Least Favorite Quest: “The Last Holdouts”
(art by runaire)
In Act 2, Anders tells Hawke that he is working with the Mage Underground, a secret organization of apostates that help free mages trapped in the Gallows. And while Anders did not form the Underground, it’s clear that over the past four years, he has become a major player within it; he even mentions personally leading dozens of mages to freedom using its resources.
But by Act 3, the Underground is all but gone, its members scattered and its secret hiding places destroyed.
A pro-mage Hawke never gets a clear answer. But a pro-Templar Hawke…
“The Last Holdouts”, which spawns only for a Hawke who sides with Meredith in the Act 3 opener, is an easily overlooked (and depressingly short) sidequest that sheds light on the exact fate of the formidable Mage Underground.
It’s also one of many cases where your actions subtly but definitively influence DA2’s meta-narrative. Only a pro-Templar Hawke can spawn this quest, because only a pro-Templar Hawke would be in a position to make events unfold they way they do. Although the Mage Underground is dismantled either way, none of what happens in “The Last Holdouts” comes to pass for a pro-Mage Hawke.
I realize I’m being vague. So let me be clearer.
In a pro-Templar Hawke game, what happened to Anders’s beloved Mage Underground?
Who removed the last hope Anders had for defying Meredith without bloodshed?
In case you’ve never gotten or completed this quest, I’ve transcribed a walk-through of the major dialogue/action/notes below the break.
1. Go to Hanged Man and talk to barmaid with exclamation point over her head.
Barmaid: Someone in the back rooms wants to see you, love. They seemed rather insistent. Sorry, the louts over there need more ale.
If you talk to her after she gives you the quest, she’ll say: “The whole city’s so hush-hush these days.” (Thus suggesting increasing paranoia in the city about the Templars.)
2. Visit back rooms (coincidentally or not, it’s the same room where you can find the “Maleficarum” codex in Act 1).
As soon as you enter the room, a scene will begin:
Ser Mettin: Hawke, your speech against First Enchanter Orsino was stirring.
Ser Agatha: We hope you can aid us more directly.
If you’ve sided with Orsino before, you may remember Ser Mettin from the quest that action triggers, “A Noble Agenda”. He’s the Templar “interrogating” the frightened Lowtown girl who let her apostate cousin stay with her for a single night. Mettin threatens to kill the girl in cold blood for helping the mage escape the Gallows, and you must fight him to prevent him from doing so.
Lovely chap. As you’ll soon see.
If you investigate:
Hawke: You seem capable enough of capturing apostates and blood mages.
Mettin: A lone apostate or blood mage is of little consequence. But a group of them have become organized. And many wretches in the city lend them a hand.
Agatha: The commoners are merely misguided, Ser Mettin.
Mettin: Regardless, these mages are proving difficult to track down.
If you accept the quest:
Hawke: Depending on what you need, I could be of assistance.
Mettin: This hive of blood mages and their supporters know us. If we get close to them, they’ll scatter like cockroaches. But you could take them unawares.
Agatha: Ser Mettin, we cannot dally. If the blood mages see us with Hawke…
Mettin: Here are the details. Eliminate these threats to Kirkwall. We’ll send any future communications by letter.
This updates your quest log with “New Quest Obtained: The Last Holdouts”, and your Codex will update to read:
Ser Mettin and his Templars need help in eliminating a blood mage hideout in Darktown. Find evidence of the base’s location.
- Go to the home of the blood mage leader in Darktown and look for clues about where the other blood mages are hiding. Ser Mettin also wants the building burned down.
3. Visit the Darktown hideout.
The hideout is in the sewer right next to where the Coterie Barker was in Act 2, the one who advertised loudly and endlessly that the leases of Javaris Tintop were up for sale.
For context, remember that during “Dissent”, Anders grudgingly reveals the existence of a secret underground passage that leads from the Gallows to Darktown. Said passage is conveniently located nearby to the Blood Mage Hideout—as is Anders’s clinic.
As soon as you enter the Hidden Sewer, you will encounter a group of mercenary archers, a blood mage and an apostate mage. I don’t believe this was supposed to be a difficult fight, since I killed them on Hard mode in a matter of seconds.
Lying on the ground right by the entrance will be the first of several Blood Mage Dispatches. It reads:
We narrowly escaped Meredith’s hounds. The city just isn’t safe, Bancroft. We must get five out through the gates tonight and get to the caves. It’s that, or risk capture and interrogation.
- “MS” (quotes in original)
Note: It is likely that the “MS” that this note refers to is not Meredith Stannard, but Mistress Selby, the mage sympathizer who heads up the Mage Underground. Located at the docks, she will give you several “Underground Railroad” style quests in Act 2, if you did not send Grace & co to the Gallows.
Walking up the stairs to the rest of the house, you will encounter the second Blood Mage Dispatch. It reads:
The hounds nabbed Franke the Cobbler tonight; no one knows where he is now. Thom Beschal and his wife were killed three days back. They’re no longer just hunting us: they’re hunting our friends and family. To the Void with the consequences! We must strike back while we still can.
- “A” (quotes in the original)
A conductor on the Underground Railroad who openly advocates the need to “strike back”? Oh gee. I wonder who this is. Let me think.
Interestingly enough, if “A” really is Anders, then this demonstrates his continued willingness to overlook blood magic for the sake of what he deems a greater good: mage freedom. We’ve seen him do this before at least twice: Once during “All That Remains”, when he makes no comment if Hawke decides to use blood magic to find Leandra; and also during the Act 1 quest “Acts of Mercy”, where he basically handwaves away Decimus’s blood magic as, “The Templars made him do it.”
There will be another Blood Mage Dispatch just up the stairwell. It reads:
We can’t trust the raiders’ promise of passage—the templar’s bounty on us is far too tempting. Press on every contact you have! We must leave Kirkwall before the knight-commander does something drastic. Each night, more of our brethren make it to the coast.
If the hounds sniff out your current location, the other site we discussed is clear. Be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
In a room just off the main entryway will be another group of mercenary archers, a blood mage and an apostate mage. They also go down fairly easily — this is a pretty sorry showing for a reported hive of blood mages and villainy, isn’t it?
Killing them updates the quest to the following:
The blood mage hideout was dealt with. Expect a letter with further instructions from Ser Mettin.
- The blood mages hiding in Darktown were eliminated.
Further exploration of the room reveals another Blood Mage Dispatch:
I can get two out tonight. A guide on the other side will take them to the refuge. Don’t pick anyone with a cold; last time, a careless sneeze almost alerted the guard.
Returning home, you’ll find a letter from Ser Mettin waiting for you.
My men report that the blood mage hideout was cleared of all maleficarum. The Maker has blessed you with formidable strength, and it is fitting you use it to aid our righteous cause. We uncovered the location of their headquarters: a cave in Sundermount. Ser Agatha and I are gathering the faithful and will await you there.
- Ser Mettin
Accepting this letter updates the Codex to the following:
Ser Mettin learned that the blood mages’ main base is in a cave in Sundermount. Meet him there, and eliminate the blood mages.
4. Go to Sundermount
The main base is up the Sundermount Passage. You will be attacked by spiders and a group of shades and a shadow warrior along the way. There is a new trapdoor up the passage (to the right of where you’d go to get to Flemeth’s altar) that indicates a new “Blood Mage Base”.
(One quick side note: Remember how earlier, we saw Bancroft mention a “guide on the other side” who’d show the would-be apostates their way to the Blood Mage Base — which is now revealed to be located on the side of Sundermount? To me, that implies that someone in the Dalish camp is assisting the Kirkwall Mage Underground. The obvious choice is Marethari — especially considering her actions concerning Feynriel — but wouldn’t it be cool if it were instead someone like, say, Arianna?)
Taking the trapdoor takes you to an underground room where Mettin and Agatha await. Once inside, a scene will begin.
Mettin: Good. You’ve made it.
Agatha: There are many innocents in there, Ser Mettin.
Mettin: Innocents? (Scoffs) Hardly. Let us strike now and put down these blood mages!
This sparks a battle with two apostate mages who, again, go down fairly easily. You then have the chance to talk to both Mettin and Agatha.
Agatha: Protect the innocents!
Mettin: Kill them all!
Keep moving into the big room, and you’ll fight apostate mage Bancroft, as well as four apostate mages. Bancroft is kind of a BAMF, and he doesn’t go down as easily as his friends back in Darktown. (Maker I wish we could’ve known more about this guy, don’t you?)
Side note: Huddling in the corner are women shivering from fear, dressed in what are clearly not Circle robes but what appear to be generic Lowtown garb. These are the friends and family of the apostates you’re currently slaughtering.
Once the apostates are dead, a scene automatically begins.
Agatha: Mettin, they’ve surrendered.
Mettin: Our duty is clear. They all must die.
Agatha: The mages, perhaps. But you can’t kill the others just for helping their family and friends!
Mettin: Watch me.
You’re provided three dialogue options. If you choose to say:
Hawke: Your duty is to deal with mages, not simple citizens.
Agatha: We will not let you do this.
Mettin: At last you show your true colors, Ser Agatha. You are a traitor to the order. Kill them. Kill them all!
The quest updates to say “Kill Ser Mettin and protect the mage sympathizers”.
A battle begins with Mettin and some random Templars. You will have Agatha and other Templars helping you. After you kill Mettin, another scene begins.
Agatha: I can’t believe… Ser Mettin. We must go, Hawke. But we will not forget your service to the order.
Mettin is right:
Hawke: If we let them go, they’ll just cause more problems later.
Agatha: I will not let you do this.
Mettin: At last you show your true colors, Ser Agatha. You are a traitor to the order. Kill them. Kill them all!
(Note: Siding with Mettin nets you +5 Anders Rivalry.)
The quest updates to say “Kill Ser Agatha and the mage sympathizers”.
A battle begins with Agatha and some random Templars. You will have Mettin and other Templars helping you. After you kill Agatha, another scene begins.
Mettin: To think I doubted you. You have proven your worth. A time will come when I can help you, Hawke, and I will be there. For now, I bid you farewell.
Not my problem:
Hawke: You two figure it out.
Mettin: There is no half-way here, Hawke. (emphasis mine)
The rest progresses as if you’d sided with Agatha.
No matter which path is chosen, after this scene finishes, the quest is completed. The quest’s codex entry now reads “The blood mages were dealt on behalf of the Templars, who promise to provide future assistance.”
So there you have it. In a pro-Templar Hawke story, the reason the Mage Underground no longer exists is because Hawke himself/herself eliminated the “last holdouts”. It’s your fault. All that blood on Anders’s hands is on yours, too.
And when Anders pounds his staff into the ground as the Chantry turns to dust, and coolly intones that “there can be no half measures”… Well. That should now sound sickeningly familiar.
I hate this fucking quest.
Doing it the first time around actually made me so sick to my stomach I had to set aside the game for a day or two.
And having gone through it again, just to retype all of this for you now?
Excuse me. I think I need to go watch some kittens barf up rainbows for awhile.
ETA: Damn, they’re quick: myjusticecake and rhiannon42 have both written heartbreakingly awesome mini-fics pertaining to what goes on in “The Last Holdouts”. Go check ‘em out. But bring some Kleenex and ice cream with you too. You’ll need it.