Between Acts 1 and 2. A Merrill short. Merrill's life sometimes has more uncertainties than facts - but she can't let that stop her now.

One of Merrill's favorite rituals when she comes to a new place is a ritual they have lost the word for. She does not even know if she performs it correctly. She found only hints in Marethari's scrolls, descriptions that waddled around the ceremony without describing the event itself, like prodding the circle of a swollen wound to try and guess what kind of poison might be embedded within. If she is lucky, half the scrolls might even be talking about the same thing, instead of waxing poetic about the weather. History can be difficult.

From the bits and pieces she has scavenged, Merrill has learned enough to get a vague idea of how to proceed. It is a potent ritual, one that helps to attune a traveler to their surroundings. It involves a range of primal elements, can be performed nearly anywhere, and is contained within something so simple that most people do not expect it.

Tea. You can taste it in the water. You can taste it in the people, in the metal they tempered for the boiling pot you borrow. You can taste it in the wood that is consumed for heat, in the smoke of the burning. Many times, you must bring the tea leaves with you, but this too is part of the ritual. You taste your own story this way, mingled with the new land. Through the steps of the ritual, it is possible to understand how much of yourself you must contribute towards your own survival, from how much or little generosity was shown upon your arrival. By consuming the liquid, steeped in all these qualities, you may begin to swallow it down and make your environment a part of yourself.

What she is doing now may not be real. The chances of even partial accuracy are slim. In actuality, Merrill could be performing an ancient introduction to a wedding, or a blessing for the halla, or even nothing at all. She might be making everything up. She doesn't know, and she will never know, not for a long while to come.

Blood magic is a little of the same way. There aren't a lot of documents in circulation when it comes to blood magic - no communal training, no scrolls shared openly in libraries. Practitioners must learn from the rare manuals that have not yet been burned, or from stories passed on in dark corners. Ultimately, the knowledge must come from demons, simply because there aren't any other resources left. Merrill's own demon suggested all kinds of things when she first asked it, but even she had more common sense than to think that standing on her head and singing the Era Elgar backwards would do anything - it wouldn't rhyme as nicely that way.

There are many problems when it comes to learning knowledge that is banned. Merrill often thinks that if there were more ways to talk with other blood mages, then they wouldn't have to resort to demons for instruction. People wouldn't be so desperate if they didn't have to hide. The cycle goes around and around, like a hive of bees kicked into someone's aravel with the windows shut, buzzing and buzzing with no way out. Blood magic is a terrible thing because people fear it - yet in fearing it, people make it into something terrible. Treating with demons is risky, but demons have been made into the only available teachers. Demons, in fact, are the most reliable sources of information, because it's in their best interests for you to become more powerful. Everyone else will just try to convince you that you're making a terrible mistake, about how dangerous blood magic is while they're swinging around swords bigger than you are.

So Merrill's demon had said. She hates to think that it might be right.

There's nowhere else to go, though. She doesn't have evening study groups. It would be nice if she did. She'd have someone else to talk to when she has questions, someone other than her demon. They could trade incantations. Maybe borrow techniques. Try new things.

She hasn't mentioned this to anyone yet, of course. Not to Hawke, nor anyone else. The last thing Merrill needs is Anders accusing her of corrupting others through local support groups.

Anders doesn't have a fair viewpoint either, however. He talks all the time about how there's no line between himself and Justice, but it doesn't add up to what Merrill knows about spirits. People don't merge; they become corrupted. To become a puppet would be horrible, but she cannot imagine that it is that much worse than watching the same thing happen to her own people. She lives with the threat of possession each day - and yet each day, her people become filled with human words, until there is no room for the elvhen inside them.

But none of that is merging with a spirit. It is becoming so lost that you parrot back everything around you, forgetting that there was ever anything else. It is suffusing yourself so thoroughly in someone else's teachings that their words become your new truth. It is letting a demon control your body, but that doesn't mean they own your mind.

She thinks that Anders is deluding himself that he and Justice are one, so that he doesn't have to bear the guilt of thinking he's let a spirit so thoroughly inside him that he can't even recognize himself anymore. She wonders if he knows that he can't keep it up forever. If he senses he's already an abomination, so he's desperately trying to convince everyone else that he's really human and they don't have to kill him. She wonders how much he lets himself even think about such things.

She finds it sad, in the human definition of the word. She thinks it is also disheartening, again in the human definition. Merrill reminds herself often that she is now in the shemlen world, and she must think in shem terms; she is trying to adapt to this new world, as many others of her kind of done, but she cannot fall prey to their mistake either. She cannot forget herself. She cannot be like Anders. She cannot be like anyone else around her. Possessed. Flat ear.

She thinks there is a term for this, but she shies away from the possibility that it might be lonely.

She tries on city words one at a time, attempting to remember that when Varric calls her a flower, he does not actually mean she should be fed water and fishmeal. She reminds herself that Fenris speaks Qunari but thinks in Tevinter, and that Anders repeats an endless string of rage and fire and frustration and hypocrisy. Isabela is sweet, but no one else is like Isabela, and no one is quite as grumpy as Aveline. And Hawke - Hawke says a lot of things, some of which would be wonderful if they were true, and others which would be utterly awful unless they're lies. Merrill spends a lot of time hoping that they're couched in some sort of special Hawke-speech, one that she doesn't understand yet, but wants to someday. Her demon used words that promised strength and power, and it's tough sometimes for Merrill not to try them on too when she gets fed up with what little she knows about blood magic. Just sometimes.

At night, again and again, Merrill drinks tea in the Alienage, trying to let the liquid become a part of her without absorbing it completely. She tries to remember her Elvish, which is all the harder with no one to speak it with. Their language is so little, so precious, that she does not want to lose a single syllable. Some days, it feels like it's dripping away in rivulets, replaced by each sip of liquid she consumes. There are no songs to sing in the Alienage; no one wants to hear them. She looks at the sour-faced crowds and sees how they have forgotten how they lived forever before the shemlen came, and how they do not dwell on how only human children are born from elves. Human babes, erasing the elven. Human words, replacing the old.

Someone must try. Someone must take the first step, because if no one tries, then no one tries, and the elves will continue to dwindle, their blood and tongues replaced by that of humans, the eloquence forgotten.

There are many words Merrill must remind herself not to use in the city, though she fights to hang on to them. There are even more terms she wishes she knew - closed away behind the restrictions of blood magic and spite. She keeps the lore she has gathered close to her, where it can stay safe. She is smart enough to learn from her demon; she will not be controlled. She will remember herself.

There are steps to the nameless ritual that she has learned, even if the steps might be wrong. Merrill will learn the land. She will learn the people - the exhausted elves and the strange city rules, and the often funny things her friends are teaching her each day. She will drink it all in, but not become subdued.

If she does all this properly, then someday, she will return triumphant to her clan. She will bring them the mirror and the power she has fought so hard to gain. She will bring them everything she has remembered to keep safe within her, all the love and knowledge of their precious history. She will help to usher in an age so glorious, they will have to create new words just to praise it in. She is stronger than her demon. She can do it.