The young Templar stood in the Cousland's home.
He had expected it to be huge, as an ex-noble's mansion. It certainly had seemed bigger, when he had rushed in with the Order to arrest him. Now, with everyone gone and most everything cleared out, it seemed rather...humble.
There was a small porch leading up to the door, and a short hallway leading into the living room. From there the kitchen was just visible to his right, and stairs to his left that curved out of sight, probably up to the rogue's room. The trapdoor to the cellar was past the kitchen, which he had already explored, and there wasn't a separate dining room, just a large table and a few chairs pushed to the side in the corner by the stove.
The furnishings were nice, but not anything unattainable for a commoner. A blood-red rug lay underneath the couches and next to the fireplace. A few polished lamps carved from bone. An oak side-table, small, plain designs etched into the legs.
The only thing that was out of place and the only thing that marked him as wealthy was the gold-framed painting of the Cousland's deceased mother and father. And that was to be expected, that he would keep something to remember them by. A tragic event that caused him to be sympathetic to the rouge, even if he was their prisoner.
He shook off his wandering thoughts quickly and remembered what he'd come for. Staudt's instructions were recorded carefully in his mind.
"Hector- I want you to return to the Cousland's home and collect whatever evidence you can; look for letters, or diaries in particular."
Anything personal to the Cousland would, no doubt, be in his room. Hector ascended the stairs slowly, running his hand along the wooden railing that jutted out of the wall.
What would it have been like, to have housed mages here? He couldn't imagine himself doing anything of the sort. All of his friends were Templars; his father had been in the Order as well. He had liked Cullen and was loyal to Staudt, even if he was cautious to trust him. Helping mages would be the worst kind of betrayal imaginable, to everyone he knew.
But Hector was still curious. What kind of insanity drove someone to aid abominations and maleficar? Was it some kind of need to break and the law, to defy the armies whose leaders were higher than even the King? Truly, Staudt ruled these lands. Alistair had said it himself when he'd made Staudt the new Captain, that he now held the future of Ferelden in his hands.
"It's a burden and a responsibility," the King had warned. "Bear it well, and with an open mind. And remember to let the Maker guide you, and that Andraste will watch over you."
He had liked the King, liked how he'd spoken of the Maker as if he was speaking of a good friend. It was how Hector thought of it himself. After all, the Maker controlled all of Thedas, making decisions for the well-being of humanity: he was a friend. And Andraste, too- she gave Templars the will to carry out the necessary and important task of the extermination of apostates and dangerous mages, protecting Ferelden from evil-doers. The Order and the Maker went hand in hand. Everyone knew that.
The door to the rogue's room was open and unlocked. It seemed as though the Cousland had never even seen them coming, but the coolness in which he'd greeted them with suggested the opposite.
Why hadn't he run?
Hector was hesitant to call the rogue brave. Brave was another word for heroic and heroic was another word for justified, and a companion of maleficar was anything but. He settled for ignorant, instead.
Inside his room, Hector found the same simple furnishings that were set up on the first floor as well. A four poster bed was in the center of the room, with a large wardrobe in the corner and a bedside table to his right. A writing desk, complete with an ink set and a chair, was placed below the window; one, lone candle sat bleakly on the sill, the wick bent over with blackened wax.
Hector looked around.
"Look for letters, or diaries in particular," Staudt had ordered.
A letter would be easier to find. But a diary would hold secrets, personal thoughts, things that they wouldn't find in a parchment with the purpose of correspondence. But whichever object he was going to begin looking for, he doubted it would be a simple task to obtain either of them.
He crossed over to the writing desk, rolling up his sleeves in preparation of a long, exhausting search.
The journal was just sitting there, right on top of the desk, in plain sight. Waiting.
It was too easy. He stopped, his hand hovering just over the leather cover. It was a trap, it had to be; the rogue would have never left it lying around like this- almost as if he'd wanted someone to find it. He couldn't have thought that it would have gone undiscovered like this, after all.
Had the Cousland
planned it, this way?
No. He didn't want them to find the mage. This gave them a clearer trail to finding the cursed abomination, so why on earth wasn't it hidden?
The rogue was a fool if he believed that Hector wouldn't hand the journal over.
He sat down on the chair, opened the cover page.
I've left. Spoke with Justice. Agreed that finding the Cousland would be best. Our part in this revolution is far from over.
So his path to the Cousland had simply been a stop along the way for him, in his plot to free mages. Hector flipped through the book, skimming lists of items needed and explanations of how the sanctuary would be run. Everything inside of it was one step closer to finding him, held the key to tracking him down. With his personal thoughts, the Order could predict how he would react to a certain situation, could plan his next move themselves.
He smiled. Staudt would be pleased, and if Staudt was in a good mood, so was Hector. He enjoyed seeing his Captain in high spirits: especially in a dark time such as this, when dangerous mages were running riot.
He continued turning pages, panning through sections, and began to notice something changing.
Halfway through, the mage no longer talked about updates of the sanctuary. Instead, he focused more on his companion, on the Cousland. This was the second part to Staudt's orders, to find proof that the mage and the Cousland had been together.
"If we can find the reason of the mage's departure, we can use it in our extraction."
They could make it emotionally painful for the rouge, if they could find the source of the apostate's disloyalty.
"Relationships are dangerous. Most fail to realize exactly how until it's turned against them."
He scanned the entries more carefully now, surprised at the sudden shift of tone that the mage had succumbed to. Speaking of their progress and the troubles of the maleficar who came to their door had brought him out to seem dedicated, unwavering, focused on freedom and nothing else.
But when speaking of the Cousland...he was softer.
Today, I asked Gawain to stay up with me, to watch the sunset. It was beautiful, really; you can see it so well, here in the woods. A mix of pinks and oranges and other hues stirred together around the sun. Some of the apostates came up from the cellar to watch with us. One young girl said it was the prettiest thing she'd seen since she left the Circle.
How can people believe we're monsters? Do darkspawn sit around to gaze at the fading light in the sky? Do they feel the joy of life as the sun creeps down below the horizon? No. Of course not. We do, though.
Gawain and I sat side by side in the last couple minutes, when the sky was a burnt orange, like embers. I don't know what he thinks of me. Maybe all he sees me as is a dangerous abomination, a hunted criminal. But I'm reaching the conclusion that Ethel is right.
When we were traveling together as Wardens, I teased him continuously, with something alike to Isabela's humor- but much less dirty. He hated it- and I assumed it was because we were friends and only friends, nothing more.
But there's something about the way he shies away from me when I draw too close. He pulls back and pushes me away, physically and emotionally- but not before lingering there for a little while. As if...he wants to be close?
Sitting there on the porch, next to him, I think I've...realized something. That I...care for him, much more than I've previously thought.
I'm in love with Gawain Cousland.
All right, there. I said it. Or wrote it, rather.
I'm an idiot.
And there it was- the proof they needed. But Hector was stuck.
The mage seemed normal, almost harmless, when read here. He'd asked how people could see him as a monster. It was obvious, wasn't it? He'd killed so many. Didn't it worry his conscious? Hector's body count was at a pitifully small pile of five. He kept careful track of it, and even though they had been maleficar and had to die for the protection of the people of Ferelden, he still remembered them each clearly, made sure to pray for their souls at least once a week.
Of course he saw the mage as a monster.
But then...there was this soft side. The side that he had seen in his mother's eyes when she kissed his father good-bye every time he was called to serve in the front of the Order, where the chance of combat was much more frequent as the casualties were higher.
It was disturbing to see this side of a mage. Hector didn't like it; he wouldn't read any more of the entries.
He stared at the journal in his hand, but couldn't bring himself to close it. The abomination had actually cared for the Cousland. So what was it that made him leave?
The Templar flipped to the end, began to read again. And he discovered what he was looking for.
The sanctuary is running smoothly enough; Gawain will be able to run it by himself. Justice urges me to leave, and I agree wholeheartedly. I'll pack, now, and be gone before he wakes, hopefully. I have the feeling she'll be waiting for me there, in the Wilds. I cannot get there fast enough.
He paged back carefully, noting that her name was never actually mentioned. There was no lead at all to who he had meant.
But- success! His location was known, now- the Wilds. Hector grinned, tucking the journal underneath his arm. They'd have the mage soon enough. And then he'd pay for what he'd done at Kirkwall, what he'd done to Ferelden.
The mage deserved what was coming to him. So why did Hector feel a nagging, irritating guilt?
I'm in love with Gawain Cousland.
The abomination's social affairs were nothing to linger over. Who cared if he and the rogue had been lovers? All it gave them was another way to extract further information, knowing little details like that.
All right, there. I said it. Or wrote it, rather.
I'm an idiot.
He seemed so innocent. A normal, everyday citizen, who'd happened to fall in love. Was this really the man who murdered all those people at Kirkwall?
Yes, it was. Hector pushed the thought out of his mind. The Maker was testing him, seeing how far his sympathy would go for those who were worthy of none. And so far, Hector was doing a crummy job of resisting it.
The mage was a cold-blooded killer. One that needed to be eliminated. Sure, he'd had an intimate relationship that had meant something to him. But just because he could feel compassion didn't mean that his actions were justified. It had nothing to do with the Templars' purpose.
Hector closed the door to the rogue's room. He would go back to the jail, and he'd turn in the journal.
They would find the mage. And they would kill him for what he'd done.
He deserved it.
The rogue was sitting against the wall, head tucked into his chest, when the scrape of a key in the lock announced Staudt's arrival. The door clanged open and he swept in, a small group of guards closing the door to wait in the hallway obediently.
"Morning," he said shortly. His polite demeanor had grown cold since Gawain's decision to protect the mage, to stay loyal to one who had already betrayed him.
Gawain gave no answer.
Staudt paced through the cell. It seemed to be a habit of his; he'd taken to walking a usual patterned route every time he came to visit the rogue. The ground was actually wearing away underneath his feet, he traced the path so often.
"We are growing impatient," he said finally, stopping in front of Gawain. "You don't seem to understand the urgency at hand, here."
Gawain stared at the ground wordlessly.
"You are not on the right side," the Captain warned. "You may not realize it now, but you and your mages are the ones who will tear this country apart. If you do succeed, and take over Ferelden, what do you think will happen? Who will lead, who will take the throne? Not Alistair, surely, not the ex-Templar? The mages will demand that he step down, to be replaced by one of their kind. And who will it be? A mage. And what kind of mage? A healer? A blood mage? Your own
Gawain's head snapped up. When he spoke his voice was hoarse. "How do you-"
"Your servant told us. The elf."
"Oh," the rogue sighed. "I suppose you would have found out, sooner or later."
The Captain frowned. "You were right to say that he was not involved in the mage's plans. He's a rather dull creature; spoke only of your devotion to the apostate and your agony when he left you. But now that he's revealed all he knows...I'll keep our end of the bargain. As you asked and as I promised, the elf will not be harmed."
Gawain had asked for Fenris to be interrogated, questioned as fully as Staudt deemed necessary. In return, he was to remain untouched. Fenris had played dumb, like the rogue had meant for him to. And he'd done a good job of it, too, it seemed; the Captain was seemingly unconvinced that the elf knew anything else.
He probably has slaves of his own, Gawain thought bitterly. He must see Fenris as unintelligent, meek.
you and the mage," Staudt continued, a smirk playing over his sharply chiseled features. "To tell the truth, I never would have thought it. I understood that you two were close, but how close
I obviously disregarded the fact. Yet
" the Captain studied Gawain with a newfound interest. "Yet he abandoned you. For what reasons? Or
The rogue clamped his mouth shut, clenched his jaw. His pale, green eyes flashed up dangerously at the Templar.
"Come, now. He deserted you, discarded you. Surely this would give him what he deserves. Think of it as your revenge."
But Gawain had already thought this through. The Captain was too late for this tactic.
"Revenge isn't necessary," he said quietly.
Staudt started, then threw back his head and laughed. "Oh, I know. You think he's going to come back for you! You think he'll rescue you, don't you?"
No. Of course he didn't. The hope was buried deep inside of him, rooted in the back of his soul. There were instances where he had slipped into daydreams in which Anders would break into his cell, blond hair windswept and golden eyes anxious, and take him away.
But he knew Anders would not return for him. Gawain doubted that he knew the trouble he was in. And even if he did, the rogue doubted that he would care, much.
"Listen, Cousland," the Captain said. "You have no options. There is no one to save you. And you cannot escape." His voice was impatient. "I don't want to have to take the next step, but I will if necessary. Please, just tell us."
Gawain shook his head.
Staudt sighed. "I
all right, then. Guards, please step inside."
There was the creak of wood, and then the door opened to reveal the guards outside and the contraption with them. They pushed it inside, the wheels on the bottom clattering on the stone floor, and Gawain felt the room shoot up almost immediately in temperature; a carefully contained oil fire was burning on the bottom of the cart.
"Come, Hector, join us." Staudt beckoned to a younger Templar hesitating in the hallway.
"Yes, sir," he said eagerly, bounding inside. "About the diary, sir-"
"Later, tell me later. Right now: explain to our prisoner what this is." He gestured at the contraption.
Hector glanced at the rogue and then looked back up at Staudt. "It's created from pure lyrium," he said, a hint of pride in his voice. "I made it."
"Explain what it's used for, Hector. Tell him what it does."
The Templar nodded dutifully. "I designed it for the blacksmith here in town. It's a safer and more effective way of heating a sword or any piece of metal; the lyrium reflects the heat of the flames and condenses it onto the metal set inside, raising its temperature to an extreme that no usual fire could bring it to."
He unsheathed his own sword and stepped forward, glancing at the Captain. "May I, sir?" When Staudt nodded, he tightened his grip and slid the sword into a horizontal opening along the side.
There was an instantaneous reaction. As the metal met the lyrium-charged flames, it burst into a bright, blinding white, sparks of red flickering along the edges. The air in the cell shimmered; heat waves crashed over Gawain and he flinched away.
"See how the metal glows like that?" Hector called over the crackle of the flames and the humming of the sword. "It's actually fusing with the lyrium. The effect lasts for about a month, but takes just a few minutes. Once the bonding is complete, the sword will not only be scorching hot, but also will impart more painful blows, given the magical qualities it'll possess."
"Hector is one of our brightest," Staudt noted, satisfied. "He not only trains in the Order, but also studies mages and behaviors of demons."
"Now," Staudt's eyes hardened. "We'll show our guest what else it can be used for."
He raised a hand; the other guards stepped forward.
The young Templar's brow creased, his smile faded. He looked down at the contraption and then back at his Captain. "What
what are we going to do with it?"
"Move out of the way, lad." One of the guards laid a firm hand on his shoulder and led him away.
"Staudt, sir! What're you going to do?" Hector struggled against the guard's hold, staring at his Captain with wide eyes.
The Captain was expressionless. "Just watch, Hector."
One of the guards took the hilt of the sword and drew it out; the white blade sparked and flashed in the darkness of the cell. A thin smoke trickled out of the slit, filling the cell with a gray haze.
The guard advanced towards Gawain slowly. The rogue shrank into the corner, trying to keep the terror out of his face.
"This is what happens when you refuse to work together with us," Staudt said, watching his prisoner carefully. "Anything else you'd like to tell us, Cousland?"
Two other guards moved forward and stripped the shirt off his back. The sword shone with heat and lyrium.
"No," Gawain whispered, trembling.
And the blade came down.
Hector stumbled back in surprise as the rogue screamed; it was an inhuman sound, torn out of the bottom of his lungs. Grasping the wall behind him for support, the Templar watched as the sword carved an unwavering path down the rogue's back. The skin and muscle parted around the blade, then fused back together under the heat, leaving it blackened and bloodless, with just the smell of cooked flesh and the awful scars behind.
Staudt's hand tightened around his shoulder and he jumped. The Captain smiled.
"We got the idea from the elf's tattoos," he said. "This, I'm sure, is just as painful. It will be effective, Hector. Thank you."
But this wasn't what he'd designed it for. Not torture. Not this.
The sword tip traced its way around the rogue's waist, up his chest. He thrashed beneath the white blade, his cries lessening as his strength weakened; the shimmer of lyrium drifted around his form and the skin around his burnt flesh began to redden, crack, and blister.
Staudt stepped forward, raised a hand. The guard lifted the blade immediately, turned to attention.
The Cousland shuddered on the cold floor, whimpering. His fingers dug into the edges of the stone blocks beneath him, as if he was trying to claw himself out. Tears spilled out and dripped onto his burnt skin; pain built up in his throat and was released as a soft wail. He began to retch from the intensity of the burns, red-stained vomit sliding up and out onto the floor.
"How about now, Cousland?" Staudt's voice was cold. "Anything to tell us? The location of a certain abomination, perhaps?"
Gawain's body was on fire with the pain; every little movement caused another cry to bubble forth. He raised his head, tears streaming forth with the effort. "...No," he gasped. "No."
Staudt looked down at him in disgust, spat on his mangled skin. "Unbelievable." He waved the guard forward again. "Continue. Call me again when he either goes unconscious or starts talking."
The Captain turned to Hector. "The diary I sent you to look for. You had something to tell me?"
Hector was frozen, staring down at the rogue's broken form, twitching with agony. The blade came down again, bringing forth another high-pitched scream.
All of this was for nothing. If Staudt had just listened to him, just heard him out before...
The rogue was suffering because of him. If he'd spoken up sooner-
Hector began to speak and then faltered, his words disappearing in his mouth.
Speak up. Save the rogue, kill the mage. He deserves it; besides, it's your duty.
The Cousland screamed again and again and again. Began coughing up blood from where his throat had gone raw.
Stay silent. Leave the rogue to the torture, save the mage. It's what the Cousland would want. You owe him, for this.
Huddled on the floor, his prisoner raised his tear-filled eyes to meet Hector's.
This was not the Maker's will. It couldn't be.
"Hector?" Staudt was peering down at him, concerned.
"I didn't find anything," he lied.
"Nothing? Not even a note, or anything?"
The Templar shrugged. "He must have known we were coming, and burned everything important. I found nothing of use."
"Huh." The Captain sighed. "Well, my thanks for looking. I'll head out, now. Will you join me, or would you rather stay and watch?"
"I think...I think I'll go back to the barracks, sir," Hector said faintly.
"Splendid idea. Get some rest, my boy." Staudt clapped him on the shoulder and left the cell. His boots clicked distantly in the prison halls.
Hector waited until his Captain was out of sight, then took off running in the opposite direction. He screeched to a halt at the Templar barracks, tore past the cots until he found his own, dug through his stack of belongings until he found what he was looking for.
He held the journal in his hands, his fingers brushing over the leather cover.
Leave the rogue to the torture, save the mage.
He crossed over to the fireplace, rested his forehead on the mantle.
It's what the Cousland would want.
He threw the journal inside. Flames licked around the leather hesitantly, then devoured it in a matter of seconds.
How can people believe we're monsters?
Hector dropped to his knees, and began to pray.
I'm sorry, Maker. Forgive me, Andraste.