Sign of the Maker Part two
"Hawke, behind you!"
Cortland Hawke turned at the sound of Aveline's shout without hesitation, twin daggers whirling. The fight had been a long and hard one, and he was panting and tired, he knew, but he would not go down like this. Almost automatically his eyes sought out the party's healer as he span, hoping beyond hope that this wouldn't be his last look. Please, Maker, not now.
He needn't have worried.
Before his blades could bite into the flesh of the man behind him, an arrow lodged itself firmly into the forehead of his would-be attacker, sending the last of their current foes crashing to the floor. There was a moment's pause as the party sheathed weapons and brushed dirt from their clothing, Hawke letting out a whistle as he did so.
"That one was pretty close." He turned and looked up at a raised section of the Bonepit mining cavern, where the Prince of Starkhaven stood. "A timely arrival, Sebastian, you have my thanks."
A small head movement from the Prince as he descended towards the group suggested thanks weren't needed. "Varric told me you four had come down here without an archer's bow to back you up. I got here as soon as I could, though I'm sorry I seem to have missed the bulk of the fight."
As Merrill let her rock armour fade, Aveline knocked back an elfroot potion, one hand on her hip. "You certainly made an entrance. That could have ended badly."
"You're not kidding." Anders jogged up to Cortland's side, his drained face a picture of concern. "The sooner you master the art of having eyes in the back of your head, the easier I'll rest at night."
Hawke smiled at his healer and cocked one eyebrow teasingly. "What makes you think I'd let you rest easy at night?"
The comment drew an embarrassed groan from most of the party, and an angry blush from the apostate "You know what I mean! Just because you're the Champion now, that doesn't mean you need to fling yourself into the line of danger any more than is necessary. That paralysis spell stopped me from being able to do a thing, I thought
" Panic swallowed the rest of his sentence. Hawke placed a hand on one feathered shoulder and gave a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry. I'll be more careful."
Anders nodded, then gave a strained smile and let his eyes move to a second pathway peeking out from behind a corner of rock. "I'll just check we're all clear."
As he moved off, Sebastian and Aveline gave Hawke a look that suggested they shared the mage's misgivings. Sebastian vocalised their thoughts.
"It's not often that I'll agree with our resident renegade, but he's right, Hawke. This city needs you as its beacon. You have us to back you up, so you needn't be reckless."
Merrill had already started the process of checking the corpses around them for anything useful, a little squeal making its way out of the small elf every time she came across something shiny. It was an act that Aveline constantly had to close her eyes to. As if it wasn't bad enough that they were down here carrying out their own brand of justice, did Hawke really need his companions to be thieves as well?
"So, who were they this time?" enquired the newly-arrived archer "Thieves, smugglers
Sebastian gave a nod of satisfaction. Despite his apprehensive feelings towards the amount of death his new companions inflicted, somehow he trusted Hawke enough to know that any enemy of his was an enemy worth felling. It was a pity he didn't share as much trust when it came to the man's choice of companions.
As if the sound was summoned by his very thinking of the mage, Sebastian's trained ears suddenly picked up on a sharp intake of breath coming from behind the rock outcrop where Anders was investigating. So as not to throw any extra concern onto the others, who were busy examining Merrill's finds, he quietly and casually headed around the corner to find the apostate bent double, a shaking hand at his waist.
"I'll be right there. Just
give me a moment." A pause, then "Actually, could you hand me the lyrium potion in that knapsack? Just
just don't say anything."
Blood was seeping from a gash in the blonde's side and between his fingers, and Sebastian realised in a shocked instant that the man had wanted to heal himself away from where he could cause any worry to their Champion. As he silently drew a small vial from the bag on the ground and placed it into the reaching, bloody hand, the Prince's mind was once again thrown into a confused turmoil about the mage's character. How could one person be at the same time selfish and selfless? Clever and stupid? Good
The pulse of healing magic faded, and Anders straightened himself warily, testing the place where the wound had been. Then his shoulders relaxed and he offered a very faint smile to the archer. "Thanks."
Hardly the most gracious thank you Sebastian had ever received, but it was appreciated none the less. Before he could say 'you're welcome', however, their brief truce was interrupted by Hawke's raised voice, tinged with fear.
"Anders, get out of there! Anders, Sebastian
The sounds of scuffling and Aveline and Merrill's muffled calls to 'stop' suggested that the two women were desperately holding the rogue back from something. Anders and Sebastian turned as one to look at the cavern behind them, and their eyes widened as they saw, and felt, exactly what had the Champion so scared.
The passage roof was caving in.
Sebastian cursed himself for not realising, not noticing the weak structure in this side passage sooner, but it was too late to heap blame. Reflexes took over, allowing him to dodge a few larger rocks that threatened to cave in his skull as sure as the cavern around them. Next to him, Anders had his arms thrown over his head, eyes shut tightly as a blue glow crept slowly up his pale neck. Great. Just the three of them, versus a cave-in.
Justice, using the mage's body and magic, managed to crumble some of the larger chunks of rock as they descended, and Sebastian pushed and pulled the apostate's frame through others as they desperately strained toward the larger cavern entrance. But the futile struggle ended abruptly as the two men felt a sickening shudder beneath their feet. It was no good. The whole place was about to collapse beneath and on top of them.
Blue eyes quickly reverted to amber and pulsing spirit marks vanished as Anders took control of himself with a growl, the look on his face grim and determined. With one arm he pulled the archer close to his side, and with the other he planted his staff firmly into the ground in front of them. His lips muttered something inaudible as an ethereal glow surrounded their bodies. Then his voice rang out with a tone Sebastian had never heard before, perhaps because he had never been important enough to the mage to warrant it.
"Cortland, get the hell out of here!"
It was the last thing Hawke heard before his wide, unblinking eyes watched the cavern in front of him collapse, burying his lover and his friend somewhere behind a wall of rock.
Through slitted eyes, all Anders could make out was darkness, darkness and more darkness. Oh, and a face. Sebastian's face. Great. He preferred the darkness.
"Are you okay?"
There was more concern in the brogue than he'd ever heard in it before, at least when it was for his own benefit. He must have done something terribly heroic and probably stupid to warrant it.
With a groan, Anders let himself sit up and take in their surroundings, which weren't much to look at. Right now they amounted to black. Sebastian moved back and sat a small distance away. Through the dark surrounding them Anders could just make out that the Prince's white armour was filthy from dust and mud. It would have been an almost satisfying sight, if his own clothes and person hadn't been likely equally soiled.
"We're alive. Fancy that."
"You saved us." A pause "Your magic saved us."
Anders gave a grim smile at that. "And doesn't that just get your nug."
He was rewarded with silence.
In the darkness, Anders probed his person for damage. He seemed physically fine but, Maker, he was exhausted. The arcane shield had really taken it out of him. It had taken a lot more energy than he could have expected to shield two people rather than one. And what good had it done them, he wondered? As his senses slowly returned, a rising panic gripped him. He was trapped. He was trapped again and there was nothing he could do. Where on Thedas were they anyway? And how long could they last down here in what amounted to a bubble of air in a sea of rock? A thought struck him and he suddenly groped about on the dusty floor.
"The knapsack. What happened to the bag?"
"It's not here. I checked while you were
Anders's heart sank. No lyrium. And there was no way he was summoning any kind of magic without it. Not for a while. He looked around them fearfully as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, and considered just how much oxygen they had been left with.
I've tried the walls. They're solid." Sebastian's voice was quiet. Factual. "There's no gap that I can make out. And I can't feel any flow of air."
"It's cold too
it's a pity we can't make a fire."
"Are you joking? That's the worst thing we could do. There's scant oxygen here as it is and a fire would only consume more. What do they teach you in those palaces?"
The voice that replied was laced with the more familiar snarl that Sebastian usually reserved for the mage, "I wouldn't know. I wasn't raised in one."
It was too much. Panic and frustration hit Anders with a rush. He was stuck underground, far away from help, with no magic, caved-in with a man who did nothing but belittle and infuriate him. Bethany had been right, the Maker really did have a sense of humour. He may as well be back in the
He put his head in his hands and let out a long groan. Then he got shakily to his feet and started prodding and poking at the stone around them. He barely had room to stand.
"I told you, I already checked the walls."
"Well I'm checking again."
"You won't find anything I didn't."
Anders rounded on the other man who was seated with his back against the wall, one knee raised.
"How can you be so calm?" He was almost embarrassed at the lack of calm in his own voice. Sebastian's voice was thoughtful as he answered. "I have faith."
A sneer twisted the blonde's lips "Oh? And you think the Maker will save us from this hole, do you?"
Even in the low light it was possible to see the small gleam that came to the Prince's blue eyes as he smiled up at Anders, slyly. "No." He said. "But I believe that Hawke will."
The apostate puffed his cheeks like a child before sitting down again with a shrug of his feathered shoulders. "Well, I guess we finally agree on something."
Silence reigned for a short while. Then, after a small intake of breath, the archer spoke.
"You know, maybe the Maker has given us this chance to talk."
Incredulity tinged the mage's reply "Are you really going to do this now? Really? What you see as a blessed chance from the Maker for us to converse, I see as a ton of rock being thrown on our heads and burying us alive. It doesn't really put me in the mood for chat; least of all your sort of chat."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sebastian's voice sounded a little hurt, and Anders heaved out a sigh before continuing.
not in the mood to hear about the Maker's plan for me right now, okay?"
"You're not a big fan, I can tell." There was a little humour in the tone this time, which was easier to deal with. Anders closed his eyes and let his head fall onto the rock behind him. He flexed his fingers, willing magic to flow, but his reserves were still depleted.
"I just don't think the Maker cares all that much for mages, that's all."
He regretted the words as soon as they'd been spoken.
"But," Sebastian sounded genuinely surprised "the Maker gave us the circle to protect the mages!"
With a grunt, Anders realised there was no escaping this conversation, any more than they could escape this blighted hole right now.
"Protect? Sebastian the circle does not protect. Do we really have to go through this again? Just how do you see making innocent mages tranquil as protecting them?"
"The tranquil state allows a mage to go on with his life. Safe from the forces that can bring him madness or demons
Or love, or dreams, or hope! Do you not think that they, that we, that I deserve those things?" His voice sounded strained now, he knew. He couldn't stand this. He had to get out.
There was a long pause before the archer spoke again. His words took Anders by surprise.
"What's it like?"
"What's what like?" Anders snapped back.
Sebastian shifted his position, swapping his raised leg and stretching the other out in front of him. Resting an arm on the newly elevated knee he continued "What's it like being a mage? You're right. I've never asked. I've never really considered your side. So, tell me."
Exasperated, Anders clenched and released his right hand a few times, his jaw twitching. Why now? Why here?
"I don't know. What's it like being an archer? What's it like being an arrogant sod?"
"Anders, I'm serious." Something in the tone made Anders open his eyes and look curiously at the man. He really was.
The Prince continued his question in earnest. "I've always been left with an image in my mind of mages constantly dealing with demons knocking on the door of their soul. Is that the case?"
Anders brought his knees up to his chin and hugged them gently. He stared into the darkness in front of him and pondered. If this really was a chance to influence the man's opinion, he'd be a fool not to take it.
"No. No, of course not. Most of the time we're no different from you; from anyone. In dreams, in moments of stillness, yes, they can find us. They sometimes do. But it takes a foolish and desperate mage to accept a demon's offer
most of the time."
"Have they come to you?" It was a fair question.
"Since Justice? No. I guess he somehow wards them away. He's a benevolent spirit, but I get the feeling that most of the fade's residents fear him; which is handy for me." The blonde's eyes closed again. "Before Justice? Yes. Yes, they came to me." A shiver coursed through his body as his mind was forced to recall moments he'd buried long ago. Flash memories of templar armour, of chains and of screams. A gentle blue light pulsed through him as Justice did his best to remove them again. With a husky voice, Anders forced himself to continue. "I didn't answer them. I was stronger than some. But, I'll tell you something important, Sebastian. When a mage is at his lowest; when he is cornered, frightened, broken and lost; when what the world has to offer is not worth having
that's when he is the most dangerous. At those times, a demon's sweet promises can sound like
Salvation." The Prince finished.
A silence fell again and Sebastian felt that a small candle had flickered to life inside of him. Maker, I understand a little better. He spoke slowly, showing respect for the explanation he'd been given.
"So, if a mage is shown kindness, if he feels safe, then a demon has less chance of succeeding." he paused, unsure of where the imperium would sit in this idea. He had a lot to think about. "The Maker meant the circle to protect mages. I believe that with my soul. If it is not doing that, then his will is being carried out wrongly."
"It's not doing that. Believe me, it's not." growled the mage next to him, hugging his knees tighter. The claustrophobia of this place was starting to make him feel ill.
Sebastian gave a nod. "I need to see it. I need to know. If it is as you say, mages are turning to demons at a time when they should turn to the Maker. His is the only salvation they should be seeking."
"His 'salvation'," Anders spat the word "amounts to imprisonment and a spiritual beheading. That's what the circle and its templars offer. That is its salvation. Mages shouldn't be put in a place where they need to seek any kind of salvation in the first place."
"We are all seeking salvation, Anders. All of us. And the Maker will give it to us."
The apostate made to retort, and then stopped himself. He sighed wearily. If the Prince had been willing to listen to him, it was only fair he let the man keep his beliefs. Maker knows he could do with some of his own down here. And there was that term again. Maker knows. Considering Sebastian's words, Anders felt a small realisation of his own. Perhaps the archer was right about one thing. Perhaps the Maker's will was indeed being carried out wrongly. Was it possible to separate the Maker Himself from his representation here in Thedas? It was food for thought.
Suddenly, Anders sat up with a jolt as a spark of energy flickered between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. He slowly raised the hand until it was level with his face, and took a breath. As he released it, small flames danced on his skin, tickling him in the most glorious way he could have imagined possible. Beside him, Sebastian's face spread into a matching smile and the two men gazed at the small sparks and flames as if they were
well, magic. Just the small light source was enough to lift their spirits a little.
"My mana. It's
it's back!" Anders breathed.
"I suppose the Maker decided we'd had long enough to talk." Sebastian risked the line with a grin, fully expecting a retort. He was surprised when Anders smiled back and nodded. "Maybe. Maybe he did."
Getting onto all fours, Anders poked the walls until he could feel an area where the rock was just slightly less dense. Magic might pass where air could not. At the very least, he could offer a position. Gently, so as not to waste the precious resources he had, he let magic flow from his fingertips and into the rock. Blue light pulsed on his skin as Justice loaned some added strength, and Anders closed his eyes in thanks.
Sebastian watched the spectacle with a slight sense of awe.
And somewhere, far beyond the small space that housed the two men, Carver Hawke felt a tingle through his newly acquired templar abilities. His eyes flicked open and he turned excitedly.
"I think I feel them, brother. Seems your mage is still alive."
Cortland Hawke let out a choked laugh of relief and sank gratefully to his knees.