No Place Free
A Dragon Age 2 fic
God blessed me, I'm a free man
With no place free to go
I'm paralyzed and collared-tight
No pills for what I fear
-Neko Case, I Wish I Was The Moon
A/N: I am deeply grateful for all who read and take the time to comment. Thanks for hanging in there with me! Special thanks to solan_t, my lovely beta who fixes my errant syntax and grammar all the time.
This one takes place the morning after the events in 'Falling', which is, essentially, a retelling of Fenris' Act 2 Questioning Beliefs quest, just as this one is a rework of A Bitter Pill. Just like in that case, I chose to mostly paraphrase the dialogue instead of merely repeating it.
Obligatory disclaimer is, well, obligatory: I don't own any of the characters, except my Hawke's personality. La Snarkmonster is mine.
I only have one word for you.
If you never had one…I hate you. With all my heart.
I staggered down the stairs, trying, even in that state, to tiptoe so Mother wouldn't wake. She knew I was leaving for the countryside today; we said our goodbyes last night, and she liked to sleep in. And I really didn't need a lecture from her on my bad habits.
I always knew Bodahn was priceless; I had barely entered the kitchen when he was already at my elbow, pressing a steaming mug of hot kawwa in my hand.
"You're a Paragon." I groaned, inhaling the aroma that wafted up from the thick earthenware mug the beverage was traditionally served in. Once the dwarf understood the concept of the hot Qunari restorative, now quite common here in Kirkwall after having the shipwrecked dreadnaught's crew here for so long, he took to it with an almost obsessive enthusiasm, purchasing all the equipment necessary, including the roasting drum, four different types of beans, canisters for storage, and those strange long-handled pots the concoction was made in. "I'll get with Orzammar about the statue. As soon as the rabid weasels stop the party in my head."
"Messere will have her jokes." Bodahn did this whole manservant thing unnervingly well. "All is packed and ready for your travel; the horses are in the courtyard."
"Maker, someone please tell me I don't really have to go today." I collapsed into the chair that Bodahn pulled out for me. "Can I just tell Hubert I'm postponing? Or how'bout I hire someone to look into it?"
"So, Hawke…where was this party and why was I not invited?" Varric hopped up to the chair next to me and peeked at me close. "Must have been good, to lay you out this bad… although you were never much for prolonged drinking."
"Remind me again, and I'll arrange for Bianca's extended vacation." I bared my teeth at him. "I'm serious… ow."
"Yeah, I know, it sucks." Varric said sympathetically, but not the least moved by my threat. I was clearly slipping. "Drink your kawwa and try to get something in your stomach."
"Don't talk to me about food." I lifted a hand, then collapsed on myself again as a new wave of pain arrived straight behind my eyeballs. "Andraste! Every time this happens I remind myself never do it again."
"Just remember to drink twice as much water as your other beverage and you'll be fine." Varric shrugged. "That's all there's to it. Old alchemist taught that to me once…forgot what the explanation was, but it works. Oh hey, your mother made cake!" he exclaimed as he spotted the plate in the middle of the table.
"Stop. Yelling." I said with clenched teeth. "If you want cake, eat the damned cake. Just don't make loud noises." I turned to the third occupant of the kitchen. "Merrill, for all that's holy, do you happen to have something for this?"
"For what, Hawke?" Merrill asked absentmindedly. She was staring out the window at the garden where the roses were absolutely going nuts. I could have sworn they sprouted blooms under my very eyes… but quite possibly that was only the hangover. "Oh. For your head, you mean? Sorry…" She scrambled off the chair she was standing on, and I could hear her humming something under her breath. "Have you tried chewing some elfroot?"
"Everyone's with the eating stuff." I buried my head in my hands. "No, I haven't… don't you have one of those potion things? You do potion things, don't you?"
"Wrong mage, Hawke." Varric patted my shoulder. "Daisy mostly makes things explode violently."
"I do not." Merrill said, indignantly. "I like flowers. And pet griffons."
"Yeah, trust me, I know." Varric said darkly. "I need to pay the Viscount's guards weekly not to haul your pretty little butt to jail for traipsing into his gardens, Daisy." He paused, considering the second half of what she's just said. "Pet griffons?"
"Yes." Merrill said defiantly, skipping to the table and digging in her shoulder pack lying there. "Pet baby griffons. Bethany and I both wanted one. I'd have named mine Feathers."
I sipped on my kawwa tentatively while listening to them. The irony. Bethany was a Grey Warden now… technically fully qualified for that pet griffon.
"Here." Merrill's smile lit up the room as she pressed a little vial in my hand. "That ought to do it. I think." She added a bit more uncertainly.
"You think?" I uncorked the vial and sniffed at it. "Ew. What's in this, snake bile? Spider guts? Hurlock spit?"
"It's … experimental." Merrill said cautiously. "I thought I'd bring it for the trip and see what it can do… Theoretically, it's a…blood cleanser? For poisons?"
"Perfect." I said darkly and downed it. The way my mouth tasted already, this couldn't possibly make things any worse.
Oh, boy, was I wrong.
"Maker, Merrill, this is just criminal!" I sputtered. "At least put some honey in it next time, or something!"
"That would be…bad." She said, watching me with head tilted on one side. It was…disconcerting. "It would change the synergy completely and the co-reagents might just…"
"Stop. " I pointed at my chest. "Wrong Hawke sister here. Remember? Whacking things with big long pointy thing? So me. Chatting for hours using long words no one understands and doing lab experiments with green smelly things? That was Bethany. You need to give it to me in small words."
"Honey bad." Merrill enunciated the words obediently, making whooshing motions in the air with her hands. "Merrill adds honey, Hawke explodes. Boom."
"Perfect." I nodded, still wincing from the aftertaste. I chugged my kawwa, shuddered. "Let's just hope those two mixing in my stomach don't do the same."
"I'll have to take notes." Merrill muttered, fishing in her pack again for parchment and quill. "Just in case."
"Mighty encouraging, that." I grimaced, looked at Varric. "Give me a little more and we can saddle up."
"Take your time, Hawke." Varric shrugged in his chair, a piece of cake in one hand, a mug of kawwa in the other. "Champion of brooding isn't even here yet…wasn't he supposed to come with us?"
"Oh. That." I cleared my throat, and buried my nose in my mug to try to hide my face. "He might…he might have changed his mind." I resolutely didn't look at the dwarf as I kept blathering on. "You know, I'm of a mind to see if Aveline would like to take some days off from captaining and come with us. Long arm of the law and all that."
"Huh?" Varric's eyes narrowed. "Hawke, what the Fade? Did you two have a falling out or…" He slapped his thigh angrily. "Did the bastard try anything? I knew I should have…"
"Varric. Shut it." I pressed a finger between my eyebrows. "Just…"
"What are you two talking about?" Merrill piped up, looking at us with bewildered eyes. "He's standing right there." She pointed behind me.
"Shit." I whirled around and glowered. Yep, Fenris was right there, leaning against the door frame, with no signs of hangover whatsoever, long-limbed, lanky, and just looking so...
"You're not supposed to do that! No one swinging a two-handed bloody sword is supposed to sneak up on unsuspecting…suspects, okay?" I think I lifted my voice a bit too much, and even stomped my feet, because the headache came back for a second, double-strong. "Ow." I added plaintively, much less loud, then frowned as I realized what was going on. "Now…wait a second." I whirled back at Varric. "Bastard. You knew he was here."
"Heard him coming a mile back." Varric seemed amused. "Marble floors of your mansion and all that. Just wanted to see you squirm, Little Miss Hangover."
"Hate you all." I looked around, found the pot of kawwa on the stove, helped myself to another mug and tried to appear casual. "About time that we get out of this city and get some fresh air. The only problem is, I have to drag you with me."
I had no idea it would be this awkward—so I opted for the only thing that usually worked… cheerfully ignoring everything that happened last night and concentrating on the good things in life to get through this.
Hey, it worked everywhere else, all the time. Right?
"Are you going to wear that?" Fenris sounded like he also had a rough morning, but he disguised it well.
Very well, actually.
Damn, and damn, and damn again. I figured if I actually started drooling, I'd just blame it on the potion.
"What?" I was sure my voice wasn't shaky at all. Nope, not me. Not from merely looking at him and all those memories coming rushing back…nope. Not at all.
"For going to the mines." He articulated the words carefully, mouth twitching just a tiny bit. "Your clothes…"
"Andraste's tits!" I threw up my hands, one still holding my mug. I hastily corrected before I became covered in hot black liquid. Maker, but I was a mess. "I didn't realize you all of a sudden became an… attire expert!" Varric snickered, but I was on a roll and I plowed on, resolutely. "What's wrong with my outfit, isn't it dark enough for you?"
"You're not wearing armor." A furrow appeared on his brow, disapproving. "Business trip or not, this might…"
I slammed my mug on the table.
"Fine." I lifted a finger, pointed at him. "You win. Come on. You want me to get armored… you help me with it."
"Woo-hoo, Hawke." Varric whistled. "You go, girl."
"Shut up, dwarf, or I'll make you put my boots on." I growled as I marched out of the kitchen. My mood distinctly took a turn for the worse, if it was at all possible. "Come on, Fenris."
I didn't even look back to see if he was behind me, until I slammed my room's door open and got in.
"You do that to me one more time, I get violent on you." I was breathing hard as I glared at him, fists clenched at my side. I was pissed. "What are you taking me for, a bloody rookie on her first assignment? Just because I got this house doesn't mean I'm a sissy noblewoman who doesn't know the first thing about how to travel. I got a full armor kit already on the packhorse, but I prefer not to march through Hightown advertising myself to every single lowlife with the clanking and bristling. Getting jumped in the middle of this district this early is highly unlikely." I went to the stand where my fancier armor was arranged in the corner of my room and started to yank off pieces as I loosened the buttons on my doublet with my other hand. "But if this makes you happy, fine. We can clank and advertise and you can feel like you were all…protective and shit. Because…" I turned in mid-sentence, and felt like the biggest dork in the world.
My mother was standing there, peeking through the open door like she really wasn't sure what she should do, catching me yelling at a man in the middle of my own bedroom, doublet askew, holding half of a pauldron as if ready to hurl it at his head.
"Morning, sweetie." She said plaintively, clutching her house-robe to herself. "Is everything all right?"
"Uh. Mother." So what are you supposed to do it a situation like this? Me, I hurried over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek, feeling the blood rushing to my cheeks and my headache return. Just another day starting at the Hawke mansion, all right. "Maker, I'm so sorry to wake you up, I think I… was a bit loud."
"Yes, darling, but it's all right." She patted my hand absentmindedly and blinked up at Fenris owlishly. "As long as… there'll be no bloodshed. Hard to get that out of the carpet."
"I see where you get it now." Fenris stood there ramrod straight, unbending, white hair falling on his face, expression utterly unreadable.
"Get what?" I ran a hand through my hair, confused.
"You don't expect me to answer that, do you?" he asked calmly, bowing to my mother, but looking at me. "Kyria Amell… if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure everything is ready for the journey."
He closed the door behind him very, very carefully, but with a force that sent the entire frame shaking somehow.
"Darling…" My mother looked at me, the armor pieces on the floor and my bed, the closed door, my face. "I really don't mean to pry, but what was going on here?"
"Nothing." I said stubbornly. Merrill's potion clearly wore off, as my headache returned with a vengeance. I sat down heavily on my bed, feeling tears gathering behind my eyelids. Yes, it was the headache, obviously. "A disagreement over traveling arrangements… is all."
And…it all went downhill from there. I ended up putting the armor on all by myself. Mother clearly wasn't much of a help, even if she tried her best. My damned pride was just all too overflowing to ask anyone else; Mother took another look at my face, and for the rest of the time I was still in the house, she restricted herself to comments about the weather and the business arrangements I was supposed to check on once at the Mines. I took notes, nodded a lot, accepted another piece of cake, a pat on the cheek and a hug, and tried very hard to make myself believe this was just another ordinary morning.
We got out of the city without any trouble, and enjoyed some uninterrupted gloriously sunny and warm hours of traveling. Of course, this couldn't have lasted long… somehow, trouble always found me, although in this case it turned out it wasn't really about me.
If anything, that should have taught me humility. Sebastian always said I was a lousy Andrastian. Maybe I should have prayed a bit more. Maybe I should have paid more attention to just how increasingly withdrawn Fenris got in the past weeks. Maybe I should have asked him what the situation was with his former master, instead of thinking I could get into his pants. Maybe…
Yes, if wishes were fishes, as they say in Kirkwall…
But those slavers intercepting us, standing there like they owned the bloody place and talking about him like he was a piece of furniture, combined with all of my thinking during the journey, and my general mood that day…
Well. It didn't help. I was pissed that morning, and it got absolutely out of hand when I saw those bastards. I didn't even wait for Fenris to say anything. Just screamed 'He's not a slave' and ran into the closest one with my horse and my sword and as his skull broke with a soft crunch under the hooves of my steed, I was off the saddle and, still screaming, slammed my shoulders onto the next one while sweeping around in an arc with my blade that caught the mage with them straight in the face…
Things got blurry after that. There were quite a number of them; apparently these guys had set this up very thoroughly. Afterwards it was pretty clear they had been planning the ambush for quite a while and were just waiting for the right time and place. Afterwards.
"You left your flank entirely open." An angry growl next to my ear; I whirled, nerves still drawn wire-tight from the fight and stared into Fenris' eyes from about an inch away.
"And you might have mentioned the fact that slavers were after you again." I hissed almost the same way. "I hardly think this just happened by chance." I shook my blade free of blood, wiped it clean on one of the corpses' cloak and sheathed it. Something told me there was no need for further polishing; that I'd use it again, and soon. "I am not your keeper, so there's no need for you to share all the little details of what you're up to, but dammit, this was just a bit too close."
"This is my problem." He threw that back in my face with that absolutely stubborn expression on his face that meant that once again, he decided the case was closed, turned and spoke with the air of finality drawn tight around him like a cloak. "And you did leave your flank open. Next time, try to remember what we practiced and wait for me."
"Ass." I muttered under my breath, too angry to come up with anything more reasonable than that, although, technically, he was right. That was one of the things so maddening about the man: he usually had a point, even if I wanted to grab him and shake him until his teeth rattled quite a number of times.
Instead, I watched him to stroll over to where one of the slavers was clutching at the ground with bloody hands, one of Bianca's short bolts protruding from his chest. Fenris turned him over with one swift kick and knelt next to him, pulling his head up by the hair so his back was one taut curve. There were bubbles of blood at the corner of the slaver's mouth as he tried to breathe.
"What's with that boy?" Varric strolled up to me, hoisting Bianca and shepherding Merrill whose staff was still glowing angrily at the tip from her last blast in front of him. "He seems a bit…overzealous there."
"I'm hardly the one to bring that up with him, considering." I remembered my own rage at the slavers; and yet, still winced at the sound of the man's neck snapping as Fenris twisted his head savagely around after a short, angry conversation too low for us to hear. His lyrium markings flared up in a blue halo around him as he strode over to where we stood.
"I have to go." He said shortly, shoving his sword back into its sheath with such force the scabbard's fittings rattled violently against his side. "This is… not over, it seems."
"Whoa, there." Varric lifted a hand. "Not so fast, elf. Anything we can do?"
"You have a mine inspection to do, if I recall." There was a muscle twitching at the side of his mouth, and somehow that made me go still and cold. "I'm afraid we need to part ways here." He sketched a quick bow and turned, avoiding our uncomprehending gazes.
"The Fade we do." When I finally found my voice, I sounded raw and hoarse; yet somehow that stopped him dead on his tracks. "We started this together, we finish it together." I felt my legs move, stepping up next to him. "I'm not sure how many times I…we have to tell you this so it actually penetrates your thick skull, Fenris: but this is what friends do." I shook my head. "Just point us in the right direction."
"You'd be willing to… go up against the full might of a Tevinter magister?" His voice was thick with bitterness.
"I was willing to do that the first night I've met you, remember?" I snorted. "So your former master finally decided to get out of Minrathous and after you?" I jerked my chin towards the dead slavers. "Is that what that man told you? Maker, Fenris, why do you think you have to do everything alone?"
"I'll…" His curt laughter clawed at my heart like some monster's claws, ugly and sharp. "I have done that way too long, haven't I?" He drew a shaky breath and raked a hand through his hair. "It's Hadriana. She used to be Danarius' first apprentice, made full magister by now. No doubt she wants to get into his good graces by capturing me." A snarl twisted his features into something ferocious. "I know her well. Sniveling sycophant… intent on nothing but social climbing. It sounds like she finally managed to get what she wanted."
"Lovely personality, by the sound of it." I looked at Varric, who just nodded, with that smirk on his face I've learned to interpret by now rather well. "So: I'm assuming you got her location out of that man?"
"I'll never understand this." Fenris shook his head, looking at the three of us. "You'd just… jump into this, knowing nothing about the dangers you're about to face? Because of me?"
"Nope." I started walking towards the horses. "What, do you think I'm stupid? I'm assuming you'll tell me the details." I felt my mouth twist into a grin as I peeked at him sideways from under my hair. "And if not, I'll just pester you with questions until you do."
And that was that. I could tell from the set of his shoulders that for the moment, we were all right again. Maybe even more. As we set out towards those abandoned slaver caves and he told us those blasted details, I caught his gaze lingering on me for longer than usual a few times… and despite the situation we were in, and Varric's amused glances at us, I absolutely didn't mind it. At all.
Just for the record: I hate caves. Must be something in me that just abhors enclosed spaces. Probably inherited it from my father who escaped the Circle as a mage… but I gritted my teeth and set my jaw and I followed Fenris down the path to that gaping hole in the cliffside, after we set up camp and made sure the horses were secured.
"I must be crazy." Varric muttered as he picked his way through the rubble at the entrance carefully. "Tell me I'm going crazy, Hawke. After all that went down at that blasted Deep Roads expedition, here I go again. Underground."
"But Varric, you're a dwarf." Merrill said sensibly, balancing on her soft shoes precariously. "You're supposed to like underground."
"I was born topside, Daisy." Varric shrugged. "I don't get this predisposition thing at all. Shoving people into neat little boxes just because their parents were shorter is wrong. You of all people should know that."
It was pretty much what I thought about life, but didn't say anything; just watched Varric making my point. Well, that and Fenris in front of me. He was… eminently watchable. Yep, my vocabulary definitely had improved since I first arrived in Kirkwall.
And if that wasn't a clear indication of my mental state at that point, I don't know what else might have been. I was glad Isabela wasn't there: I would have been the endless butt of her jokes, no doubt. Here we were, marching into the lair of a full Tevinter magister, complete with slavers armed and armored to the teeth and probably spiders, too, the way my luck went these days… and all I was really concerned about was not drooling at the sight of that lanky, corded body in front of me.
It has been a very long time since Bryant, dammit. I wasn't the type who patronized the Blooming Rose, but right now I seriously considered asking Isabela if, next time, I could go with her. Maker, I was tense. My mind kept flashing back to the night before, the feeling of his lips on mine, the way his skin felt almost feverish hot to the touch as my fingers played along his knuckles…
And yes, that was the exact time when the skeletons came out pouring from the ground.
"My life just can't get any better, can it?" I figured I might as well yell that at the top of my lungs. Behind me, I heard the click-click sound of Varric winding up Bianca, and the slight crack of Merrill's staff as she got ready… "Fine, then!"
By the end of that crawl, I really had better things to worry about then contemplating a trip to the brothel. I was covered in dirt, mud, and caked blood; little bits of unidentifiable things stuck in my hair, my legs were shaking from the almost constant effort of fighting, and my stomach clenched into a tiny little knot after seeing the butchered slaves heaped up carelessly on a table, drained of blood, throats cut as if they were carcasses of pigs for a feast.
"That's… ghastly." Merrill's face was almost as pale as those corpses. She swallowed. "Those poor people!" She cringed as Fenris brushed by her, not caring that he actually bumped into her as he strode to where a slender young elf woman tried to get up from the floor where she got hurled by one of the slavers before he, too, got killed.
"Are you all right?" Fenris asked brusquely, staring at the girl intently. "Did they…touch you?"
"They killed everyone." The girl pulled her knees up and started rocking back and forth. "Papa…They cut his throat… bled him…"
"Maker." I whispered, feeling nauseous. "What happened here?"
"The magister said…she said she needed power to defend herself..." She was staring with vacant eyes at a scene playing in front of her that only she could see. Her fingers clutched a blood-stained scarf, knotting and unknotting. "She said someone was coming to kill her."
I would have given anything not to have seen the expression that crossed Fenris' face at that moment. I would have crawled over broken glass to be able to do something other than just stand there, staring.
"I'm so sorry." My frozen limbs finally unlocking, I knelt next to the girl and fumbled for my water flask at my hip. "This…this must have been terrible for you."
"She loved papa's soup." She said in a thin, reedy voice and looked at me with huge amber eyes. "Why? We…we tried to be good slaves. Everything was fine until today." Her fingers felt like ice as she took the flask from me and mechanically brought it to her lips.
"It wasn't." Fenris knelt on her other side; with surprisingly gentle hands, he helped her to drink. His voice was shaking. "You just didn't know any better."
The girl looked at him with expressionless eyes that were as deep as the Void itself: at his hands helping her stand, at the sword at his hip, the armor, his markings... It was one of the most disturbing things I've seen in my life. She was a leaf tossed to the winds, desperately trying to find an anchor, something to return to sanity, to the way it used to be.
"Are you…are you my master now?" she breathed, with head cocked to one side and Fenris almost dropped her as he scrambled away.
"No!" he cried, hands thrown up as if to ward himself. Next to me, Varric snorted.
"But…but I can cook!" Just when I thought this couldn't get any worse, it did. "I can clean…" Her desperate voice died, as she looked from one of us to the next. "What else would I do?"
I just couldn't take it anymore.
"All right, then." I wanted my voice to sound strong, and prayed that it was enough. The girl looked at me, eyes huge and hopeful. "Listen…what's your name?"
"Orana." She curtsied, long years' training making her respond to the voice of authority.
"Orana, then. If you can find the entrance, look for a copse of birches a little bit further downslope; that's where we left our horses and camp gear when we came in. If you wait there, we'll take you back to Kirkwall once our…business here is concluded." I inclined my head. "I can give you work at my house."
"You would?" The feverish hope kindling in her eyes was almost too much to bear. Still clutching that blood-soaked scarf to her breast, she curtsied again, and it was sickening to see the smile at her face. "Oh, thank you, thank you, Mistress!"
Her steps were light, her feet barely touched the floor as she scurried out of that room, air scented with blood and despair. I stared after her, bitter taste in my mouth, until Fenris's voice, acrid with disbelief, raised me from my thoughts.
"I wasn't aware you were on the market for a slave."
"Not this shit." I muttered under my breath, feeling my hands balling into fists, and I rounded on him, feeling my sanity fraying like a too-thin rope under the pressure of the entire day. "Listen, you…I've just about had enough of your insinuations for a day, so I only say this once: I'm going to pay her. As a servant. To live under my roof and my protection, to figure out what to do with herself, until she gets enough money, self-respect and sanity after what just happened to her." I think I had my gauntleted finger stuck up perilously close in his face as I glared at him, breathing hard. "Would you rather I threw her on the street with a few coins so she ends up as a whore or sold again after they rob her? Not everyone's you, Fenris. And I'm not Hadriana."
I turned to Varric, gesturing impatiently.
"Are we waiting for a sign from the Maker, or can we leave this sodding place? Don't we have a witch to kill or something?"
"Yes, Hawke." Varric muttered as he tried to keep up with me. "Sure, Hawke. Whatever you say. Just stop looking like that, okay?" he continued his monologue behind me. "You scare me."
"Good." I said, feeling something savage blossoming in my chest. "Should mean whoever is behind the next door might pause a wee bit before she jumps us, right?"
"Gotta love your optimism." He sighed, and I couldn't help but laugh as we walked down the next stinking dark corridor.
"Yep, that's me. Glass' always full." You could always count on the dwarf to help diffuse the tension: I couldn't help but feel a fierce affection and I stopped for a second to bend and squeeze his shoulder, hard. "Hey, Varric? Thanks."
"Ow." he said and slapped at my hand half-heartedly. "Gently, please, with the squeezing. Not into tough love myself, but nice of you to offer, Hawke."
"Any time, dwarf." I grinned, feeling much better all of a sudden. "Any time."
"Promises, promises." He grumbled, and that distracted me just enough that the first slaver jumping out from around the corner managed to sink a short dagger right into my thigh between my tassets and greaves.
I think I screamed something profoundly disturbing.
I've been, of course, stabbed before. Also punched, pierced, clubbed, axed, mauled, bitten, ripped and injured in many other ways...if it wasn't for some really good quality healing I managed to secure as my fortunes improved, I shudder to think what my body would look like . But that... that felt quite unique.
Pain blossomed outward from the wound like fire and acid, eating at my skin and flesh, knotting my muscles and paralyzing my body with such force and speed that it could only mean one thing.
I fell to my knees, clutching at the wound; the screams became ragged, and almost continuous...I listened to myself, almost detached, as if to say 'wow, is that really me?'... I was faintly aware of a blue-streaked figure appearing in front of me almost out of nothing, I saw him slam his entire right arm straight into the middle of the slaver who wounded me and was just about to finish me off with his other dagger, I heard through my own wails of pain Varric yell: 'Bianca, baby, introduce yourself!' and Merrill's panicked cry of 'lethallin!', and I just, simply, was pissed. Pissed that I got distracted, pissed that I was going to bleed out right here and now on the floor of this sodding cavern, pissed that I couldn't get my hands on the bitch who thought it was expedient to sacrifice a half a dozen lives for power with such casual efficiency (she probably brought the poor souls with her from Tevinter just for this eventuality, it fluttered through my mind)... pissed that I was going to die without ever getting to kiss Fenris again...
"Lift her head." Faintly, through the red haze of agony, I heard Merrill's voice, commanding and with utter authority. It was strange. "Now!"
It hurt even more, as my muscles, clamped and clenched and stiff, were forced to move: an arm slid under me, hauled me half-upright, into someone's lap. My back spasmed, I buckled and there was another ragged scream.
I was really rather tired of screaming.
"Hold her, this is going to hurt, I think." Merrill's face swam in front of me, her brow furrowed in concern. "I got the antidote here, but for this amount of poison to clear, I have to double the dose and..."
"Shut up, Daisy and just do it." I heard Varric's tense voice. "You can give us the lecture later."
I had thought nothing could have hurt more than that poisoned wound, but then an unforgiving hand clamped on my jaw, made my mouth open and poured something that felt like liquid fire down my throat, and I felt that was the worse pain I've ever been...Boy, was I wrong. As the antidote started to work and rapidly chased the venom in my veins...
That hurt even more.
I think I lost consciousness for a little while there. When I blinked next time, I was on my knees, retching and trying to keep myself upright, so the antidote must have worked.
"She's cussing rather fluidly now." Varric sat next to me, tension clearly leaking from his face. "I think she'll be fine."
"Damn straight I'll be fine if...someone just gives me some sodding water." I panted, then tried to straighten. There was a bandage over my wound and it tingled slightly with nothing more than a faint itch as I flexed my thigh.
I love traveling with mages.
Well, my mages, anyway, I corrected hastily, as I looked around at the carnage that surrounded me.
Wow. I think I'm going to throw up all over again.
"Sorry for the excitement." I flashed a quick grin around. "But it seems you have been busy."
"Some of us still are..." Varric's face was grim again and he pointed with his chin to a corner. "Might want to take a look."
I never quite understood the term 'ashen-faced' until I saw that woman's elegantly narrow face. She was pressed against the wall, one shoulder in the painful grip of a softly glowing hand, as Fenris towered over her with his sword held lazily in his other hand above her head.
"There's only one person I want dead more." he growled and the woman flinched.
"I have information, elf." she panted. "I am willing to trade for my life."
Fenris snorted, the sword moving in his hand just an inch closer to the woman's head. I had to assume this was Hadriana; she wore light blue robes with an intricate trim, but the air of haughty elegance that surrounded her was spoiled somehow by the bloodstains and the almost naked fear that was written on her face.
"What? The location of Danarius? A lot of good would that do to me." He leaned even closer, a snarl on his features that reminded me that his name meant 'little wolf' in Arcanum. "I'd rather see his pet pupil dead." I shivered, but my hand shot out to keep Merrill from moving forward. I shook my head and mouthed 'no' towards her. Towards both of them, just as much as to myself.
"You have a sister." The words spilled out of Hadriana's mouth hurriedly. "She's alive."
Fenris took a step backwards; his lips parted as if he wanted to say something but no words came out. Instead, there was the harsh rasping of his breathing, and the sound of steel as he sheathed his sword slowly, as if in a dream.
"You wish to reclaim your life...let me go." Hadriana straightened smoothly, like a snake coiling up from the ground, keeping her eyes on the ground carefully and staying where she was, by the wall. "I will tell you about her whereabouts."
And Fenris...dammit, Fenris looked at me.
I knew that look... saw it on an abused dog once, a dog Carver rescued from its bastard of an owner back in Lothering. I recognized the look and yet again, I felt tears gathering behind my eyelids as I shut them firmly to protect me against all the emotions that assailed me.
I exhaled, inhaled, exhaled again, feeling the air in my lungs move with the finality of something... then I took a step backwards and said what I had to say.
"This is your call."
"So I have your word?" Hadriana's voice was eager, hopeful... almost pitiable in its sincerity. "I tell you and you let me go?"
Almost pitiable, I said. But I kept remembering those bloodless corpses stacked up like wood, and Orana rocking back and forth with that bloody scarf between her fingers. I kept remembering, and I watched with detached disinterest as Fenris leaned close to her, used one hand to block her path from moving, and said slowly, clearly enunciating every syllable, eyes never leaving hers.
"Yes. You. Have. My word."
"Her name is Varania." The words came fast from her now, almost tumbling. "She's in Carastes, serving Master Ahriman."
"A servant." Fenris paused, sounding almost pensive. "Not a slave."
"She's not a slave." Hadriana said, and the smile that was suddenly on her face made me shudder. There was something there... something that I didn't quite understand, but that something made me want to reach out suddenly and shout out a warning...
"I believe you." Fenris said quietly, his eyes never leaving Hadriana's face... then there was a keening sound, a flash of eerie blue light, a muffled cry and the air filled with the acrid smell of magic and blood again as Hadriana crumpled on the floor, and Fenris brought his hand back to his side, glistening with her blood. Something slid from between his fingers, slapped against the stones wetly, still pulsing, still beating...
"We're done here." He measured those words between his teeth, lips curling upwards, eyes narrowed as his gaze burrowed into me with almost as much ferocity as his hand into Hadriana's chest moments ago, ripping her life away.
"We're done here." he said as he held my gaze for a second, then started walking, slow at first, then faster and faster, blood still dripping from his fingers, walking past me, away from me, out of the caverns with a finality that prevented me from doing what I wanted.
"We are done here." My own arm, raised to restrain him, fell uselessly by my side and I stared after him, words I could have said locked in my throat, tears locked behind my eyes, my own heart and my own love locked in my chest like a caged animal desperately wanting to be free.
And the words of a song came to me, slow and halting, like drops of rain, or blood, like words of pain, like the rattling of invisible chains that can never be shed:
How will you know if you found me at least
'Cause I'll be the one, be the one, be the one
With my heart in my lap
I'm so tired, I'm so tired
I wish I was the moon tonight