Title: Separation of Powers - Chapter 2
Wordcount: ~3800 (2 of 3?)
Characters: Elissa Cousland, Marian Hawke, Anders, Bethany
Pairings: Anders/Hawke, Alistair/Cousland in the background
Spoilers/Notes: See Chapter 1
It took three full days, and the calling in of more favors than Elissa cared to think about, but by the fourth evening she was at the door of the safe house, three apostate mages in tow. All were former Gallows mages who had escaped before the Rite of Annulment: one with the direct assistance of Anders, the others through the network that he'd helped create. She hoped it would be enough to buy their cooperation, and their silence.
She paused in the foyer. "Wait here," she said, and then rapped on the door, four short knocks, a pause, and then two more. The door opened a bare crack to reveal a brilliant green eye; upon recognizing Elissa, Hawke opened the door all the way and sheathed her dagger as she stepped aside.
"I expected this to take longer," she said, crossing her arms. She looked tired, the shadows under her eyes both darker and deeper than before.
Elissa walked through the door and into the sitting room. The house was plain but comfortable, with a small kitchen in the corner, and three doors off the main room, each leading to a sleeping quarters. Bethany appeared to be busying herself in the kitchen; Anders stood near the window as if to look outside, even though the glass was painted a solid black. She watched him for a moment, then addressed Hawke's implied question. "I need this taken care of as soon as possible. Every minute you spend here is a minute we are in danger. You understand."
"Then maybe we shouldn't be here." Anders spoke up without turning away from the window. "I'm not sure I even trust the Wardens' protection, given that they've never exactly protect me from templar interference before."
Elissa shot him a look. "You really think it was your pitiful bribes and Darktown location that kept you beneath the templars' notice and out of the Gallows for seven years?" She raised a eyebrow. "The Wardens take care of their own, Anders. Never doubt that."
Anders stared back at her, then crossed his arms with a scowl. "I don't believe you."
She shrugged. "If you like. But the Wardens stationed outside Kirkwall knew exactly where your clinic was, and when you were most likely to be there."
His expression remained skeptical, although Elissa thought a flash of understanding passed through Hawke's eyes. He looked away again and waved her off. "Your terms are hard ones. Maybe helping me isn't worth it, especially if it brings you grief."
"You've already brought me grief." Elissa stalked across the room to him, moving to where he could not avoid her eyes. It was all she could do not to hit him again. "Do you have any idea how hard Alistair has worked to gain a measure of freedom for mages in Ferelden? Your grand gesture may have wiped all that progress away in a second." Or perhaps caused even more damage; she had, as yet, no way of knowing, since there had been no word from the Circle. It was too early, of course. Alistair probably hadn't even arrived at Lake Calenhad yet. But logic couldn't keep her from fretting.
"How much is a measure?" Anders shot back. "A glimpse of the world out the front door? Half measures are not enough!"
"Better than the death and destruction of all-out war." She shook her head and stepped away with a sigh. "I didn't come here to argue with you. Do you accept the help I offer, or not?"
Anders sat down on the threadbare sofa next to the covered windows, hands resting in his lap, looking into the distance. No one moved for a long moment, and then Anders looked up, deflated and defeated. "I said that I would try, and I will. Not because I have lost faith in my cause, or because I have given up on freedom for mages. But if I try to join the battle, I will become a distraction. Better for me to disappear into the ranks of the Wardens, at least for a time." He took a deep breath and turned away. "And I am-- tired. So tired of being driven, of being everything the people fear most. I am ready. So... I will try."
A sound came from under the sofa, followed by a small orange face and then the whole cat, back arching as he pressed against Anders's legs. Elissa could only stare as Anders snapped his fingers and the cat let out a chirrup before leaping into Anders's lap. "Ser Pounce-a-lot?"
"I couldn't abandon him." Pounce butted his head against Anders's chest; his hand curled around the cat's neck and the hint of a smile appeared on his face. "Not after you went to so much trouble to reunite us. Pounce is never leaving my side again."
Hawke crossed the room and stood behind Anders, a gentle hand falling on his shoulder; it was the first time Elissa had seen Hawke touch him since their arrival. "Cullen promised us safe passage out of the city, and we had to go back to my estate for a few things anyway," she said. "And-- I couldn't argue. Not with this."
Elissa swallowed around the lump rising in her throat. So Anders was still human after all; his hatred and Justice's fury hadn't managed to burn it all away. "I'm. I'm glad. And he'll be fine in Tevinter, I'm sure. He's always been a good traveler, for a cat."
"For anyone." Anders scratched Pounce between the ears, then beneath his chin. "I should have defied Justice and returned for him long ago."
"Maybe there's hope for you yet," Elissa murmured. Then she raised her voice. "Bethany, are you still willing to help?"
Bethany set her mug down on the counter and nodded. "I volunteer to travel into the Fade."
Hawke shook her head with a fierce frown. "I should be the one to go."
"You can't," Elissa said. "It takes vast amounts of magical energy to send a non-mage into the Fade, energy we don't have to spare. Bethany is the best option. Unless Anders has reason to object?"
"No, I concur." Anders looked up at Hawke, his eyes bright. "I need you here, where it's safe. Here, waiting for me. Here, giving me a reason to come back." His hand covered hers, their fingers lacing together, and they shared a look of affection that make Elissa's heart ache. For the briefest moment, she closed her eyes and sent her thoughts to Alistair, willing him to remember that she, too, was here, giving him every reason to return, safe and sound.
Then she recovered herself and cleared her throat. "Very well. I'll go get the mages." She opened the door and beckoned the trio inside: two human women and a male elf. As they entered, the shorter of the two women stepped forward with a shy smile.
His eyes flew open, and he scrambled to his feet, forgetting the cat in his excitement; Pounce let out a yelp as he fell and landed in a heap, then scurried back underneath the couch. "El-- Ella?! You... Why? How?"
"After you and Serah Hawke saved me from Ser Alrik, I made my way here with the help of the underground." She bowed her head. "I owe you my freedom and my life."
"You owe Hawke, you mean," he replied, a sharp current of bitterness in his words. "If she hadn't been there... if she hadn't stopped me--"
"But she was, and she did," Ella said gently. "And had you not come for me, I would now be Tranquil, or dead, or both. So I disagree: I do owe you a great debt, and however I can aid you, I will."
Anders closed his eyes and turned away; Elissa could see his jaw clenching, his hands balled into fists. When he looked up again, and opened his eyes, he looked weary past death. "I do not deserve your gratitude, nor your forgiveness. But I thank you for both. Perhaps I will soon be in a position to earn the latter." He raised his chin and looked at Bethany, then Hawke. "I'm ready."
There was a story here, but now was not the time to ask for it. Keen to get out of the way and let the mages start, Elissa stepped back, sitting on the small couch in the corner as the other female mage stepped forward with a smooth bow. "You never met me, Anders, but you know me. My name is Trina, and I operated the Mage Underground from the Gallows side for two years. My codename was Falcon."
"So you made it out?" A brief smile flashed over Anders's features. "When I stopped getting your messages, I worried."
"Without need, as you can see." She gestured to the other mages. "Ella and Syrol will guide you into the Fade and hold you there. But first, I need you to sleep." He closed his eyes, and she stepped forward, placing her left hand on Anders's face -- her middle finger above the bridge of his nose, thumb and little finger resting on his cheekbones. She breathed in, then out, chanting a few words; his body relaxed as he matched her breathing, and he slumped against the back of the sofa. Meanwhile, the other two mages each downed a lyrium potion before beginning a chant of their own, mysterious syllables spoken in unison, and they began to shimmer and flicker, a cloud of silver gathering around them as they lifted their arms skyward and entered a trance.
This was the tense moment: would Justice resist and jolt Anders awake? But no -- as the other mages slipped deeper into the Fade, Anders's body relaxed even more, his head falling forward, shoulders drooping. He began to glow as well, but it was the pale shimmer of a lyrium trance, not the hot white light of Justice emerging. Elissa let out her breath, then pulled her satchel of lyrium up next to her on the couch. Before arriving, Trina had tasked her with ensuring that Ella and Syrol stayed in their trance state, so she would be keeping an eye on them, dosing them with more lyrium at need. She had gathered as much as she dared from the palace stockroom, and she prayed it would be enough.
Trina nodded, satisfied, then held her hand out to Bethany. "Bring a chair," she commanded, "and set it in front of him."
Bethany obeyed, then paused, her hand resting on the chair back. "What must I do?" she asked, looking first to Trina, then Elissa.
"My knowledge is, by necessity, second hand," Elissa said. "But it is my understanding, from speaking with Jowan, that you will find both Anders and Justice in the Fade. Defeat Justice, or convince him to move on, and Anders will be free."
Hawke shuffled her feel nervously. "I hate to complicate matters, but it may work differently in this case. I once traveled into the Fade with Anders, and he and Justice were a single being, with Justice in control. I don't know that you can vanquish Justice without fighting Anders as well."
"You should take special care, then," said Trina with a frown. "Harm Anders in the Fade, and we run the risk of making him Tranquil." Hawke paled, and Trina glanced at her with sympathy. "In truth, we are risking that regardless. I do not know if it is possible to turn a mage who has been an abomination for so many years. But I expect he was aware of this possibility when he agreed to it."
"If so, he didn't tell me." Hawke turned away. "But so be it. If it comes, I know what I must do."
Bethany covered her mouth with her hand. "Marian," she whispered. "You can't mean..." Hawke would not meet her sister's eyes, nor did she answer, and Elissa felt her heart sink. Of course Anders would rather be dead than Tranquil. The question was, would she let Hawke carry out that wish, if it came to that? She prayed not to have to find out.
"We must not delay too much longer," Trina said, and Bethany appeared to shake herself free of her grim thoughts before sitting down in the chair across from Anders, her hands folded in her lap as she looked at him with thoughtful concentration.
"Sacrifice?" Hawke stood half out of her seat, eyebrows up in alarm, and Bethany shook her head. "I thought we were using lyrium to power the spell."
"We have enough lyrium to send one mage into the Fade," Trina replied. "Not two."
"And so we resort to blood magic." Hawke scowled. "Does this mean yet another person must die for Anders's grand gesture?"
Trina shook her head. "No one will die today. The spell requires a significant amount of life force, yes, but not the ultimate sacrifice. I will take a measure of my own blood; however, the spell will be more potent if I mingle it with that of someone who bears a closer relationship to the subject: a friend, a commander, a lover." She looked at each of the women in turn. "I could use any of you, as long as it is freely given, though it would be best for Bethany to save her strength."
Elissa, who had known this request was coming, started to remove her bracers, but Hawke stopped her with a look. "It has to be me, of course it does. But I must protest. If Anders had known you were a blood mage..."
"But he does not," Trina interrupted smoothly. "And there is no need to tell him -- if all goes well, I can have you healed before he awakens, and if we fail, it will hardly matter. Do you want us to succeed?"
Hawke exchanged another look with Bethany, who raised her shoulder in a quick shrug. "It's not my decision, big sister," she said. "I'm no fan of blood magic, but we both know that we have benefited from its use in the past. If you believe it to be worth the risks, I will proceed."
With a deep sigh, Hawke raised a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. "Damn you, Anders," she grumbled. "These bridges you keep forcing me to cross... it would serve you right if I walked out of this room right now and left you to face all your own consequences without my help." She looked up, lifting her gaze to the ceiling, and then she turned her head, meeting Elissa's eyes.
"But you can't, can you," Elissa said, softly. "No more than I could've."
Hawke shook her head, with a half laugh of recognition. "What is it about this man that inspires our loyalty?"
"If I knew, I'd bottle it and sell it on the open market," Elissa replied, lips twisting into a wry smile. "We could fund the rebuilding effort in less than a year."
Hawke's chuckle was more genuine this time. "No kidding." In a single motion, she removed her weapons and then her armored jacket, setting them down on the sofa next to Anders. "I'm ready," she said.
"Good," Trina said. "Come here, then, and take my hand." Hawke obeyed, lacing her strong fingers through Trina's more delicate ones; with her free hand, Trina pulled a knife from her belt, then looked at Bethany. "Are you ready?"
"I am." Bethany took a lyrium potion out of her robe pocket, drank it in a single draught, then closed her eyes, murmuring a few words under her breath.
"Spirits!" Trina threw her head back and let out a fearsome shout. "Hear our call!" She slashed downward, two quick motions, first cutting open the vein in her own forearm, then Hawke's; Hawke took a sharp breath, air hissing between her teeth, but she did not cry out. Trina pressed her open wound against Hawke's, letting their blood mingle as it dripped into a basin she had placed between them on the floor. Her chant began, louder and more strident than the other mages', setting up a counterpoint, weaving in and out, Bethany's soft words thrumming beneath.
The scene was similar to the ritual Elissa had witnessed at Redcliffe Castle and yet also different. It frightened her to see Anders's slack face as Bethany slipped into the sparkle of the trance with him, and Hawke wavering on her feet as the blood flowed from her arm. But there was a hypnotic beauty to their dance was well: Trina holding Hawke up as they rocked in unison, Ella and Syrol swaying to their own distinct tune. Only Elissa was separate, not a party to the spell, and all she could do was watch, and pray.
Then she felt a light bump against her ankle, and Elissa looked down: it was Ser Pounce-a-lot, emerged from his hiding place, softly mewing. She patted her thigh, and he jumped up into her lap, butting his head into her hand. Letting out a grateful sigh, she petted him, scratching his face and rubbing the scruff of his neck, and he settled down into her lap with a soft rumbling purr.
Bethany opens her eyes to find herself in the half-blurred world of the Fade. The chanting falls away, becomes only a distant hum in her ears as she looks around, taking stock of her surroundings. She has been in the Fade several times before, but this is a corner she does not know: an old-growth forest, trees reaching for the sky and blocking out what would be the sun in the real world; the ground covered by moss instead of grass; rocks and desiccated plants crunching distantly beneath her feet. She is alone in a silent world: no sounds of chirping birds, buzzing insects, or running water, no spirits in evidence, and she sees no sign of either Anders or Justice; only the Black City looms, far in the distance.
"Anders?" she calls out, the sound of her voice falling flat in the dead air. "Justice? Anders? Are you there?"
There is no echo, no reply, but then she expects neither. The bed of a dried stream runs along her right side, and she decides to follow it. By necessity, the segment of the Fade that Ella and Syrol have created for them is small, so they cannot be far. One foot in front of the other, she concentrates on her goal -- Justice, Anders, freedom for them both -- and pushes forward through the ever-thickening stands of trees.
Elissa lost all concept of the passage of time as the chant settled into a rhythmic cycle, each stanza blending into the next and turning around to repeat. Twice she stood up to refresh the mages with lyrium, first Syrol, then Ella -- each time, she had placed the flask in an outstretched hand and the mage had paused to drink without opening their eyes or ceasing their dance. Twice Elissa had sat back on the couch, and Ser Pounce-a-lot had settled back into her lap, curling into a ball and falling back to sleep. It was comforting, and yet strange, as though he both understood that she needed company while having no concept that anything out of the ordinary was happening. She almost fell into a trance herself, between the droning chants and the vibration of the cat's purr under her hand...
Until she was jarred free by a gasping intake of breath from Hawke. Elissa turned her attention to the Champion and the Blood Mage, a direction she had been very careful not to look. Trina had opened her eyes and stepped away from Hawke, who swayed, face pale from blood loss, then stumbled to Elissa's couch, eyes fluttering shut as she practically collapsed into the other corner. Elissa pulled a poultice out of her stash and applied it to Hawke's arm, cleaning up the blood and covering the wound. Then she looked over to Trina, who was still smeared with Hawke's blood and her own.
Trina took a deep breath and met Elissa's eyes. "It is done. They are secure in the Fade. Now I will join with Ella and Syrol to maintain the connection."
"Will it be enough?" Elissa asked.
"It will have to be," Trina replied. "The rest is up to Bethany."
Hawke opened her eyes and looked at her sister; thanks to the healing poultice, her color was already returning, although her face was still drawn with pain. "Beth," she murmured. "You can do it. I know you can."
"She is strong." Trina nodded. "If she can keep her focus, I think she will do well. Now I must lend my aid to Ella and Syrol. I will let you know if I require further assistance."
Or another infusion, Elissa thought as Trina fell back into the trance, her stomach twisting as it always did when she thought of blood magic. She had met a few Grey Warden blood mages over the years, and although she accepted that the Wardens needed to make use of every tool at their disposal, it still never sat quite right.
Next to her, Hawke settled uneasily back against the couch cushions. Her eyes were fixed on Bethany and Anders, the two of them facing each other. At some point in the proceedings, Bethany had taken his hands in hers, and from her posture she seemed to be staring intently at him, though her eyes were still closed. Anders was sitting up straighter now, too, frozen in place. It was disturbing, and Elissa didn't really want to watch, but it was hard to look away, too.
Pounce stirred in her lap, yawning and standing up to stretch, and then took a few steps to settle down on Hawke's thighs instead. Hawke's hand drifted downward to the cat's back; she petted him a few times, and then her fingers settled around the back of his neck. "Hey, cat," she said.
Elissa relaxed just a little. "You seem to get along well with him."
Hawke shrugged. "Well enough. Although like most normal Fereldens, I'm more of a dog person."
Elissa had to chuckle. "Anders was never one to do anything the normal way."
"You can say that again," Hawke muttered through gritted teeth. She sighed and looked away from her sister and her lover, turning toward Elissa as she rested her head against the back of the sofa. "I hate this. I hate everything about it. But I hate most that there isn't anything I can do. Ever since Anders destroyed the Chantry, and for a little while before that, I've felt like the pawn of events. As though no choice I make will ever have any kind of lasting effect. People are just going to do whatever stupid and destructive thing they want to do, and all I can do is watch. Like now."
"You seem like a woman who likes to be in control of everything." Elissa smiled. "And, as they say, takes one to know one. Believe me, I understand." She rested a hand on Hawke's shoulder. "I've seen a lot of action in my time, but I've also done my share of waiting. And I know which side of that particular fence I'd rather be on."
"Well." Hawke patted the cat again. "I suppose this time we haven't got much choice in the matter. And at least I'm not waiting alone." She caught Elissa's eye again with a weak smile. "Thanks."
Elissa squeezed Hawke's shoulder before dropping her hand. "You're welcome." She settled back into the sofa cushions and let herself drift back into the strange peace of the chant, willing this to work.
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