Chapter Forty-Four: And That Was That

Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age 2.

"Wow, this is going really well," Emma said, surprised. "From the sheer numbers that the templars have on their side and the fact that everyone keeps acting like this is some sort of a last stand, I would have thought that this would be difficult or something. It's a good thing that they're only attacking a few at a time."

"Dear Maker, look at it all!" Orsino said despondently. "So much death…"

"Well, we all knew that we'd have to kill every templar who came through that door," Emma said reasonably, trying to understand why this was such a problem.

"No, I mean the mage death!" Orsino wailed, gesturing to two corpses on the ground.

"Yes, that's very sad and I think we'd all be happier if no mages had to die today," Emma said slowly, trying to be diplomatic. "But seriously, there's been two mages killed. Two. We're taking down templars almost as fast as they can charge at us. Things are fine."

"And besides, I'm not going to say that they deserved it," Merrill remarked. "But if they had acted more intelligently and one had not lit themself on fire and the other had not literally jumped on a templar's sword then they'd still be alive today. You really can't blame yourself. Unless, of course, you think you should have made them less stupid but even there I'm not sure there was really all that much you can do. Some people are just naturally thick."

"Why don't they just drown us as infants?" Orsino asked miserably. "Why wait? Why give us the illusion of hope?"

"I'm not positive but if I had to guess it's because most people draw the line at baby-murdering and even if we didn't, you can't tell a mage is a mage until they're older than that," Varric replied. "Unless you were talking about elves but you being an elf is not why Meredith is after you."

"I don't see why you're so upset, anyway," Fenris told him. "We're doing absurdly well. Meredith clearly has no real plan besides throwing her troops at us in groups of five or six for us to easily strike down without all of us even having to fight."

"I refuse to keep running! I won't wait for her to kill me," Orsino ranted on, apparently not even listening.

"We're not running," Aveline pointed out. "We're making a last stand. Although it's turning into more of a regular stand than a last stand."

Sebastian looked over and saw that the mages were looking a bit more disheartened than they were before Orsino had started complaining. "You're really not helping matters."

That he heard. "I'm tired of helping, as well," Orsino informed them.

"Then…maybe you should think about stepping down or something," Isabela suggested. "Because helping is really part of your job description and now is really not the time to be changing that."

"Quentin's research was too evil, too dangerous, so I put it aside. But I see now there is no other way," Orsino said, his face taking on the same look that Anders' had right before he had started all of this and blown up the Chantry.

"You dare to bring up your role in our mother's near-death right now?" Emma demanded furiously.

"I agree with Emma," Bethany said, staring at her mentor in horror. "First Enchanter, there are a million other ways! We're winning! Drastic measures are only supposed to be as a last resort, not when you get bored by the tedium of constantly killing people!"

The next wave of six templars came into the room but stopped short when they realized that they were clearly in the middle of something.

Varric nodded his thanks for their consideration.

Orsino took out a dagger. "Meredith expects blood magic? Then I will give it to her. Maker help us all." With that, he slit his wrists.

"It always looks like a suicide attempt when people do that," Bethany commented, backing up.

"Maybe someone can explain to me how proving the crazy lady right by having the person in charge of the mages turn to blood magic is a good idea?" Varric asked. "What, no takers?"

Orsino started floating a few inches off the ground and blood swirled around him. The corpses of the two dead mages and several of the templars were pulled to Orsino's body and when everything had settled, the creature that remained looked nothing like the First Enchanter.

It was a hideous flesh monster about three times as tall as Orsino had been and it staggered around a little.

"Okay, something tells me that turning yourself into a giant flesh monster never ever helps," Emma decided. "The closest comparison I can think of is people becoming abominations and, again, it never helps."

"This is why I wanted to help the templars," Fenris groused. "At least then when this sort of thing happened, it wouldn't be my allies I had to fight."

Despite the fact that Orsino had transformed himself so that he may better kill templars (even though that was completely unnecessary, it was the closest thing to a reason they had to explain his actions), he ignored the six perfectly good templars in front of him to attack his allies.

"Aveline, Merrill, get the templars," Emma instructed. "Everyone else, let's take down this abomination!"

"It's a good thing that the templars didn't decide to actually use their templar powers to negate our magic," Bethany remarked as she started firing spells at what was once Orsino. "That might have made this a bit more complicated."

Emma shrugged. "Lesson number one: templars are idiots."

Once they had managed to fell the giant creature, it's head (complete with its own limbs) detached and started literally hopping around the room. This creature did less damage and was easier to hurt than its larger form but getting it to stay still long enough to kill it was a regular nightmare.

"So…now what?" Bethany asked once he was dead.

"Well, I know that I'm going to totally steal his staff because it looks amazing and it feels really powerful, too," Emma said, happily grabbing said staff.

"You know that's called the 'Staff of Violation', right?" Bethany asked rhetorically.

Emma made a face. "No I did not know that and I'll thank you not to tell me just why that is."

"I don't think another wave is coming," Aveline said.

"Let's go take the fight to the templars then," Isabela suggested. "I'd rather not stay in this room anymore after that flesh-thing stunk the place up and just looking at its remains is kind of freaking me out."

"Okay," Emma agreed. They made their way down to the courtyard.

"There's a few more bodies here and there," Varric acknowledged. "But Orsino couldn't have possibly known about them and they're still not very many."

"What do you expect from the man who enabled my mother's would-be killer?" Emma asked him. "I can't believe that his nice voice and his badassery in the qunari invasion would ever allow me, even for one second, to relax a little in my intense hatred of him. Well, worry not because my hatred is renewed."

"We weren't worried," Merrill told her.

"And I think that after that little stunt, it's a common hatred," Varric assured her.

"Meredith does not know how to execute a Rite of Annulment," Fenris declared.

"And thank the Maker for that," Bethany said gratefully.

Meredith was in the middle of pontificating when they reached her.

"Just like in the time of Andraste, magic must be purified through fire," she was saying.

"I could be wrong but didn't Andraste lead a rebellion because of all the slavery going on, not because the slavers happened to be magic?" Merrill inquired.

"No, it was definitely because she hated and feared magic," Meredith said. "Champion, I've had a thought."

"This should be good," Varric muttered.

"Thank goodness you're here!" Carver told them. "Getting her to spare anyone is like pulling teeth!"

"You are a monster, Meredith," Emma said frankly. "And we're going to make you pay for driving this city and its mages so far past the point of reason."

"I will be rewarded for what I've done here, in this world and the next!" Meredith claimed.

"In this world, perhaps," Fenris said cynically. "But the next? Killing children, mage or not, is no worthy feat."

"I'm beginning to wonder how large your part in this actually was," Meredith said slowly, suspiciously.

"My part in what?" Emma asked, confused. "Because really, I'm barely involved in any of this at all. If it hadn't been for the fact that I happened to be standing there and that the catalyst of this was caused by…by my…I wouldn't even be here probably. Everything and everyone is just getting really, really stupid and I just want to go home."

"Ah, that's just what you want me to think!" Meredith exclaimed. "Think about it: an apostate refugee come to our city with an apostate sister, gathering power and influence without any accounting."

"There was a lot of accounting, actually," Carver pointed out. "We rescued the viscount's son a few times and made a lot of money on a Deep Roads expedition. And our mother was a noble to begin with. We went around solving whatever problems forced themselves on us – and given that nobody here wants to take responsibility for their own actions, that was a lot – and somehow we got a reputation as being willing to actually do something."

"And I don't really have all that much power or influence," Emma argued. "Nobody listens when I say 'let's free the mages and kill all templars.' Nobody even listens when I say 'I'm not actually on Meredith's side, you know.' And if you're talking about how I became Champion of Kirkwall…Well, that was your doing, remember?"

"How can I trust that the mighty Champion of Kirkwall is not a worse threat to this city than the Circle?" Meredith demanded.

"Well, I think that the fact I've yet to engage in any blood magic or turn into a demon is pretty good proof of that," Emma argued.

"Proof of what?" Meredith asked scornfully. "Your lies? Proof that you are even more clever than Orsino?"

"For the record, that's not actually all that hard. He turned himself into a monster in desperation because he couldn't handle the fact that we were winning," Varric pointed out.

Meredith was through listening, though, if she had ever started listening. "The people of Kirkwall will mourn your loss but I will tell them that you died battling the mages. A righteous cause."

"For the love of…I'm still not on your side!" Emma shouted. "If you can kill me, which you can't, at least tell them the truth about my death!"

"That is the truth," Meredith said stubbornly.

"Knight-Commander, I thought we intended to arrest the Champion," Cullen spoke up.

"No, I'm pretty sure that Meredith said 'Let's kill the Champion', you said, 'But Knight-Commander, that will cause an international incident. We should just arrest her', and then Meredith started ordering people to kill mages," Carver corrected.

"Well…she didn't argue with me," Cullen pointed out.

"It's likely she didn't even register that you disagreed at all," Carver told him.

"You two, kill her!" Meredith ordered.

"I'm not killing my sisters," Carver said bluntly. He walked over to the mages' side. "And I'm fine getting a demerit."

"You deserve two!" Meredith cried out.

Carver shrugged. "I can take two. I have an exemplary record."

"But you never do anything," Aveline objected.

"That's why," Carver replied.

"I can't get involved in this," Cullen said, looking pained. "Meredith, you're just super crazy."

Meredith took out a sword that was suddenly glowing red. "You recognize it, don't you?" she asked smugly.

"No, not at all," Emma said, confused. "Why would I recognize your sword?"

"Because it's pure lyrium, taken from the Deep Roads. The dwarf charged a great deal for his prize," Meredith continued.

"Oh Maker!" Emma exclaimed, shocked. "The Meredith that Bartrand told us purchased the evil insanity-causing lyrium idol was, in fact, Meredith!"

"That seems like it would be a little obvious," Cullen told them.

Emma glared at him. "Don't judge us! We were busy!"

Meredith caressed the sword.

"Meredith, I get that as a templar you're addicted to lyrium but I still think that you've got a huge problem and need to acknowledge that and perhaps seek help," Emma said seriously. "That is not healthy behavior, even considering who I'm talking to."

"Everyone, kill them!" Meredith ordered.

"What part of 'I'm not going to because you're crazy' didn't you get?" Cullen questioned. "Knight-Commander, I'm relieving you of your command."

Meredith turned horrified eyes on him. "My own Knight-Captain falls prey to blood magic."

"That is in no way what just happened," Bethany pointed out. "It's like she's not even paying attention."

"Or super crazy," Carver added.

"Fine! I will kill all of you!" Meredith cried out.

And she made a good show of it, too. Despite the fact that everyone in Emma's group, all of the templars, and a bunch of random people they may or may not have met before who randomly showed up to help, Meredith was all over the place – ranting about blood magic the whole time – and finally she fell back, panting heavily.

"I will…not be defeated!" she raged, her voice quite ragged. "Maker! Aid your humble servant!"

And that was when the sword exploded and Meredith (slowly and painfully, screaming all the way) turned into lyrium.

"I imagine that this is what it's like to watch a golem being made," Varric mused.

"What?" Isabela asked, startled.

"Oh, nothing…" Varric assured her.

"So now what?" Emma asked blankly. "I mean, aside from declaring this a holy relic and selling admission."

"We can't do that!" Cullen protested.

Emma sighed. "Fine. Free admission but donations encouraged."

"That…wasn't what I meant…" Cullen said awkwardly. He gestured and the templars surrounded the group, their swords raised.

"I'm not entirely sure how we managed to turn Meredith into lyrium but don't think we won't do it to you, too," Emma threatened. "Or we'll just kill our way out of here. We've been having such a marvelously easy time, after all."

Cullen sighed. "You know what, it's not even worth it. Just go. We'll tell everyone that there was an epic battle or something."

Emma shrugged. "Well…okay, then. Last one to Isabela's ship has to sit next to Sebastian!"

"We are not taking Sebastian!" Isabela protested.

"Then we'd better beat him to the ship," Carver said grimly and off they ran.

"What happened next?" Cassandra asked eagerly.

"Well, you know most of it," Varric told her. "Word of the slaughter spread quickly. To Emma's complete and utter delight, her name became a rallying cry and a reminder that not only could templars be beaten but that staffs were very heavy and could effectively double as a club in a pinch. Only about two dozen mages died during the supposed Rite of Annulment and they made it their mission to tell the world. Every Circle but the one in Ferelden – which is apparently some kind of mage paradise by now – rose up and set the world on fire. That's a nice turn of phrase, isn't it? 'Set the world on fire.' Hardly accurate but you know."

"Stay focused!" Cassandra ordered.

"We were long gone by the time more templars came and so were the rest of the mages. We managed to ditch Sebastian when we stopped to pick up Emma's mother, niece, nephew, uncle, and newfound cousin Charade that Leandra had discovered and taken in while we were all dealing with the mages and templars," Varric continued. "We all partied on Isabela's ship for a few weeks and tried to take Emma's mind off of Anders. I think it worked okay but eventually Aveline was the first to leave after Emma wouldn't stop trying to kill her."

"Where is the Champion now?" Cassandra demanded.

Varric shrugged. "I haven't the slightest clue. She was very excited to hear that Saemus had retired from being viscount and she had been elected the new one but we convinced her that it was not a good idea to go back to Kirkwall. Eventually, circumstances – and the fact that most of us really didn't like each other – forced us to leave Emma's side. Well…all of us except for Anders."

Cassandra frowned. "Wait, what? You told me he was dead."

Varric nodded. "He is dead."

"Then why did you just tell me that he stayed with the Champion?" Cassandra demanded.

"I…don't know," Varric admitted. "I guess I'm rewriting the tale in my head for the book Isabela and I are writing that's loosely based on all of this."

"In your version, Anders will live after what he did?" Cassandra was enraged at the thought.

Varric shrugged. "I don't really know. I just can't have Carver telling Aveline to do it. Maybe I could have Emma tearfully do what she must. She never would, really, but that's the point of a good dramatic license. And so that's pretty much it. I have no idea where Emma is now although I do know that she took Ser Pounce-a-lot with her. Her family would probably know but good luck getting to them. They decided to take advantage of the fact that they're kin to the Hero of Ferelden and Ferelden now loves its mages and went to go live at Alistair and Anora's court."

Cassandra grimaced at the mention of Ferelden. "So Meredith provoked the Circle. She was to blame."

"Personally, I tend to blame Anders for blowing up the Chantry but Meredith's a good target, too. Or that damn lyrium idol," Varric replied.

"Even so, had the Champion not been there-" Cassandra started to say.

"Things would have played out pretty much exactly the same," Varric cut her off. "Except Isabela might never have gotten that text back or would have been long gone and the mages and templars might have had to kill the Arishok after all. But really, when you get right down to it – for all her good points and flaws – Emma was just one person and where one person is taken away, history steps in to fill the cracks. This was always going to happen. Even if you take away more important people like Anders or Meredith, something had to give. This war was a long time coming."

"I can't believe that," Cassandra said curtly.

Varric shrugged. "Then don't, see if I care. But how is hearing all this going to help? You've already lost all the Circles and I hear that Cullen's declared templar independence to go deal with the mages."

"Not all of us want war," Cassandra told him. "And in addition to wanting to know who we can blame for this mess, we need Emma Hawke now more than ever."

Varric looked at her skeptically. "People rarely need Emma."

"She is a hero! The mages would listen to her; she was there at the very beginning," Cassandra said earnestly.

Varric rolled his eyes. "She's an anti-templar fanatic who would never work with you to end this in any way that didn't involve complete mage independence. And haven't you been listening? She's not exactly what I'd call 'stable.' I mean, I adore her but she's not."

"We have to try something!" Cassandra burst out.

"Don't try that," Varric advised. "And I already told you, I have no idea where she is."

"Just tell me one thing, then. Is the Champion dead?" Cassandra asked quietly.

"Not if the postcards she keeps sending me are any indication," Varric said dryly.

"Then you are free to go, Varric. Try not to die like everybody else keeps doing," Cassandra told him before turning and waking away.

"So, did you-" Leliana started to ask.

"You could have come inside and heard the tale as well," Cassandra pointed out.

Leliana wrinkled her nose. "You know how I feel about hearing stories from non-professionals."

Cassandra sighed. "Fine, be a snob. But she's gone; just like the Warden."

"It's strange how rumors of their disappearance only crop up once people hear that we're looking for them," Leliana mused. "It's almost like they don't want to talk to us."

"That can't be the case," Cassandra said dismissively. "We're Seekers of the Chantry. Why wouldn't Angélique Amell and Emma Hawke want to talk to us?"

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