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Accursed Ones

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9:31 Dragon 5 Solis Early Evening
Vigil's Keep

All in all, their expedition into the Deep Roads had gone well. Ignoring the fact that Anders had been impaled, torn the Veil twice, lost his spaulders, had his robes ripped apart and subsequently donated to Sigrun, and came out of the whole ordeal in nothing but his boots and small clothes, it had gone well.

After the pride demon had taken care of the golem for them, they'd been able to reach the darkspawn nest it was guarding and destroy it. Going off of the rant they'd interrupted, it seemed the talking darkspawn were from two warring factions, and they'd already destroyed one. Of the three broodmothers they'd slain, it seemed reasonable to assume one was probably the Mother. So that was good.

What was even better was that Anders had a new staff. When the darkspawn had fallen from its perch atop the inferno golem, the thing's control rod had broken, but the darkspawn's staff had remained intact. It was a beautiful thing made from volcanic aurum, with no blade at it's base so it could actually double as a walking stick. A ruby was set atop it, so powerfully enchanted it put Anders' old staff to shame. Anders would have loved it, were it not so... wrong.

There was a corruption to the staff, after spending so much time in the hands of a darkspawn. It felt to Anders as if had been infused with Blight. The first time he'd touched it, it had slipped from his hand as if coated with a foul sort of oil. There was no grip to make holding it any easier, but Amell had promised him gloves, and Anders imagined they would serve well enough.

Despite its corruption, the staff was still a staff and Anders could use it to heal, so he had no complaints. Alright, so he had a few complaints, but they were minor. Having to walk back to the Vigil in nothing but his small clothes was definitely one of them.

It wasn't for modesty's sake that he'd minded. Anders was 'undeniably attractive' after all. He minded because it was the middle of summer, and the long walk had left him horribly sunburned until he'd had a chance to heal himself, without even the right to complain. Anders might not have given two figs what anyone thought of him, but complaining about a sunburn after Sigrun had gone full Andraste and been burned alive? Well that was just rude.

The little dwarf had decided to come with them and join the Wardens after they'd successfully avenged the Legion. A choice between being a Warden or dying alone in the Deep Roads didn't sound like much of a choice to Anders, but apparently Sigrun had labored over it. Anders had seen what happened when a person with doubt went through the Joining, so he was rather glad when Sigrun survived. He was even more glad when they collectively decided to celebrate her survival with drinks.

The only downside was that they were in the Vigil's dining hall, and it was crowded with civilians and soldiers in for the evening meal. When they'd returned from Kal'Hirol, everyone had welcomed them like conquering heroes. That probably had more to do with the gold they'd brought back from Kal'Hirol's Treasury than anything else, but Anders didn't like it. The attention made him uncomfortable. Attention from one person or a small group, Anders could handle and even enjoy, but hero worship? Anders didn't know how Amell did it. Even now, they had their own table, but people were staring. It was weird. And kind of creepy.

"Toasts!" Oghren shouted, breaking Anders' out of his thoughts.

"I'll go first," Sigrun said, standing up on the bench she was sitting on so they could all see her better. She held her snifter aloft. The glass looked like a tankard in her tiny hands. "My first official toast as a Warden is for the Legion. Rest well, brothers. I'll join you when my Calling comes."

"To the Legion!" Everyone said.

Anders didn't like drinking to the thought of dying, but he did like drinking. He knocked back a mouthful of his drink with everyone else. Amell had broken out a cask of West Hill Brandy for them, and Anders much preferred it to the fire Oghren usually drank. There were hints of blackcurrent, and the aftertaste was a pleasant honeysuckle. In other words, it tasted expensive.

"I'll go again." Sigrun said after she swallowed. "My second toast as a Warden is to Anders, for saving my life, but more importantly, for letting me borrow his dress."

"To Anders!" Everyone laughed.

Anders rolled his eyes and drank rather than argue the difference between a robe and a dress. 

"Your turn, Nate." Sigrun said, sitting back down.

"That's easy." Nate said, "My toast is to you, Sigrun. A remarkable fighter and welcome Sister."

"To Sigrun." Everyone said, drinking again.

"My turn then?" Oghren asked, "Alright. Gotta think up another one now, archer boy stole mine."

"We can skip you if thinking is too hard for you." Sigrun said. Anders liked her.

"Oh. She wounds me," Oghren swayed, putting a hand to his heart. "Rest assured, my spicy little kumquat, Oghren has a toast. An old classic: when from the blood of battle the Stone has fed, let heroes prevail and let the blighters lie dead. Well, here's to us blighters! We're not dead yet."

"We're not dead yet!" Everyone chorused.

"My turn?" Anders surmised, tracing the rim of his glass. He probably should have said something wardeny, but to the Void with that. It was his toast. "To freedom, pretty girls, and our fearless leader."

"Here sodding here!" Oghren slapped his knee, and jumped up on the bench to roar out at the hall. "You hear that, you flaming blighters? We're drinking to the Commander! Raise your cups and drown in 'em!"

A deafening cheer ran through the dining hall, and lasted for several long minutes before it died down enough for them to continue. Anders didn't know how Amell could stand it. Everyone loved him, but no one even knew him. It seemed... Well it seemed lonely.

"Your turn, Commander." Sigrun said.

"To drinking." Amell said simply. "Nothing burns like the first cup."

"To drinking!" Everyone agreed.

It was definitely a toast Anders could drink to. He was looking forward to being drunk. Sigrun had brought cards, and resolved to teach them all a dwarven card game called 'Diamondback.' Anders was terrible at it. He lost every hand, though he was hard pressed to care with an open tap. A minstrel was playing on the opposite end of the hall, and the mood was light enough that Anders forgot the crowded hall had ever bothered him.

"In Legion, we used to sing a lot," Sigrun said as she dealt another round. "Call songs, for when we were marching. Or eating. Or whenever we felt like it, to keep our spirits up. Do the Wardens have anything like that?"

"Not officially." Amell said.

"What about unofficially?" Sigrun asked.

"Unofficially, I only know one." Amell said.

"Let's hear it then." Oghren said.

"I can't sing." Amell said.

"Please?" Sigrun pleaded.

"I wouldn't mind a song or two." Nate chimed in.

"Why not?" Anders joined in on the peer pressure. "I wouldn't mind judging this singing voice of yours."

Amusingly, Anders noticed Amell didn't seem persuaded until Anders said something. Well, well, wasn't that interesting? Anders would use this newfound power for good. Only for good. He most certainly was not going to wheedle Amell into pampering him. Much. 

"Fine." Amell said, taking another shot of brandy before he stood. Anders wondered how drunk he was. Anders wondered how drunk Anders was. "The chorus is 'Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die,' repeated three times."

"This is a fun song, then." Anders guessed.

"I love it already." Sigrun said eagerly.

"It's called 'Blood on the Ramparts.'" Amell said, before launching into song.

Either Amell had decent singing voice, or Anders was too drunk to tell if he was awful. Maybe a bit of both. At the end of every verse, he signaled for them to sing the chorus, though Anders and Nate always had a slight delay. Maybe they were all awful at singing.

"He was mage and Warden both, and surely shook with fright,
for though he'd been in battle, he had never seen a Blight.
He had to sit and listen to those awful darkspawn roar.
You'll live not one day more!"

"Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die.
Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die.
Gory, gory, what a wretched way to die."

"'Is everybody ready?' Cried the Commander looking up.
Our hero feebly answered 'Yes' and then they stood him up.
He charged into the battle, he charged into the fray,
he charged with all his Brothers for they were of the Grey.
He'll live not one day more!"

"He fought long, and he fought hard; he fought with all the rest.
He felt the thrill of battle, and the sword that pierced his breast.
But as he fell, he rose again, and so he was possessed.
He'll live not one day more!"

"The darkspawn dove upon him, their swords did pierce his skin,
Their arrows flew, their maces struck, but still they could not win.
Until at last, that final blast, did finally take him down.
He'll live not one day more!"

"The days he lived and loved and laughed kept running through his mind.
He thought about the Circle girl, the one he'd left behind.
He thought about the templars, and wondered what they'd find.
He'll live not one day more!"

"The Wardens, they were on the spot. There were demons running wild.
The templars jumped and screamed with glee, they armed themselves and smiled,
For it had been at least a week since last a mage had failed.
He'll live not one day more."

"And as he fell, his scream was loud, his blood went splurting high.
His Brothers, they were heard to say, 'What a wretched way to die.'
He lay there rolling round, in the welter of his gore.
He'll live not one day more!"

"There was blood on the ramparts, there were brains upon the floor,
But of the darkspawn he had killed, they numbered twice a score.
And so it was that day they found, their victory in war.
He'll live not one day more!" 

A mad cheer went up through the dining hall when the song ended. Anders belatedly realized everyone had gone quiet to listen to Amell sing, and even felt a little guilty for pressuring him into it when the man flushed. Then again, he was drunk, or at least comfortably inebriated. His face might have been flushed whether or not he was embarrassed. Amell gave a small wave to the room and sat back down.

Sigrun was clapping madly. "I loved it! It was absolutely perfect. I can't believe you only know one! We have to learn more. Or maybe we could come up with our own."

"I also enjoyed it." Nathaniel said. What he'd actually said was more of a slush of vowels, but Anders understood him.

"This one of them self-fulfilling prophecies, this song of yours? Except for the bit about being afraid and liking girls, I mean." Oghren asked, gesturing empathetically with his snifter. Brandy sloshed out onto the table near Anders, and he scooted to the side to evade it before it waterfalled off the edge and into his lap.

He bumped thighs with Amell in the process. Amell stared at him for the contact; it took Amell at least a minute to process that Anders was dodging spilled brandy, and not just pressing against him for the sport of it. Amell made room for him, and then looked back at Oghren. "What?"

"What, what?" Oghren asked.

"You asked me something." Amell said.

"Did I? Don't remember," Oghren shrugged. "Let's have another song, eh! One less mud-lin."

"Less what?" Anders asked.

"Mud-lin. You know, sad and shit."

"Maudlin?" Nathaniel supplied.

"Whatever." Oghren said.

"Hm. Andraste's Mabari was always a favorite of mine." Nathaniel said. "We never heard it in the Free Marches."

"Well go on then!" Oghren ordered.

Nathaniel sang, and as it was a popular tavern song, half the dining hall joined in. Sigrun and Oghren sang the chorus as they learned it, and Amell...

Amell drank. Anders touched his shoulder to get his attention, and wasn't terribly surprised when Amell looked melancholy. He must have really missed his own mabari. "Hey. I know I said I was bad at the feely part of relationships, but do you want to talk about it?"

"Am I that obvious?" Amell wondered "I must be drunk."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Anders laughed. "So come on. Shoulder's right here if you need a cry."

"No, I-" Amell stopped short. "I forgot. I got you something. Come with me." Grabbing Anders' hand, Amell stood up and promptly sat back down, looking dizzy.

Anders laughed. "Maybe it can wait till we're sober?"

"No, I want you to have it now." Amell insisted. He stood again, much slower this time, and Anders followed suit. The whole dining hall spun. Anders leaned on the table until the room decided to behave.

"Alright." Anders said when he felt relatively confident he could walk.

"Where are you two going?" Sigrun asked.

"I'm borrowing Anders." Amell said. He grabbed his hand again and made towards the exit.

Oghren whistled.

"Oh for-he just wants to give me something." Anders said over his shoulder.

"Yeah! His dick!" Oghren yelled after them. The din of Oghren's laughter faded as Amell dragged Anders out into the hall.

It probably wasn't his dick. Anders doubted 'Andraste's Mabari' would suddenly remind anyone they wanted to have sex. And Amell wasn't being very sexy. He dragged Anders' through the halls of the Keep with a single-minded determination.

"Where are we going?" Anders laughed. They reached the stairs to the third story, and Anders had to take them at the speed of a crawl.

"My room." Amell said.

Or maybe it was his dick. "Why...?" Anders ventured.

"It's a surprise." Amell said.

Anders' face was hot on the rest of the walk to Amell's quarters. Amell didn't bunk with the rest of the plebs in the barracks; as the Arl and Commander, he had the best rooms in the Vigil. Rooms with plenty of privacy, Anders imagined.

Well... If he didn't like where the evening went, Anders would just blame it on the alcohol. That was the mature adult thing to do, after all. Anders let Amell drag him through the Keep and to his quarters, unable to help leaning on him while Amell fiddled drunkenly with the lock to his door. When he got it open, Amell pulled him inside.

Anders braced himself to be pushed back against a wall, or thrown onto a bed, or something equally tawdry. Nothing of the sort happened. Amell let go of him and stumbled forward, mumbling to himself. "Where is it...?"

"Where's what?" Anders asked.

Amell's quarters looked more like a library with a very out of place canopy bed than a bedroom. Fancy, Anders thought, stopping at the nearest bookshelf to read some of the titles. When that proved too difficult, he watched Amell rummage gracelessly under his bed. 

"Got you." Amell muttered, climbing out from under his bed and dragging along...

"Are you serious!?" Anders asked.

Amell pushed the yowling cat into his arms. Anders felt like crying. Gingerly, he cradled the little fellow in his arms and scratched its ear until it calmed down. "You got me a cat? How? When? Why?"

"I asked around, when we got back from Kal'Hirol. The Keep could use a mouser, and I thought..." Amell trailed off. "Do you like him?"

"I love him." Anders said. "He looks just like Mr. Wiggums! Oh, who's the prettiest tabby? You are! Yes you!" Anders sat on the edge of Amell's bed and set the cat in his lap. It promptly wandered off to sniff at the sheets, before it picked a pillow and started kneading it. "What should I call him, do you think?"

Amell shrugged and sat beside him to watch the cat. "Hurclaw?"

"Why is everything darkspawn with you?" Anders gave Amell's shoulder a shove. The little tabby dove onto a new pillow and started kneading again. "I know, how about Ser Pounce-a-Lot?"

"I liked Hurclaw." Amell said.

"I'm not calling him Hurclaw." Anders said. Anders leaned over to run his fingers down the cat's spine, and the little fellow thrummed adorably. "I can't believe you got me a cat."

"I want you to like being here." Amell said.

"I do like being here." Anders said. He looked back at Amell and found the man staring at him rather shamelessly. "Really. You don't have to try so hard. Anything beats sitting in a cell. I mean, being mauled half to death by darkspawn isn't my first choice for alternatives, but I try to keep an open mind."

"How open?" Amell asked. Amell set a hand on Anders' thigh, and Anders stared at it. It was just your average hand, really. It probably felt more or less the same as a woman's hand. Amell had held his hand the entire walk to his room, but for some Anders couldn't remember what it felt like. That was brandy for you.

"Um." Anders said tactfully.

Amell took his hand away. "I'm sorry-that's not why I got you the cat-I really do want you to be comfortable here."

"Hey, no, I get it," Anders said quickly. "We're not kids, right? You can want both. I'm having a grand time being a Warden, honest. And uh... I'll think about the other thing."

"Good to know." Amell said.

Ser Pounce wandered back over to walk across Anders' lap. Anders pet him. "So... that song was totally morbid."

"Wardens kind of are 'totally morbid,' Anders." Amell said.

"Well I mean, yeah, but don't we do anything other than fight darkspawn? Do we throw parties? Take over small kingdoms?"

"Arlings, but you were close." Amell said.

"I guess so," Anders laughed. "You know, this might sound silly, but I've never really thought about what I would do if I could do anything. Not seriously."

"That doesn't sound silly at all." Amell said. Ser Pounce wandered to Amell's lap, and the man fell back on the bed to give the cat free rein of his chest. "I understand. Back in the Circle... Freedom was just a fantasy. You can't think too seriously about it or you go mad."

"You get me." Anders said.

"I'm trying." Amell said.

Anders laughed. He definitely liked Amell, crazy blood mage or not. At least enough to bed him. If the man had been a woman, Anders would have taken him up on his offer in a heartbeat. It was a shame, really, but... Well, it wasn't like a bit of experimenting would kill him...

A knock at the door cut off Anders' train of thought.

"Enter!" Amell called out, and sat up.

It was Mistress Woolsey, of all people. A rather portly looking fellow was with her, red faced and dressed in a rather simple doublet and jerkin. Noble, but probably not too noble. "Commander." Woolsey bowed, all practicality despite the fact that the two of them were sitting on Amell's bed, playing with a cat. "I apologize for disturbing you, but-"

"But I insisted." The noble interrupted. "My name is Lord Edgar Bensley, Commander. I am a loyal vassal, and distant cousin to Lord Eddelbrek."

Spare me, Anders thought. Nobles could be ridiculously frumpy.

"I come to beg your help." Edgar continued. "My only daughter, my sweet Eileen, has been kidnapped by a gang of bandits which have plagued the arling of late. Their leader, a man named Mosley, is demanding thirty sovereigns for her release, to be delivered to the ruined Chantry by the Forlorn Cove by tonight, or he swears she will die.

"I haven't the means, Commander," Edgar explained, his eyes welling with tears. "If I sold everything I owned, I could deliver the ransom myself, but I could never find a buyer for old tapestries and family heirlooms in so short a time. I thought if I came to you, you could negotiate with the bandits in my stead... or pay my Eileen's ransom."

"My dear Lord Bensley, the Wardens sympathize with your plight, but thirty sovereigns for one girl of lesser standing is too obscene a sum." Woolsey said bluntly. "We simply cannot help you. What we can do is address these attacks. Young Lady Bensley was abducted along the Pilgrim's Path. Mosley is but one man, with a half dozen ruffians at his command, but he may answer to a greater threat that has been waylaying our caravans of late. The Warden-Commander would do better to speak with the Merchant Guild in Amaranthine to learn more, rather than walk blindly into this bandit's nest."

"But my Eileen." Edgar all but sobbed. "Please, Commander. It is as your treasurer says. He has only a half-dozen men. Surely... Surely that would be no trouble for the Hero of Ferelden? I've heard the stories-"

"Stories, my dear Lord Bensley, are stories." Woolsey said. "It is only in stories you will see one man live when pitted against six. And even were our Commander to prevail, it is highly unlikely your daughter would survive the encounter. Commander, if you would, could you please explain to Lord Bensley what he asks is impossible?"

Amell grabbed hold of the banister to his canopy bed and used it to pull himself to his feet. He swayed a little, and Anders thought it was obvious he wasn't completely sober. "Where is the cove?"

"Oh-oh-thank you, Commander!" Edgar sobbed. He ran forward and grabbed hold of Amell's hand, kissing his knuckles. "Maker preserve you! The cove is on the coast of the Amaranthine Ocean, following the North Road to Amaranthine. I have a map, and a locket here with a portrait of my sweet Eileen." He fished both things from a pack at his hip and pushed them into Amell's hands. "Please, Commander, we must make haste. I fear for Eileen's life should I delay."

"I'm going alone." Amell said.

"Mosley wanted for me to come in person, I have his ransom note," Edgar said, retrieving a roll of parchment from his pack. "Should I not be present, just to make it clear you speak on my behalf?"

"Commander, I too must question the amount of thought you appear to have given this decision." Mistress Woolsey said.

"Trust me." Amell said. He set the locket, map, and ransom note down on the bed, went to the armoire on the far side of his room. "You can go. I'll leave right away unless there's anything else you think I should know."

"No, Commander." Edgar said. "Thank you, Commander. I will await you here at the Vigil and pray for your safe return."

He bowed his way out of the room, but Mistress Woolsey stayed to scowl disapprovingly. "... Anders. I noticed you returned from the Deep Roads with a very fine new staff. Perhaps you might use it in defense of our Commander?" She bowed after the suggestion, muttering under her breath when she left. "Or to knock some sense into him."

"So... What's the plan?" Anders asked.

Amell waited until Woolsey had gone to start unbuttoning his doublet. "I'm going to go get that man's daughter."

"Oh, well. Look at you, story book hero, making a liar out of our fair Woolsey." Anders said. "Are you sure you can handle negotiating a hostage situation right now? Because if you had as much brandy as I did, you shouldn't be able to argue your way out of a paper bag."

"I'll sober up on the way there." Amell said. He took his doublet off, and reached into his armoire for a proper tunic to wear beneath his armor. Anders definitely needed to start doing presses. No 'physical prowess' indeed.

"But I mean, still, six bandits against one of you?" Anders asked. "I'm not that good at math, but last I checked six was a little bit more than one."

"I don't plan on fighting them, Anders." Amell said.

"So...?" Anders said.

"Can you help me with this?" Amell waved a hand at his armor stand rather than answer his question.

Anders moved Ser Pounce off his lap with a sigh and went to help. Standing only made the room sway now, as opposed to spin. Anders stared at the armor Amell wore as he put it on. "That's a lot of buckles. What do I do here?"

"Just tighten them, at the sides here." Amell said.

The man's aroma of copper and the Fade was back, mixed with West Hill Brandy and an underlying musk. Anders almost regretted not boffing him when Amell had offered. Then again, if he had, Woolsey's interruption would have been a great deal more awkward. "Do you want me to come with?" Anders asked, tightening the armor under his arms. "Two mages are better than one, and all that."

"I won't make you." Amell said.

"That's sweet, but I just offered, so I think you're good."

"Anders..." Amell turned so they were face to face. "I'm not going to fight. Or to negotiate. I'm going to go there, and I'm going to destroy a man's mind. Are you still sure you want to come?" His eyes were a deep russet, and reminded Anders rather aptly of dried blood. Anders stared at them for a while until he realized he was staring.

"Well it's not like I was expecting a picnic." Anders said.

"The other day in Kal'Hirol-" Amell started to say.

"That was different. That was a demon." Anders cut him off. "Look. I get it. You're a blood mage. Rawr, scary, but that doesn't make you immortal. As far as I know. I'd feel better coming - no, don't you dare laugh. Anyway, if you died, there'd be nothing stopping the templars from coming and taking me back to the Circle. So there."

"I'm glad you care." Amell said.

"I try," Anders said, checking the last strap on Amell's armor. "Are you good? I'm going to go get ready if you are. Do you mind if we keep Ser Pounce-a-Lot in here until I make a space for him in the barracks?"

"I don't mind. I'll meet you in the inner courtyard." Amell said.

Anders left Amell's room, and took the stairs back down to the Warden's barracks. On the way there, as the ground lurched under him and his head felt twice its usual weight, Anders wondered what he was doing. It wasn't just a joke; Amell was a story book hero. What were did bandits to a man who had bound a pride demon to his will? Anders should have let him run off on his own.

But apparently, Anders was too stupid. Anders had to help. Anders always had to help. Anders stumbled to his bunk, and changed into his boots, a pair of thick woolen trousers, and a rather plain tunic, all courtesy of one of the late Orlesian Wardens. Anders was looking forward to having his own clothes.

What sad standards he had, where socks for Satinalia sounded fantastic and an oily corrupted staff was a dream come true. Anders wrapped a bandage around his right hand as a makeshift grip, and picked up his staff. "I could be getting laid right now. Hypothetically. What's wrong with me?" Anders muttered to himself, hurrying to the courtyard.

Amell was waiting for him. "It's a half hour's march from the Vigil." Amell said, setting out.

The sun was already falling down behind the horizon. Anders hoped the girl's captures were patient men. He conjured a light for their benefit when they were on the road, "So. What should I be expecting here?"

"They have a leader. I'll convince him to give us the girl. When she's safe, we'll kill them." Amell said.

"Well I'm glad you have it all planned out." Anders said.

"I don't know any more than you do, Anders." Amell said.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Anders said. "I know I look the type, but I don't actually know a lot about blood magic. You know, aside from the basics: demons, mind control, virgin sacrifices."

"This would be the middle one." Amell said.

"But how does it work?" Anders asked. Curiosity killed the cat, and all that, but Anders thought he should at least know what to expect.

"It's a matter of willpower. Mine against whatever I'm enslaving. He'll do as I will him to, want what I want. In this case he'll want to give us the girl and let us go free." Amell said.

"What if he's... I don't know, more willful than you are? Or however you want to put it."

"He won't be." Amell said simply.

At least he was confident, Anders supposed. Confidence and will were probably more or less the same thing.

They walked the rest of the way in relative silence. The North Road was abandoned, being the roundabout way to Amaranthine. It split off towards the coast, and led straight to the ruined Chantry.

"Well," Anders rubbed his hands together, taking in the crumbling ruin and the rickety bridge leading up to it. Little remained of the old Chantry save for its walls. It had been built on an island, raised well above the surrounding sea, and framed in outcroppings of jagged rock. "I wouldn't build a summer home here, but the view is lovely." Anders joked. 

"Very." Amell agreed, taking off his gauntlet and handing it to Anders.

"Thanks... I guess." Anders said, putting it on. Amell snorted. "Why am I holding this?"

Amell knelt and drew the dagger from his boot. He sliced open his wrist, and wiped the blood off on his sleeve before sheathing it again.

"Maker's mercy, doesn't that hurt?" Anders asked. "Do you even feel pain?"

"I'm used to it." Amell said, holding out a hand for his gauntlet. Anders gave it back to him and watched him put it on over the cut.

"You're kind of creepy, you know that?" Anders said.

Amell grinned and donned his helmet.

They crossed bridge to the Chantry, the structure swaying gently in time with the waves below. It was deceptively peaceful, given what lay in wait on the other side. Within the ruins of the Chantry, the bandits were well entrenched. Three crossbowmen lingered off to the right under the cover of a few young trees, and yet more might have been hidden in the ruins. Their leader was well outfitted, picking at the dirt beneath his nails with a dagger. "What's all this piss?" Mosley spat. "Where's Bensley?"

"Not here." Amell said. "Where's Eileen?"

Mosley scowled, and bowed his head to press his knuckles against his temple as if warding off a headache. Anders chanced a glance at Amell. The fingers on his injured hand twitched, but there was no other indication of what he was doing. In a way, it was terrifying. One little headache as the only sign of blood magic? No wonder the Chantry and Templars feared it so.

"Boss?" One of the bandits, an ugly bloke to be sure, shuffled anxiously. "You alright?"

Mosley straightened. "I'm fine. Show them the girl,"

The girl they brought out looked nothing like her father. She had dark brown skin, and was terribly slender, not portly and pale. Her mother must have been from Rivain. "The girl first. Then the gold." Amell said.

"Send her over." Mosley parroted obediently.

"What? What if they ain't got the money?" One of the smarter bandits demanded.

"Do as I say." Mosley said.

"What you say is fucking stupid, boss. I thought we agreed we was gonna-wait a second. That fucker has a staff! I bet he's one of them blood mage types that makes your brain go stupid."

"He's a healer," Amell said, stepping in front of him when the crossbow men aimed at him. "That's all. Here for Eileen. If he makes you uncomfortable, he can leave with her. I have the gold anyway."

"See?" Mosley said. "You're paranoid, dumbass. Just give them the girl so we can get paid."

The girl's captor gave her a shove that sent her running into Anders' arms. "Wait for me across the bridge." Amell said.

"Are you sure-" Anders started to ask.

"Go." Amell said. He used his 'Warden-Commander' voice, so Anders went.

"Is he going to be alright?" Eileen asked when they were half way across the bridge.

"I certainly hope so." Anders said. "It would make for a rather shoddy ending if the Hero of Ferelden died to a handful of bandits in the middle of nowhere." A realistic ending, sure, but a shoddy one. Anders waited impatiently when they were across.

Sure enough, Amell followed him back across a few minutes later. Not covered in blood, or chased by bandits. Just walking, calm as you please. "Anders, can you summon a firestorm from here?"

"Can I what now?" Anders asked.

"Summon a firestorm from here. I'm not learned in long range magic."  Amell said.

"We weren't just going to... I don't know, head back?" Anders asked. "I mean, Eileen is safe."

"Kill them." Eileen said. "They were going to kill my father, after they had the money. And rape me. I don't know who you are, or how you convinced them to let us all go... but kill them."

"Anders?" Amell said.

"No... Uh. Right. I'll try." Anders said.

Anders took up a spot at the edge of the old bridge. With his staff and a great deal of effort, he could manage an inferno in an eight meter sphere. Nine if he was lucky. The old Chantry was slightly bigger than that, but nature had reclaimed much of the ruins. The few trees and foliage that had sprouted would serve well enough as kindling, Anders supposed. The poor sods would be burned alive unless they jumped into the surrounding sea, but the rocky shallows offered only a different kind of death. Anders shook himself.

Drawing on his connection to the Fade, Anders channeled the spell for ten seconds, and then twenty. Feeling woozy, he held it longer still, hearing the whispers of curious wisps and spirits across the Veil, drawn to his magic. When he was certain he had held the primal energies long enough to spread across eight meters, he released it. Anders stumbled, dizzy, but at least he finally had a staff to catch himself on. Perspective was good, after all.

A huge column of swirling flame crashed down from the sky, roaring through the ruined chantry, devouring trees, blacking the old stone columns. The heat of it carried across the bridge, and warmed his face almost pleasantly.

"Impressive." Amell said from beside him, voice soft with admiration. "That's ten meter in diameter, easily."

"You think so?" Anders asked.

"Mhm," Amell hummed agreeably. A wet sucking sound made Anders glance over in time to see Amell peeling off his gauntlet; his hand was stained a gory crimson from the amount of blood he'd let spill in his hold over Mosley. "Would you?"

Anders took hold of his hand and healed it, glad he had no need of Compassion for the spell. At the moment, he wasn't sure she'd come if he called.

Amell had soft hands, Anders was finally sober enough to note. It had been a sobering evening. They took the North Road back to the Vigil, and Anders slipped away during the congratulations to wander the Vigil. He wasn't terribly surprised when he wound up in the Chantry. It was empty, this late in the evening. Anders picked a pew near the front and sat. And to think, today had started out grand.

He felt nothing. No guilt. No remorse. No pride. Nothing. Anders wasn't sure how long he sat there, not praying, not really doing anything, but eventually Amell found him. Anders looked up at the sound of his footsteps. Amell sat beside him.

"... You've never killed someone before, have you?" Amell asked. "A person, not darkspawn or demons."

"What? No. I kill people all the time," Anders said flippantly. "'Anders the Angry,' they call me."

Amell didn't bother calling him out on his lie.  He sat beside him in companionable silence for several minutes, smelling of blood and metal and the Fade. Death. It was a little queer it was so soothing. "It gets easier." Amell said eventually.

"I'm not sure that's comforting." Anders said.

"I'm not sure it's supposed to be."