A couple just danced passed the window. I think there’s a celebration.”
Fenris yawned and clutched at Anders’ hip. “Let them celebrate. We can stay here and celebrate.”
“Not sure I can guarantee somebody won’t come charging in to drag us out. Especially if you’re making me beg to the Maker.”
Anders laughed at Fenris’ amused snort. They lay together and listened as the music began to grow faster. Fenris lifted his head and smiled at Anders, leaned up, and brushed their lips together. Anders groaned and slid his fingers into Fenris’ hair.
And there was a knock on the door. Anders head fell back to the pillows while Fenris let out a spate of irate Tevene. There was another knock and then Bull in the open doorway.
“Hey Boss? You up? Ohh…” Bull grinned. “You are, huh.”
“Bull, you shouldn’t just go barging into rooms. How uncivilized. My word, hello.” Dorian peeked under Bull’s broad arm. “Fenris, whatever are you doing to our Herald?”
“And you say I’m the rude one. Can’t you tell, or do you need me to draw you a picture?”
“Can you draw? Or are those big fingers of yours only good for finger painting?”
“So you have noticed my fingers. Listen here, Skirts, these fingers are nothing compared to my…”
“Do you both mind?” Anders had shoved Fenris under the covers and was sitting up. The covers fell from his chest and he sighed when Dorian and Bull waggled their eyebrows. Bull took the opportunity to slowly close his one good eye.
“Please stop winking, Bull. Seriously.”
“But Boss. Boss. Your chest...all those freckles…”
“Are mine. Or do you need me to remind you?” Fenris was hissing from under the blankets.
“I thought you were the cat,” Dorian said. He held up his hands. “We just came to tell you that Josie is beginning to get peevish. There’s a celebration going on and you’re hiding. Lady Waggles has knocked over a keg. Varric is sitting on her, but still...”
“I was sleeping. I was tired.”
“Yes well...you need to be less tired now. We’ll go so you can get up. Unless you want to show us...alright, we’re going. No need to growl like that, Fenris. Yes, he’s your mage. We all know. Everybody knows not to touch the pretty Herald.”
Bull laughed and wrapped one arm around Dorian’s shoulder. “Come on, Dorian. You’re pretty pretty yourself. Want to dance?”
“You dance? Well?”
“How do you know unless you say yes?”
They left, the door slamming shut behind him. Fenris let out a little groan and clutched the covers over his head. Anders poked at his shoulder.
“Aren’t you glad you weren’t balls deep in me yet?”
“I suppose. Though Bull would just yell advice.”
“And Dorian would ask if we wanted a third.”
Fenris peeked out from under the covers. “We don’t.”
“Oh no. Not at all. You’re plenty for one. And no more than one.”
“Just remember that, Mage.”
“Ugh. I’m going to find some pants that aren’t beige to wear.”
Fenris and Anders shared a look and began to laugh, the laughter turning to snorts as Anders went to open a chest filled with nothing but beige pants.
Haven was filled with laughter, song, dancing, food, and drink. Anders accepted back pats, handshakes, hugs, and a few kisses on his cheek. Normally, he’d be afraid. Normally, he’d want to hide. But seeing the delirious happiness around him banished the shyness and brought out smiles.
It was a joyous occasion. The Breach had been closed, he was still alive, and he could look forward to going home. So what if his hand still carried the mark - a green, crackling mass that sparked occasionally? He would learn to live with it.
He had just finished explaining to Varric how he was planning on using it to terrify Hawke when the alarm bells began to ring. In an instant, the mood shifted from joy to fear. Soldiers ran for weapons while the townspeople ran for the Chantry.
Anders looked up over the main gate of Haven and saw a force marching towards them. Cullen skidded to a halt next to him and was shortly joined by Cassandra. Anders reached for Cullen’s arm.
“Who are they?”
Cullen shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t.”
“Mages and templars. The ones who got away. He’s very mad that you stole the rest.” Cole had appeared next to Anders. In a heartbeat, Fenris was there as well.
“We’re outnumbered. There’s mages and templars out there. Some of them are...mangled…”
“Mangled? What do you mean?”
Fenris gripped Anders’ arm. “Red lyrium. I could see it.”
“He comes for you. He wants your hand. He wants the mark.” Cole shuddered.
“Cole. Help round up the crowd. Varric and Cassandra? Go with Cole. Help get everybody to the Chantry.”
“Cullen - give me something.”
“The trebuchets still work. If we can fire on them…”
“Right. I’ll go see what’s going on with them. Fenris, find me Bull, Barris, Sera, and Dorian and come back.”
“You are not to take one step without me.”
“We don’t have time. Find them and send them to the first trebuchet. Please...you need to do this for me.”
There was a scream and the gates shuddered. Cullen lifted his sword, his voice rising above the cacophony.
“Men! To the gates!”
“You had better be safe, do you hear me?”
Anders touched Fenris’ cheek. “Go. Lady Waggles will go with me.” The mabari had run towards them after disengaging from a crowd of crying children. “I’ll be fine.”
“I love you. Go.”
Fenris snarled. He wrapped a hand around Anders’ neck and tugged him down and into a kiss before turning and rushing off. Anders watched him dodge a group of townsfolk and then disappear into the crowd headed for the Chantry. Lady Waggles let out a soft “boof” and leaned against Anders’ legs.
“Cullen, Waggles and I are heading to the trebuchet. Make sure the townsfolk make it to the Chantry.”
“I will. Anders...be safe.”
“You as well. Maker guide your sword, Cullen.”
Cullen nodded. There weren’t any other words to say.
Anders skidded over the icy path to the trebuchet that sat just west of the main gate. The gate was holding, but that didn’t mean the path that led to the trebuchet was clear. A secondary path led parallel to Haven’s wall. At the end of the wall was another entrance - one that was guarded by a trebuchet and small contingent of soldiers. If the sounds coming down the path were any indication, it was being overrun.
The first trebuchet was sighting its target when Anders ran up. He nodded to the soldiers. “If you are good, I’ll continue down the line. Tell Fenris that I am headed for the second trebuchet.”
“Herald. You should have soldiers with you.”
“No. Stay at your post. Keep firing.”
The soldiers exchanged worried looks before nodding. Anders didn’t wait for another argument to start. Already he could see fires in the distance. Worse, the wall shuddered rhythmically, a steady bang that had him backing away from the firing trebuchet.
He had just cast a barrier on the soldiers around the second trebuchet when the first templar appeared at the top of the wall. Red lyrium sprouted in a jagged spar from his left shoulder and coated the right side of his chest plate. An arrow sprouted from his neck and the templar toppled over the wall only to be replaced by another one.
All along the wall, red templars began to appear. Anders took a step back and then tightened his hands around his staff. Fear pounded through his chest. He could feel himself reaching for the spell, for the magic that would turn him into a cat into something small that could hide.
In that moment of hesitation, a templar charged the soldiers with his sword held high. He was met by a woman who caught the templar’s downward swing on her own sword. Her blade slid along his with a clang of metal as she parried the attack. The templar’s sword was flung out by the moment of his swing and she took the opportunity to slam her shield into his face. There was a crunch, the spurt of blood, and the templar staggered back.
The rest of the soldiers let out battle cries and rushed to attack the templars in a wave of swords and shields. They were met with templars backed by mages. Anders closed his eyes, straightened his shoulders, and then strode forward with Lady Waggles at his side.
He had little time to plan. Already two of his soldiers were down. The mages were casting fireballs and ice and keeping the templars covered with barriers. He planted his staff, pulled on his magic, and flung out his hand. Lightning split the sky and hit the group of mages.
They hadn’t been prepared for magical attacks and hadn’t put up barriers of their own. The lightning hit the mages and the smell of ozone and burnt skin wafted on the breeze to combine with blood, bile, and death. Anders gagged but didn’t stop casting. He refreshed the barriers on his soldiers and began to heal them as they attacked.
Lady Waggle’s growl was Anders’ only warning that one of the templars had gotten too close to him. A rogue in lightweight leather armor and wielding red lyrium daggers appeared almost like magic at his side. He threw up his staff to block the downward swing of the daggers and was shoved back by Waggles as she lunged forward and knocked the rogue templar down.
The templar screamed as Waggles’ massive jaw clamped down on his neck. There was gurgling and then a loud crunch as Waggles bit down. Anders kicked the rogue for good measure.
“Good dog. Good doggy. Yes. You are a very good doggy.”
Waggles very nearly rolled her eyes, but wagged her tail stump anyway. She gave another growl and ran towards another templar. Anders watched her leap and bite down on the templar’s shield arm. He cast a barrier over Waggles. She gave an enthusiastic bark
and bit a templar’s leg.
The templar raised his sword to hit Waggles and an arrow appeared in his head. Sera skidded to a stop next to Anders.
“Eat it!” She nocked another arrow and let it fly. It hit the templar again and he tipped over. “Ate it.”
There was a roar behind Anders. Bull, Barris, and Fenris charged into the battle. Dorian stopped next to Anders and bent over, panting.
“Came as fast as we could.”
“Mustache can’t run.”
“I was drunk.”
“Hard to be drunk when there’s a fight for our life going on.”
“Sera, Dorian...could we maybe have this discussion later?”
“Right. Needs arrows. Got ‘em!” Sera crowed and let fly another arrow.
Dorian stepped in front of Anders and raised his staff. The dead templars shivered and stood. “Making it a little bit more even.”
“Creepy.” Sera muttered as she hit another templar in the face with an arrow.
Dorian grunted. The undead templars turned and joined the fight. They ignored the templars and swarmed the mages. A fireball hit one of the undead and turned it into a shambling torch. Two undead dragged a mage down and bludgeoned them to death.
Blood soaked the snow, the walls, the wood of the trebuchet. More soldiers joined them, the new wave splitting to allow the trebuchet to be manned. Anders watched as it fired off another boulder.
“We need to get to the next trebuchet. We’ll only survive if we can bury the enemy.”
Dorian nodded. “Who wants to tell them?”
Bull, Barris, and Fenris were covered in gore. They were tearing through the enemy with a viciousness that left Anders breathless.
“Fenris! Regroup. Next trebuchet!”
Fenris gave a brief nod as he decapitated a templar.
“Alright. Let’s go.” Anders refreshed his and Sera’s barrier. Dorian made sure everybody else was covered. Then they began the run to the next trebuchet.
The next trebuchet was over-run. Bodies lay bleeding out into the snow. The sobs of the dying mixed with the sounds of battle as the remaining Inquisition soldiers tried to fight off the growing mob. Anders skidded to a stop by a young man who was screaming.
“Go. Help them. Let me do what I do best. Dorian and Sera will stay near me and I have Waggles. Go get that trebuchet back.”
Fenris nodded, a sharp dip of his head, and took lead. Bull and Barris hesitated, but Anders snarled, and they both followed Fenris into battle.
“Don’t worry, I can help them from here.” Dorian’s arms swept out and the dead Inquisition soldiers shuddered and stood. Sera muttered darkly as she knocked an arrow, but didn’t say anything as she let it fly to hit a red templar. Waggles whined a little and pressed against Anders’ legs.
Anders ignored it all. He bent down and poured healing energy into the young man. Within moments, his wounds were healed and he was standing. Eyes wide, he stared at Anders. Then he shook his head, grabbed his sword and charged back into the battle.
Anders tried not to think about how he had saved that young man’s life only for him to rush back into battle. He tried to ignore how fervently the healed soldiers fought. How they yelled his name as a battle cry. His healing had always been used to offer help - never to push soldiers back into a fight that it didn’t look like they could win.
The trebuchet squealed and fired. The fighting was still thick and fast, but the soldiers had managed to get the trebuchet loaded and working again. The boulder hit the mountain pass at the same time a shadow fell over Haven. Anders looked up and saw a dragon winging its way over the small town and his heart sank.
Fire scorched the ground and new screams erupted. The dragon circled and laid down a line of fire that set buildings and people ablaze. Anders inhaled sharply as the beast dove down and snapped a man up, shook him, and let him go.
“We can’t fight that. We need to get to the Chantry. We need Cullen.”
He met the young man’s eyes who he had saved. The young man raised his sword in acknowledgement and then nodded. Nobody would argue his command. He turned away and began to run back to the main town. He didn’t want to stay and see the young man cut down.
“We have no way to fight that dragon. Face it, we’re lost. All we can decide is how we die.”
Cullen’s words hit Anders like a slap across the face. He gaped from his position next to an older cleric, Roderick, who was mortally wounded. Anders shook himself and pressed more healing magic into the man’s gut.
“We are not dying here.” Fenris pushed himself against Cullen’s chest.
“How do you propose we fight that thing?”
“I don’t. Sometimes you fight and sometimes you have to give ground. I thought, as a Commander, you would understand the concept of battle tactics.”
The barb hit and Cullen flushed.
“There is a path…” The man’s voice was faint, but growing stronger as Anders struggled to knit torn flesh.
“The pilgrim’s path, yes. I know of it.” Leliana stepped forward. “We could take the people through it.”
“There’s a trebuchet still, or there was.” Barris said. “One good hit on the mountainside would bury the forces.”
“It would bury Haven,” Cullen said, frowning. “But if we evacuate, we could save the townsfolk.”
Anders stood and helped Roderick up. Roderick steadied himself. “Thank you, Herald. I know I said things, terrible things, to you. In my anger and sorrow, I looked to cast blame on anyone, and you were there. So convenient to blame. But all that you’ve done, it’s shown me the error of my ways.”
“Well...I mean, I’d blame me. If I was you.”
“I know the path you speak of, Lady Leliana. I could lead the people. Get them to safety.”
“We need a distraction,” Cullen said.
Anders didn’t look at Fenris. He didn’t look at any of them. “I was looking forward to going home.”
“It’s ok, Fenris. I had a feeling this mark was going to be the death of me.”
“No...surely somebody else…anybody else…”
“The Elder One comes for him.” Cole spoke up. “Only he can do this. It’s alright to be afraid. I will go with you to help.”
“I’m going as well. I won’t leave you alone, Amatus.”
“Kaffas, I am going too.”
“Boss, no way I’m letting you back into that mess without me.”
“If they’re going, I’m going.” Barris’ armor jangled as he crossed his arms.
“If we’re doing this, we need to go now. Cassandra, keep Roderick safe. Cullen, get the people away. Get them far away.”
“Maybe you’ll find a way to…” Cullen straightened himself. “Yes, Herald. Maker watch over you.”
“And you as well.”
Haven burned. The walls had been breached and red templars and mages swarmed up and down the line of trebuchet. Haven soldiers fought and died and were slowly pushed back towards the Chantry.
“The last trebuchet has the best chance of getting off a shot. Fenris, you and Bull take point. Cole, you’re back with Barris. Dorian and Waggles are with me. We don’t stop till we get to that trebuchet.”
Fenris glanced at Anders, nodded, and gripped his sword. Bull stepped next to him and swung his axe from his shoulder. Behind him, Anders could hear Barris whispering to Cole.
Fenris and Bull took off running. They went around the outer loop of the village. Passed Dorian’s small cottage, the apothecary, and the cabin Solas had taken over. Past the tavern, burning and falling in. Past the row of merchants stalls that had grown the more Anders had worked for the Inquisition.
They gained the stretch of path that ran parallel to the wall. The fighting was thickest here. Two of the trebuchets were on fire. A third was being pulled down by two monstrous things covered in spikes of red lyrium.
Anders yelled to ignore them and keep running. His heart broke. All around him lay dead soldiers - men and women he had healed, laughed with, gotten to know. People who had pledged their lives for the Inquisition and had died for their beliefs.
They came up on the last trebuchet and found it still standing. Fenris and Bull immediately took off towards the fighting to help the soldiers. Barris and Cole stayed with Anders, Dorian and Waggles as they made their way to the trebuchet.
It was loaded but not prepped. Anders began to crank back the arm while Barris, Cole, Dorian and Waggles circled him. Another wave of templars appeared and immediately attacked. Anders couldn’t look, he couldn’t take his concentration off of the trebuchet. He fought with the crank, his muscles screaming as he worked to turn the wooden wheel.
Barris screamed. Waggle howled and there was a crunch of bones breaking. Anders closed his eyes and kept turning. He kept fighting to get the trebuchet primed. Even when he heard Fenris give a pained yell, he kept working till the trebuchet wheel stopped turning.
He opened his mouth to yell that he was ready when there was the harsh flap of wings and the shadow of the dragon. He dove away from the trebuchet and rolled. When he stood, he saw that everybody was behind the dragon - everybody but him and Waggles. Waggles was growling, body hunched, teeth exposed.
“Go!” He screamed the word. “Go. I’ll set this off.”
“No!” Fenris charged forward only to stop at the snap of dragon’s teeth. “Anders! Amatus!”
“Go…” Anders whispered, watching as Bull wrestled Fenris over his shoulder. “I can do this.”
Waggles growled again, a low menacing sound. The dragon swung back around and advanced on Anders and Waggles.
“Don’t attack, Waggles. Don’t…”
Anders staggered back, pulling Waggles with him. He glanced back to see if they could make a run and watched in horror as a tall man riddled with red lyrium stalked towards them.
“Bow before the Elder One.”
“Um...no?” Anders took a step to the side and found himself too close to the dragon. “Look, so...I don’t know what you want…”
“What I want has been spoiled by your meddling. Stupid, foolish child. Do you even know what you possess?”
“No?” Anders found himself pressing against the trebuchet.
The Elder One reached for him and Waggles lunged forward. She was grabbed and thrown, her body hitting the rocky wall next to the dragon. Anders gasped and then glared as his anger overruled his fear.
“That’s my dog, you ass!” He ran for Waggles and found himself grabbed by the Elder One and lifted.
His shoulder screamed in pain as he dangled above the ground. “How dare you attack me. How dare you think to even oppose me. I will have your mark and then...then I will step into the fade and rule this world. You will give me what I want.”
Anders pulled at the tight grip, wiggled and kicked and lashed out. “Delusions of grandeur. Put me down!”
The Elder One shook him. “You will die for your insolence.”
There was a growl and then Waggles leapt up and bit down on the Elder One’s arm. The Elder One cried out and threw Anders, Waggle’s following as she was pried off a boney, grey arm. Anders hit the trebuchet and Waggles landed on him. Something cracked and pain burst through his body.
Ears ringing, he sat up and realized he was right next to the release lever. The Elder One was talking, his words lost in dizzy disorientation. Anders stared at that lever and reached out. His hand closed over the icy cold wood.
The smooth pull of the lever woke Anders up from his haze. The trebuchet launched with a jerk and screeching creak. The whistle of the boulder flying through the air ended with a soft “puff” followed by a deafening rumble. The rumble grew louder as snow and ice began to cascade down the mountain side. It swept over trees and rocks and the road leading to Haven and tumbled over the invaders in a wash of rubble.
Anders sank back and sighed, pulling Waggles to him. She whined and buried her head against his chest, a warm weight in his arms. He watched over her bulk as the Elder One reached out for the dragon and was plucked up by one large claw.
Seconds, Anders thought. He had seconds before he would be buried. He wished he could have kissed Fenris one more time. Held him. Told him how much he was loved and cherished. He wished he could have seen home one more time. Healed one more child. Chased one more mouse.
The trebuchet tilted wildly as the wall buckled. It skidded sideways and dumped Anders and Waggles over. Anders tightened his grip on Waggles as his shoulder hit the edge of a sharp rock. More pain blossomed.
He fell. Cold, wet snow pushed him down into the dark. He struggled, reaching out to grasp at anything that would stop the fall, but his fingers grazed over sharp rock too slick with ice to grab onto.
He landed on his side, his breath knocked from him. Snow drifted down to cover him and Waggles. Everything hurt. His shoulder felt crushed. One of his ribs was broken. His leg was twisted.
Waggles gave a groan and wiggled from his arms. She licked a wet, cold stripe up the side of his face.
“We’re not dead!” Anders laughed and then groaned. He slid his hand down his side and into a pouch. Broken glass pricked his fingers, but he found one vial still in tact. Pulling it out, he laughed. Blue lyrium sparkled in the small amount of light leaking from the snow-covered hole.
“We’re in luck. One left.” Anders thumbed open the vial and chugged down the lyrium.
Cold power swept through his body. He pulled on his magic and sighed in relief as bones healed. The pain ebbed away, and he was left stiff and sore. He reached out and pressed a hand against Waggles and pushed healing into her. Her response was to cover his face in drooly dog kisses.
“Alright! Alright. Look, there’s supposed to be a path. Do you know the path?”
“Could you find the path?”
Waggles wiggled her tail and yipped.
“Right. I think this calls for me to be a cat. If we’re lucky, we’ll catch up to them. Good job with that Elder One. I think you bit him twice!”
Waggles pranced proudly. Anders pet her head and then cast. His magic pulsed out and he shrunk down into a cat. He shook out his back paw and yowled in displeasure when Waggles licked the top of his head. Waggles nudged Anders and the two of them set off down the only path out of the cave.
Gale force winds and blizzard conditions lowered visibility to almost zero. Waggles walked with her nose to the ground. Anders followed closely, walking in the snow disturbed by Waggles. It was slow going. Waggles found the path, but the constant wind and falling snow hid all visual clues. They relied, instead, on Waggles sense of smell.
Anders nipped at Waggle’s tail. His paws were freezing in the snow. He shivered and waited for Waggles to stop moving. Once she stopped, he leapt to her back and curled up in her fur. She gave a soft boof and continued on.
The trees thinned out. They were climbing now, the path winding switchback further up into the mountains. Waggles was lagging from the cold and exhaustion. Anders jumped down from her back and allowed his spell to end. He shook off the lingering tingles of magic and pressed a hand to Waggle’s back to push warmth into her.
She licked his hand and gave him a weary smile. He was glad that she was with him. He wasn’t alone. She was there to stand with him. He wished for Fenris, too.
Oh how Fenris was going to yell when they found him. There would be Tevene curses and the brilliant light of his brands flashing as he stalked and yelled and shook his fists. And then he would gather Anders up and hold him close.
It felt so real, the warm feeling of Fenris’ hands. The smell of sword polish and leather seemed to surround Anders. He opened his eyes and found himself on his knees in the snow with Waggles whimpering and nudging him with her cold nose.
Exhaustion pulled at him. He had healed his broken bones, but he was still bruised and battered, cold and sore and pushed to his limit. He gripped the fur at Waggle’s neck, dug his fingers into her compact muscles, and let her guide him up the path.
He stumbled, his knees hitting the snowy ground. Waggles sniffed around a cold camp fire. She nosed the burnt wood and wagged her tail. Anders watched her trot back to him and nudge him. It hurt so much to stand. Everything hurt. Everything was cold. He put his hand back on Waggles back and let her lead him further into the mountains.
He couldn’t feel his feet anymore. Or his hands. His lips tasted like icy blood when he licked them. The snow was falling sideways now. It slide under the hood of his cloak, down his shirt, and piled over his boots. Breathing hurt. He couldn’t feel Waggles under his hands. She whined, but didn’t stop. She kept leading him into the blizzard.
The snow felt warm. It shouldn’t. It was snow. Anders’ mind tried to wrestle with the conflicting feelings of hot icy cold that surrounded him. He lifted his head, the snow coating the side of his face, and squinted against the shimmer of ice. He could swear he saw fires in the distance and heard his name being yelled.
Exhaustion filled him. It felt good to lie here on the soft snow. His body was numb finally. The pain had melted away. He just needed to close his eyes and rest and then everything would be ok.
He reached for Waggles and his hand fell to land in the snow. He frowned. Waggles was missing? Had she left him?
The floating feeling slid away under the weight of loneliness. Anders huffed in a breath and crawled forward.
“Waggles?” His voice was a cracked whisper. “Don’t leave me…”
Barking on the wind. Yells. His name? Anders squinted and saw shapes coming towards him. His magic tried to gather, but it sputtered under the weight of his exhaustion. He collapsed fully into the snow and waited for the attack.
Strong arms wrapped around him. Anders felt himself being lifted and cradled against a strong chest. He turned his head to see who was holding him and met Fenris’ gaze.
“Never again, Amatus. You hear me? Never again.” Fenris’ voice broke on the words. He clutched Anders to his chest. “I thought you dead. I watched...the snow covered Haven and I thought you dead.”
“You will never force me to leave you again, do you hear me?” Fenris was sobbing against him, his tears scalding hot against the cold of his skin.
“Come on, Fen. Let’s get the Boss back to camp. He looks like he needs to be warmed up and fed.”
Fenris sniffled and nodded, clutching Anders closer.
“She’s with us. That dog can sleep in our bed forever. I owe her your life.”
“Fenris. I’m sorry.”
Fenris sobbed a laugh. “You know you would do it again. I thought…”
“I know. I know and I’m sorry. You found me.”
“You found us. Amatus, you did it. You saved us all...and you came back to me. Promise me…”
“I promise, Fen. I do.”
Fenris squeezed him and carried him into the bright light of the camp. Anders heard the shocked murmurs ripple through the camp as he was carried to a tent near a large fire. Fenris marched into the tent and laid him on a pile of furs and blankets.
Waggles crawled in and curled up down by Anders feet while Fenris set to work pulling off Anders’ sodden clothes. Anders allowed him to fuss, touched his hands as he rubbed him down with a towel, and smiled when Fenris helped him into clean clothes.
“There’s probably a lot to do…”
Fenris stared at him and began to pull off his armor.
“I should go see about the others?”
Fenris sat down and pulled off his boots.
“See about the survivors? Fenris?”
Fenris stretched out over Anders and cupped his face.
“You will stay here for now. You will let me kiss you and hold you. You will eat something and get some rest. And then...only after all of that...will you go out there and work. Do you understand me?”
Anders went lax under Fenris. “Yes.”
Fenris smiled and pressed a kiss to his nose. “Good. They need you, but so do I. Please...let me hold you…”
“I don’t think Waggles will let me up anyway. She just stole my boots.”
Waggles gave a soft boof and put her head down on Anders boots. Fenris chuckled and pulled a blanket over them all.
“Good dog,” Fenris whispered.
Fenris nuzzled against Anders’ neck, and Anders couldn’t disagree. Waggles was a good dog.
Kisses spread over Anders shoulders and up his neck. He squirmed and buried his face in the warm furs. A low chuckle vibrated against Anders’ back and the kisses turned into sharp nips. He groaned and spread his legs.
“Tempting.” Fenris’ voice rasped against his ear.
“Mm. It is, yes.”
“Maker. I don’t want to walk anymore today. I’d rather stay in bed with you and Waggles.”
“We need to move on. No sense in being in a tent if Solas says he knows of an actual building or town or something.”
“The main question I have is - how? How does he know this? The last time I asked him he said he saw it in a dream. I think I’m taking direction from a man suffering from a mental break.”
Fenris settled against Anders’ back. His fingers stroked over the length of Anders’ neck.
“It worries you.”
“It doesn’t worry you?”
“After following Hawke for so long, nothing surprises me anymore.”
“Well...I can’t argue with that. Look what happened to me. Hawke sends me to one meeting, and I end up leading the Inquisition.”
“Yes, and when I see her again, I plan on having a long talk with her about putting you in danger. That said, I am very proud of you.”
“I’m not doing too badly for a mage with no leadership ability. Or fighting ability. Or diplomacy.”
“I’ll admit that your fighting ability is not up to par for the battles like what we go through. But I would say that is offset by the group of people you have assembled. I would argue that you have excellent leadership ability and diplomacy. You are a healer who ran a clinic in Kirkwall. It is obvious that you understand hard choices and organization.”
Fenris pressed a kiss to the back of Anders’ neck. “This is not simple flattery. I am serious. You are doing very well. I am proud to stand at your side, Amatus.”
Anders allowed himself the luxury of basking in Fenris’ praise for a minute more before pushing up with his arms. Fenris rolled to the side and sat up while he shoved at Waggles.
“Time to get up, Waggles.”
Waggles sighed but stood and stretched. She loudly yawned and then trotted to the tent flap to peek out. Cold air filtered into the tent and spurred Anders and Fenris to dress. Anders helped Fenris into his boots and settled a warm clock around his shoulders before pulling on his own cloak.
“I will dismantle the tent and pack the furs. Go get your meeting out of the way. I will find you at the food tent.”
“I love you.”
Fenris smiled. “I love you too.”
“Anders, walk with me.”
Solas was standing just outside the tent when Anders emerged. Anders stared up at the sky and then turned his stare on Solas.
“Morning, Solas. Fine day. Looks like it’ll remain clear for once. Why yes, I did sleep well. And you?”
Solas’ lips twitched. “Good Morning, Anders. I did sleep well, yes. I am pleased you did as well. Now we can walk?”
“I suppose. I mean, I did just stumble out here…”
“It will be worth the walk before breakfast, I promise it.”
Anders followed Solas to the edge of camp. Waggles ranged in front of them and sniffed at the snow, the tents, and the guards. Anders snapped his fingers when Solas turned to climb a small ridge just on the northern outskirts of camp. Waggles followed, her ears up and alert.
The ridge circled around to the northwest. The trees and ground fell away as Anders stepped to the edge of the ridge. There, nestled between two tall peaks, was a large stone keep. The sun slanted down and hit the portcullis that overlooked a broad stone bridge. Tall towers guarded the corners of the walls. In the middle rose a multi-story building.
“What is it?”
“That is Skyhold. The place I told you about.”
“Solas...how is this place empty? How did you know of it? How did you know to find it?”
Solas smiled. “Dreams, stories...history passed down. Knowledge is there for those who know where to look, Anders.”
Anders leveled a stare at Solas. “Honestly. That’s your answer?”
“A little mystery in life adds flavor and spice.”
“If that place is filled with shambling horrors, we are going to have problems.”
Solas burst out laughing.
“It should only be filled with dust and some falling down walls. It is an old elven site. One of great power. Others have used it since and added their own power. It will serve us well, I think.”
“How long to get there?”
“Late afternoon is my estimation. We can all sleep under a roof tonight.”
“Solas this is...amazing. Thank you. You’ve saved us.”
“No Anders. You’ve saved us. I’ve just given you the tools to succeed. Now go eat. We should get the camp packed so we can get on our way.”
The portcullis was up, the gates open, and the courtyard empty except for dead leaves and rubble. Anders took a step forward and gazed up at the main tower of Skyhold Keep. It called to him, and he turned towards the stairs that led up to the front doors without thought.
Behind him he could hear wagons rolling into the courtyard, soldiers stamping around and rushing to secure everything, the yelling of officers and the excited chatter of the surviving villagers. He heard his name, but didn’t stop moving. He couldn’t. The doors to the tower called to him and he had to answer that call.
He reached the main landing when Fenris caught up to him. Fenris reached for his arm, and Anders shook his head.
“I need to do this.”
“Open the Keep. I need to open the doors.”
Anders turned back to look at Fenris. “The Keep wants me to.”
Anders ignored him and reached out to the door. His fingers brushed over the cool metal of the handle and a jolt of energy shot up his arm. He wrapped his hands around the handle and pulled. There was a squeal of metal, the creak of wood, and then a sound like an exhalation.
Next to him, Fenris clutched at his left arm. Anders smiled at him and stepped forward. One step. Then two. Then three. He passed under the mantle of the door and into a large open hall. The ceiling soared above them, two stories high at least. Upturned chairs and tables lined either side of a moth-eaten carpet.
At the back of the Hall was a raised dias supporting a chair. The wall behind it sported a large circular stained glass window. Sunlight slanted through the colored glass and landed on the chair. Anders’ footsteps sped up as he headed for the chair.
“Fenris, I have to.”
“Hey Boss?” Bull appeared in the doorway behind Anders and blocked all the light but from the stained glass window. Anders ignored Bull and pulled away from Fenris. He took the last few steps to stand in front of the chair.
He hesitated, one hand stretching out to touch the delicate curve of the armrest. Then, in a flurry of movements, he spun around and sat on the chair.
There was another sigh from the building and a jolt of power. It spread from the chair down the moth eaten carpet to the door. Outside, Anders could hear startled exclamations. Inside, Fenris and Bull were staring at him.
Solas appeared in the doorway. He strode down the carpet and stopped before Anders. His face brightened into a smile.
“You woke the Keep. Well done.”
Bull shifted nervously, one hand reaching for his axe.
“This place haunted or possessed or…”
“It is very old, The Iron Bull, and sustained with magic. The Herald sat on the chair and the Keep recognized his right to be here. The Keep is now his. The magic will offer protection and succor to his followers.”
“I’m not the leader of this group, Solas.”
“The Keep doesn’t care. Your mark has allowed you to wake the magic here. This is now yours.”
Anders tilted his head back to take in the ceiling, the spiderweb covered fixtures, the mouldering banners, and the dust.
“I’ve gained a falling down Keep.”
“Will this hurt him?” Fenris asked.
“No. The magic in the Keep is passive. It has recognized Anders as its owner, nothing more.”
“And what does this magic do?”
Solas smiled. “I am not sure. Part of it must help keep the walls standing. The courtyard is noticeably warmer than the area outside of the gate. The walls in this hall are dusty, but note how the ceiling is intact. There may be other secrets we find, other ways the former owners used magic to strengthen this place.”
Anders stood and gazed out across the hall. “If the Inquisition needs a place to settle and become a legitimate force, then this is it. It reminds me of the audience halls you might find in a castle. Whoever runs the Inquisition, this will be their base of power.”
“Hopefully they will find somebody who will work well with you,” Fenris said.
Anders nodded. “I hope so, too. This is a major undertaking. Just organizing getting the rifts closed is enough work. Imagine how much more to make the alliances needed to fight that...thing…”
“Corypheus.” Fenris growled out the name. “That is his name. And he was dead. I was there. Hawke...we...killed him.”
“Well, he definitely felt alive to me. I’d ask if you’re sure that he’s the same guy...except that visage is pretty memorable.”
“Fasta vass. We need Hawke if we’re going to solve this mystery.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Varric’s voice reached to them as he walked down the carpet.
“Do you want to write the letter, or me?”
“I’ll do it,” Anders said. “It should come from me. I spoke to this Corypheus. I was, well, he sorta shook me like a rag doll and then threw me against the trebuchet. Not my finest moment.”
Fenris growled louder. “I will gut him for touching you.”
Anders reached for Fenris and pulled him into a hug.
“I’m fine. I’m with you, and I’m fine. Solas, can you have the advisors come meet me here? Varric? Can you help?”
“Of course, Herald. May I say, it is my hope that the advisors see fit to make you leader?” Solas asked.
Anders mouth dropped open. Varric chuckled.
“We could do worse than Blondie, here.”
“Just...just go get them,” Anders said as Fenris growled against his chest. “And find Waggles.”
“We’re on it, oh Mighty Herald of Andraste. Come on, Chuckles and Tiny. I think Broody is having a meltdown.”
“You do this on purpose, Varric.”
“For shame. I do nothing of the sort.”
Anders waited till Solas, Bull, and Varric had exited the front doors. Then, he dropped his face to nuzzle against Fenris’ hair. Fenris tightened his arms around him and sighed.
“It’s going to be you, isn’t it?”
“Maker, probably. I can already hear Cassandra and Leliana bullying Cullen into agreeing. And apparently Josephine thinks my status as a Spirit Healer and Herald makes me a useful diplomatic device. Whatever that means.”
“They will think they can influence your decisions. For all that they are good people, they are still Chantry people.”
Fenris leaned back against Anders’ arms so that he could look Anders in the face. He reached up and brushed back some blond hair that had fallen from Anders’ hair tie. His gaze on Anders’ face was searching.
“You are a mage. No matter how much supposed power they offer you, you will always be an apostate. I may not always trust magic, but I remember how the Gallows treated you. I see the scars every night. I hold you through the night terrors. These people...I know you like them. Even Cullen has become easier to be around. But they are, all of them, still of the Chantry.”
“She is a politician. That is worse.”
“They’ve listened to me before. We have the mages with us. They are here free. Fenris, the mages are free and helping. I have seen them working with Cullen, with Cassandra, even with Leliana. I know you worry that they will use me but…”
Fenris sighed. He opened his mouth to say more and stopped when Leliana appeared in the doorway. Behind her was Cassandra, Josephine, and Cullen. They joined Anders and Fenris on the dias.
“Herald. Solas said you were looking for us?” Josephine asked. “And what a lovely room. This is well situated for Inquisition use.”
“I wanted you to see this room, actually. And then discuss our next move.”
“We should post troops. We won’t be snuck up on this time.”
“I need to gather my spies…”
“What is are your thoughts, Anders?”
Anders smiled at Cassandra. “Well, our first job is to find room for everybody. The surviving troops need a place to stay. There ought to be barracks or something here. Cullen, find where those are and get them organized for your men and women. They are no good to us sick and exhausted. Cassandra and Fenris can see to setting guards. Leliana and Josephine, please find rooms for our followers. I will set up a clinic for those who need healing.
“Of course, priority is to find roof space for us tonight. And getting food started, of course.”
The group murmured their agreements and dispersed. Anders sat back on the chair and sagged. Fenris slowly stroked a hand over Anders’ hair, down his neck, to his back.
“I will find you. Do not wander too far off.”
“I won’t. I’ll be with the injured.”
“I love you.”
Anders smiled at Fenris. “I love you too.”
Settling Skyhold was labor intensive. While there was room for everybody, the rooms all needed to be cleaned. Some of the towers needed to be repaired, furniture needed to be reassembled or moved, and a system of assigning quarters granted. On top of the basic cleaning and organization inside the Keep and surrounding buildings, there was a need for merchant space, practice space, and a general courtyard.
Anders spent his days sequestered in a long, low building that he had claimed for the clinic. The first days had been a whirlwind of organizing the cleaning while trying to heal. Gradually, the building was scrubbed down, cots were found and organized, a store room and potion room was set up, and the second floor was portioned out as living quarters.
Fenris kept Anders up-to-date on the rest of the Keep’s progress. There had been several buildings designed for barracks, and the soldiers had cleaned each building before moving in. A tavern and inn was in mid-organization. One tower had been claimed by the mages, another by Cullen.
When Anders exited the clinic on the start of the fourth week, he found a bustling courtyard with merchants and pilgrims coming through the front gate and soldiers marching in tight formation. Men and women raised a hand in greeting or called out to him as he walked past. It felt more like home than anyplace he’d ever lived.
He had made it up the stairs to the main hall when Leliana melted out of the shadows.
“Herald. I was hoping to catch you.”
“You know, you always say that, but I happen to know that you lurk around and watch me. Or have somebody watch me so you always can catch me.”
“Would you come with me?”
“Um...sure. I just hope this isn’t an elaborate way to tell me I’m fired. Because if it is, I mean, that’s fine…”
“No such luck, I’m afraid.”
Ander sighed, but followed her through the double doors and into the main hall. He was led through the hall to a door on the West wall. A short hallway and another door and he was in a pleasantly appointed office. Josephine smiled at him from across the room. Next to her was Cassandra. Near them stood Cullen and Fenris.
“I brought him.”
“Good. We need to get this finalized now. Herald...Anders…you know we need a leader. The Inquisition needs a leader...and you...”
Josephine put a hand on Cassandra’s arm and shook her head. Anders’ eyes widened.
“Wait. You want me to lead this...this…”
“I told you.” Fenris said.
“Just in name? I lead as a figure?”
Josephine shook her head. “I was hoping to offer this to you in a more gentle fashion, Anders. The Inquisition as a whole wants you. This decision was easy to make, honestly. You were the one who did the work to bring us together. They look to you, not because you can close the rifts, but because you bring them hope. We need you, Anders.”
“But I’m a mage. I’m a mage who turns into a cat.”
“Some say that your gentle nature shows that the Maker is with us. Some say that Andraste surely must guide you, a healer, to such feats of bravery. Others see you as being blessed because you were willing to sacrifice yourself for their safety. That you are alive now is proof that you are Andraste’s Herald.”
“But...I’m not holy. None of this...this is...that is…”
“The truth is, you have led us this far. Your decisions have saved lives. You have aided the templars and the mages. You...you have brought us together. You led us here.”
“With Solas’ help…Fenris, tell them. I didn’t do any of this on my own. I had help.”
“That’s what a leader, a real leader, is capable of. You inspire people to follow you, to help you, to listen,” Fenris said. “She’s right about that, you brought these people together.”
“We all are in agreement. And you know how often that happens,” Cassandra said.
Anders brushed the back of his hand over his eyes, wiping away the tears starting to form. “I can’t believe...alright. Alright, I’ll do it. But you all are staying on as my advisors. All of you; Fenris included.”
“That goes without says,” Fenris said.
“Then...tomorrow?” Josephine asked while looking at Leliana. Leliana nodded and Josephine beamed. “Tomorrow, we will announce it.”
“And now for the best part. If you’ll both come with me, I think you’ll like this little perk.”
Fenris and Anders glanced at each other and then turned to follow Josephine. Behind them, Cullen, Leliana, and Cassandra began to whisper. She turned north and continued to a door set at the end of another short hallway. The door opened to a set of stairs that led up to another door.
A large room lay beyond the top door. Floor to ceiling windows looked out over two balconies accessed by Orlesian-style doors. A large simple bed took up one corner. Chairs and settee surrounded a fireplace. As simple as the furnishings were, it was homey and comfortable.
“This is your room. Both of you. As Inquisitor we thought...well...we thought you could use a retreat.”
“Josephine...I can’t...we can’t accept this. So many people are showing up without simple comforts and you want me to sleep here?”
“This is why you are perfect for the position of Inquisitor, Anders. Even now, you think of everybody else.”
“He has always been as such.”
Josephine laid a hand on Anders’ arm. “There is a certain amount of pomp that people will expect from the Inquisitor. We will be having an entirely new wardrobe made for you. You will have nobility wishing to speak to you. You are as much a political and diplomatic figure as you are a figure of hope.”
“Oh. Maker. And suddenly this room seems like a good idea.”
“Indeed. Nobody but you and Fenris will have access here. There will be a guard or guards posted to maintain your privacy. When you are here, you are simply Anders. Leave this room, and you become the Inquisitor.”
Fenris took Anders hand and entwined their fingers. “You can do this. I will be here to help you.”
“Alright. Alright, fine. But I don’t want beige clothes. Nothing with the Chantry sunburst.”
“I was thinking deep blues and greens. Maybe some warm browns and reds. Dorian has offered to help with your clothes. So has Madame de Fer. Fenris will also receive new clothes, new weapons, and new armor. We have found an Arcanist to join us, and I am sure she can think of ways to enchant your gear, Fenris.
“I still have items to place in here, though we have a bathing corner set up, a dressing room, and a small office in the loft above the bed. Consider this your sanctuary, and me your first line of defence. I will handle your social calendar.”
Anders closed his eyes and breathed in, held it, and slowly breathed out. “Alright. Thank you. We’ll get our things…”
“Being done now, Inquisitor. Why not take some time to relax? Have a bath drawn. Sit by the fire. There is a selection of cat toys and some cat mint. Play? Tomorrow will be busy. I’ll have dinner sent up.”
She offered both Anders and Fenris a wide smile and turned to leave. Before she stepped out the door, she turned her head. “And we did manage to find something better than beige for tomorrow. It is in the dressing room.”
The door closed and left Anders and Fenris alone. They looked at each other and then around the room. Anders smoothed his hair back and cleared his throat.
“Think they bought a feather chase toy?”
“Let’s go see what we have to work with.”
“You know I love you, right?”
Fenris smiled. “I do. And I love you, too.”
“I present to you, your Inquisitor, the Herald of Andraste, Anders of Kirkwall.”
Josephine’s voice rang out from the landing in front of the Skyhold’s main doors. Below her, the courtyard was filled with cheering people. Anders, dressed in dark greens and browns, stepped forward.
“I accept this honor. Not for me, but for you. It is only together that we will be able to defeat Corypheus and return peace to the land.”
The crowd cheered louder. Beside him, Fenris chuckled. “Good choice. Everybody prefers a short speech.”
Anders lifted his hand in the air. The mark snapped and glowed and the crowd went wild. He held his hand up for another second and then closed it into a fist.
“For Thedas! For the Inquisitor!” Cullen’s voice rang out. The yell was picked up by the crowd, fists raised in solidarity.
Anders glanced over at Fenris, who nodded and stepped back. Anders dropped his arm, bowed to the group, turned, and walked swiftly into Skyhold’s Keep. Fenris took his arm and squeezed.
“Hawke is on her way. She is bringing reinforcements of some kind.”
“She should be here within the week.”
“Then we should prepare.”
“Don’t you start.”
Fenris chuckled and followed Anders to the chair on the dias. Anders sighed and sat down. Fenris took up a relaxed stance just behind and to the right. Cassandra joined them on the dias and stood just behind and to the left of the chair. Josephine eyed them critically, smiled, and gestured.
“Open the doors. Let them come in and greet their new Inquisitor.”
This is called a bridge chapter to get us from what has happened to where what will happen will...happen...
Also, hopefully it won't take me so long between chapters again but I can't promise anything...not if I start another long story and get sucked in!
Many thanks for your patience.
“Anders.” The door to his office flew open and slammed into the wall. Anders leapt up from his seat, his pen falling to the ground. Cassandra stalked into the room and leaned against his desk. She leaned forward, head down, and closed her eyes. “A moment…”
Anders reached for the healer’s bag next to his desk and opened it. He pulled out a small jar of waxy yellow salve and opened it. The room was instantly filled with the scents of mint and vanilla. He scooped out a small amount and moved around his desk, wrapped one arm around Cassandra’s chest, and hauled her up. She squawked and then went limp when he began to rub the salve into her forehead.
“Cullen or Varric?”
“Ugh. Both. Cullen is hiding in his tower claiming to have a headache. I know he is ill from the lyrium withdrawals. And Varric is hiding from me as well. Possibly because I heard a rumor from a little birdy that he sent for Hawke. He did not tell me he was doing this.”
Anders dragged his fingers down the sides of Cassandra’s face and then back to her neck. She leaned back over the desk and groaned. Anders chuckled and dug into the sore muscles of her shoulders. “Alright. I’m going to go see Cullen and manhandle him into letting me heal him. I can’t believe Varric didn’t tell you that he sent for Hawke. He told Fenris. Have Fenris hunt him down. He’s very good at it. And you are to see me this evening for a full massage. You are as stiff as the rocks holding up this keep.”
“I do not have time for such things.”
“You’ll make time.”
“Inquisitor’s orders. I’m ordering you a hot bath tonight. I’ll give you salts to add to it. After your bath, you’ll get a solid rub-down and then you’re to sleep. Actually sleep. In your bed. Not wander around and end up in the smithy again.”
“There is so much to do…”
“Well, that’s my job. See all the piles of papers?” Anders returned one arm to Cassandra’s waist and hugged her, resting his chin on her shoulder. “We have a lead on some freemen group in the Emerald Graves, and there’s problems in the Exalted Plains. Emprise du Lion has sent us a missive saying they’re snowed in or iced in or something and that there’s problems with their mines.”
“We can’t possible help them all at once.”
“I’m sending Harding to talk to the freemen in the Emerald Graves. If anybody can find out what they want, it’s Lace. I already talked to Bull. The chargers are going to head to Emprise du Lion. They have scouts to look into what’s going in the mines, and I’ve already told Rockie he can’t just blow them up, and heavy lifters to get the town in order. We’ll get a couple camps set up there before I go to close any rifts found. Same with the Emerald Glades.”
“So we’ll be going to the Exalted Plains, next?”
“Well, last Josie heard that was the site of the worst fighting in the Orlesian Civil War. Or whatever they’re calling. So no. She’s coordinating with Leliana to send out scouts to find out where the worst problems are. We’ll head there when we have a clearer picture.”
“So what are we doing?”
“Well first...first I have to deal with this headache here in the Keep that just cropped up. Then we’ll decide.”
“This has to do with Varric, then?”
“Well, I told you to have Fenris hunt him down because he’s already looking for him. Hawke’s here.”
“Here. She’s here. Varric told Fenris he had sent for her and...from what I understand...she’s here. And Fenris has just been dying to get his hands on Hawke.”
“So. Find your lover, find Varric? Perfect, then I can throttle him.”
“Cass…” Anders pressed his cheek to hers. “Do you honestly want to throttle Varric? Or kiss him.”
“Your honesty is one of your best traits, you know.”
Anders chuckled. He dared a quick buss to her cheek before stepping back. “Varric’s a lucky man.”
“He will be a dead man once I am done with him.”
“I think Fenris was heading towards the gardens. You might catch him there.”
“Thank you, Anders. I will see you later...not that...I mean...”
“Dress in something loose. And Cass? I’m serious. I’ll do a sleep spell if you try to work after I’m done.”
“Ugh. Fine. I will see you tonight.” She hesitated at the door to his office. “Thank you for...caring. About me. About us. About more than just the job. It shows.”
He sat down as his door closed and looked at the papers strewn over his desk. He picked up his pen, tapped it on the desk, and then put it down. He stood, gathered his healer’s kit, and then reached for his coat. He pulled it on, smiling at the feathers that had been sewn to the shoulders, grabbed his kit, and left his office.
Cullen was napping. Head propped up on one hand, he snored while his assistant, Jim, quietly worked in his corner. Anders stepped into Cullen’s office, and Jim came to attention. He gestured at Cullen and then held one finger to his lips. Anders responded by holding up his healer’s kit. Jim pulled his helmet out from under his desk. He put it on and then nodded at Anders.
Anders snuck up behind Cullen and then stopped when Ser Bed-fur raised his head. Anders waited to see if Bed-fur would do anything, but the mabari just put his head back down and closed his eyes. Anders grinned, set his healer’s kit down, and pulled off his coat. He put his coat down by his bag, pulled off the soft boots he wore around the Keep and then began to remove his shirt.
Jim let out a soft snicker, then stiffened when Cullen snorted and moved. Anders held his breath. When Cullen’s snoring started back up he relaxed and shot Jim a look of annoyance. Jim held up his hands in surrender and then gestured for Anders to continue.
Anders shrugged out of his clothes. He winked at Jim and then shrunk down into a cat. He gave Bed-fur a quick lick to his nose and then leapt up onto the desk. He pranced around Cullen’s inkwell, strutted over his paperwork, and then hopped down onto his lap.
Cullen snorted and sat up. Anders stood on his back paws, dug his claws into Cullen’s tunic, and nuzzled his chin. Cullen blinked and looked down at the tabby on his lap. Anders let out a tiny meep and then began to groom Cullen’s chin.
“Anders?” His voice was scratchy. “Did I...did I fall asleep?”
Anders rubbed against Cullen’s chest and purred, loudly. Cullen’s hand fell to his head and began to stroke. “Maker, my head. Did Cass send you? She didn’t, did she? I’m fine. I don’t need you to take time out of your day for me.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, you aren’t fine, Ser. And the Inquisitor here knows it.”
“I think I’ll take my lunch now. I’ll bring you back a tray.”
“Stop badgering me, Jim.”
“Take care of him, Inquisitor.” Jim ignored Cullen and fled the tower room. Anders smirked up at Cullen.
“Stop looking so smug.”
Anders rubbed his head against Cullen’s chin before returning to grooming him. Cullen grumbled and sat back in his chair, head thumping against the solid wood.
“I swear, I am fine.”
Anders sneezed and hopped down. He pranced in a circle and then shifted and grabbed his pants. Cullen let out a high pitched “ah!’ and covered his eyes. “You’re naked!”
“I didn’t want to muss my clothes. ”
“Oh stop. I know you’ve seen Jim like this.”
“No...I...what? No. That’s...slanderous. We’re just colleagues. Friends. Like Dorian. Wait. Not that Dorian and I are...I mean, he’s with Bull. Isn’t he?”
Anders ignored the non-stop babble coming from Cullen and instead picked up his bag to set it on the desk. He moved to stand behind Cullen and pressed his hand over Cullen’s forehead. Cullen kept babbling. Anders ignored him as he allowed his healing magic to sink into Cullen.
“Hmm, the withdrawal symptoms are actually getting better. Minor fever, some swelling, but generally not as bad as last week. This mainly seems to be from a lack of self-care. When was the last time you slept?”
Cullen snorted. “Who has the time? I’m swamped.”
“Well, what does Jim do?”
“He has his own work. I’m not adding more to his desk.”
Anders grinned. “Really? How sweet of you. Well then, I will need to assign you more assistants. Maybe two of them?”
“You want to…”
“And you’re taking the rest of the day off.”
Anders clucked his tongue. “I’m the Inquisitor. I can and will. I prescribe an afternoon of relaxation. Take Jim out for a ride. Not like that. Maker, you can blush. Or maybe like that. Whatever makes you happy. Just do it. You can kill yourself with work, you know.”
“Is not going to attack us just because you take an afternoon off. Don’t make me use a sleep spell.”
“I bet you don’t do this to Cassandra,” Cullen said, pouting.
“Mm. I’m leaving a few vials of bath salts. Use them. And an elixir to help with your headache. Drink if after you eat. And if I hear you are working…”
Cullen held up his hands. “I promise. No work.”
“Good. I'll let Jim know you’re free.” Anders placed the vials on Cullens desk, picked up his bag, and left.
It didn’t take too long to find Fenris. In fact, the first guard he asked just sighed. “He’s up on the wall, Inquisitor. You can’t miss him. There’s yelling.”
“Thank you, Rupert. How’s your leg doing?”
Rupert flexed his left knee and then did a few squats. “Better than before the accident, Inquisitor. Thank you, again, for healing me up.”
“Can’t have the guards limping,” Anders said and patted his shoulder. “Did Cassandra come this way as well?”
There was a howl and a bunch of barking. Anders rolled his eyes. “You know. I sometimes think it’s easier to deal with the rifts than the craziness of the Inquisition.”
Rupert nodded. “I hear you. Combat is simple. People are complex.”
“Too right. I suppose I should go find out what’s going on. Hm?”
“Scream if you need me.”
Anders patted Rupert’s shoulder again and then ambled his way towards the section of wall Rupert had gestured at. He took the stairs down to the sheltered alcove nestled against one of the towers and then leaned against the wall of the tower to watch the scene playing out.
Lady Waggles was resting chest down, butt up, and wagging her tail stub. Snots, Hawke’s mabari, was mirroring Waggles and woofing. Waggles gave a yip and leapt at Snots, pinning Snots down and playfully nipping at his ears. Fenris and Cassandra stood closest to where Anders leaned. He could see Hawke, Isabela, and Merrill on the other side of the dogs. Behind Hawke stood Varric.
“Aww, whose mabari?” Hawke cooed at Waggles.
“She’s mine.” Anders straightened and walked over to Fenris. He dropped a kiss on Fenris’ cheek before snapping his fingers. Waggles huffed and released Snots so that she could romp over to Anders. Anders swayed as she leaned against his legs, her tongue out and eyes up on his face.
“Good girl,” he said, voice a quiet murmur. He ignored Hawke for a minute and indulged himself by petting Waggles.
“Is it true? Are you leading this thing?” Hawke’s voice was jovial, disbelieving. “You? I can see Fenris...maybe. Varric, yes. Or maybe Cassandra there...but you?”
“Now Hawke, don’t dig yourself a hole…” Varric started.
“Anders is the Herald of Andraste and Inquisitor.” Cassandra’s voice was stiff.
Anders opened his hand so that the light from the mark could flare and settle. Fenris growled, low and dangerous. “This is your fault. You sent him to the Temple.”
“I needed somebody outside of the Circle, Fenris. We talked about this. Bethany wasn’t a good fit for the job. She has her hands full with the Circle and Templars and Chantry. Anders was...is...an apostate. A healer. He was perfect to stand in for Kirkwall.”
“And now he’s...he’s…”
“Inquisitor!” A scout stumbled down the stairs. He lost his balance and skidded, falling to land on his bottom. Anders shook off Waggles and knelt down.
“Slowly. Breathe slowly. What is it?”
“Bird from the Storm Coast. Harding’s found traces of Wardens. And a giant rift. She says it’s bad and could threaten the people you have out there.”
Anders nodded as he cradled the scout’s ankle in his hands and healed the twist. “Well, that sounds terrible.”
“Bull.” Anders didn’t look up. Behind him he could hear shuffling and the sound of knives being pulled from scabbards. Waggles growled. So did Fenris.
“One second, Bull. You...um...Wilhelm? No. Whitney? No…”
“Damn. Close. Wydard. Tell Leliana that we’ll leave tomorrow to close the rift. Then find Blackwall and tell him to get his gear together. Also, um, Dorian. And...Cole.”
“Yes Ser, Inquisitor Ser. Thank you for healing me, Ser.”
“Ugh. Wydard. It’s Anders. Say it. Anders. An...ders…”
“Anders, Your Worship.”
“Oh go on. Stop smirking, yes yes...it’s very funny. Alright, Bull. Your turn. And whoever has weapons drawn, put them away.”
“Boss. I just got this letter. Red cleared it same as I did. Don’t know what to do about it.”
Anders sighed and stood up. He took the letter from Bull and frowned as he read it. “Why do we want to ally with the Qun? Don’t they sew up my kind?”
“Yeah, Boss. But we can’t just send them a no. You know? Or we could, but…”
“You aren’t serious.” Isabela said, incredulous at the entire conversation. “Hawke...come on...you know…”
Bull looked over Anders’ head and smirked. Anders looked up in time to see him wink. Anders sighed. “The Iron Bull has a top notch mercenary company. Fine, Bull. You’ll come with as well and we’ll get this handled while we’re there.”
“And after? Come on Boss. We saw that dragon. Can’t be good having it around our camps.”
“Maker. You and dragons. Fine. If I’m not too tired. Go tell your men we’re going and they can accompany us. They can head to Emprise du Lion after. And Bull? Does this feel...wonky?”
“Yeah...yeah it does. Thanks for looking into it for me. With me. It...means a lot.”
“I shall come as well,” Cassandra said.
“Fine. Might as well go ask Barris. Anybody else want to come? Varric?”
“Hawke’s here, Blondie…”
“Right. Get Sera. And no, you can’t throw her, Bull.” Anders turned to look at the group.”
“So…tell me about Corypheus.”
Hawke lowered her sword and stared at Anders. “You really do run this.”
“It’s like a giant clinic. Triage, potions and salves when necessary, bandages, and a lot of cursing while flinging around magic. You are here about Corypheus, right?”
“Damn straight. I killed him. Fenris knows; he was there.”
“Well, he was in Haven right before I destroyed it with a well-placed boulder. So I think we need more than ‘I killed him,’ you know?”
“No, I don’t know. I don’t know anything or why this is happening. But I’m not leaving you here to handle it yourself. I sent you to the Conclave to talk, not end up a patsy of the Chantry.”
Fenris snorted while Cassandra sputtered. Anders placed a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder and squeezed. “They asked and I said yes. I didn’t have to. I wanted to.”
“Inquisitor!” Another scout came running down the stairs. She skidded into him and bounced back. Helmet askew, the dwarf was panting hard. She waved a hand and held out a piece of paper. Anders released Cassandra and placed his hand on the scout’s head. He cast a rejuvination spell while reading.
“Inquisitor...post. Thank you, Your Worship. I feel better.”
“Good, Bryna. Correct?”
“It’s a miracle how you know us all.”
“Yes, well. Practice.” He scrunched the paper in his hand. “Is he here now?”
“I hope you do not mind me simply appearing behind her. She did not say to wait, and Leliana did not stop me.”
A handsome elf in close-fitting black leather stood at the top of the stairs. Anders rolled his eyes up to stare at the sun while Cassandra and Fenris drew their swords and pushed him back. He went without a fuss.
“Your name.” Cassandra barked.
“Your Inquisitor holds the paper in his hand, no? And your little bird did send me. She has matured since we last spent much time together.” The elf’s smile was all teeth.
“Zevran Arainai, former Crow and lover to the Hero of Ferelden.” Anders read off from the paper. “Well, that’s a mouthful.”
“Ah...if you would like to discuss mouthfuls...I see…” Fenris had lunged forward to press his hand to Zevran’s chest. His brands flared bright as he growled.
“He is mine.” Fenris spat the words.
“No harm. Peace. I have not come to cause mischief but because my dearheart asked.” Zevran said. “I have information on Corypheus.”
“Watch yourself,” Fenris growled out before prowling back to stand with Anders.
“Ah. And the lovely Viscount of Kirkwall. The writer dwarf. The lovely Seeker. The beautiful Dalish. And the always delectable Isabela.” Zevran bowed.
“Zev, you troublemaker. What made you pull into this harbor?” Isabela pushed her way to him and hugged him. “Where is Cora?”
“She is in trouble. The Wardens are in trouble. I have come because I can move silently and am not suffering like they are. Inquisitor. You must understand. The man you call Corypheus is no mere man. He is a darkspawn, and very dangerous. Cora would be here herself, but she wanted to know if coming here would be safe.”
He smiled. “Cora Cousland, the Hero of Ferelden.”
“If she has news of Corypheus, then we would welcome her here. I can guarantee her safety personally.”
Zevran stared at Anders, his gaze shrewd. Finally, he nodded. “I shall tell my Petal that we are welcome. Go on your mission, Inquisitor. We will be waiting when you get back.”
“I’ll let Josephine know. She handles the rooms for guests. And please, call me Anders. Pretty please? With kittens on top?”
Zevran laughed. “As you command, Anders.” He winked at Fenris before sweeping into a courtly bow. He chuckled as he stood back up and then headed back up the stairs.
“You aren’t just letting him go, are you?” Cassandra asked.
“Leliana sent him. He’s fine.”
Cassandra groaned. “Anders. How many times...you know what, nevermind. I shall go get Barris. Varric, you are coming with me.”
“Don’t you ‘now Seeker’ me. Come here. Now.”
Varric huffed, but scooted around Hawke to stand next to Cassandra. She gripped one of his shoulders and marched him up the stairs. They weren’t too far away when the yelling started. Anders watched as Varric reached for her other hand and kissed her palm. Her yelling petered out as they headed down another set of stairs.
“Did Varric just…” Hawke gawked.
“Yep,” Anders said while grinning.
“Seeker...like a Templar?” Hawke asked.
“And you aren’t a cat?”
Anders glanced at Hawke. “She’s sweet. Alright. The three of you need a room. Perhaps we have a suite. Maybe. And I need to pack for tomorrow.”
“Oh Anders.” Merrill rushed to him so she could hug him. “I don’t like the thought of you going out by yourself. We should go with you.”
“I have an entire crowd coming with me.”
“Sounds like a good time to me,” Isabela said.
“It’s the Storm Coast. It’s wet. It rains nonstop. There’s this dragon that Bull wants to kill. And I’ll cave because he lets me sit on his horns. A dragon. And you want to come with?”
“It sounds like a Tuesday,” Hawke said while shrugging.
Anders rolled his eyes and glanced at Fenris. “What about you.”
“You even have to ask? Amatus...I am hurt.”
“Right. Fine. We’ll go see Josie and then I’ll get horses for you all. Or something. And then...I need to make sure Cullen ate and Cassandra is getting a massage later. And I still have papers…”
He was listing things off his fingers and didn’t realize Fenris had wrapped an arm around his waist until he was up the stairs. “Fenris...I don’t have the time…”
“Hush. We shall have runners help us. You are going to sit down and have some food.”
“It’s nice to know some things don’t change,” Hawke said. Another runner started heading towards Anders and he groaned. “But between you and me? I’m glad this is all you…”
“Thanks Hawke. That just makes me feel so much better…”
Anders shifted and grimaced when cold water poured down the collar of his coat. Next to him, Fenris sneezed. Anders reached out and ran a hand down Fenris’ back and pushed tendrils of warm magic into him. Fenris sighed in relief and relaxed. The both stiffened when the elf in front of them scoffed.
“Ran from your Master and right into the arms of another mage.” The elf was sneering at the two of them.
“Gatt. That’s the Inquisitor.” The Iron Bull was also looking at Anders and Fenris, mainly Fenris.
“He’s the Inquisitor?” Gatt glanced from Anders to the Iron Bull and then back to Anders.
“Anders, formerly of Kirkwall. Now of the Inquisition. And you’re Gatt?”
“Ben Hassrath,” Fenris said.
Anders shot him a warning look and Fenris snorted. Anders wrapped an arm around him and squeezed. “Delightful choice of location. So...the Qun…”
“They don’t want the red lyrium anymore than the rest of Thedas. Help us stop this little problem here and you’ll get the full backing of the Qun. Information, soldiers...you name it.” Gatt said while staring at Anders’ arm.
“What’s the catch?” Fenris asked.
“No catch. Like I said, the Qun doesn’t want this trouble on their doorstep.”
Bull grunted. “Two locations here with Vints, right?”
“Three if you count the one that’s over with your group and the Lyrium Ghost here. Strange company you keep, Inquisitor,” Gatt said.
“He has a name,” Anders said, voice mild. “And it’s Fenris. And he’s free. Dorian has sworn his aid to the Inquisition. He’s a good man.”
“A peacock and a magister.”
“Altus, actually.” Fenris smiled, his teeth bared.
“And you let him live?”
“I have learned the value of freedom, and the responsibility. I am nobody’s attack dog.” Fenris raised an eyebrow while staring at Gatt.
Gatt bristled. “You don’t know what you’re speaking of. They saved me from slavery...what my Master did to me…”
Fenris barked a laugh and held out his arms. The lyrium embedded in his skin lit. “Don’t speak to me of torments or masters.”
“So...two camps. I’ll send my boys off to the one on the right. We’ll take the one on the left. Sound good?” Iron Bull spoke into the sudden silence.
When nobody responded, Anders sighed. “Go talk to the Chargers, Bull. Fenris, you go fill in our people. Gatt. We’ll meet you on the path to the left camp. And could we all get along for about a half hour? Please? Slavery is evil. Tevinter needs help. Dorian is a fop. I’m a mage. There, all basis covered. Am I missing anything?”
Gatt grumbled but shook his head. Fenris dropped his arms and let his lyrium die down. Bull chuckled. “Come on, Boss. Don’t need you standing alone like a target.”
“I wanted to talk to the Inquisitor a moment,” Gatt said.
The Iron Bull stared at Gatt and then at Anders. “Boss…”
“Go on. Have Hawke and her people go with the Chargers. That’ll bolster their numbers. Fenris is filling in our people. You all can see me from there, I’ll be fine. Right, Gatt?”
Bull grunted. “Gotcha, Boss.” Anders watched as he walked back to the group. Fenris looked up, caught Anders’ eye, and nodded before walking over to join Cassandra.
“What did you need?”
“What is he to you?”
Anders stared at Gatt. “That is none of your business. Nor is it the business of the Qun.”
“You are not what I was expecting. I was expecting a warrior. Or somebody who leads. You are…”
Anders shrugged. “Sorry to disappoint. I need to be over there with my people. If you have something you need…”
“No. I suppose not.”
Anders nodded. He gave Gatt one more searching look before jogging over to where Fenris was standing.
“What did he want?” Bull asked.
“I don’t know. But he asked me what Fenris was to me. Then told me I wasn’t what he was expecting. I have a bad feeling about this Bull. A very bad feeling.”
“You and me both, Boss.”
“Bull, you call for that retreat and the ship will sink. You’ll be declared Tal Vashoth,” Gatt spit the words. Bull hesitated, the horn held loosely in his hands. “I told them you’d never turn your back on us.”
“Bull, it’s not just your men there. Hawke is there too…” Anders said.
“No great loss there,” Gatt muttered. “Bull…”
That was as far as he got. Fenris surged across the clearing, lyrium blindingly bright. He slammed into Gatt and bore him to the ground. He rammed his fist into Gatt’s face, and the elf went limp. Anders tore his eyes away from Fenris and looked up at Bull.
“Bull...listen to me...Hawke is there. Call the retreat. We can still get down there if we slide down the cliffside. A charge down will give the Chargers time to pull back, and we can take out the Vints.”
“If I’m the Boss, Bull, then listen to my orders. You blow on that horn. You save your men. We’ll take care of the rest. Cole, get down there and sow confusion. Dorian. There are plenty of dead around. Do your thing. Cassandra? Barris? I’ll cast a barrier around you. Go. Now.”
Bull raised the horn and blew- one long, sustained note. From across the way, Anders could see the Chargers look up at the horn and then down to the beach at the approaching Vints. A lone figure walked to the edge of the cliff, black hair catching the breeze.
The figure stared down at the Vints and then thrust her arms into the air. Thick vines burst from the hills to wrap around the Vints. Suddenly, the vines caught fire. Cole appeared behind the flame-coated vines and began to attack. Cassandra glanced at Anders - who cast barriers over her and Barris - gave a yell, and charged down the rocky cliffside at a run. Barris followed, his own bellow lost in the sudden panicked screams below.
Bull stood at the edge of the cliff, arm limp, and watched as Cassandra and Barris tore into the Vints. Merrill and Dalish stood next to each other and cast into the raging battle. Varric stood off to the side firing Bianca. A knot of undead spilled over the cliff, Dorian moving to stand with Anders and Bull.
“They’ll have it finished in a few minutes. You alright, Bull?”
“Do not allow this to break you. You are the Iron Bull. You lead the Chargers…” Dorian stared up at Bull with wide eyes.
Anders stepped out from between the two and Dorian drifted over to stand next to Bull. Slowly, Dorian pressed himself against Bull’s side, and Bull wrapped one arm around Dorian’s shoulders, hauling him closer.
Anders turned from them to give them privacy. He stepped over to where Fenris was straddling Gatt. Anders crouched down and tapped Gatt’s face. When he got no response, he pressed healing into him. Gatt groaned and slowly opened his eyes.
“This is what is going to happen. You are going to go back to your people and say we do not wish for an alliance, thank you. You will tell them that we saved your ship and took out the Vints. You will tell them that Bull has aligned himself with us to stop Corypheus. And you will tell them that we consider this matter closed.”
Gatt spit on Anders. “Magister-loving scum…”
Fenris growled and pressed his hand over Gatt’s heart. Anders reached out and wrapped his hand around Fenris’ wrist. “No. No, Fenris.”
“He spit on you.”
“You coward,” Gatt hissed. “You speak of Freedom and yet you warm his bed. That’s it, isn’t it? He crocks his finger and you go to him, probably begging. You aren’t free. You’re still a slave to a mage. Your shackles are only different now. You’re still somebody’s dog. Somebody’s little wolf.”
Fenris’ lyrium flared as he leaned down to stare into Gatt’s face. “Says the dog who serves with no thought in his head. Run back to your Qun. Run back to the Masters who hold your leash.”
Anders stepped back so that Fenris could stand. Then he looked down at Gatt, shrugged, and turned back to check on the combat. Behind him, he could hear Gatt standing - the squelch of mud, the shifting of leather, the sudden ting of daggers being pulled...and then the gurgle as Fenris sank his fist into Gatt.
Bull turned to look back and stiffened. “...Don’t, Fenris…”
Anders looked behind him. Fenris growled, but pulled his hand back. Gatt choked and went to his knees, his daggers falling to the mud as he grabbed his chest.
“Let’s go gather up our companions. We have Grey Wardens to track down and a dragon to kill.”
“Boss...you know how to make me smile.” Bull grinned and then turned back to the cliff. “Get your asses together, people. We have a dragon to kill!”
Anders didn’t look back at Gatt as they left.
Anders scuffed his shoe over the fire pit while Blackwall rifled through a pack that had been left in some foliage. “Whoever was here, they’ve been gone a long time.”
Blackwall grunted and stood up, a scrap of paper in his hand. “Wardens. Here’s part of a note that mentions Cousland. They’re looking for her.”
“She should be at Skyhold when we return. We can discuss it with her. Good find, though!” Anders slapped Blackwall’s shoulder. “Sadly, we’re close enough to deal with that giant rift. I can feel it nearby. Scouts say it’s in a cave.”
Behind him he could hear groans. Hawke muttered, “That means spiders.”
“You should know. You’re like, the Queen of spider-finding.” Anders said. “So this should be right up your alley. Minus the giant rift and horde of demons we’ll fight.”
“Oh, now that sounds like fun. I always did enjoy killing demons,” Hawke perked up.
Next to Anders, Blackwall muttered. “Nobody enjoys killing demons. Want me in front, Inquisitor?”
“Sure. Cass had the last rift. Barris and Cassandra, at my sides. Fenris and Bull, behind me. Cole, stay back with Varric till we know what’s there. Hawke? You all just...try not to get killed.”
“Pft, I’ll take the front.I got this,” Hawke said.
“Well alright.” Anders winked at Fenris. “You can take point once we reach the cave.”
“Damn straight,” Hawke said. Next to Anders, Fenris snorted.
“Demons. Those weren’t any demons I remember.”
They were at camp, and Hawke was slouched by the fire. A pride demon’s electric whip had wrapped around her shoulders. One of her legs had been sliced into by a terror demon. Anders didn’t say anything as he healed her, his hands steady over her wounds.
“You fight them often?”
“Every rift has something like that. Some more than others. That was a big one, powerful.” Anders reached for his healing kit and pulled out a jar of salve.
Hawke turned to watch him open the jar. She flexed her hand, wincing when that made her wounded shoulder throb. Anders tutted and began to rub the salve into her burned skin.
“I’m sorry.” The words were whispered. “I’m so sorry, Anders.”
“You didn’t know this would happen. You had no idea. You sent me to be a representative, not...this…”
“How did it happen?”
Anders shrugged. “I don’t know. My memory is spotty at best. I’m missing time. It’s as if something ate holes into it. I don’t know. I just know I woke up in a prison and my hand had this mark.”
“Do you think Fenris will ever forgive me?” Hawke asked.
Anders turned to look at Fenris. He was sitting with Bull and Dorian, talking. Dorian leaned forward and made a comment, and Fenris shoved his shoulder. Dorian fell back laughing, and Fenris crossed his arms. Next to him, Bull slumped a little. Fenris reached up and pressed a hand to Bull’s shoulder.
“Yeah. He’s freer here than he’s been since I’ve known him. He acts angry, but I think he enjoys the challenge. He definitely enjoys the people.”
“Speaking of...a Magister…”
“Altus, not a Magister. Dorian’s a good man. A good friend. A better brother. He’s wormed his way into Fenris’ affection. Or maybe grown like mold...slowly and gradually.” Anders smiled as Dorian took Bull’s hand.
“And the Qunari?”
“Bull’s...Bull. Tal-Vashoth now and probably hurting. We went straight into the Warden issues and then the rift. He hasn’t had a chance to let it sink in. But now...now it will. We’ll be hunting a dragon, and that will help. But...he needs to deal with this. And he’s hurting..”
“You like him too.” Hawke huffed the words. “You like that hulking...Vashoth and the Tevinter Altus.”
“And the prickly Warden, the cranky Seeker, the strange spirit-child, the oh-so-haughty Enchanter, the mouthy archer, the Elven apostate, and Varric.”
“I heard my name...what’s up?” Varric meandered over. “Tiny’s taking it rough, Blondie. You should go see to him.”
“Afraid I’m going to share all of your exploits with Hawke?”
Varric snorted. “What exploits?”
Anders glanced at Cassandra and then back to Varric. Varric puffed up, glanced at Cassandra, and melted into a smile when she met his gaze and flushed. Anders nudged Hawke.
“Go talk to Bull before I let Bianca talk to you.”
Anders stood. “You’ll be fine in the morning, Hawke. Drink the sleep potion I gave you and have Merrill or Isabela rub more salve into your shoulders. You’ll be right as rain tomorrow.”
“Thanks Anders. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Anders norted. “End up lame or dead or worse…”
“What’s worse than death?” Hawke wondered as Anders walked over to Bull.
He didn’t hear what Varric said, too busy watching Bull bluster at Fenris and Dorian. He strode up to them and crossed his arms.
“Fenris? Can you check the perimeter? Dorian? Go hassle Hawke.”
Fenris nodded, stood, and reached up to kiss Anders’ cheek. Dorian stood, winked at Fenris, and kissed Anders’ other cheek. Fenris growled, but there was no heat in it. Dorian hummed and walked away, hips swaying, while Fenris wrapped an arm around Anders’ waist and squeezed.
“Ugh, go talk to Cassandra instead.”
Fenris smirked and slapped Anders’ ass. He sauntered over to Cassandra, leaving Anders alone with Bull. Bull let his head drop and his arms hang limp. Anders didn’t say anything. Instead, he wormed his way onto Bull’s lap and wrapped his arms as far around Bull’s chest as he could.
There was a moment’s hesitation and then one of Bull’s arms wrapped around his waist. Bull’s head moved to rest on his shoulder. Anders smiled and wiggled around till he was facing Bull’s chest and Bull was hugging him. He relaxed, feeling warm and safe.
“You shouldn’t allow yourself to get so close…”
“You haven’t changed.”
“Look Boss. The Qun...it’s my foundation. It’s not just a title, it’s who I am.”
Anders hummed. “Is it?”
“You know it is.”
“Then who is The Iron Bull?”
Bull grumbled. “You’re a shit, you know that?”
“Aww, you love me.”
“Qunari don’t love.”
“Seems to me that that’s a load of crap. You love. You love deeply. You love your Chargers. All of them. And Dorian...I really think you’re falling for him there. And...us. All of us…”
“Shit, Boss. Don’t get mushy on me.”
“Says the giant marshmallow.”
“Is that a dig at my man bosoms?”
Anders laughed. “No? Though they are very comfortable.”
Bull chuckled, the sound slowly tapering off. He rested his forehead on the top of Anders’ head and blew out a breath. Gradually, his arms tightened till Anders was being cuddled close. Anders didn’t say anything, just rubbed his cheek against Bull’s pectoral and hummed a quiet song.
“What will I do?” Bull whispered.
“Learn to be free,” Anders said, smiling when he heard Fenris laugh. “You learn how to be free.”
The horns were blowing as their horses plodded the final stretch to the front gate of Skyhold. A tired cheer rose up from the Chargers, their horses suddenly thundering around Anders’ as they raced to the front gate. Anders chuckled as Dalish used her “bow” to slap at Krem as he took the lead.
“They blow a horn for you when you return?” Hawke called out from behind Anders. “Fancy.”
Anders grumbled while Varric chuckled. “More like a call to the Keep that the Leader is back. There will be a queue when we ride in, you watch.”
“A queue? For what?” Isabela asked.
“Work,” Anders muttered. “Injured the healers couldn’t help, paperwork that Josephine has for me, new reports from Leliana, status updates from Cullen, nobles wanting to get a look at the Inquisitor, and the Maker only knows who else. I wonder if I pay off Sabia if she’d lose the horn.”
“Do not get her in trouble,” Fenris said.
“Ugh,” Anders groaned.
Behind him, Varric laughed. “You sounded just like Cassandra there.”
Next to him, Cassandra groaned. “Ugh.”
“See. Two peas...one pod.” Varric said, a wide grin on his face.
They rode under the portcullis and into a large courtyard teeming with merchants, soldiers, and visitors. Anders brought his horse to a stop in front of a stable hand and swung himself down. He was immediately mobbed by his advisors. Behind them formed a small group of people all waving and shouting.
“Inquisitor! If you have a moment…”
“We are glad you are back, Inquisitor. Leliana and I have been talking…”
“Not know Josie, this is important. It’s just in from the…”
“Inquisitor, the troops require…”
“Please! My village is being attacked…”
“And I want to know right now what you will do for…”
“A child has come down some illness…”
Anders stared at the group of people and closed his eyes, breathing slowly. When he opened his eyes, the entire group was still there, all still talking as one. He glanced at Fenris who frowned and shook his head. Anders’ entire face lit up, and he cast.
The group grew as he shrunk. Within moments, he was shaking his back paw and dodging grabbing hands. He dashed past his advisors and up the stairs to the smaller courtyard of the inner Keep. There, he stopped under the shade of bush to groom himself. He could hear Bull laughing while Cullen called for him to come back.
Lyrium blue alerted him to Fenris’ presence and he stuck his head out from under the bush. Fenris tisked, but said nothing as he bent to pick up Anders. Anders settled on Fenris’ shoulder and began to groom his ear, making Fenris chuckle.
They had just turned towards the main stairs of the Keep when a voice called to them.
“That is the Inquisitor, no? I had heard he could become a cat.”
Zevran ambled across the courtyard. At his side was a petite woman in Warden blues. She shoved at Zevran, and he laughed.
“You jest. He’s a cat?”
“My Heart, I would never. I introduce Warden Commander Cora Cousland. My Heart, this is Fenris and Inquisitor Anders.”
Anders sighed and nudged Fenris till he was put down. Magic pulsed and he stood human, scratching at his chin. He reached for Fenris’ hand and squeezed it. “I’m Anders, yes. Sorry. There was a crowd, and I wasn’t feeling like being boxed in. If we hurry, we can hide in my rooms before they realize I’m up here.”
Cora grinned and bounced on her toes. “I know what it feels like to be chased around by obligations.”
“Then, to our rooms. Right, Fenris.”
“I suppose. Though I am watching you, elf.”
Zevran held up his hands. “Again, peace.”
Cora rolled her eyes. “Zevran flirts, but is harmless. I apologize, now, for the rest of my Wardens. We are a varied bunch. I’m sure you’ll be rolling your eyes when you meet them.”
Anders gestured at Skyhold’s teaming courtyards as he followed Cora into the Keep proper. “We are varied as well. Oh…” He came to a stop by the door leading into the main hall. “It’s full of nobles...dammit…”
Fenris sighed. “Amatus, please. What have I explained to you before? You step in with your head high and then you walk. Do not stop. Or, allow me to go first. They will definitely not stop you.”
Anders nodded and then offered Cora his arm. “Here. Just in case…”
“In case of what?” Cora asked right before she was swept through the room by Anders. Fenris set a fast pace down the center of an aisle that led to an simple chair sitting on a dias. The nobility parted before him, people turning to look and gasping when they saw Anders. A murmur filled the Hall as the nobles began to whisper. Fenris paid them no mind and turned left, mid-way down the aisle and took the group along the wall to a small door being guarded by a burly dwarf.
“Fenris,” The dwarf said as he saluted.
“Percy. We are not to be bothered.”
“Heard you loud and clear. Inquisitor Anders, M’lord.”
“Percy. Feeling well today?”
“Right as rain, Your Eminence.”
Anders norted. “Can we go back to simply, Herald?”
“I would, but Lady Montilyet overhead me use it and I got an earful about protocol. Sorry. It’s either Inquisitor or Your Eminence or M’lord...pick your preference.”
Anders grumbled. “I’ll talk to Josie. Just don’t let them in.”
“Yes, Messere.” Percy saluted and winked at Anders. “Left you a little something, by the way. Missus sent it. She says thank you for the tincture, and she feels better.”
“Excellent!” Anders squeezed Percy’s shoulder with his other hand and then led Cora through the small doorway.
More guards were dotted along the long corridor. Anders followed Fenris up a flight of stairs and to another door that opened into their private suite. Anders led Cora and Zevran in, and Fenris shut the door and bolted it.
“Easier to just come here,” Anders explained as he gestured to the seating near the fire.
“You handled that well. Do you know all of your guards?” Cora asked as she sat. Zevran sprawled next to her, his head on her shoulder. She kissed the tip of one of his ears and smiled when he purred. “I know I can name all of the ones at the Vigil, but we’re considerably smaller than Skyhold.”
“I try to learn as many names as possible.” Anders sat down and began to pull off his boots. A snuffling noise had him looking up. Lady Waggles bounded into the room, gave a howl, and leapt up onto Anders’ lap. Anders let out an oof and tried to grip the wiggling mabari, who was too busy covering his face with kisses to care that she was sliding off his legs.
“Waggles. No. Down.” Fenris snapped his fingers and Waggles slid from Anders’ legs and visibly drooped. “We do not leap onto the furniture.”
Waggles ducked her head lower. Anders chuckled at her hang-dogged expression.
“Leave off, she’s just saying hi. Isn’t that right, sweetheart? Yes, I did miss you. Yes I did! I’m sorry I didn’t bring you. Were you good? Did you have fun with Cullen?” Anders cooed at Waggles.
Waggles wiggled her butt and howled joyously.
“Does she not care we’re here?” Cora asked.
Waggles turned to look at her and boofed. “You are relaxed here. She doesn’t view you or Zev as a threat. Right, pretty girl?” Anders settled back in the chair and smiled when Waggles sat at his feet. “Now then, I suppose we should talk business…”
“I suppose we should. How much do you know about the Wardens?” Cora asked.
“Very little. I was in the Gallows for most of my life. No Wardens ever visited there, and the sum total of my escapes only got me to the outskirts of the city. I know you fight the Blights and that there used to be gryphons. But beyond that, nothing.”
Cora leaned her head back against the settee and stared up at the ceiling. “What I am going to tell you breaks our Code, but...you need to know. You need to understand what is happening and why.”
“Your secrets are safe with me. I won’t tell another soul,” Anders said.
Fenris nodded. “I will not speak of this to another, you have my word.”
“Alright. Not that it matters. Your advisors will need to be told. This...is too big to simply hide because of Codes and promises.” She exhaled and then looked at Anders. “The Wardens can fight the darkspawn because we take the taint into ourselves. It’s a sacrifice; one we make voluntarily. The taint, it gives us the ability to sense the darkspawn and to go into the Deep Roads without worrying about the Blight. It also allows us to kill an archdemon. But…” She swallowed and ran a hand through Zevran’s hair. “But it cuts our lives short. Most Wardens have only thirty or so years before the taint begins to overwhelm them. Slowly, the voices of the darkspawn overtake our minds till we experience what is known as the Calling. It’s a...a singing...a vicious, twisted, painful singing in our minds, our dreams, our thoughts. It means we’re a handful of months from beginning the transformation into a ghoul.”
“Maker,” Anders breathed out. “Sweet Andraste…”
“When we hear it, we go to Orzammar and we...we go down into the Deep Roads to fight until we die.”
“You will not do this alone, My Heart. I have sworn to be with you.” Zevran murmured, turning and pushing up to press a kiss to her cheek. “Do not mourn. Do not let it win.”
Cora pressed her face to Zevran’s hair and exhaled. When she looked up, her eyes were damp. “We are hearing the Calling. Every Warden in Orlais and down into parts of Ferelden. The call is strong, terrifying. It hit the Vigil and every Warden panicked. I sent word to Weisshaupt with no success, so I tried the Orlesian Wardens. They are, in a word, crazed. I thought it strange that this was all happening at once and went to an old...well, I suppose at this stage he is a friend. We did some research. A name kept appearing…”
“Corypheus,” Fenris said.
“Yes. He’s more like a darkspawn I met a long time ago. One who was intelligent and could control the Blight, in a way. He was twisted, unstable, and viciously smart. Much like Corypheus.”
“So...you’re here because…”
“The Wardens will do anything to stop a Blight. We’ll give up our very lives. Joining with a tainted magister wouldn’t be beyond us. I refused the call to go to Orlais and now they brand me and mine traitors. We want to help you stop Corypheus. I left my group to come here. They were going to the Western Approach to follow a lead, but I didn’t want to wait to find out more. I wanted to, well, come and see the lay of the land as it were.”
“We accept your aid, of course. If what you say is true...if Corypheus is creating a false Calling...then the Wardens are acting out of fear.”
Cora nodded. “You are correct, but do not be too quick to give them leniency. We are a formidable foe. We fight till death, and our mages are not above blood magic.”
Fenris frowned. “You allow maleficarum in your ranks?”
“Some Commanders encourage it. Anything to stop the Blight.”
Cora sighed. “I do not have any blood mages, other than Avernus, in my group. I have a Second who is damn near invincible. Several force mages, elemental masters...a few healers. But no, none of mine have gone that far. Yet. What will happen as the Calling wears them down is anyone's guess. Still, I saw what happened when blood magic is allowed to lead…”
Fenris glanced at Anders, his hands clenching. “There is no good…”
“The Blight does not care if you make a deal with a demon or not. It is not good versus bad. There is no black and white when fighting a true Blight or the darkspawn. In the depths of the Deep Roads, a Warden mage using blood magic can save an entire squad. We watch for abominations and put any down, though it is a rare thing to happen. Surprisingly. I guess giving us all the choice...knowing our death could be at any moment...there is little a demon can offer…except…”
“Except?” Anders asked.
“Stopping the Blight. And a cure for the taint.” Cora rubbed her chin. “Tempting...any Warden would kill for those two things.”
“We are close, my Heart. We are,” Zevran said, taking one of Cora’s hands. “Avernus…”
“We are researching a way to stop the Taint. Avernus may be an old blood mage, but he knows his stuff. We’re close. If we can stop Corypheus from destroying the world, well...we can finish our research. And perhaps this false Calling will never happen again.”
“So what do you propose? If you’re at risk, why even offer to help us?” Anders asked.
She shook her head. “I’ve been sticking my nose where it doesn’t need to be since I was first made a Warden. This is no different, really. Sad you are part of the Chantry…”
“We aren’t. Part of the Chantry that is. I mean, my advisors are...in some way, well except for Josie. Who is a diplomat. But no, they renounced us. They’re over there and we’re over here.” Anders held his hands apart and waggled his fingers as he talked.
Cora chuckled. “Well, okay. Sort-of Chantry. Kind of. In a very loose manner.” She shook her head and sobered. “My Wardens are hiding out in the Western Approach. Something is happening out there. Something big. That’s where we need to be.”
“Then that’s where we’ll go. I’ll tell my advisors and set it up.” Anders shrugged. “They’ll want to bicker and complain first. There will be talk of political issues because it’s in Orlais and of course, somebody will want to worry over the entire Wardens issue. Speaking of...Wardens that is. While I’m talking with the advisors, you should go meet with Warden Blackwall. He hasn’t said anything about hearing this Calling but perhaps...I wouldn’t want him to suffer...if he knew…”
“Warden Blackwall? Hmm...never heard of him. Where is he out of?”
Anders glanced at Fenris. “Ferelden. We found him in Ferelden helping out some farmers. Is that normal?”
“Helping out...no. We do, of course, have recruiters that wander looking for people to join but I haven’t had to send one out in ages. I show up and end up with two or three people wanting to try.” She glanced at Zevran. “Do you know him?”
“No. I have not had dealings with a Blackwall. Never in my time with you, at least. And he has never stopped by the Vigil. I would remember. I remember all who stop in to see my Heart.”
“All of them? Have you seen the amount of nobility that drops into Skyhold? And we’re on top of a mountain.”
Zevran laughed. “Ah. It is not so hard. Names and faces, little tidbits of gossip. It is what a good assassin should know. How else to infiltrate to kill? Ah, my handsome elf, do not worry. I have given up that life. My Heart...persuaded me...to a life at her side.”
Fenris narrowed his eyes and glared at Zevran. “I will be watching…”
“A good bodyguard is like an assassin, no? You notice things. You have been trained to. Your body remembers even as you mold yourself into a new life. I understand. The Crows...they do not give up one of their own. I killed my Masters.”
Fenris bared his teeth in a vicious smile. “As did I.”
“Then we understand each other. I am not here to hurt your lover. I am here with mine, to keep her safe. She needs me, yes? Just as he needs you?”
Fenris slowly relaxed. Anders reached a hand out and Fenris took it and pressed a kiss to Anders’ palm. “Perhaps you can give me some pointers...from an assassin’s mindset...on Anders safety.”
Zevran smiled. “It would be my pleasure to. Would you introduce us to this Warden Blackwall? A fair trade?”
“I will. Anders, you will keep Cassandra with you after the meeting?”
Anders rolled his eyes. “Sure. Yes. Fine. I’m sure she’ll want to go. Barris as well. Though we have Blackwall…”
“Cassandra or Barris, not both. Bull, Dorian, Varric, Hawke and her group. That should be enough,” Fenris said.
“Cole will want to go. And Bull will talk Sera into going.”
Cora laughed. “Do they all pull lots to see who gets to travel with you?”
“Some of them just show up. I can’t stop them, so I just let them.” Anders shrugged. “I’ll get this handled. Fenris can show you to Blackwall. We’ll meet back up for dinner. The Tavern?”
“Sounds perfect. Send for me if you need help,” Cora said.
“Oh...don’t you worry...I will.” Anders nodded as he spoke. “You can count on it.”
There was a harried looking messenger standing just outside of the war room. Anders glanced around and then slumped. His advisors were all still bickering over the prudence of going to the far western reaches of Orlais. Anders hadn’t given them much of a choice, but that hadn’t stopped them from bitching at him about how unwise it was to head to someplace filled with darkspawn and possibly crazed wardens.
“Arnolf? Correct?” Anders rubbed at his face. “I was really hoping for a sit down.”
“I’m sorry, Your Inquisitorness…”
“Oo...I rather like that.”
“Message for you. From Dennet. He says to come rescue Blackwall. The Warden Commander has him pinned to a wall and the damned elf is interrogating him.”
“Which...nevermind. Thank you. I will go right now. Anything else?”
“No. Well, yes. But I don’t want to be a bother…”
Ander stared at him until the messenger squirmed. “It’s my right shoulder. I took a knock in training yesterday and it bruised. The bruise is nearly black and it...oh well. Thank you...Inqui...Ser...Anders, Ser…”
Anders finished healing the bruise. He smiled. “I won’t tell anybody you slipped. And you’re welcome. If you would, tell Cassandra that I’m in the stables? She should be out once she’s done haranguing Commander Cullen.”
“Yes, Inquisitor. Thank you, Inquisitor. Anders. Ser.”
Anders grinned before rushing off.
It didn’t take him long to navigate Skyhold. Not when in cat form. Dashing down hallways and through crevices that only he knew about made getting from the War Room to the stables a work of minutes.
He padded into the hay-strewn room unnoticed and sat down next to a bailed round of hay. Across from him, Blackwall held his hands up in surrender.
“And where is the real Blackwall?” Cora asked, the question causing Anders to stiffen in surprise.
“He died. I...I didn’t do it. I swear. He was taking me to do the joining in the Free Marches when he...there was a cave...he said we needed to go down there. We were overwhelmed. He fell…”
“And why didn’t you just continue on?”
“Because...because I didn’t know if I would be welcomed or not. Just my word? No Blackwall?”
Cora rolled her eyes. “That’s your excuse for all this? The Wardens take anybody...except cowards.”
Blackwall’s hands fell and he slipped to his knees. “I am. I am, you know. A coward. I ran. After all the things I’d done. I left my men to take the fall for me. I’m not worthy to even wear this crest. The Wardens…”
Cora snorted. “We aren’t nearly as noble as you think. Vashaden…” The curse had Fenris turning to Cora, his eyebrow raised. “I traveled with Sten...a Sten...he’s the Arishok now. Did you know? Anyway...fuck. Fuck fuck fuck…”
“Well, I can’t give him the joining now, can I? Not with the Calling seeping into my mind. He’d go mad. Assuming he even survived in the first place. Merda. You put me in a fine pickle, Thom Rainier.”
Anders padded forward. When he reached Fenris, he was back to himself. He scratched at his nose. “So…”
“He’s not a Warden. Never was a Warden. He’s not even Blackwall…” Cora picked at her nails and then straightened. “Inquisitor Anders…”
Anders sighed and stood up as well. “Yes, Commander Cousland?”
“Under the Rite of Conscription, I claim this man for the Grey Wardens.”
Anders looked at Blackwall. The man was curling in on himself, head hanging low. “Is that what you want, Blackwall?”
“That’s not my name...I don’t deserve…I’m a murderer. I and my men killed a noble family. And for what? Gold. I didn’t even do it for politics. I did it for gold. And I lied to my men, dragged them into it...there were children. Women…”
“Be glad I’m older and wiser, and have had the pleasure of serving with Nathaniel Howe. Otherwise I’d kill you where you cower. You are no Howe, but...what you did...” Cora said, her face grim. “At any rate, being a Warden isn’t a gift. It’s a death sentence. It’s a life of sacrifice with nothing but death as the reward. It is absolution. Accept the Conscription and you will be one of us, a brother in arms, a brother in blood. Your sacrifice may come sooner than you think. It would be justice either way.”
“Then...then I accept.”
“Then I pronounce you Warden-in-training Rainier. Blackwall died. And will be remembered as a man who gave his life in the way all Wardens do. Thom Rainier. You may be asked to give your life sooner than you think.”
“If that is my destiny…”
“He goes with you,” Fenris said, his voice tightly laced with fury. “I cannot trust him. Not now.”
“No Anders. In this, you will let me make the decisions. You cannot have him at your side. This will come out. And if he did kill a noble of Orlais, then it will speak poorly on the Inquisition. But if he is taken by the Wardens…then justice has been served. Orlais will have no recourse, and the Inquisition - and you - remain safe. His lies place you at risk.”
Anders groaned. “Blackwall…”
“My name is Thom Rainier.”
“Thom...is this really what you wish?”
Thom exhaled and nodded. “It is. I want a chance to redeem myself. I want..I don’t deserve this. I don’t. But I swear to you, I will go willingly.”
“Then...he’s yours.” Anders said to Cora.
“He will go with us to the Western Approach. There, he will join with my men. Nathaniel Howe will keep an eye on him. I can trust him and Justice to handle him.”
“Justice?” Anders’ brow scrunched up.
“You’ll meet him in the Western Approach. Till then, up you go Thom. Gather your belongings. Zevran will show you to our suite of rooms. From now on, you stay with us. You’re a Warden and I’m your Commander.”
“Maker. Do I need to make a pronouncement or something?”
“Sadly, yes. We need to do it officially. We’ll get with your Josephine and schedule it. Did you get them to agree.”
“No, but we’re going. A week. We have a week to prepare and then we leave for the Western Approach. We’ll get this handled before we go.”
Cora nodded and then gestured. “Come on. You need a bath and I need a drink. Zev, if you would?”
“Of course, My Heart.” Zevran moved to stand behind Thom. “Shall we?”
Thom didn’t look at Anders as he walked from the stables. Anders watched him go, his heart clenching tightly.
“I’ll miss him…” Anders said.
“I know. But we never really knew him.”
Anders glanced at Fenris. “Maybe. Maybe we saw more of him than he anticipated.”
“He still lied to us.”
“People lie, Fenris.”
“They do. For power, for gain, for safety. His lie could have hurt us.”
“Surely nobody else is hiding a secret like this...right? Right Fenris?”
Fenris wrapped an arm around Anders’ shoulders. “If they are and I find out, I will kill them.”
“Oh well...that’s wonderful. Bloody. Harsh. Very you. Very you, my love.”
Fenris chuckled and kissed Anders’ cheek. “I would pull out the heart of any who think of harming you.”
“Drown us in blood, huh. Very dashing.”
“You tease,” Fenris kissed Anders’ other cheek. “When I am serious.”
Anders leaned down and pressed a quick kiss to Fenris’ lips. “Promise me you will let this go. Thom...Blackwall. Justice has been served.”
Fenris sighed. “For you. Yes.”
“Good. Now then. I want a bath. How about a bath? And then maybe a nap? And then dinner?”
Fenris took Anders’ hand. “That sounds perfect. Allow me to scrub your back?”
“Maker yes, please. Let’s enjoy it now. I just heard that the Western Approach is all sand. And you know how that gets into my fur.”
Fenris chuckled and led Anders from the stable, Anders grumbling about sand in between his toes the entire walk back to their room.