Menagerie: Chapter Four – Summit of the Lost
Markelius hates Tevinter, and the ruined remains of the Imperium in the rest of the world even more. His native land aside, nothing of Tevinter is ever clean, ever neat, ever sanitary. The magisters wield blood magic as if the art is meant for fun, and slavery…it is atrocity after atrocity in the Imperium.
Old slaver warrens along the Wounded Coast are hardly ideal, but it's the space he needs for his research. Although the distance from Kirkwall is one of its strong points for him, it's also a drawback. Traveling back and forth and back and forth constantly is exhausting. And it means, with his commute time, that his patients are alone far longer than they ought to be.
Not all alone, perhaps. Aurelia is so proud of being a Big Girl now, helping Markelius by bringing food and fresh water to the patients. Not too close to them; the patients are likely scared and hurting, results of their conditions and the restoration work Markelius has been doing for them – likely to lash out, even at a child. But she's excited that she can help him now. And that makes Markelius smile.
No father has ever been prouder than Markelius is of Aurelia.
He will probably have to keep her clear of the new patient, however. He spares a glance at the mage trussed up in the little wooden cart as they trundle along a path from Kirkwall out to the old warrens. The mage glares venomously back, blue light rippling through his eyes, his skin.
Interesting. Markelius had known, of course, that the man was a mage. A healer even, and healers occasionally prove unpredictable. What Markelius had not expected when he put the rag over the man's face was for the man to throw an elbow back into Markelius' face and smash his nose.
Ordinarily, people who breathe the fumes from the rag drop unconscious and are then easily controlled. Perhaps a healer might have a little more resistance to the fumes, but still, even a healer should drop – insensible if not unconscious. But the blond mage is not only a healer, he's an abomination.
And startlingly adept at hand-to-hand combat. Too long near Tevinter. Markelius has missed going up against mages who are not so skeletal and soft. He had almost forgotten, actually, that a mage can be a physical person and not just an insubstantial wisp capable of devastating magic.
And this one? Darktown healer, career apostate, Grey Warden. Markelius should have expected a struggle, in retrospect. He should have expected more of a fight when he discovered the spirit inhabiting the mage.
But Markelius has never tried to subdue an abomination before. Now, at least, he has a reference. The vapors don't work; try something else.
Even now, he ought to be having more trouble. Even tied up and gagged, the other mage should prove much more difficult to transport. Unless, of course, he's humoring Markelius just to find out where they're going. Actually, that sounds exactly like what is happening. Markelius shifts in the driver's seat of the cart, clenching bruised hands around the reins.
His pony, at least, doesn't seem to give a damn about the entire situation.
Markelius smiles at his new patient despite being in absolutely no mood to smile. Breathing hurts. That would be one actually broken rib, three others merely cracked. All that along with a sprained wrist, mild concussion, and all of the various bumps, bruises, and scrapes the other mage inflicted during their scuffle in the tunnels between Darktown and Lowtown. And, of course, a few stab wounds.
It is at least vaguely humiliating to have been stabbed three times with his own knife.
He's gotten soft, Markelius reflects, too soft to go about taking on a Grey Warden with inadequate planning like that. Definitely not again. Never again.
Perhaps he should have gone for the beardless dwarf or the Tevinter elf. But, no, no. Dwarves are regrettably resistant to magic and the Tevinter elf has already had one too many traumatic procedures performed on him.
Besides, neither of them stands for anything.
It had to be this mage. It has to be this mage.
The pony draws the cart up to the old warrens that Markelius has set up shop in, and Markelius, with difficulty, gets out of the cart to remove the tack from his pony and let the ragged little creature roll around in the sand to scratch all the itchy places before wandering off to find a patch of grass. There's fresh water nearby, too. The pony, lazy little beast, is fairly self-sufficient and never wanders off.
Perfect, really. Now if only humans could be that reliable, life would be much improved.
He struggles back to the cart to unload his passenger. The other mage acquiesces until a point, just inside the tunnel that leads into the warrens, when he suddenly throws his weight sideways into Markelius and stomps down on Markelius' foot. White starbursts explode in Markelius' vision to the sound of his foot crunching loudly, bones sundering under pressure.
There's an elbow buried sharply in his broken rib despite the other mage's hands being securely tied behind his back. Markelius had once thought himself well acquainted with physical pain. He is discovering now that he never quite knew what pain was. It's as fascinating as it is annoying.
With distaste, Markelius presses a hand into one of the holes in his robe, in his person, where blood still oozes thickly from the three stab wounds. There are familiar whispers at the back of his head when he draws the blood into his hand. Whispers he impatiently ignores. He has no time for demons and their idiot games.
The mage needs to be subdued again.
Mind control doesn't particularly work, at least, not the very minor derivative Markelius has learned. Perhaps a maleficar less concerned with the ethics of it might have an easier time, spirit possession or no, but mind control feels like the worst kind of rape to Markelius and he refuses to learn more than suggestion. Suggestions can be ignored. In the case of a possessed healer, suggestions can be quite easily ignored.
However, wrapping tendrils of blood around the other mage's elbows, ankles, and neck, he can drag the man along the corridor without further difficulty. It is a displeasing solution to the problem, but Markelius' patience and usual grasp of ethics are both numb at the moment, broadly eclipsed by the amount of pain this mage has put him in.
The other mage struggles, the spirit within him struggles, but they never quite struggle together enough to break free, and Markelius drags them both down several more corridors and into the prison.
A bleak place, depressing, hallways walled by cells. Markelius has done what he can to make the place more viable. He's scrubbed every inch of it clean. The beds are dressed with clean linens. The occupied cells even have rugs to keep the occupants off of the cold stone floor.
His little touches of home and comfort look absolutely absurd. His ancestors never intended for this place to be comfortable. Actually, with its imposing architecture and chronic shadow infestation, the place is meant to be terrifying, to keep slaves cowed and pliant in their fear.
He drags his new guest to an unoccupied cell that has been prepared for him, propels him inside, and slams the cell door before releasing the blood magic puppet-strings, dragging the gag and rope restraints along as well.
A blast of raw mana comes flying at Markelius, and is absorbed into the bars of the cell.
"Tevinter has a long history of favoring mages as slaves," Markelius murmurs, wheezing just a little, folding the mess of rope and cloth in his bruised, bleeding hands. "Distasteful history, but the cell has its uses, I suppose. I suggest you make yourself as comfortable as this dreary place allows. We shall speak later."
Markelius limps away, crushed foot crunching audibly with every step.
Of all the things Anders expected to happen to him today, getting kidnapped by a blood mage and thrown into a cell was not on the list. He expected to be murdered by Hawke, or lost in the Qunari attack, or maybe just to hear whatever it was Fenris was going to say before they were interrupted.
But this? Well. Definitely not on his list of expectations.
Anders isn't sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
There's an obscenely cheerful rug under his feet. His staff and feathered coat are missing, likely lost in the scuffle. The scuffle…
For a moment just a brush of his old vanity returns. Oh, but if the others had seen him in action, they wouldn't be treating him like a 'delicate little mage flower' anymore. He'd been successfully kicking the shit out of his assailant until binding blood magic had been brought into play.
But until then, even Fenris might have been proud of him.
The elf is quite capable of taking care of himself, but Anders still worries. The city had been burning when he disappeared, Fenris charging headlong into the Qunari and their allies. Have the Qunari won? Have they been beaten back? Andraste's flaming knickers, what's happening?
More importantly, is Fenris still alive?
Anders lets out a frustrated yell, throwing himself against the cell door. It should hurt, but he's been much more indestructible since Justice. He doesn't even bruise when he bounces off the bars.
Justice is stewing. Brooding even, marinating in a heady, nauseating blend of shame, rage, guilt, and other, more minor irritations. Much more of this and he'll give Anders an ulcer, not that a stomach ulcer ranks very high on their collective list of worries at the moment.
What ranks higher is the cell they're trapped in, oh, and the taste of human blood in Anders' mouth. At least the fresh blood is intentional. Their captor should find the bite mark eventually. But Ser Alrik? No, as much as it lifts Anders' spirits to know that the abusive Templar is thoroughly dead…ripping out his throat was not how Anders meant to kill him.
Justice stirs in the back of Anders' mind, inquisitive, but ashamed of his question. This is not a normal combat tactic for mortals? Their old comrade Cousland seemed rather fond of it, in Amaranthine.
Cousland's part werewolf, Anders thinks tiredly. Of course it's normal for him to go biting people's throats out. Anders isn't. Not a werewolf, not even by a fraction, and certainly not fond of the taste of human blood.
At least, when the strange high of mid-combat dies down and he feels like himself again. This affinity for the taste of blood is something Justice needs to be more aware of and less…enthusiastic about.
They don't want to be the textbook image of an abomination. What they are is bad enough. They don't need to make it worse.
Anders catches himself thinking in the first-person plural and yells again, throwing himself at the door a few more times. It's futile, but ultimately harmless, a way to vent his frustration and keep himself relatively calm. If he's throwing himself against the door, he's doing something instead of curling up into a ball and panicking.
He's fading in and out of solitary in the cells of Kinloch Hold before a semi-familiar pair of reflective green eyes flashes at him from the charcoal darkness of the prison.
Mr. Wiggums? No, no, Wiggums is dead. Pounce…is living with Delilah Howe in Amaranthine. Get a hold on yourself, idiot.
The eyes float closer, body invisible in the shadows, the eyes too high up to be a cat's. But that can't be right. Those are distinctly a cat's eyes.
Closer still and the rest of the body the eyes are attached to gets clearer. At first Anders can't tell if it's an animal or a child. A child materializes eventually, when she gets close enough for him to see. A little girl, maybe four or five years old. She has golden hair, skin just a few shades tanner than pale, huge, cat-slit pale green eyes. Instead of human ears, hers are pointed shells, furry, cat-like. A feline tail twists and switches behind her, and patches of orange fur cover her face – a triangular patch down from her hairline, over her forehead, two more patches just under her cheekbones, outlining her face.
She even has whiskers protruding from her eyebrows. None from her upper lip, though, so not a full set.
"Uh, hi?" Anders blurts after she stares at him for a few minutes, standing just on the other side of the bars of his cell. "What's your name?"
She tilts her head, regarding him with curiosity and what might or might not be suspicion.
"My name's Anders," he continues. "Or, well, not really Anders – that's where I'm from, not really who I am, you know – but it's what people call me. Honestly I'm not sure if I remember my real name…"
Thanks, Justice, I realized that. It's not every day I see a child who's half cat, though.
She giggles. "Aurelia," she answers. It takes Anders a moment to realize she's speaking of her own name. "Pater said he had a new pay-shunt. You're silly."
Andraste's flaming knickers, he did that to his own daughter? Sick…UNJUST!
Justice finishes Anders' thought and for once the mage doesn't stop him. He tries to stop the conflict from showing on his face, though. He rather wants to tear the girl's father into tiny bloody chunks, but that's no reason to terrify her further.
Except that she doesn't look particularly terrified to begin with. She holds up a bucket, sized for a small child to hold, and brings it closer to the bars for him to take. The bucket, about the size of a tankard, is full of water.
"I help pater with his pay-shunts. I'mma good helper. Pater says that people are flowers. Have water, don't wilt!"
Some part of Anders wants to laugh, despite everything. Aurelia is really rather cute. Perhaps her father meant to say people are like flowers? It's a decent analogy for explaining the basics of hydration to a child, Anders has to admit. Even if the child in question misses a few words and comes up with an entirely different conclusion.
And he's always been a sucker for cats.
He just doesn't want to think about how Aurelia came to be half cat or what happened to the cat whose parts she's wearing.
Anders reaches through the bars and takes the bucket-tankard the girl offers him, raising it in a toast. "My thanks, lady Aurelia."
She giggles. Anders doesn't care by now if she's giving him poison; he drinks, the cool water soothing the raw dryness of having been gagged. Surprisingly, the water is not only delightfully cool, but sweet, clean, pure. He'd like to gulp it all at once, but he knows better, and sips instead. He wouldn't be much of a healer if he couldn't prevent himself from getting sick, now would he?
Aurelia chats happily while Anders sips the water, telling him all sorts of things that randomly float through her head. Anders learns that Aurelia's favorite color is blue – she can't see red at all – and that the fireflies are really very pretty here, and that there are monsters under her bed but she's not afraid now because she has claws. Pater brings a lot of sick people here but he makes them all better, like her. Once upon a time she falled down stairs and got hurt and pater made her all better.
It's in the middle of this story that Anders hands back the empty tankard-bucket and his captor, Aurelia's father, melts out of the shadows.
"Aurelia, darling, why don't you go play? I would like to speak with our new patient."
"Okay!" Aurelia scampers off with her tiny bucket. Anders feels a little sad to see her go. She's a bright little thing, all cheer and a child's innocent love of the world and everyone in it.
And now he's alone with the blood mage.
"You mutilated your own daughter," Anders begins conversationally. Justice seethes under his surface, angry but nervous. The last time Justice tried to do anything, they very nearly murdered an innocent mage girl.
"You should know more of that before you judge," the man reprimands quietly. He sounds less wheezy. Maybe he's done something to patch up some of the damage Anders did to him earlier. Not that even magic will fix all of it, but enough to make breathing easier, perhaps. "I admit, I was nervous about letting my daughter come to see you. You and your…passenger made quite the display in the smuggler tunnels."
Close enough now for Anders to see him clearly, the man has long black hair, down to the middle of his back, secured in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Something about the man's complexion and bone structure remind Anders of Fenris. This mage is a few shades paler, though, and his eyes are grey.
His daughter's name, though, is Tevinter in origin – as if Anders needs another hint.
"So. Perfect. I've been stalked by a magister."
The slap of the man's battered hands against the bars is a surprising display of violence from a mage who has heretofore been surprisingly demure.
"Do not. Call me. A magister," he snarls, voice going softer – a semi-sibilant whisper of unadulterated rage. And then, just as suddenly, the storm clears and a bit of humor shines through. "I work for a living."
"Right. You work for a living kidnapping people from Darktown for…what? Tea and cake? A knitting circle? Vicious blood rituals?"
The mage almost laughs at Anders' snark, a subdued chuckle that gets choked off in a gasp of pain. So, the ribs are still cracked. A thrill of perverse pleasure snakes through Anders. Not typically a sadist, also, a healer, Anders isn't the kind of person who enjoys seeing people suffer. Except this mage has really, really earned the suffering.
"Ah. You've noticed my presence then. Then you should also realize I have only taken those who are fatally flawed."
"Not Mark. He's in, well, not perfect health, but he's not…"
"Not fatally malformed? How long do you think he can exist in a woman's form before he drowns? Or worse, before the Coterie decides to stop ignoring him? No, no, you are the only guest here without a deadly malformation. Although, I did think you might want to see. The disappearances must have alarmed your nightly headcount."
He hasn't just been watching me, he's been watching me. Better yet, he thinks he's fixing people. Oh, shit, what have I been dragged into?
Enough. Panic serves no purpose.
The blood mage holds up a hand, light spilling forth from his palm. Ball-sized spheres of light fly up halfway to the ceiling, bobbing down the halls of cells in every line of sight that Anders has. Inside of some of the cells, he can see the people who have gone missing from Darktown.
They've all been altered. Like Aurelia, and not – no two that Anders can see are stitched to the same kind of animal.
I-WE will have YOUR HEAD FOR THIS!
Author's Note: Yeah. So, this took longer than I thought it would. Markelius and Aurelia fought me pretty hard. Didn't want to cooperate. Neither did Anders. I think he's just figured out what's coming.
Sorry about such a long wait for such a sub-standard chapter. Just in case I didn't add an AU tag, well, here it is. People can't be combined with animals in canon. I must admit inspiration from the Full Metal Alchemist series – if anyone dropping by is an anime fan. The chimera projects? Gave me ideas. And then came Markelius.
Funny confession. I don't really ship Fenders much. I don't not ship them either – this is fanfiction and if it's well-written I like it and if it isn't I don't read it and in a fan-world, anything can happen - and that's not mentioning the truly captivating fanart out there, much of which inspired this at least a little. But I saw this awesome prompt on the kinkmeme and Markelius just stepped on my foot and demanded I write the story. So, Menagerie. Also, the title finally makes sense, no? Anyway, I just needed to get my chapter-ly rambling in there somewhere. Thank you all who have stuck with me despite my slow-ass updating speed!
And thank you 1879 – for being my editor and catching me when I bork things. I do love you, you know. If that isn't completely creepy to say! XD