So it had come to this. All of the tears, patience, words and hopes. It had all come down to a few brief moments in time that would change the world.
A judder of the earth beneath them.
A red beam of light, piercing the heavens and parting the swirling clouds.
A silence; one that hung heavy and thick like foam atop the peak of a wave just before the crash.
A resounding explosion that would haunt those within earshot of it for the rest of their days.
And an awful, awful silence.
It was broken by a breathy exclamation from Meredith, but Sebastian's ears didn't, wouldn't, hear her. They didn't care what she had to say. They didn't care what anyone had to say any more.
The tanned arms that circled his chest from behind had been the only things stopping him from hurtling towards the eery red flames and into the jaws of oblivion as the ground had shaken. He would gladly go there if it meant he could bring Elthina back from it.
"And just how is you running in there going to help anyone?"
Isabela's voice was hard, strong, and he was shamed by it. Bile rising to his throat as red ashes danced around them, he choked suddenly and slipped to his knees with an anguished cry. Maker, hear me! Maker, hear me...hear me, you bastard, hear me. What have you done? What have you allowed? Why?
A personality he hadn't felt for many years was rising in him, unbidden. Like another him, long forgotten, it clawed at his senses, it screamed to be set free. Is this what possession felt like? Sebastian knelt there on the stone floor, oblivious to anything around him as the grief and sorrow were slowly consumed and absorbed by his darker, harder parts. Disbelief begat fury, sorrow gave way to bitterness, shock became bile. His face changed and it felt good. He leaned into the rising anger and allowed it to fuel him. One drink in the Hanged Man had been the difference between his being here now, and his being just another charred corpse in the raging furnace before them; a charred corpse like Elthina
the woman he had looked upon as a mother. The personal mixed with the wider pain as his blood boiled and his mind raged. Slowly he started to become aware of voices around him. There had been a fight. Templars lay bleeding around them as several of his companions heaved heavy breaths and looked amongst themselves in a state of numb disbelief. No numbness for Sebastian; not yet. The archer's eyes crawled towards the one figure that was not standing, whose face did not display the same shock and horror as the others. The figure that was sat, motionless, on a discarded crate. His eyes gazed blankly ahead, his hands rested on his knees, and his face wore no expression at all.
Sebastian slowly clambered to his feet, a grimace twisting his features. He started to take slow, laboured steps towards the man he had, Maker help him, wanted to save. To SAVE. The man he...the man Elthina had...His head was heavy with the turmoil of thoughts and emotions, and so he closed them down, shut them off and focused only on the dominant. Anders had murdered Elthina. Anders had reduced his chantry, his home, to rubble. Anders had betrayed his trust, Alistair's trust...Hawke's trust.
Hawke. Where was Hawke?
Through the fog of his anger, Sebastian realised that someone else had reached the silent apostate before him. The Prince stopped in his tracks as he saw the expression on the man's features. Sebastian Vael hadn't believed that anyone else could hurt in that moment the way he himself was hurting. He hadn't believed it...until he saw Cortland's face.
Clenching his fists and shutting his jaw tight, Sebastian stood by and allowed his consuming anger to swirl up within him. Hawke was the only person with more right than he to approach the murdering mage. Sebastian would let him say his good-byes.
Maker's balls, her arms hurt. Isabela winced a little as she stroked the scratches and blossoming bruises that adorned her forearms. Even now she wasn't entirely sure how she'd managed to hold the trembling Prince back at all; his strength had been overwhelming. But the urgency, the terror of the situation had fuelled her somehow; given her that fabled rush of adrenaline that she'd heard the washer women of Rivain talk about. That inner reserve that made Mothers become gods when it came to saving their children. And why exactly had that instinct kicked in, Isabela wondered to herself? Blowing gently and sending a small ash cinder dancing in front of her, the pirate's eyes found Sebastian. He was kneeling amongst the chaos, eyes staring, mouth open. He looked...defeated, and it hurt. It hurt because what she had been holding back from the flames wasn't just a man, but an idea. Sebastian Vael represented what they could all be. What she could be. He was a man of ideals who believed in people and in heroes, and Isabela needed to know that his way could work. Silently she willed him to fight and to overcome this. If not for himself, for everyone who looked to him as an inspiration; whether they voiced it or not.
As he slowly rose to his feet, she shivered and let her line of sight follow his until it came to rest on the scene she'd been unconsciously trying to ignore. Cortland Hawke was slowly approaching the still, hunched figure that Anders had become, and Isabela had run out of wit.
Anders looked as defeated as Sebastian did. While the apostate had become the focus of the storm, of the hate and anger that swept around them all, Isabela could bring herself to feel neither when she looked at his bowed head. His hair fell forwards, concealing his face from her, but she didn't need to see it to know how it would look. She had probably worn a similar expression as she had fled Kirkwall with the Qunari tome safely in hand, knowing that her actions had doomed so many. She had been able to turn around, of course. There was no turning around for Anders. Not now. The slumped shoulders, the sunken head, the wringing hands. This was not a man proud of what he'd done. This was a man defeated and cornered; forced to play his last hand.
And what a hand it had been.
Looking away from him and at the smouldering remains of the chantry, Isabela felt acutely that their little group were right now in the eye of a storm. A vast storm that would blow over Thedas and change it forever. There was going to be no turning around for anyone any more. Her eyes passed over her companions, from Aveline's wide-eyed horror, to Merrill's shocked sadness, Varric's gaping wonder and Fenris's dark hate. They would all be picking sides, sooner or later. It had been fun, while it lasted.
Sebastian was shouting.
Isabela's head whipped back to where the three main players were gathered. Anders was still seated, his back to the two arguing men, as if it wasn't his very life that they were fighting over.
"...that there'll be nothing left of Kirkwall for these maleficarum to rule."
Sebastian's voice. His words...this wasn't him speaking. This was his hatred, his anger.
"Do not interfere, Sebastian!"
Hawke's shout silenced the Prince, but only momentarily. Isabela caught Sebastian's glance at the feathered shoulders behind Hawke, saw a flash of deepest regret and sorrow, before his face hardened again. With an expression that held hurt and anger in equal measure, Sebastian flicked his eyes briefly between Hawke and Anders before he leaned in towards Cortland's steel gaze.
"I won't fight you, Hawke. My death now will mean nothing. But..." And just like that, the hurt disappeared, leaving only venom "I swear to you, I will come back and find your precious Anders. And I will teach him what true justice is."
If the line had been meant to affect the mage in any way, Sebastian was to be disappointed. Anders did not move, did not flinch. Did not turn and watch as the Prince span on his heel and walked out of the square. Merrill gave a small whimper as he strode past without so much as a good-bye, the others watched him go with a mixture of sad and shocked expressions. No one could completely disagree with him, not after this. But no one was about to follow either; not quite believing the darkness they had just seen in their white knight. Isabela saw Fenris flinch as if holding himself back. Of all of them, perhaps he had felt the Prince's departure most keenly. She herself fought an urge to run after him, to pull him back. But back to what? He had no place here.
She was forced back to the drama at hand by a guttural cry. Hawke's cry.
Eyes widening, Isabela took in the scene before her. Anders was standing now, facing Cortland. He had both hands clamped firmly around Hawke's, and Hawke's in turn were wrapped around the handle of one of his daggers, the vicious blade tip of which sat squarely pointed at Anders's bared throat. Each man seemed to wrestle with both the physical and the unseen as they looked into each others' eyes in a deadlock. It was hard to tell from looking whose hands were doing the leading, but as soon as Anders found his voice, it became clear. It rang out oddly amongst the dancing ash, as if it had never expected to be used again.
"Don't you understand? Forgiving me means nothing! You have to end this now, before there's nothing of me left to kill. Please!"
There was a struggle as both sets of hands pushed and pulled, teeth gnashed and faces grimaced. Then, overcoming the taller man, Cortland managed to hurl the blade away, sending it clanging to the ground. Anders watched it skid and slide along the cobbles with a look of pure horror on his face as Hawke took a few faltering steps back.
Cortland's chest heaved, and Isabela could not even begin to put herself in his position right now. This was too cruel on them all. Too cruel.
"Who said anything about forgiving you?" the champion spat out, "It's your life, throw it away if you will, but do not ask me to be the one to take it. Do not ask this of me, Anders."
There was a pained pause and then, with a sudden cry and a jerked movement, Anders was on his knees, grabbing up the blade in his shaking hands and tipping his head and shoulders forward over it. Again, his hair obscured his features, and this time Isabela was grateful for that small mercy. What expression can a man make as he faces death like this?
All eyes were on the hunched mage as his quivering form huddled over the knife's point. Isabela let her mind recount flashes of the man when he was healing, smiling, talking about his blighted cat...Cortland's hands were twitching madly at his sides, as if it was taking every fibre of his being not to run over to Anders and stop him, but he stood by, just as they all did.
Before Isabela's eyes, the healer twitched and moaned as he wrestled with the blade in his hands until, finally, his body convulsed and an angry blue glow enveloped his form with a flash. Again, metal met stone as the blade was thrown...this time by Anders's own hands.
Justice, it seemed, was not ready to let his host die yet.
The clash was followed by a sound that chilled Isabela's heart. It started as a sob, a choke, before it grew louder and heavier and she realised it was coming from the mage. As the sound grew, Anders leaned forward on his knees, his neck stretched out as the guttural moan forced its way out of him. Then, as it climaxed, he threw back his head and let it fly. His arms hung loosely at his sides, hands trailing on the ground, as his throat opened up and shouted to the heavens. It was a primal cry, a wrenched scream of pure anguish, one like Isabela had never heard, and nor had anyone else going by the frightened looks on their faces.
It was too much for Cortland, it seemed.
In an instant he was on his knees, covering the man, stroking his damp hair, attempting to steady the quaking form in his arms.
"I know, I know..." He was saying, over and over.
Anders growled and spat and flailed in his hold, as if trying to push him away, but Cortland held firm, and soon the hands that pushed at him seemed to clutch instead, fingers that scratched at skin soon gripped at material.
Gradually, the wail diminished into heaving sobs and Anders fell forwards onto Cortland's arm, grasping it as tears coursed his cheeks.
"Why won't you just...let me go?"
Cortland Hawke didn't offer an answer. Isabela wondered if he knew it himself. He just held the mage tightly as the city around them erupted into chaos.
Sebastian wasn't sure how much time had passed since he had left the square. He wasn't even sure where he was headed. He had walked, shade-like, through streets of screaming children and crying adults. Ash smeared his cheeks and his steps were heavy and laboured. To an observer his eyes looked cold, dead, not a whisper of the turmoil within showing through on his fixed expression. It meant that his would-be attackers were getting a shock when his hands would flash out and the opportunistic bandits found themselves bleeding. He hadn't drawn his bow and had chosen instead to fight his way through the crowds with twin daggers, too long forgotten. His rogue reflexes and skills flooded back into him as he sliced and whirled and ripped through flesh, savouring the warmth, the closeness of taking a life with a blade. But it was the taking of just one life that powered his thoughts underneath those glazed, blue eyes.
Why? Why had he not simply loosed an arrow into the mage's twisted head there and then?
Why had he said such awful, threatening things about a city at large when really, all he needed to do was reach around and slice the damned apostate's throat? He couldn't kill him because
You're a good man, Sebastian.
How many times had he heard those words and revelled in them?
How much he doubted them now.
And why, why was that name still on his lips? The Maker had failed him. Had failed Elthina. Had failed Kirkwall. Thedas was alone and deserted. Doomed to find its own, broken, bloody way
The strength of his own shout took him by surprise. A few beggar-children who had been sneaking up close to steal a purse from the crazy-but-rich-looking man squealed at the noise and ran. Sebastian watched them go and slowly, slowly sheathed his blades. The sound of his shout had somehow pierced through his dreamlike state, and now he let his back fall heavily against stone as his head tilted upward. His eyes saw flames, his ears heard screams. Try as he might, he could not cancel them out. Finally, slowly, his mind started to piece together the events that had lead him to this moment.
We each have our part to play, you and I.
Our plan is not his plan
Was Anders even alive now? He didn't know.
Sebastian closed his eyes. Were they really so alone? Or was this, this chaos, this destruction, was this truly the sign he'd been asking for? His mind's eye remembered Anders's face back at Hawke's estate; remembered that open smile. It was the same kind of smile Sebastian had started to wear back when he truly felt he belonged in the chantry. It was a smile that said 'I have a purpose. I have a meaning. He has shown me this'. Dear Maker
A shiver took hold of the Prince and he sank slowly down into a crouch, ignoring the screams of a nearby mage as she transformed into demon form and was cut down by three frightened looking templars. One of them threw a glance at the man in white armour before they were on their way again, leaving only a corpse and flames behind. Sebastian's eyes remained closed, but his lips started to move
a mutter at first.
"Maker. Is this?...Is this your sign? Is this your plan? Or am I simply going insane?"
The sound grew in strength, in courage, as Sebastian Vael rose to his feet, directing his voice and gaze towards the heavens. "This is not what I wanted. I don't even believe that this is what Anders wanted. This is what YOU wanted, isn't it? We are all playing pieces in your mighty game, oh, Maker. Was he your instrument then? Was he even the endgame
or was he just another messenger for your unspoken goals?"
Sebastian threw his arms wide, hands open, palms towards the sky, and bellowed. "Well, here I am! Strike me down now and be done with it. Isn't that how you treat those who cared for you?"
When nothing but the crackle of flames answered him, Sebastian let his arms fall back down. He dropped his head and looked at the burning corpses around him; listened to the screams of Kirkwall as his pulse raced.
Sebastian did not lift his head, only his eyes this time. Peering through thick brows at the darkening sky he clenched his fists in an act as far from bringing them together in prayer as he could manage. His voice was strong and defiant as his words rang out between heavy breaths.
"Maker, I hear you. I hear you and I obey. You want a war?..." He pointed upward with one finger, jabbing at the sky "I will give you a war! A war like Thedas has never seen, and it will be in your name, Maker. Yours!"
It was done.
Sebastian Vael, Prince of Starkhaven, was going to reclaim his Kingdom.
And Maker help anyone who got in his way.