Mission Statement - SHORT: Icarus will focus on developing and, if you feel the same way I do, rectifying my favorite mage in combat boots.
Mission Statement - FULL: With respect to BioWare, I found the idea of Vengeance unfulfilling in the way of the deus ex machina. Rather than an instant corruption, I'd have liked to see Anders and Justice mature together, a combative but gradual symbiosis between two people (?) who have extremely different ideologies but want the same thing.
Ultimately: I would've really enjoyed getting to watch Anders grow up on his own, without the easier explanation of a demon warping him. Right there – that's the purpose of this fic.
For Reference: I will be (briefly) using a more matured Warden Annie-Lynn Brosca from Cake and a pushy female Hawke. Significant deviations from canon will take place, but this story is not a proper AU; it follows the overarching plot of DA2.
Art!: pickledpoopers and Lesatho have drawn some absolutely stunning pieces related to Icarus. Go check out their homepages; they are both extremely talented artists, and have been of great help bringing Cala Hawke to life. Links located in my profile.
Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.
- Oscar Wilde
Anders's boots were getting tired.
His feet and the mage himself were fine; sure, slogging through Fereldan moorland hadn't been a personal favorite, and clambering over these rocky Sundermount crags wasn't exactly therapeutic for his knees, but they held together. The caps were beginning to pop in sickly, awkward intervals that made him grimace. His calves hardened and wrenched themselves out of shape, overtaxed. His poor ankles had been sprained so many times – twisted on so many rude logs, tactless rocks, unstable riverbed slabs, pebbled mountain passes – that they didn't even really feel it, anymore. Well, all right. Not entirely true. Most evenings he could trudge on, though, gingerly favoring the injured leg, alternating between limping and leaning against his staff-turned-walking-stick. Funny, that. For all the fireballs he regularly slung and volts that coursed beneath his blunted nails, Anders never meted out a very high pain tolerance. He liked to think this extra oomph was Justice's doing – a little righteous contribution to the team.
Not even a temperamental Fade spirit could fix the apostate's boots, though. There were deep cracks in the soles from heated limestone that made up Kirkwall's midday docks. Wounded Coast sand jammed into them. Swamp water attrition smoothed down the treads. They smelled oddly of salt, like sea shells cleaned and sat upon a shelf – brine and deck oil rubbed into the black leather, remnants of a hungry voyage from Amaranthine. Eyelets tugged stitches. Laces fell apart and were replaced so many times he'd lost count. Foundations weakened until a sharp forward-kick might break his toes rather than a cocky mugger's pelvis. The necks dethreaded, grey pant legs loosening over their edges. He'd tied a length of cloth around one to hold it together.
It was a damn shame. These were a hardy set of troopers, broken in just how he liked – worn to that perfect rakish, clever thud (because squeaking fugitives generally proved to be poor fugitives). You couldn't just shimmy up to any old town market leathersmith and find yourself a pair like this. Not ones you could actually move in, at any rate. Unfortunate that it always seemed to be plates or stockings. And Anders, contrary to popular – or at least Oghren – belief, did not like the insignificant feeling of prancy boots on his feet. He preferred something a little more substantial, with a little more weight. The mage smiled coyly as a memory of stout Warden Brosca punching Ser Rylock in the groin worked itself across his mind. 'A nice in-between,' he decided. Was there ever anything better than that?
The apostate ambled slowly down this slippery, beaten trail of forest, enjoying the mild climate, careful not to cramp his tender ankle. He was in no hurry today. It was rare Anders did not feel the need to rush in some form, but rumors of the strange healer's allegiance with Ferelden's Greys kept Meredith's overeager recruits well enough away from his doorstep – at least for the time being. Better not to think about it right now, though. It was not as if he had any resources to combat them in his current state, dodging Order responsibilities and Gallows guillotines in tandem… whatever those drooling holy-rollers might think. Besides, the evening was so damned pleasant. Sky darkened from bright afternoon to a calmer sapphire color, tendrils of sunlight glazing the oyster bluffs that arced upwards, rust orange warming the northern moss. This grassy path wound upwards, lined by budding white dogwood and rainwater puddles. It smelled like evergreens. It was nice, really. Best to just go about his merry ol' way.
His merry way picking plants, of all the things that might've made that red-beard Orzammar drunk chortle. Ah, yes. Merry plant-picking! It would've been a tad merrier had he not been forced to hike miles into Dalish zones on a bad foot – but you win some and you lose some, as Brosca always said when Vigil's soldiers suffered darkspawn defeat, picking her teeth with a skinning knife. No avoiding it, though. He needed fresh polk for a topical anti-inflammatory cream that, for some 'mysterious' reason, was always in high Lowtown demand. The only place to find this certain edible leaf happened to be deep in these shrubland foothills, sadly. What a bother; elf paths left a lot to be desired, full of menacing boulders just waiting to trip up an innocent mage. Kirkwall's underbelly really needed that ointment, though. Blooming wonder they'd managed to survive this long without his very affordable merchandise.
"So affordable, it's free!" Anders blustered for no one, addressing a gnarled lilac bush. There was a fox squirrel nested inside, chewing on a walnut shell. It took one steady look at him and bolted. "Come on down today and pick up a bottle of Doctor Anders's Miracle Salve: For Every – And We Do Mean Every – Itch!" (Maker's teeth, what a slogan. He should've gone into the market business, penning catchy jingles for too-rich merchant princes – sod all this druidic berry-hunting and wandering through woods. 'Would've made a fortune, most like. And now here I am: ridden by poverty. But! I'm free to shoot lightening at fools whenever I please, so… yes. Fair trade-off.')
Good thing the Dalish clans didn't bother skulking after him anymore. Sneaky, those elves in their sock-feet – much more so than clanging, clattering templar – but this particular mage loathed being watched with a special fervor. Oh, of course. They had made themselves quite imposing that uncomfortable first time the dashing apostate had run afoul of them, sure enough. Longbow tips hoisted in his face, arrowheads teeming; menacing threats about bumbling shemlen spitted on ironwood pikes; halla horn spears adorning their shields… the whole warm tribesman regalia. It was a frightening experience, but Anders played his "harmless healer gathering medicinal herbs" card. (Did a card really count as 'played' if it was true, though? No matter. They left the mage alone after that, figuring him to be a crazy – but docile – human hermit.)
"Why is it that people always seem to figure I'm bonkers? Is it the talking to myself, do you think?" he asked a particularly amiable-looking daffodil. The flower had no answers for him, but a breeze rippled through his stitched yellow coat, and made its petals gave an appropriate little shrug.
Anders quite liked talking to himself, actually. He developed a habit of it by cramming for alchemical exams as a Tower apprentice, and he'd done it by necessity in that awful place's isolation cage, where the sound of his own voice and Mr. Wiggums's purring body were the only proofs of reality. Andraste, poor Mr. Wiggums… all patchy, white fur sloughing off into his sweaty hand, bald spots yawning wide behind those mite-deaf ears. The apostate used to carry out detailed philosophical conversations with that mouser. He'd rant, tell off-color jokes, sob occasionally, conspire escape – once, during a low point, Anders had genuinely tried to talk the decrepit snowshoe into stealing keys for him. Wiggums would simply blink, give a garrulous meow, and rub a clover-leaf mouth along one of his shackles.
And – whatever his mental state – Anders would "aww," pick him up, and press his face into that stinking old tom.
The mage scrubbed a hand over his sharp, rough chin, feeling the stubble collecting there. "Rest in peace, Mr. Wiggums, you unhygienic little beast. May you smell better wherever you are," he declared to Sundermount's early evening sky, a dash of melodrama to make him feel better, grinning and sweeping one hand towards the cloudless stretch of powder-blue. Yes, chatting to oneself was a tricky practice to break. Just as well, though; it kept a portion of undesirables from nabbing at his coin purse. Warded off those human-hating elf teenagers, anyway. What a relief. He would've felt badly about torching Thedas's few surviving natives, clinging resolutely to their little clutches of forest… and besides that, the questing spirit currently possessing him might've been powerful displeased. Crusted Dalish husks were definitely a step away from their mission of helping the unfortunates in Kirkwall.
'Oh, no, da'len – don't throw rocks at the nutty abomination – he might whack you a good one and turn us all into newts!'
As usual, the routine moment of silliness was chased by a remote, impatient feeling of disapproval – a weary sigh trickling up from somewhere deep within his gut. No surprise. Justice always had an abysmal sense of humor. Anders directed a few insults inwards, hoping they'd scratch the metal surface that was his Fade parasite. He wasn't sure if this had any real effect. He never was. Rather than wonder about it, the apostate smoothed his feathered shoulders and stooped down to pull a fistful of wild spinach. (Good for padding restoration potions. Also good in salads.) He gathered a sloppy bunch, shook off the dirt as best he could, and bound them into a bushel, cutting excess twine with his teeth. He pulled a hank of strawlike hair away from his ears and poked the stragglers messily back into their rope. There was still room between the ginseng and tubers for a few willow bark strips; true, you could buy dried flakes in the marketplace for a decent price, but fresh produce was much higher quality. And living trees had added benefits: green shavings, cork twigs, and sweet sap that masked the rancid flavor of elfroot tonic. Plus, they were the best smell in the entire world.
Anders had mentioned that to Justice once, years ago, as they stumbled upon a magnificent elm outside Amaranthine. Fir needles clustered its branches, shedding and healthy. Ants crawled along the spine. Sparrows preened around leafy, thorned cones. A perfect tree, right at the edge of cobblestone and cultivated farmland – it inspired their group runaway with a diehard sense of liberty. "Ah, take a breath of that! Smells like wilderness!" he'd said, taking a deep whiff, puffing up both lungs to their spilling point.
"Smells like cow shit where I'm standing," Brosca had harped by his waist, black pigtails amuck, knocking the caked field mud off her boots. Sigrun giggled.
"Maybe you're just too short," Anders suggested, earring blinking snobbily at her. "Smells wonderful up here. Smells like freedom!" It had tumbled right out of his mouth. The mage wasn't even really sure what he'd been thinking, but there it was.
Their dwarves flashed him a bizarre, scrunched, ridiculous look. Then they trundled away, unaffected – a girlish, inglorious race to the city gates. He had been left standing stupidly between a tree and a trapped spirit – a dropped punch-line.
And, unlikely as it seemed… the apostate thought Justice had smiled at him.
Sometimes he missed old Justice. Well – not missed him, per say; it was challenging to yearn for an entity that had grafted itself onto your brain – but Anders did miss talking to the idealistic Fade Ser. He sensed what the being's echo compelled him to do through vague emotions, images, memories stirred up and altered. These messages could be subtle. Sometimes they were so subtle that the mage had a hell of a time deciphering his own beliefs from Justice's drive to change. This was particularly confusing whenever Anders thought about his Circle brethren, locked in that gods-awful circus tower; his mind tore into itself, a tumult of anger and fear and halved desires to burn oppression down and do it fast. Mind you, this apostate always said he was rather gutsy when it came to stuffing fireworks down templar suits… but all these visions of smoking cities, raining ash, heavy explosives and such made him just a wee bit uneasy. Justice surely meant well. Anders generally thought so, anyway. But the man was a touch on the loony side.
At least he hoped that was Justice.
Sifting himself from the spirit was becoming more and more like trying to peel his skin away from the bones beneath. It was all very frustrating, really. Anders wished for bygone days, when separating Justice was easy as lurching up and stomping indignantly someplace else. He'd done it several times when the ghostly crusader started harping "liberty!" after Ser Pounce-a-Lot. Andraste's knickers. Even with the damned blowhard fused into him, believing that encounter actually took place was still a challenge. Once, he'd trotted towards his Keep room to find Justice kicking wide the door and belting out: "Run, gentle knightling! You need no longer serve the magister!" Pounce had chirped curiously and wrapped himself around one menacing black sabaton. What an old tin can.
"Yes, you heard me. You're an old tin can," Anders mumbled, reaching up to boost himself into a low-hanging horse chestnut limb, shaking conkers to the ground. He leapt down and snatched them up. 'Into the bundle you go,' the mage thought, hoping this would be sufficient enough for a rheumatism mixture. His boots gave an uneasy creak.
Telekinesis would've been easier, of course, but Anders had a slight aversion to unnecessary magic. Perhaps that wasn't as accurate as saying he simply liked a good clamber every once and while. It gave him an opportunity to think about foot placing, hand grips, sturdy eaves – not mana flow. You needed to salvage happiness from basic fun wherever you could in this age; that was one principle he and Brosca agreed upon. Not to mention this was excellent practice for when slavering mabari chased him up an oak. Yes, it had happened. Several times. Call the mage a pessimist if you must, but he was fairly sure it would happen again. Dogs and Anders never got along well. Ser Carroll, "Queen of Antiva," kept a big, burly mutt he fed raw steak and siced on lippy apprentices, in fact… a slobbering bully of a creature, identical to his master, who'd lunge to shred robes but never drew blood.
Anders had been a very lippy apprentice.
He remembered thunking down beside the company fire pit one evening outside Wending Wood, sulking because he'd been treed yet again – this time by giant spiders. They closed too swiftly for the mage to rebound with an ice cone; one moment his hands had been pulsing with red energy, then next they'd been stuck with hair from the massive arachnid pouncing over him. Yes, indeed – Anders sounded the retreat. (Sounded it quite like a screaming schoolgirl, even.) Fortunately for the lot of them, Justice had stomped the offending creatures into bubbling, venomous paste before too long. The apostate dropped out of his safety birch in a torrent of laughter. Brosca herself had howled and slapped his thigh. He'd been still rubbing out the tiny handprint when she'd darted off to collect firewood, tossing himself heavily on a log, shooting an unenthused glare at their staid spirit companion. Justice was sitting upon a rock with his bastard sword rooted neatly into the ground. He said nothing. Anders glared harder.
"You even think about making a cat joke in there, and I swear I will broil you alive."
"Cat? No. Cats imply grace. You are an awkward creature. You remind me of a bird," Justice had concluded, eyeing Anders suspiciously thought his helmet slat, in that critical sidelong way he always analyzed the mage.
It was impossible to let that one slide, of course – no matter how much the announcement honestly perplexed him. "You think I'm majestic?" the man tried, cocking his head, a flutter of mockery. "That I sing well? That I have a large beak, is that it? Or maybe-!" A snort; a snicker into his palm. "Maybe it's because I soar?"
The spirit frowned – or, at least, Anders figured it did – Ser Kristoff's withered face twisting inside the massive heaume. Perhaps that 'beak' jibe had been in bad taste, because his nose had broken off last week. No lie… snapped clean off, popped firmly by a bandit's shield, and landed in the courtyard grass. He always wore the helmet now. Justice frightened people since Blackmarsh had grappled him into their world, blue ether in a dead thing, an intangible booming voice that resonated in your chest cavity. But his ferocity now swung towards the macabre. He began falling apart, mortal body unstitching. The mage did what he could to eliminate that spoiled reek of rigored flesh, but there was no healing dead meat; it hung off his ribcage in loose sacks. The tissue dried away around his eyes, leaving horrifying, striking whites that bulged from their sockets. You could still see them, if you squinted hard enough. They shone light through the helm's dark face.
Justice turned his head to look full at him – blunt, non-condemning fact. "Not yet, no."
He did not have long to dwell between worlds, and it made Anders profoundly, dismally sad. The renegade mage admired his backbone – that fearless, dedicated absolutism – more than he would ever admit. Odds did not factor into his concerns; ideals were ultimate and uncompromising. Justice never ran.
"You are exceptionally weird for a spirit," Anders said, because he refused to give that trumpeting judge the satisfaction of inspiring him.
It was obvious why a paragon of equality would be concerned with the Circle's plight. But he was never quite sure what Justice saw in him personally. Perhaps the renegade mage was an interesting disappointment to a creature who understood only the utmost resolve; perhaps he saw character flaws rife with potential, appreciated Anders' breakneck need for individuality, detected a kindredness between them that deserved protection. Or maybe he was only a useful vessel with which to spur another oppressed people to revolution. Who knew? Did it truly matter? There was no undoing a possession; no scholar had developed a cure for abomination. Did he qualify as a proper abomination? No term yet existed for their dual mutation of human and benevolent being. "Corruption?" Anders did not feel corrupt. Justice had treated him all right so far.
Well. He didn't have any tumors bulbing out of his back or melting facial skin, anyway.
It was getting late. Indigo crept into the fringes of sky, spilt ink, the sinking sun peering enviously at a rising white moon. He held up a hand – engulfed it with flame. Fire spells tended to make his nerve endings tingle, an uncomfortable layer of heat. This mild cantrip was tolerable, however. Anders clasped five burning fingers decisively around the halberd-like barb of his quarterstaff, transferring the power, holding a match to tinder. It took, making the iron glow. Light spread in a torchlike globe, flushing up tree trunks and grabbing the curiosities of fireflies. High time to weave back down the sloped terrain surrounding Sundermount and head home, he thought. There wasn't a great deal of danger here to a seasoned traveler, of course – not beyond the occasional jackrabbit or rambling weasel – but his clinic had a bed. 'A hard, creaky bed… but still a bed.' It seemed especially inviting now that his ankle had begun to sting in earnest. Anders had slept in enough dirt patches to easily serve him three or four lifetimes; Justice made his muscle tougher, extended his stamina, but he couldn't make matted brush piles feel like pillows.
He hopped a puddle onto his uninjured leg, sweeping the crackling stave through a line of tall weeds, clearing any snakes. Snakes were annoying. No other way to put it. After numerous grabs for ingredients that instead upturned an irate copperhead or pit viper, this city-dwelling healer had finally learned his lesson. He checked before he reached, now. Dying bloated and frothing from asp poison was pretty useless. Rushing in blind had to be saved for very special occasions.
His boots were wearing down, after all – soles sticking to the planes of his feet – and it was uncertain how many miles they had left to run.
Before Justice, Anders had always run away. He joked about those decades spent fleeing templar ambitions, but every time the mage ran – every latch sprung, every galleon jumped, every provisions box crunched into – he was afraid this would be the last escape, his great finale flight. Every time the chapel-children caught him, Anders was sure that this was it; they were really going to Tranquil him; surely he wasn't worth hunting across nations simply to drag home in handcuffs. Every time he was shut away – thrown into a cell by a gold scruff, slammed into an isolation tower, sealed behind a warded metal door that siphoned out the daylight – he thought: "That's it, I'm finished, I can't survive this again," frantic tightness that shuddered through his chest and quickly crumbled to: "I'm choking, I can't breathe, I'm going to die!" The chamber would go dark – it was always so cruelly, inhumanly dark – and he would pace and pull his hair and hyperventilate until panic collapsed him. He was always so calm when they rounded him up in a glade or a town wharf, laughing at their hunters' slowness, stupidly brave. And yet, every time they began the long, excruciating haul up these spiral stairs, all that runner's pride would disintegrate. Hadley would cart the hysterical apostate and Anders would struggle, squirm, claw his way back towards the waning light, pleading and screaming at the templar not to do this to him. Not again, not again – don't do this! Kill me! Don't lock me away!
But for all that, he always found a rusty bar, a rotten tether, a sympathetic guardian – a way out.
"Stick wi' me, you bleedin' pole-twirler," Brosca had grunted out when the templars began to sniff around Vigil's Keep, smacking her tongue at him. "I'll keep your arse outta' Andraste's randy ickle fingers. No trouble. Nice havin' you around." She grinned, a toothy little wolverine, when he'd asked why. "Matter to ya'?" Annie'd wondered. Anders blinked in a mix of amazement and mild disgust when she kicked out a heel and leant back, head clanking into the chair, chewing a tobacco leaf in one pudgy red cheek. Her coarse ebony hair, prematurely silver at both temples, curled around ears that blushed permanently. "I know what it's like to have nobody watching your backside, mage. Nothing good about it. Can't help how we're born. Aye, no. 'Sides. I like you. Kinn'a remind me of this blond I used to run with."
And she winked at him, a little joke all to herself.
Anders had to point out that Warden Brosca was quite all right. For such a short person.
The man had thought of her occasionally after he abandoned their Order. He thought of her words to him upon that precipice, Waking Sea wind tearing at his back, forest shooting up as armies of black watchmen beyond Ser Rylock's bitter green eyes. There were no Ferelden Grey between them; they had been left in that charred flagstone Keep, a wrecked token of his cowardice. No protective balustrades. No Annie-Lynn. No Justice – Kristoff's mortal flesh having only weeks ago sifted into ash, burnt away at a funeral pyre, his lyrium ring bundled in a cloth satchel and tucked inside the young apostate's pocket. No loyal soldiers with heavy pauldrons and ridiculous upper-body strength. There had been only the chill of late evening and the promise of rain in charcoal thunderheads. His staff had been splintered, his escape routes blocked, his path dropping off into an eighty-meter plunge. A magical dead zone – the templar's numb aura weighting his fingertips down. Pitch waves smashed the rocky coast yards below. He stood staring at her, staggered, bedraggled, pupils coal-black mineshafts. It had been his final showdown; the last time Anders would ever dare bore down upon his Circle masters as a prisoner.
He had looked at her – back to a falling death – and said, with clarity that startled him: "I will never go back. I will never go back to that place."
"Irrelevant. You have no choice in the matter, mage. This is the end of your insanity; there is nowhere left to run." Rylock's voice was metal; it shivered the tree leaves, raking through this frigid wind.
Anders breathed. He licked his lips. He tasted brine and pines and the overpowering rosewater perfume on her cape. He noticed the cross emblazoned there. He looked at the cuffs upon his wrists – silver, heroic, eagles burned into the plate. Griffons.
He pulled a knife out of his coat. "Then come and get me, Chantry bitch."
She drew her sword.
It had been his last hurrah. Or so he thought, at any rate.
He stuck the blade into her cheek when she rushed him, pavise swinging like a battering ram, breaking four of his ribs. Blood flung itself airborne. Anders almost believed it'd be blue, but it was red – bright, gushing red that splattered across his neckline. Rylock roared. The handle hummed there, rooted into her gums. She tore it out, whipped it aside, faced down the apostate where he lay with scarlet spilling through her teeth. The tang of her own blood rinsed clean whatever notions this tracker had of capturing him alive.
Anders fought to inhale, gasping – thought his lungs were crushed. His fingers sunk into grit and sand. He tried to stand. He did. The right hemisphere of his body was vibrating like a hammered bell; he searched for something to defend himself with, brown eyes bleary, and found nothing but sticks that would smash uselessly against her cuirass. The nullified ground pulled at his soul, templar sanctification draining all mana – down veins, through shoe soles, drinking it into the tree roots. His head was ringing. He thought someone called his name, but when the mage glimpsed towards those ebon trees, they were alone.
Ser Rylock, skin hanging from her gash, hefted the longblade. Blood gnarled brown curls. She ran at his left flank, a snarling hurlock. Dust swirled around templar greaves. He could hear her boots pound the deadened earth.
He refused to perish like this.
Are you ready to die for your freedom, mage?
Anders swallowed. There were demon whispers pushing at the edge of his mind, a crusader hurling herself at him; he shut them out. Time slowed. His vambraces caught the scarce light and cast it upward, glittering. Thunder rumbled somewhere far over the dark wave crests. He dug both boots into the rock.
Not ever again.
He jumped. He threw himself backwards over the ledge, out of her magic barrier, away from the snakelike temptations of a Fade monster – all gritted teeth and hate stronger than his survival instinct. He hurled a fireball as the seawater reached out beneath him, screaming. He watched it sear Rylock's face from her wicked skull and pummel the knight's body far into the thick and murky elms.
He was tumbling through the air, graceless. Wind ripped through his hair and clothes and it deafened him. Salt burnt. Cold oxygen blasted down his throat too hard to breathe. He had no weight or sense of time. His hands, flattening the air, looked far away. The grey sky engulfed him. The seacliff's fangs gnashed. The black ocean yawned wide to gobble him up.
He closed his eyes and he listened.
Anders, you know me.
Justice. Justice, is that you?
I have been following you.
Where are you? How can you be here? I can't… I can't…
You are meant to be more than you are, mage. You have a purpose.
Am I dead?
No. Not now.
This doesn't make sense. I wasn't dreaming. Where are we, Justice? It doesn't feel like the Fade…
This is a secret place – a safe pocket in your soul. Time is relative here. Do not waste your energies pondering it, human; these things are the concern of spirits, not those like you. Be content in the knowledge that I have contacted you in this moment. Let us speak. And when we are through, you may make a decision. We will face what come next afterwards.
You can't leave it at that. Please. Weeks ago, I… watched you die. They burned you, the Wardens – Ser Kristoff's body, I mean. Armor and all… liquefied everything. Seneschal Varel was afraid your remains might be dangerous. They said it didn't matter; you weren't there, anymore. Brosca didn't like it. We tried to save your blade, at least, but he would have none of that. It was more important to protect the soldiers from demonic influences; that was the call.
I'm sorry, Justice. I told them you weren't a demon, but no one cared. They melted your helm. They wanted to destroy your ring, too, so I stole it from them when I left. I thought you'd want it… you know. Kept.
I am aware; that is how I found you. No apologies are required.
Why is this happening?
I would like to help you. I would like to help you see your purpose before mortality ends it. If I speak to you here – if were to ask you some questions – will you give thought to what I say?
I can't see it making much difference now, Justice. But yes. You know I will.
I have spent much time in the company of mortals as of late, mage. I have observed closely, so I might understand the appeal your world holds to my enemies – and I have tested several theories, in order to pass judgment on your kind.
It is because of this that I feel the need to make something known to you, Anders the Apostate. Do you recall when we once discussed the plight of your fellow mages? – why you had done nothing to aid them, despite the intensity of your resent.
I do recall that, yes.
You called it slavery. And yet you told me that you did not believe the power to change belonged to you. The proposition of undoing the state of so many peoples intimidated – it felt too large. I was severely disappointed in you.
That's an understatement. You called me a coward.
Yes. Shamelessness about your cowardice angered me more than the cowardice, itself. But I have since rethought you. I do not think you comprehend your potential, nor your position in this life. And I do not think you appreciate that there is a difference between cowardice and fear.
Isn't there? Cowardice is just the expression of fear. I still can't see how it matters-
Of all the beings I have met in my time here, you have the strongest understanding of what Right is. Your apathy is not the product of greed, malice or uncaring. You use laziness as an excuse to avoid becoming relevant. That does not refute my claims, however; there is nothing cripplingly weak about you, Anders. There is nothing stopping you, I think, from fulfilling your purpose save yourself.
Mage, you are not the coward you believe yourself to be. You fear. You fear what it might mean to become something greater. You do not fear the danger of single actions, or what harm they may bring upon you; what you fear is the broader consequences of them, should your life ever carry weight. You fear failing others. Your fear is what has kept you alive.
Will you tell me, Anders, if you are afraid now?
Can you explain why?
No. Wait. Yes. Yes, I can try.
I didn't want to jump, Justice. I don't want to die, really. But I did it – I did it because I have had enough. I'd rather die than go back to that life. I am afraid of what… comes after this. But I am so much more afraid of being locked away again. It's like being colorblind all your life and then waking up to a sunrise. Would you let them take that back? I can't.
Why did you leave the Wardens?
Because they were suffocating me. What do you want me to explain? I don't belong there, Justice. I never did.
Have you considered that perhaps you were never meant to follow?
I don't understand.
I have come to make you an offer, mage.
What are you suggesting?
This is a pointless death. Allow me to spare you from it.
The same way that any Fade creature walks this plane – an implicit contract between spirit and host. Invite me to assist you, and I will.
You want to possess me.
Know that I will respect your decision in this. But choose wisely. Refuse, and I will leave you to this end you've chosen for yourself. Permit me, and I will aid you. I will be your shield and your weapon. I will see you to your purpose, Anders.
Will you stop saying that? I don't believe in "purpose." Neither should you. Especially not you; you're always telling us to be change, like it's everyone's choice where they stand. You think "purpose" allows for that? All that word means is that you think some silent god has this grand scheme for all things, and we're all powerless to-
You deliberately misunderstand me. But I know you hear what I have to say.
Can I believe what you say? You've lost your hold here. You claim the Fade is your home, that you aren't prey to the selfishness of your cousins – but here you are, following me? What should a mage think of 'offers' like this? What if you're desperate to set yourself back in this world? You say these things so I'll listen. You're not under any vows to aid me; you only want to use me for your own-
I will not lie to you. Your world is beautiful. I would very much like to stay. But that does not mean I have lied. Those like me never need or abide by a lie. Do not compare me to a demon, mage. You only embarrass yourself.
Justice. Is this forever?
It is until your death.
People won't see any difference. You know that, don't you? You will make me a maleficar.
You have never much cared what the templars believe. With me, you will have the courage to care not at all.
Are you curious to know what it is like not to be afraid?
I would be an abomination.
You would be a free man.
Do you trust me, mage?
Yes. I do trust you.
Then let it be.
All right. All right. Yes. Fine. Yes.
This is your permission?
It is. I agree.
Very well. You may open your eyes, Anders. See.
He woke up washed into a sandstone cove, sopping, seaweed and a fisherman's lost marlin net snarled around his leg. His right shin and left foot were horribly broken. Blood dried around his mouth and swollen eyes. The whole side of his torso where Rylock's shield hit had morphed the sickly cranberry-purple of blood blisters. All five nails on one hand were missing, replaced by bloody stubs. He couldn't swallow. He couldn't breathe without pain prickling against his lungs.
But he was alive. And his raw fingers radiated a soft, blue glow.
When he touched things, they healed.
His snapped tibia, cracked ribs, crushed toes. An unconscious Dalish scout Anders stumbled upon when he finally found the strength to leave that damp, rocky cave; and the elf's bleating halla, hoof smashed in a hunter's bear trap. An Imperial Highway patrolman with a rogue's arrow throbbing in her gangrened calf. An Amaranthine girl with a wasting cancer. A dock worker with a knife in his throat. Three escaped slaves wandering outside their master's galleon. A good quarter of the Denerim alienage. A brave guard whose eyes melted shut in a tenement fire. About two-dozen feral cats brained by carriage wheels. A boy five hours dead.
He'd never advertised or consciously sought ailing patients and wounded victims – but they always seemed to crop up, tripping the mage as he tried to run, stumbling blocks in his road.
Now, in Kirkwall – after so many miles crossed – his boots began falling apart. Justice thought it was a sign.
So, against all those twinges of instinct that needled Anders to keep moving… he'd ended up renting an old warehouse from some side-a-ways Darktown contractor and opening this damn clinic. He brewed medicine for pauper elves too poor to pay bills. He patched up unskilled Ferelden refugees who'd moronically sold themselves as mercenary fodder. He healed fugitives; outlaws hiding in this bronze city's underbelly; citizens evicted from their homes because taxes surged too high; aged warriors now too old to find work; frightened immigrants, hindered by language barriers; impoverished drunkards; lepers; lyrium-addled ex-templars whom, forgotten and brain-dead, withered away as slums rats; and the occasional Gallows runaway who had nowhere else to turn. Justice rarely had compliments for his host, but there was a placidness from the spirit when Anders obeyed; he itched less when the mage was doing something worthy of a noble spirit.
This all came much later, though. When the sodden apostate first awoke on that rock-strewn shore, he'd mended himself, and ran.
It had been months since Justice spoke to him again after that fall into the Waking Sea. Only those fuzzy urges and thoughts that didn't seem natural told Anders his survival hadn't been a fluke. There were times the man feared their joining failed – that he'd obliterated the spirit somehow, gulped and destroyed. Maybe it was wishful thinking. Or maybe he was honestly concerned…either way, it didn't change the facts. Justice had been sitting back and watching what his carrier would do with this new power. He was content to quietly pick through the workings of Anders's mind for many weeks; his various guilts and bare nerves were interesting. Acts of charity pleased the knight, his approval evidencing itself as a strange new pride the mage took in helping others. But the running did not stop. Justice's dissatisfaction made his companion's stomach hurt, but one could not reform a flight animal into a revolutionary within precious few days.
So there were caravan trains, stolen horses, ships, stowaway brigs, a long line of campfires and dirt-cheap hotel rooms.
Until one day, he had simply stopped.
It was in Sundermount – not far from where he strolled now, pockets full of sage – standing with his back to the forest's lip. It was last year, in the final weeks of a wet spring. It was the same day he'd hopped onto Kirkwall's harbor for the first time, belongings crammed into a shabby backpack, each step swaying uneasily after weeks at sea.
There was barely time to resupply. A suspicious templar had seen him disembark that morning, he was sure. So one handful of jerky, two water canteens, a tarp to use as his tent… and the mage was climbing through the wilds again – hustling away. Anders had slogged all day through underbrush, scraping his arms on thorns and awkward twigs, uncaring. He moved quickly. He had been walking for hours, cutting through the woodland, pressing forward until he stood at the other side.
And when he had reached it, tree needles thatched into his feathered robe, tongue dry, he had just stopped. There was gravel beneath his boot soles. There was a large pillar of redwoods and conifers behind him. The mountain's shadow leant backwards over Kirkwall, a dark spot now looming in his wake. Before him, the sky was enormous – pale, smoky grey – leading into tundra and flatland. He could smell a fire somewhere. He took a breath. He felt as though he was standing at the farthest edge of the world.
"Where are you running to, mage?"
He had no idea. This never bothered him before, but suddenly, he felt very, irreversibly tired.
"You will never reach your destination until you know what it is."
With nowhere else to run, Anders turned around – saw Kirkwall gleaning dully in the distance – and ran back. He was not sure when it had become a charge.
Anders wasn't sure why Kirkwall reeled him in, an apostate in a brass city made of chains – but it felt right, so he picked up his plants, and he walked home on exhausted boots.