Fenlin found herself bound, hands to ankles behind her. the collar back on with a golden leash that Polonius held in his fist. Fenlin’s hands where probing the shackles that hooked through an iron link set into the villa’s floor. Around her a gold circle was inlaid in the rock floor, with groves cut into the stone in a pattern she wasn’t quite able to figure out in the sickly green light of veilfire candelabras.
“You think this is funny?” Polonius asked, pacing back and forth in front of the circle’s edge. He yanked on the leash to punctuate his words. Fenlin watched him, wordless as always. “Knife eared bitch. You show up, like some gift from the maker himself, and then everything starts to go wrong. You know the Champion, you know him well enough to fuck him, to get him not to fight,” he snarled, yanking on the collar again. Fenlin winced, but made no other move to explain. She couldn’t, and even if she could, what would the point be?
“You drive me to distraction, and I could put up with the Ferelden, I could put up with the Champion if it was short lived, but- now you do this.” He hissed, leaning down at her to glare at her hair. “But don’t worry, we’ll fix this. But first you need to learn how to behave. How to listen when I tell you what to do.”
Polinius pulled back from her, and whistled. The door to the stone room opened, light flooding in from the Villa’s courtyard. Guards marched in, headed by Favus whose lips twitsted as he looked at her. Three slaves were brought in, two that Fenlin didn’t know, and one who might as well have been her cousin. Hanin. Spotting her, Hanin froze, and Favus shoved him further into the room.
“But to get you to properly behave, my dear,” Polonius said. “We’re going to need the help of a few friends.” He motioned for Favus to pull the first slave closer. A battered elf, still dirty and with hair long enough for the Templar to grab. He did, yanking the elf’s head back to bare his throat to Polonious, and to Fenlin who was far too close to the elf. Polonius’s hand slashed out and red heat spurted out onto Fenlin and the ground below. Turning her head away and squeezing her eyes shut, Fenlin felt sick as the blood covered her.
The notches in the floor, she realised. They were for blood…
“Next,” Polonius said, tossing aside the spent body aside. “If you won’t behave, I’ll make you behave.” He turned, stepping up to the second slave. This one, a human, injured in the ring during the last fight. Still the woman was squirming, trying to get free. The woman’s foot lashed out in her struggle, slipping on the bloody floor and connecting hard with Fenlin’s knee.
The slice was messier this time, a spurt of blood got inter her mouth, filling Fenlin’s mouth with copper heat. She spat it out, or tried to.
NO! Fen tried to throw herself into the way, to stop Polonius from getting to Hanin. Tied as she was, the small elf could only flop sideways, looking up at Polonius with begging eyes.
“No?” he said, kindly. He crouched, bloody hands running over Fenlin’s cheek. “Will you be good?” he asked. “So I don’t need to kill your friend?” She nodded urgently, mouthing the word please.
“Take him back to the others,” Polonius said to Favus. “Leave me with the little huntress. I’ll send for you when she’s ready to return to training.” Fenlin watched as Polonius looked over at a grim Hanin and smiled. “It might be a while, we have so much to discuss about her recent behaviour.” Fenlin felt his hand slid over her cheek to rest on her throat.
Fenlin closed her eyes, listening as Favus and the other guards dragged Hanin from the room. When it locked, she heard a bolt slide into place on the other side of the door.
“Now,” Polonius said gently. “We’re all alone, no scary Favus, no Champion, Ferelden or other elves to listen in.” He cupped her jaw, lifting her chin up. Fenlin opened her eyes, the blood sticky on her skin, making everything in her crawl as she felt magic being drawn around them.
“You are mine, huntress,” Polonius said, the power from the blood around and on them filling the air like static, waiting for that final nudge to discharge. “You are my pet, my slave, my little gladiator. You will do as I say, when I say. You will wait on my praise and crave it. Do you understand?”
Fenlin wanted to shake her head, to fight off the magic, but it was strong. Abyss’s pull, it was so strong that she felt her head nodding even as tears began to cut paths through the blood on her cheeks.
“Good girl,” Polonius cooed. “I have plans for you, but I need you to be good, not to ruin them, will you do that for me?” Fenlin nodded again, hating the surge of emotion in her chest. The need to appease, the swell of guilt that she could ever have thought that she might act against Polonius’s wishes.
“Now,” Polonius said, crouching down in front of her, his face almost level with hers. “Don’t you look beautiful like this,” he murmured. “I’m going to call in a friend of mine, to watch over you while the spell settles, alright?”
Fenlin nodded again, anxiety rising. Where was he going? Why was he leaving?
Leaning in, Polonius pressed a chaste kiss to Fenlin’s forehead, and stepped back. Lifting his arms, he slammed his staff into the rock floor. Around her, the bloody rivulets that followed the channels cut into stone began to glow. Fenlin felt dizzy, the spell and glut of power that surrounded her caused pinpricks of light to burst in her vision.
“You called?” purple smoke curled around Fenlin, solidifying into a demon that ran a long nail up along Fenlin’s chin. “Master,” Desire purred, looking up at Polonius eagerly. “You’ve brought me a new mageling to play with.”
Polonius stopped, and Fenlin was sure her heart had stopped just watching him. Fear filled her, poisoned by the need to please him, the need for his approval. The Demon- it-
“You did not know?” the Demon asked, running it’s hand’s over Fenlin’s scalp. “A little sneaky mageling, with a heart only just starting to crumble to darkness.” It smiled and Fenlin shuddered.
“I did not,” Polonius said, looking at Fenlin with a renewed interest. “Keep her pliable, here. I will return. I have some arrangements to make before the next event. And now, more still. Perhaps we will have our little huntress play a larger role than I first thought.”
He smiled, and Fenlin melted, sagging into the Demon’s arms that gently wrapped around her. Like a lover’s.
Hanin was furious. He was still splattered with blood of the other slaves, and as Favus shoved him out into the practice yard, it took all the restraint Hanin had left not to turn around and throw flame at the bastard. Collar be damned.
Cresca shouted to the fighters to continue, glaring at Athim and Rahlen who hurried over to Hanin up. As though he needed it.
“Why are you covered in blood?” Rahlen asked.
“What happened?” Athim hissed at the same time.
“Ferelden, Champion, this is your final warning,” Cresca said.
“Blood magic.” Hanin hissed, before stalking past them to the bench where wooden swords lay. “To make her behave.”
He stewed the entire day, Cresca kept them busy, too tired to talk. As the sun set and the Guards chased them into the barracks, Hanin kept an eye out for the other white haired elf. But she wasn’t in her cell. Nor was she brought in after the other fighters settled in for the night.
“What did you see in there?” Rahlen asked in a whisper. “What were they doing? They didn’t hurt you- or her did they?”
Hanin ran his hands over his face, into his hair. He didn’t know the answer to that. Sagging back onto his cot, Hanin rested his elbows on his knees.
“Hanin?” Rahlen asked, “Tell me what happened.”
“He killed two slaves, just for the blood,” Hanin said quietly. “Said if she wasn’t going to behave he would make her behave. He was going to kill me too, I think, but she tried to stop him. I don’t know if he planned it that way, using me as a breaking point, or if he was really ready to kill me.”
Hanin shook his head, scrubbing his hands through his hair. Flakes of blood drifted down, caught in strands from earlier that day.
“All this over hair?” Rahlen asked, “All this over fucking /hair/?!” His voice rose and one of the guards shouted to keep it down.
“More than that, he mentioned you, and he mentioned Athim. I- I don’t understand though,” Hanin said. “But I think, whenever she’s allowed back out, she might not be trust worthy any more, Rahlen.” Hanin looked up, apologetic. Rahlen’s face was dark, and he was scowling.
“We’re not leaving her,” the Prince said quietly.
“If he broke her, blood magic is really-”
“We,” Rahlen growled. “Are not. Leaving her.”
Hanin watched Rahlen sat on the edge of the cot, turning the key over in his hands. Black iron, with glyphs etched into it’s length that he recognized from reading Dagna’s books that she had published. One of them was for protection, another lightning, but the others he wasn’t sure of.
“The key she gave us,” Rahlen said quietly. “It’s for the collars.” He ran his thumb over the iron. Because of this, because of a fucking haircut Polonius had sacrificed two people. Because the Master was too afraid of a small elf who had cut her hair. Tevinter’s universal acceptance of magic might have made the bastards like Polonius weak, or lazy, but blood magic was powerful. The man might be lacking, but the spell Hanin had mentioned would not be.
Hanin sat on his own cot, listening to the Prince. Something was eating at the Ferelden, but Hanin wasn’t sure what it was. He wasn’t sure that Rahlen even knew what it was that was bothering him so much.
“We can’t get her right now,” Hanin said quietly. “I saw where she was, it’s almost solid rock. There’s two locks on it, at least one of them is magical.”
“So, what, we just leave her there?” Rahlen asked, scowling up at him. Hanin shrugged a shoulder.
“No, we just have to figure out how to do it right,” he pointed out. “So we don’t fuck up and make this worse for us, or for her. We won’t be able to do anything if we’re all locked up separately, or sacrificed to cast a spell on her.” He could still see the red spray coating Fenlin, could still hear the cooing Master, still taste the heady levels of power in that room. If only he’d tried to cast a spell, the blood might have broken the collar, might have saved all of them.
But he hadn’t. He’d been afraid he might die, a useless, lost death in the cellar of a Tevinter Mage who had an unhealthy fixation on a dalish girl. And being afraid, he’d let the opportunity pass. Fenlin hadn’t. She’d tried to throw herself between them, shackled and tied to the ground, covered in blood, she’d still tried to stop Polonius.
Half-forgotten memories of reading old reports detailing the adventures of the Inquisition at it’s height. Reports of an agent named Ghost removing difficult obstacles. Fenlin’s mother, running suicide missions for his own. Bitterly, Hanin wondered if his own mother had ever shown Fenlin’s appreciation, validation, or if she’d always just taken her people for granted, froze them out, like she did her son.
Arguments between his mother and Leliana were calm, cold, but he remembered how there had always been a point of contention. Leliana had refused to tell his mother where Ghost had gone. The Inquisitor had been furious. Called Leliana’s loyalty into question, but the spymaster had never once budged from her position. But… why? Had Fenlin’s mother also saved Leliana, the way Fenlin had saved Rahlen? What about those women inspired such devotion?
“This is bullshit,” Rahlen muttered, pulling Hanin from his thoughts. The elf watched the Prince run his hands over his face, scrubbing at his eyes.
“What is?” Hanin asked.
“My mother would have broken out of here by now. Hell, in doing so, she’d have raised half Tevinter to fight next to her.”
“You’re not alone on that front,” Hanin admitted. “If my mother was here…” He trailed off, frowning. He wasn’t sure what she would do. She’d survived so many impossible events, but they had all been violent cataclysms. What if the Venatori had just locked her up, with an anti-magic collar on her? Would she be able to do any better than Hanin was?
“Well, she has- had- an army,” Hanin said after a moment. “I suppose that would make any imprisonment academic.” He shook his head, looking down at his palms. There was no magic mark there, no easy way to break down the walls and free himself or his friends. Hanin blinked, wondering when that had happened.
“We’ll get everyone out,” he promised Rahlen, hoping desperately it wasn’t a lie. “Spar with Athim tomorrow, try to talk to him about what we can do. I’ll…” he bit his words back as the sound of guards marching down the hall announced they were no longer safe to discuss that topic.
Hanin watched as two of the larger guards stopped at their door.
“Ferelden, you’ve been summoned.” Rahlen looked at Hanin but the elf could only shrug. Had they found out about the key? Was this about healing the remaining damage to Rahlen’s leg? Hanin watched as Rahlen left with the guards, grim faced.
Lying back onto the cot, Hanin draped an arm over his eyes. He was too tired to stay awake but too nervous to relax. Where were they taking Rahlen? Were they going to use blood magic on all of them, just to keep the fighters in line? Worse, what if they sacrificed Rahlen? Or-
Hanin slipped from worry into sleep without noticing. The cot was a raft, floating on an ocean of still-hot blood. In the distance he could see a massive shape with many glowing eyes lift it’s shaggy head and sniff the air. It let out an unnerving howl, loud enough to send the blood-sea trembling with droplets falling upwards in fast globules of red.
Before the blood-rain grew too thick to see through, the wolf turned it’s massive head, and all six of it’s green eyes bore into Hanin’s soul.
Fen’Harel walked in Tevinter.
The Demon’s touch and voice were liquid, trailing lazy whorls over skin that was still tacky from congealed blood, occasionally pausing to lick at the slender neck by it’s fangs.
Fenlin’s eyes were closed, her breath shaky as she forced herself to hold still, pushing Desire’s intrusive thoughts back. The metal cuffs around her ankles and wrists helped to remind her that the mouth on her neck wasn’t Rahlen’s, and the hands on her shoulders weren’t Athim’s.
“Don’t deny yourself what you want, elfling,” Desire purred into her ear. “They men you care for do not. You have seen yourself that the Prince and Heir please themselves how they want. There is no wrong in enjoying one’s self.”
Fenlin wanted to speak, she wanted to tell the Demon to fuck off, that she looked forward to sending it back across the veil, or better, killing it when she was freed. But her voice was gone, and so too was her ability to cross Polonius. Killing his pet demon would make him angry. It would be misbehaving and she couldn’t do that.
The sound of the door opening was a welcome relief from the Demon’s attention, and Fenlin looked up to see Polonius walk in, dressed in the finery he’d worn the night she’d fought Athim.
“Darling,” he said softly, as though he was surprised to find her there, in such disarray. Fenlin lifted her head, and with two long strides, Polonius stood in front of her, cupping her cheeks and brushing away flaking blood from under her eyes. “You’ve been so good. I’m sorry you made me so angry.” Fenlin was sorry too, and she hated it.
The demon purred, winding around them in purple trails of smoke. Each tendril that brushed over her skin made Fenlin shiver, and Polonius smiled. That made her tremble, the warring feelings of relief, pleasure and hatred mixing in her chest.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Polonius said. “You have quite a night ahead of you.” He leaned down, pressing a light kiss on her bloody lips. Fenlin felt her entire body shiver, and her lips parted as Polonius pulled back. He gestured to the door, and Fenlin realised Favus and a handful of villa-slaves waited there, dressed in sheer silks.
Favus walked over, grimfaced. Crouching behind her, Fenlin felt the Templar undo her shackles. When he hauled her to her feet, they were numbed from Fenlin being left in that position for so long. She stumbled, and the Templar hoisted her up by the back of her vest.
“You should have let me have you,” Favus muttered under his breath. “Now look at what’s happened.” What bothered Fenlin the most about his words though, was how sad they sounded. Once she was able to walk under her own power, the Templar let go of her and followed behind Fenlin as the silk slaves led her to a room with a large bath and various toiletries.
The water was refreshingly in the heat of the day, and Fenlin closed her eyes as she sank into the water, grateful that it was cool, unlike the hot blood she’d been bathed in earlier. Favus waited outside the door which had been left ever so slightly open. The other slaves batted Fenlin’s hands away, scrubbing out the dirt and sweat and blood from her pores. They tsked at her hair, lathering it with soap that smelled of lavender and spice. Only when she was clean, scrubbed bright and skin tingling, was Fenlin allowed to step out from the bath.
“Your skin is so beautiful,” one of them murmured. “Not even a scratch on it.”
Fenlin frowned, looking down at her arms. They’d been covered with small scars, some from falling on rocks as a child, others from training with knives. There was even one where the Fennec had bit her when she tried to pat it.
Gone. Everywhere the blood had covered, her skin was now pristine, glowing golden. The slaves sat her on a stool, towelling her dry with soft cotton. After the towels came some sort of cream that smelled of warmth and spice that the slaves rubbed into Fenlin’s skin. She noticed it was pigmented, leaving behind golden dust that glimmered, turning her into a living statue.
One of the other slaves trimmed the hack job of her hair, careful to not let any strands of white fall into the drying paint on her skin. Finally, Fenlin was given some water and fruit,
“She’s awful quiet,” one of them whispered.
“Mute,” another said. “Poor thing.” Fenlin closed her eyes, letting them do what work they had to. She wanted to scream, to push them away, but her muscles refused to do so. So she sat until they told her to stand so that they could dress her. First came chains and baubles, a golden necklace that had chains trail low to cross over her belly and link at the back. Next came beaded silks in the greens and blues of a pond back home that she used to swim in. But the tears that pricked at her eyes were held back. Crying now would ruin the paint the villa slaves had applied. And that would be misbehaving.
Finally, they affixed the mask and veils. Fenlin didn’t understand what they were doing, or why. The mask was beautiful, carved and detailed, porcelain white with golden boughs of leaves and twigs crowning her head.
The slaves stood back, looking at Fenlin who stood barefoot in the middle of the room. One pressed her lips together, then slipped away to let Favus know that they were ready.
Ready for what? A knot of dread was tightening in her belly. Fenlin felt like a calf being trussed for slaughter, and she wondered if this would be her final night on this side of the veil. Would death be quiet? Would it be calm? Would it be a relief after the last few weeks of walking the sands of Tevinter?
Favus stared at her for a moment, before motioning her to follow. Fen took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, then followed. He led her to the courtyard, dressed with torches that burnt gold in the night. On one end of the courtyard there was a raised dias that was strewn with pillows. Above it grew a trellis of vines, heavy flowers thick and sweet hung from the vines, filling the air with a honey-like sweetness. Silk veils draped along the trellis, billowing in the night breeze.
Hooded figures stood in a semi circle around the dias, faces shadowed and hands clasped in front of them. Her mind was growing soft and fuzzy, and Fenlin realised something must have been in the water. Calf to slaughter, that’s exactly what this was, she thought.
“Lady Mythal,” Polonius said, the only one with the hood of his robes pushed back to bare his face. “Please, we welcome you to our humble home. You grace us.”
Fenlin’s mind was struggling to keep up. Mythal? They- they were going to kill Mythal? Bastards. She was already dead, twice if Lady Morrigan’s story was true. But even as her mind tried to piece together the situation, Fenlin’s legs betrayed her, carrying her forward across flag stones to stand in front of Polonius. He held his hand out, and she took it delicately, her golden-shimmer fingers laden with rings that sparkled in the light.
“My lady,” Polonius said, voice pitched loudly enough for the gathered figures to hear. “We welcome and treasure you, but I am afraid that we must ask more from you than just your presence.”
Death. This was how she died, Fenlin thought, staring at the courtyard with it’s shadowed vints. Dressed up and painted gold, for some stupid ceremony.
“We claim your power, your knowledge. Your very being,” Polonius said. He lifted the hand that did not hold hers, and the torches snuffed out all at once. “We gift you, body and soul to our God, that he might rise again.” One by one, the torches along the courtyard reignited, the flames now blue. Not the green of veilfire, but a true, alchemical blue. They were beautiful, Fenlin thought. If that was the last thing she had to see.
But there was another figure, striding forward, cutting through a path in the gathered figures. Tall, dressed in black and silver that glimmered like scales in the torchlight. He too wore a mask, this one twisted and dark, the horns of a dragon curling out from his head. It seemed as though the very ground shook with each step the dragon took. Fenlin tried to step back, but Polonius tightened his grip, holding her in place.
“We offer you to Dumat, God of Silence, God struck down unjustly during the first Blight.”
Dumat stopped just in front of Fenlin, and her heart was hammering so hard, she was sure the demon-god would hear it. Polonius Passed her hand to Dumat, offering it wrist up. When Dumat took it, Fenlin was sure his touch was fire, burning her skin.
“We bind this goddess to you, Great one,” Polonius said, gesturing towards one of the robed watchers. The figure bowed and approached with a golden chalice and a small obsidian blade. “We offer this goddess of the ancients to you.”
Polonius cut along Fenlin’s palm and held the cut over the chalice, letting the red blood drip into the cup. The robed mages -they had to be mages- had started to hum, a low chant that seemed to force Fenlin’s heart to beat in time with it.
“We offer her to you so that you might consume her, body, soul, power, and voice so that you may once more take your rightful place in the Black City.”
Dumat offered his hand, palm up. Like with Fenlin’s, Polonius cut along the god’s palm, and Fenlin was sure that the blood that spilled out steamed as it fell into the chalice. Was that the drugged water? Or was this some abomination that she was going to be sacrificed to? And why?
Dumat took her hand, pressing the cut palms together with a ferocity that Made Fenlin wince.
Polonius was chanting something, but Fenlin was trapped by the silver eyes that shone from behind the Dragon mask. When the chalice was pressed to the slit of her mask, she had no choice but to swallow the mouthful of wine and blood that poured through the slit of Mythal’s lips. It burned her throat, made her eyes water. And she watched as the chalice was offered to Dumat, the Archdemon was allowed to sip at his own leisure.
He drained the cup, holding it out to Polonius when he had finished. As she watched, Fenlin felt the heat of mixture spread through her body like wildfire on a dry grass plain. Her heart was hammering now, her breath catching as her palm throbbed against the cut on his.
“Great one, Master of Silence,” Polonius said, bowing “She is yours.”
Dumat shrugged off the heavy cloak, letting it fall to the flagstones below. He too was painted, black and silver scales over skin now bared to the night air. Fenlin watched steam curl from his mask as he tore the veil from her, splitting it in two so it fell to either side of her. His hands, so large and strong, grabbed her around the waist and tossed her back onto the dias.
One of his hands held down her arms, the other slid up her waist, leaving behind a trail of heat on her skin. His snout- the mask, pressed into the hollow of her neck, and she could smell the smoke and musk on this skin as he breathed in her spice.
This… this was a very different kind of blood magic, Fenlin realised through a thickening fog of heartbeats, fire and lust. An old, old magic that was too powerful to stop now. Even if she’d wanted to.
Silks tore under the old God’s hands until she was bare to him, wearing only paint and golden chains. The chains that would bind her to him, she realised. Even still, her head tilted back, and her body arched as he pulled her to him.