"There is but one way to know these things, human. And I have yet to decide if it must be done."
The Keep seemed to Hawke an alien structure, no longer familiar to her. The faces that blurred together as she and Fenris made their way through its stark, grave halls were of nobody she recognized, though there were some among them that were not Qunari. Even had her eyes found the features of someone she knew, she was too exhausted and too weak to do anything more than acknowledge the fact. Her strength having fled her completely, her body wracked by uncontrollable tremors, she was supported now almost entirely by Fenris' arm about her, unable to help the way her body leaned against his. In a different time and place, she would have resented the weakness that subjugated her thus, rendering her helpless and entirely reliant upon him. In a different time and place, she knew wearily as she forced her aching legs to mount the stairs she found suddenly before her, she would have tried to kill him.
Time drifted from her then, and she aware only of the movement of her reluctant body, of the pull and release of every agonized muscle, of the way each step jarred bones that felt made of glass. The white wolf had not spoken to her during his escort, even when she half-collapsed against him halfway up the staircase, even when he lifted her into his arms with a muted grunt. The rest of their journey was lost to her as awareness fled, chased from her by the merciless ebb and flow of pain.
She came to suddenly, prompted by Fenris' voice. Her eyes came open reluctantly to find that they had apparently reached their destination. Seeing her awake, the elf set her down carefully, keeping one arm about her waist in order to keep her upright. Dazed, Hawke swept her eyes across the room they had entered. It took her a long moment to realize they were within the main hall of the Keep's internal barracks; she'd visited here often enough back when Aveline had first joined the city guard. They were not alone in the room. Two other human women were present, standing side by side and facing Fenris expectantly. The women wore the mantles of a hard life, their faces lined with bygone worries and grief, their shoulders hunched and their postures timid. They were of Darktown, Hawke instinctively knew, of those that had either been unwilling or unable to flee the Qunari invasion. That they stood here now, still among the living, meant only one thing.
Fenris' next words confirmed her suspicion. "Viddathari, her wounds are to be washed and treated."
Suddenly loathe to have the converts touch her, Hawke made a small sound of protest that went ignored by all present. The women both nodded their wordless obeisance, turning as one to walk towards one of the several doors set along the walls of the long, rectangular room. Applying steady pressure to the small of her back with his arm, Fenris prompted Hawke to begin walking again. She clutched his shoulder as they moved, shaking still beneath the potent onslaught of exposure to the cold rain and the expenditure of the sum of all her powers, ignoring all else and focusing on simply taking one step after another. Through one door the elf led her, then down a short corridor, and then through another entrance. One of the converts closed the final door behind them after they had crossed the threshold; the other stood near a large stone tub—one of several—set into the stone of the floor from which thick tendrils of steam rose to haze the air. They had entered the barracks' bathing chamber.
When both converts approached Hawke to lead her from Fenris, she struggled only briefly, a tussle in which she was easily overcome. Knowing resistance was of no use, she bowed her head and allowed them to half-lead, half-carry her to the lip of the stone basin. As they began sifting through the ragged folds of her robe to find the fastenings, however, she snapped to full awareness and shoving one of the women away. She turned abruptly to face Fenris standing still near the door, the world spinning violently as she did so. Swallowing hard against a sudden wave of nausea, she shook her head and spoke.
"Leave." she told him, her voice to her dismay coming out thin and reedy.
But the elf shook his head, backing up a step to lean against the wall near the door. "You're too much of a risk to leave alone, Hawke."
She gave a short, strangled laugh. "I could do nothing even if I wanted to. I'm no threat to anyone like this."
"I'm not so certain." Fenris said, crossing his arms over his chest and regarding her, eyes glittering with intense speculation. "Regardless, I will remain. Let them help you. You can't stay as you are. Your wounds need to be cleaned and treated."
She glared at him for a long moment, hating that he was right, but when one of the converts reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder to turn her back around, she grudgingly acquiesced. She remained motionless and silent as the women found the laces of her robes that lined the seams at the sides and gritted her teeth as they undid them with fumbling hands. Full clarity had returned to her, dragged back by her anger and unease at the situation. With the heavy lengths of her sodden robe bunched in their hands, the women began tugging it up over her body. Reluctantly Hawke lifted her arms and allowed it to be removed from her. Clad then only in damp, rough-spun undergarments, Hawke began to shiver with increasing intensity as the chill that had long shrouded her wormed its way closer to her core. The converts began to work at the ties that affixed them to her form quickly, and as they too fell away she closed her eyes in the utmost mortification, her body now completely exposed.
She allowed herself to be led by gentle hands to the lip of the basin, allowed herself to be gently pushed, one step at a time, further into the steaming depths. As the near-scalding waters rose up around the length of her scraped and bruised legs she hissed, but then bit at her lower lip and stumbled down further until the water rose to her waist. She sank down, the water lapping at her chin as she turned and floated back to rest against the edge of the tub. All thoughts left her then as the blessed heat permeated her skin, warming her in such a welcome manner that she closed her eyes in relieved gratification. The cuts and scratches she had sustained stung sharply at first, but then even that discomfort faded beneath the delicious comfort offered by the hot bath. For an unknown span of time she drifted in the unexpected bliss, the warmth of the water soothing her aching muscles and driving the ice from her bones. She fell into a doze, unable to keep the weariness at bay any longer, and was jolted awake once more by the sound of Fenris' voice.
She sighed as her eyes opened to find the elf standing now at the rim of the tub. Though all of her body save her head was hidden from view by the darkened depths of the water, she wrapped her arms about her chest before she could check the movement. That she was insecure and apprehensive to be naked and so near a man who had once been her lover was inevitable; that she had allowed him to see her discomfort was greatly troubling, but she inwardly steeled herself and let her eyes flick upwards to meet his gaze.
"You fell asleep." He told her, his voice and face both utterly inexpressive. If he felt anything similar to what she was experiencing, he hid it well.
Hawke opened her mouth to apologize but bit back the words, instead scowling and sinking lower into the water. Fenris gazed down at her for a moment longer before turning and perching upon the lip of the basin, his back to her. He said nothing further, and for several seconds she stared suspiciously at his form before she turned and reached for the folded cloth and cake of soap the convert women had left for her before retreating to their positions on either side of the door. Keeping one eye on the elf, she went about gently washing the length of her sore, battered body. For a long while the only sound in the chamber was her gentle splashing as she went about carefully cleaning the abrasions she had sustained. Finally satisfied, she dunked her head then beneath the surface to soak her hair; blinking the water out of her eyes, she lathered the short dark lengths with the soap and then submerged herself again until she was certain every strand was clean.
"You have a considerable amount of scars," Fenris said when her head broke free of the water for the last time. Wiping at her eyes with one hand and smoothing the sopping mass of her short hair back with the other, she waited as he went on. "More than I ever recall you having before."
That he would make mention of the past, when he had been overly and intimately familiar with the nude expanse of her body, shook her. A bemused frown furrowed the skin between her brows as she studied the rigid lines of his back and she hesitated before replying. "I've fought a considerable amount of battles since then. I wasn't always lucky."
"And your fingers? How did you lose them?"
"Anders." She said tersely, glancing about for a sheet with which to dry herself.
Fenris turned, bracing himself with his hands upon the stone rim of the tub. Hawke stilled, feeling suddenly too exposed, having risen so that the water lined now the skin just above her breasts. His expression was still unreadable, his eyes direct and unwavering as they caught and held hers.
"How?" He repeated.
She debated not answering, debated keeping her lips mulishly sealed against his probing question. Such a thing, she knew, would only lengthen this awkward scenario and so with a slow and irritated sigh she settled back against the edge of the tub, the water rising once again to her neck.
"I had managed to track Anders to a place where I thought he had no chance of escaping. A little more than a year ago," she said finally, casting about her memory to try and pinpoint the exact point in time that she referenced and finding it to be elusive. "No, it was more than that. A year and a half, maybe."
She fell silent, eyes upon the miniscule ripples of water brought to life by the mere act of her breathing, thoughts tumbling through a barrage of unwelcome recollections that had been freed from the furthermost corners of her mind by his question. He moved slightly, shifting his weight and her gaze found him again to find him watching her expectantly. She cleared her throat and looked away before continuing.
"He'd entered the Deep Roads, into a large warren of tunnels that went nowhere, blocked off from the rest by cave-ins. Or so I thought. We went after him—Varric, Merril and myself. Varric had been traveling with me for a while. We'd sought out Merril, to ask for her aid. I was certain that with the two of them to assist me, it would be the last time I faced Anders. He had nowhere to run." Again she fell silent, the reluctance she felt to reveal the rest of the story almost overwhelming.
But Fenris was persistent. "And?"
"And I was wrong on all accounts." She looked at him and her lips quirked into a mirthless and twisted smile. "Anders was familiar with that part of the Deep Roads. Familiar with its designs and familiar too with its denizens. We walked directly into a trap, the three of us—I led us right to it. Just when it seemed we had him cornered, they came out of every crack and hole in the place. We were," she said softly, her eyes still on his, "completely surrounded. There was no getting out."
"Darkspawn," the elf said quietly, and she nodded.
"How he managed it, I don't know. He's a twisted creature, more demon now than man. Perhaps he learned to communicate with them. Perhaps they feared him and that fear led to their obedience. Whatever the reason, they had us at their mercy. When they attacked I didn't think we'd live—so many of them and just the three of us. We fought with all we had. We were no easy target. But they overwhelmed us, in the end. They caught Merril—she was dragged away and then Varric and I were overrun ..."
Her eyes in the telling had grown wide, still locked on his. They had become mirror-like as a wash of emotion flooded them with every word she spoke, their grey paling until they became the color of the thinnest wisps of mist. She was staring at him unseeing, and as she took up the thread of her story yet again her voice was stilted and forced. "I knew we were lost. I'd brought them both to their deaths. I took up my magic and I wielded it in a way I'd never done before, in a manner I'd never thought to try. I called it all to me and I let it build as they came for us and when I felt their hands on me I just let it go."
She blinked once, twice, as though her mind had broken free of some kind of inexplicable tether. When she looked to him again, recognition was present. "The result of which, you've already seen. I brought the very cavern down around us and destroyed most the darkspawn. Varric had managed to evade being crushed—how, I don't know—and he pulled me out of the rocks and dirt and bodies. He saved my life. I was as I am now—weak, powerless. Useless. Varric became my defender down in those depths as we wandered, trying to find Merril and trying to avoid the darkspawn. We were lost for days. I couldn't go far and Varric couldn't carry me. Gradually I regained my strength. We kept going, the two of us, until it seemed we would never find our way out. And it was then, by chance, that we found Merril."
Her voice had thickened as she spoke and when finally she halted, her breathing was hard and fast. She made a noise low in her throat then, a sound of such raw and profound sorrow that Fenris momentarily drew back. Hawke's eyes fixed on the surface of the water as more words tumbled from her mouth in a violent expulsion. "It was Anders that had taken her from us, in all the confusion. And he gave her to the darkspawn—he let them have her. Do you know, Fenris, what they do with women?" Her gaze had slid inexorably back to his as her voice dropped to a harsh whisper. The elf nodded once, slowly. An expression of horrified fascination had crept into place upon his features.
"Broodmothers," she choked, forcing the words past the lump of fury and anguish in her throat. "They fed her the flesh of the dead. They fed her pieces of themselves. We were too late—there was no way to bring her back by the time we found her. We killed them all, those that had her. I don't even know how. I can't—I can't remember—" Here her voice broke, but still she went on, shaking her head, her face haggard. "She wasn't Merril, not anymore. But I tried to bring her back, with my magic. I went to her and I tried to talk to her, but she couldn't understand me. She struck at me, she spat at me, and then when I tried to touch her ..."
From out of the depths of the water, she lifted her maimed hand. Droplets rained down in rapid succession from her skin and beaded along the length her fingers, both injured and whole. She made a fist slowly, curling her fingers downwards until the nubs of the last two rose above the knuckles of the others. "Her teeth," Hawke went on, her voice having reached a toneless pitch, devoid of any emotion, "were that of the darkspawn. She fed on my flesh as she'd fed on theirs. And I saw in her eyes that she enjoyed it. We would have killed her then if we could have. We would not have willingly left her that way, but more of them found us. There were too many, again. We had to flee."
She stood suddenly, facing him directly, a pale and battered apparition risen from waters ominous and dark. She was unashamed then of her nakedness, of the canvas of scars that traversed her limbs, of the cuts and bruises she bore that were testaments of all she'd seen and all she'd done in the years that had separated them. Water streamed from her limbs and steam rose from her flesh as it met with the colder air of the chamber, but still she did not move, instead continuing to speak.
"We found our way to the surface eventually. Varric had bound my hand as best he could but I caught a fever not long after. I feared it was the taint. We found our way to small village somehow—again, I would have died if not for Varric. The healers there could do nothing. I learned then that the fire I command could do more than just destroy. As I lay dying in a stranger's bed, I set myself on fire—inside. I let the flames rage through my blood and over my bones. I burnt until I had nothing left. And when I woke days later, I found that I'd healed myself of whatever malady had beset me. I lived."
She moved then, breaking the spell her grim words had woven over the occupants of the room, walking up the steps of the basin on legs that were still weak. She stepped out of the tub and past Fenris and a shudder clawed its way up her spine as the entirety of her wet body was hit by the surrounding chill of the room. She stopped and lowered her head, her back to the elf, lost in that instant to the full weight of grief and hatred she'd known in those days she'd spent lost with the dwarf in the Deep Roads.
"Viddathari." Fenris' voice was oddly hollow.
Unseen by Hawke, the women approached and suddenly she was draped in the welcoming thickness of a drying cloth. They wrapped it around her loosely; she reached for the edges and drew it about her body tightly, needing the warmth and the false sense of security it offered. She was aware of Fenris striding to the door and watched from the corner of her eye as he turned to face her and the converts.
"Tend to her wounds. Clothe her."
Both women nodded obediently as he opened the door and stepped from sight.
After the converts had salved and dressed the most severe of Hawke's wounds, they had clothed her in a simple, thick, rough-spun robe of wool that was the color of ash. For her feet they had found thin slippers. After drying her hair the best they could, they led her to the door and through it, presenting her to Fenris where he paced the length of the hall.
Wordlessly, he grabbed her arm and began to lead her. Still wearied—feeling in fact moreso after the telling of her dark tale—she managed somehow to wrench free, angered by his very presence and by his insistence that had led to her reliving the past she had tried so hard to ignore. For a moment they glared at each other in taut silence, both oblivious to the converts who lurked by the door made apprehensive by the tensions flowing thick in the air.
"Follow." Fenris said finally, turning and walking towards the door in the far wall. Hawke, having no other option, complied without a word.
He led her through the labyrinthine layout of the barracks with a quick pace that she struggled, in her injured state, to keep up with. They passed several Qunari, all of whom gave them no passing notice and instead continued on their way with their typical austere calm. When finally they rounded a corner and came to a stone staircase that led down, Hawke backed a step; the lower levels of the Keep had once functioned as a prison.
Staring into the dim recesses of the stairwell, Hawke considered for a moment attempting to flee, but knew there was no use in such an action. Her magic had been entirely expended and she was completely defenseless. When Fenris gestured for her to proceed him down the stairs she did so with great reticence. She proceeded carefully, the singular torch embedded in the stone wall casting a wan and unhelpful light, her hands on the wall on either side of her as she went. At the bottom she paused, finding herself faced with another long hall littered with wooden doors. A lone Qunari stood at the far end of the hall, hands clasped behind his back, eyes staring straight ahead. With a small shove, Fenris indicated Hawke was to head in that direction.
The Qunari's gaze flicked to elf and mage as they approached. The door he stood in front of was as unremarkable as all the others in the hall, but Hawke knew instinctively that this cell had for whatever reason been chosen as hers. He opened the door as they came to a simultaneous halt, swinging it open. Inwardly resigning herself to imprisonment, Hawke crossed the threshold without needing to be prompted. She saw immediately why the room had been designated as hers; the chains bolted to the stone wall were numerous. She had seen such a thing before. This was a cell meant to hold maleficars.
As Fenris entered the room behind her, she tore her eyes from the chains to scan the rest of her surroundings. A simple straw mattress lay in the corner furthest from the door, heaped with blankets that appeared both clean and whole. Aside from that, the room was empty. Hawke turned to the elf then, her words pitched to supplicate.
"I'm powerless, Fenris. I can do nothing."
He remained silent, instead turning and moving to the coiled mass of linked metal lying on the floor. He picked up the lengths and began to sort them, the sound of metal on metal echoing eerily throughout the small confines of the room. Hawke's eyes followed his movements, identifying what he held: two chains with cuffs meant for her arms, and one with a wide, smooth collar meant for her neck. The length of the chains was considerable; she would be able to move the entire breadth of the room. Involuntarily, she stepped back as Fenris stood and neared her with chains in hand. She stopped when she recalled the Qunari standing just outside the door.
She did not move as the white wolf grasped her left arm and slid the sleeve of her robe up. She did not move when he fastened the iron cuff about that wrist, nor when he set about doing the same to the other. She kept her eyes downcast, tracing the lines in the cracked stones of the floor, resolutely trying to keep from thinking about the fact that she would be left chained within this tiny cell in the lowest depths of the Keep, without the use of her magic. Even had she any power left in reserve, she mused darkly as she felt his fingers pulling at the cowl of her robe, it would do little for her if she was bound in such a manner.
His fingers ghosted against the skin of her neck moments before she felt the uncomfortably cold, smooth surface of the collar. With an audible and foreboding click it closed about her, and the wave of despair she felt then was almost debilitating. She slanted a furtive glance at the elf, but he stepped past her, moving to the door. She turned to mark his progress, the chains dragging at her as she did so, rattling with her momentum. At the door Fenris paused, casting one last glance over his shoulder. Their eyes met, and she saw then that the green depths of his own were hooded and empty as always. That she had expected anything else made her feel bitterly foolish, and she turned away.
Fenris spoke briefly to the Qunari, words that she could not decipher, and then she heard the door thud closed. Left alone in the ominous dimness of her cell, Hawke remained still for long minutes before crossing the floor to the bed. Carefully taking hold of the chains, she held them aloft as to prevent them from becoming tangled as she sank down onto the mattress. She then coiled the metal links in her lap, feeling their heaviness and the dire promise they carried, as she leaned her head against the unyielding stone of the wall.
Her body ached with an incessant throbbing and she was still weary, unbearably so. Even thus, it was a long time before she was able to close her eyes and find a path through fragments of troubling memory to find the merciful tendrils of sleep.