For a starving woman, Misery acted nothing like the sort, spending far more time absentmindedly pushing the food around her plate than actually taking bites. Along with Varric and Fenris, she sat at a table in what passed for a mess hall in this Grey Warden outpost, with Revas curled up on the floor behind her. Only a few wardens were present in the room, as most of the couple dozen men and women stationed here were at the hastily assembled Joining ceremony.
"Not eating isn't going to help her," Varric said quietly. "We're at least a week from Kirkwall. You need to get your strength back for the rest of the journey home."
Misery's eyes shifted from the plate to the dwarf and then back down. "Don't worry… I won't slow you down."
Something about her tone was unsettling, though he wasn't quite sure what it was. "You do still intend to return to Kirkwall, right?"
"Yeah… Bethany made me promise, and I won't break my word. Besides, I'm going to assume Bartrand got out of the Deep Roads alive, and that's something I need to rectify."
Varric nodded. "I'm with you. Don't doubt me on that."
"I know. I'm done doubting you." She sighed. "I just wish they'd tell us something about Bethany. Shouldn't they know either way by now? It's been more than an hour."
Fenris shrugged. "It could be one of those grandiose ceremonies where they take turns speaking for a very long time before anything happens."
Though he appeared indifferent, Fenris was anything but. He was anxious to know, even more so since the Warden in charge had been so openly skeptical of her chances. Fenris was still angry at Anders for not revealing the truth of the Warden cure. He'd seen the hope all but flicker and die in Bethany's eyes when Stroud informed them she wasn't strong enough to survive the Joining.
Fenris was also struggling to even look at the Hawkes without feeling guilty for his role in this. He wasn't sure he could take being around Misery if Bethany died, despite Bethany's repeated reassurances that neither Hawke ascribed any blame to him. It would be a constant reminder.
"Blondie said he'd let us know as soon as he could," Varric said. "He managed to convince his guy to even put her through it, so I trust he won't leave us hanging."
Misery scoffed. Even if she wasn't annoyed with the former Grey Warden for what he'd said about her, she wouldn't ever use the word trust in relation to him, at least not in a positive way.
"Speak of the abomination… and the abomination appears…" Fenris muttered, gesturing towards the far side of the room. Anders strode towards them, his expression maddeningly non-committal.
Stroud stood before the assembled wardens, a semi-circle nearly two dozen in number facing the dais. The recruit managed to stand on her own in the center, though she was leaning heavily on her staff to keep herself upright.
"Bethany Hawke," Stroud drawled out in his thick accent. He gestured to the Grey Warden mage robes she now adorned. "You stand before us a Grey Warden in name. Now it is time for you to submit to the Joining, to become a Grey Warden in blood."
He stepped forward with the golden chalice in hand. "I will recite the words that have been spoken since our beginning. And then you will drink."
Stroud knew she would die, but he would see that she died with the dignity befitting all Grey Wardens, whether they paid the price for their sacrifice at the Joining or later.
Join us brothers and sisters.
Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant.
Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be forsworn.
And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten.
And that one day we shall join you.
With that, Stroud nodded solemnly to Bethany and took a step back.
Bethany stared briefly at the viscous, dark liquid. She swirled it around much like someone would a glass of fine wine. The moment was now, and she realized she wasn't afraid. She was at peace no matter the outcome. Mostly she was just glad that the pain was going to end one way or another. After several long moments she took and released a deep breath and raised the chalice to her lips.
The putrid smell was enough to cause her stomach to do flips, but the liquid cascading over her taste buds was even worse. She gagged, squeezing her lips closed in order to prevent the disgusting fluid from escaping. Grimacing, she finally choked it down.
"Yuck…" she groaned.
Silence took hold as everyone waited for the inevitable violent reaction, the convulsions, the passing out, and the tense seconds that elapsed while an accounting was taken of the recruit's lifesigns. The tension only grew more palpable with each passing moment of no apparent reaction from the girl.
Bethany raised an eyebrow quizzically as she took in all of the stares. She felt a thumping in her chest, a pounding in her head, and slowly became aware of a different sensation tickling her senses. It was almost as if she could sense the life around her. No… she realized it was awareness not of life, but of the taint. She could feel the taint radiating from her now fellow Grey Wardens.
"Is there anything more to this?" she asked.
Stroud's eyes opened wide in shock. "Check her!" he demanded of a healer.
Anders scoffed. "I'm sure you can feel it within her now, Stroud. I can and so should everyone else in this room."
Stroud took the now empty chalice and looked it over. "Something must have been wrong with the preparation."
The healer went over and checked the newest Warden anyway. "She's good, Commander. Her body took the taint, she is one of us."
"That… that is impossible!"
Murmurs were coursing through the crowd by this point. Bethany shook her head. "I know you expected me to die, but… is it really that impossible that I lived?"
"In all my years… I have never seen a recruit take the Joining without passing out immediately. As weak as you were – are – I don't understand how you only reacted like you took a swing of that piss Fereldans call beer. And yes, I… am surprised you survived at all. Grateful, but surprised."
Anders scratched at the stubble on his cheek. "Maybe her body didn't react much to the Joining because there was little difference at that point. I mean, she couldn't get much more tainted than she already was."
Bethany smirked. "If it makes you feel better, I do have a headache and really wouldn't mind taking a nap."
Stroud seemed to contemplate this for a few moments before bursting out in laughter. "Well, Hawke, you certainly made a fool out of me, didn't you? Let me be the first to welcome you, Sister."
"Sister!" Bethany gasped, her eyes growing wide. "I need to go see my sister, let her know I made it through. She must be worried sick by now."
"I'll go," Anders said. "You go rest. I'll tell the others that you'll come find us once you've woken up."
Bethany smiled appreciatively. "Thank you, Anders… for everything."
He nodded, returning the smile while resisting the urge to tell her to remember she said that when she woke up in a cold sweat from the nightmares, or when she found out it was only a postponed death sentence, or that she could probably forget ever being a mother, or any number of other Grey Warden realities.
"Now that's Sunshine!" Varric exclaimed, hollering in excitement as she held her staff to the throat of the warrior at her feet.
Bethany had made short work of her sparring partner, who completely underestimated the mage's ability to hold her own in close combat. Even with not yet having her full strength back, she'd made him pay for that mistake.
Stroud, who was among several wardens observing the latest recruit, clapped in approval. "And once again Hawke proves to be full of surprises."
Misery stared at her still bandaged hand and sighed. It's just as well that she no longer needs me. She has surpassed me anyway.
Bethany gave a mock curtsey, drawing laughter as she turned and offered a hand to her felled opponent. In the four days since the Joining, Bethany's health had steadily improved and she was rapidly becoming her old self again. And that continued to leave her older sister struggling with her conflicted emotions.
There was relief of course. Misery was exceedingly grateful that Varric and Anders put them in a position to reach the Grey Wardens in time, and that Fenris lent his strength for longer periods than anyone in providing Bethany with physical assistance. And relief that Bethany was able to survive the Joining.
Sadness… Misery knew that with Bethany recovering, it was approaching time for them to leave. No one was pressuring her, but she could sense her companions' growing restlessness nonetheless. She didn't want to leave her sister though. It went against her entire upbringing. And despite intellectually understanding that things would never again be like they were, she was still having difficulty accepting the reality that protecting Bethany was no longer her duty.
Duty… a word that now filled Misery with self-loathing. In her mind, Bethany was no longer her duty because she'd failed once again to protect her family. For all of her efforts, she once again came up short. And she could only imagine how badly Mother was going to react upon learning that Misery lost Bethany. She had no idea what she'd do or where she'd go if Mother threw her out and said to never come back.
Jealousy… Misery wouldn't admit it to herself, but seeing Bethany almost back to full strength also served as a painful reminder that she herself would never again be whole. Misery understood now that Anders had ridiculed her in front of the Grey Wardens for Bethany's benefit, to ensure Misery wasn't accepted as a potential recruit pending Bethany's outcome, but Misery saw truth in the words anyway. And the way the wardens continued to fawn on Bethany while Misery couldn't even draw a bowstring left her feeling perfectly useless. She was beginning to resent the dramatic role reversal that left her in her little sister's shadow.
Fear… Even knowing Bethany no longer needed her, Misery was so conditioned to worry about Bethany that she was afraid to leave her. Beyond that, she was frightened by the prospect of a life without purpose. Once she returned to Kirkwall and killed Bartrand, what then? She still had Mother to look after, assuming Mother didn't disown her. But her life was suddenly no longer constrained by the need to protect Bethany and she had no idea how to handle that. How could she simply stop filtering every word and action through someone else's needs? For as selfish as she was often accused of being, Misery didn't truly know how to be selfish.
Pride… Despite the negative emotions swirling like a vortex, Misery also felt an intense pride in her sister. Bethany was everything she could have hoped for, and seeing her show these wardens a thing or two about the Hawkes was immensely satisfying. While watching Bethany continue to spar, images of her through the years flew through Misery's mind.
She remembered the little girl determined to keep up with her twin brother and older sister, the one who was never content to be defined by her magic, the one who wanted nothing more than to be normal but couldn't, who cried many tears over that, yet never let it crush her spirit.
Misery remembered the teen girl that hid in her shadow not because she wanted to, but out of necessity. The one who managed to blossom anyway, who became so adept at hiding her magic that Misery didn't worry much about leaving her in Lothering with Mother when she and Carver left for Ostagar.
Misery thought about the nearly two years since Lothering. How Bethany really came into her own, becoming increasingly independent. And Misery realized that was also out of necessity. Her little sister was a grown woman, an adult, and one who needed her own space to spread her wings. Her sanity alone demanded it. That Misery had never mentally prepared for the day when Bethany flew from the nest didn't mean it wasn't going to happen.
It didn't help her feel any better though.
A sudden loud yelp from Misery's side startled her to the point she almost leapt from her seat. She blinked, realizing she'd been so lost in thought that she'd also lost awareness of her surroundings in the process. She glanced over to see Bethany helping up another sparring victim.
Varric laughed. "Thedas to Misery. Thedas calling Misery. Are you there?"
"Was just… thinking about things."
The dwarf didn't bother pointing out the obviousness of that. Instead he replied, "You're missing out on Sunshine working these guys over. An amazing comeback from the brink of death, she's gonna make a great story."
Misery smirked. "Yeah, well, when you tell it just make sure you give her something decent to wear. That Grey Warden armor is ridiculous. All the stars and stripes make it look like she got tangled up in a flag."
Varric laughed. He hoped cracking a joke meant Misery was turning the corner on the depression she'd been in ever since her injury.
"Consider it done."
"I-I suppose it's that time, isn't it?" Bethany asked quietly.
It was the next day and Misery had reluctantly accepted that the time had come to depart for Kirkwall. Now the two sisters were off by themselves after Bethany said her goodbyes to the others. And while Misery had prepared for this conversation, she was unenthusiastic at best to have it.
Misery sighed. "I know."
Bethany tried to find a smile. "I'll be alright, you know?"
"I was just as skeptical about this Grey Warden business, but… most of them have been really nice. I think I'll even have some good friends here. One of the women, Aelita, reminds me a lot of you."
That elicited a smirk from Misery. "Can I trust you to stay away from her then?"
"Yeah… number twenty-three on my list of shortcomings, remember? A list that seems to be growing…"
It was Bethany's turn to sigh. "Are you going to be alright?"
"I'm always alright. You know that."
"When are you going to stop doing this?"
Misery shrugged. "I don't know… maybe when I actually manage to convince myself."
"I admit… I'm more worried about you than I am about myself. This… situation is not what I want, but I'll make the best of it. If I have to be Grey Warden, I'll be one you can be proud of. But you seem so sad… and I don't know how to make it better."
"Forgive me for failing my duty," Misery whispered, closing her eyes. "Forgive me for not being strong enough to protect you, for leaving you, for… failing you."
"Miri… no… there's nothing to forgive. You did nothing wrong, please believe that. It was my decision to go on the expedition. I knew it would be dangerous. It's not your fault I wouldn't let you talk me out of it."
Misery shook her head. "I know you don't need me watching out for you anymore… Maker, you are even stronger than me… but I don't know what else to do. You're my duty, how do I let go of that?"
"Look at me." When Misery opened her eyes and met her sister's gaze, Bethany continued, "I am not stronger than you. But you're right… I don't need you watching out for me anymore. You know why? Because of you."
"I don't understand. You don't need me because of me?"
Bethany nodded. "You finished Father's work. I am capable of standing on my own, with or without magic, because of all you've done for me. Miri, you didn't fail in your duty… you fulfilled it. And I can never thank you enough for that."
Misery bit down on her bottom lip, trying to prevent it from trembling. "Y-you really believe that?"
"I do… you demand too much of yourself. Maker knows how proud of you Father would be. I couldn't be more proud of you. I wish you would believe in yourself the way I believe in you."
Misery finally lost the battle to hold the tears back, which in turn caused Bethany to cry as well. The younger girl embraced her sister, holding her tightly.
"I-I love you, Bethany… I don't want to lose you."
"You aren't losing me, I swear this to you. You'll always mean the world to me… no matter what."
Misery took a deep breath that she blew out unsteadily while trying to keep from turning any further into a blubbering mess than she already was. The hardened shell she'd built around her heart seemed to offer no protection anymore when it came to her sister. Nor did it help that she also planned on a second painful parting.
Bethany pulled back after a minute of shared silence. "I promise I will get to Kirkwall as soon as I can to see you and Mother. Stroud said we will leave here in a week's time to scout something out near Wildervale, perhaps when that is done I'll be able to detour through Kirkwall. If I write you, will you write back?"
Misery nodded slowly while wiping her eyes. "Of course. You need only let me know how I'm supposed to get a letter to you without delivering it myself. If you'll even be at this outpost long-term."
"I… I will let you know what I find out. It's too early for me to make plans, but depending on how things go I might see if I can go to Ferelden and join the Grey Wardens there. From what Anders says, they'll be clearing remnants of darkspawn from the Blight for years, and that just seems more… important… than whatever we are doing here."
"It would be even harder to see you if you moved back to Ferelden…" Misery lamented. "Still… everything we've heard is that it's a disaster. I suppose if you have no choice on this Grey Warden business, doing it on behalf of our homeland would be… well, more tolerable anyway."
"Don't worry… I will never forget what the Wardens did to our family. And Maker help them if I find out any of the ones here were involved with Corypheus."
Misery nodded. "Speaking of tying up loose ends, I'm still going to take out Bartrand when I get back. And he'd better hope my mood by then is good enough to make his death quick."
Bethany's face scrunched up in consternation. "I'm all for that, yet… it might be better to let Varric do it if he shows any inclination to do so."
"I just don't want to see that come between you two. I mean, I think it's safe to say that Varric cares for you."
Misery shrugged. "Yeah, we're friends. What of it? He even said he still wants to kill that bastard."
"You really haven't noticed?"
Bethany giggled softly. "For someone who takes pride in her observational skills, you can be so oblivious sometimes. Varric cares for you, as in-"
She stopped herself and shook her head. With a mischievous grin she added, "No, never mind. You'll figure it out when you're ready."
Misery's eyes opened wide as she caught on. "You're drunk!" she exclaimed, causing Bethany to start laughing.
"Just… just don't be afraid to give him a chance, alright?" she asked with a wink.
"Anyway…" Misery answered, waving her hand, "Before you get as bad as Mother, I…"
She trailed off as another thought came to mind. "Oh, wow…" she breathed, "could you imagine Mother's reaction to me coming home with a dwarf? It'd serve her right for not leaving me alone about finding a husband."
Bethany laughed knowingly. "She'd faint, though it might be just as much from you having a man at all as from him being a dwarf." Her expression turned more solemn. "You're her last hope for grandchildren though, so she'd probably come around and take what she could get."
Bethany sighed, nodding sadly. "Something I found out about the Grey Wardens is the taint makes it very rare for them to have children. Though I suppose it matters little. This isn't exactly a lifestyle to raise a child in."
"I'm so sorry, Bethany… I know having your own family eventually was very important to you."
"I'm alive… That's the important thing, right?" She tried not to let her bitterness seep into her tone. "It's just another part of this new life I need to get used to."
Misery glanced down briefly at the glove on her hand, the one masking the reality that two of its finger holes were empty. "I know…" she whispered.
After several long moments of silence, Bethany changed the subject. "You have the letter for Mother, right?"
"Yeah…" she answered in resignation, knowing it was about time to leave. "I… I know this isn't what either of us wanted, but I'm glad we could burn the first letter you wrote thinking you'd be dead when it reached her."
Bethany nodded. "Yeah… you're right. Miri? Please take care of Mother. She needs you, even if she is just as stubborn as us about admitting that."
"We're Hawkes, stubbornness is our nature," Misery replied, forcing a slight smirk that quickly faded as realization set in. Her eyes began to water again. "C-call Revas please," she choked out through the thickness in her throat.
Bethany was already fighting her own urge not to cry again, but managed to whistle loudly enough for the mabari to come running.
Misery knelt down in front of her dog, resting her forehead on his. "Revas…" she whispered hoarsely, "Y-you… you h-have to… I-I…"
She took a big gulp of air. "I need you to st-stay with Bethany. To watch over her in m-my place."
Bethany gasped, covering her mouth with her hand as she stared in disbelief, not immediately knowing how to respond.
Revas growled. Misery was his master and he'd obey, but not willingly. He loved and was deeply protective of the Hawke family as a whole, but he had only one master. It was the nature of imprinting. Being given away to anyone for any reason chaffed at his nature.
"I kn-know, boy… I know. I n-need you to do this for me anyway."
Revas growled again.
"Please… don't make this any harder on me. You know this is not what I want."
The mabari leapt back away and crouched low, barking angrily at his master. His response only increased her heartbreak, and Bethany's.
"St-stop," Bethany said, holding up her hand. "No… you're not doing this. Revas needs you and you need him even more."
Bethany was trying to be forceful even though her heart wasn't in it. She felt she needed to head this off before it went any further.
"No, Miri," she continued. "I-I can't tell you how much it means to me that you'd give Revas to me… but no… I won't accept this. I have to think it's only a matter of luck that he has avoided being tainted to this point, and with me he'd be exposed to that risk regularly. I won't do that."
She sighed slightly in relief when she could see understanding and more importantly, acceptance take hold on her older sister's face.
"V-very well…" Misery mumbled, closing her eyes.
It was only a moment before she felt Bethany's arms around her, lifting in encouragement for her to stand. She allowed herself to be helped to her feet, then embraced Bethany tightly.
"I-I'm sorry…" Misery whispered.
"There is nothing to be sorry for, please believe that. I'm just as scared as you are, but we can't make impulsive decisions out of fear. You know, someone I really look up to told me that once."
"Yeah? Who was it?"
Bethany smiled, glad that her sister walked right into it. "You."
"We'll be alright, Miri. I have to believe that, even if it's so hard to see how right now."
Misery exhaled slowly. "Of course, you're right."
She wiped her face again before pulling back and forcing a more steadfast expression. "Grey Warden or not, you need me for anything I'll come running. I swear this to you."
With a slight smirk she added, "Oh, and don't think being a Grey Warden gives you a pass to call me 'Miri'."
Bethany returned the smirk, though the effect was largely lost through the tears that hadn't completely stopped. "I could tell you again how proud I am to call you 'Sister'."
"I think you've already gotten all the tears out of me I'm capable of crying." Misery replied before sighing and shaking her head. "I… suppose I'd better go. You take care of yourself, alright? My rules still stand if you don't."
"I know, I know," Bethany answered, giggling softly. "You'll come find my corpse and kill me again. You take care of yourself too, Sister."
Misery nodded, her expression solemn for a few moments before a slight smile cracked her façade. "Hey, tell you what… I think… when we're alone… I think I can be 'Miri' again."
"Oh, see, now that's just pure evil," Bethany whispered, wiping fresh tears from her eyes.
Misery chuckled, pulling her sister into one last embrace. "Consider it incentive to come visit. I love you, Bethany. Never forget that."
"I love you too, Miri."
"Now this is just completely wrong," Varric grumbled after the group hit natural light for the first time in close to a month.
"What is?" Anders asked.
Varric gestured around. "The sun shining, the fluffy white clouds in the sky. Warm, clean air. Birds chirping."
"And that's wrong?"
"Blondie… after what we've been through? When I retell this story it's going to be a dark and stormy night, maybe even a snowstorm – a blizzard! And we'll have hoofed it back to Kirkwall in the snow, uphill!"
"Uphill to descend the mountain?"
"You have to be fucking kidding me…" Misery said before groaning.
Varric turned his head. "No, I'm pretty damned serious on this one."
"No… look." She gestured to her right, far down the mountain trail. "Dalish camp."
Everyone looked where she was pointing.
"We came out on Sundermount? Huh, whaddayaknow…" Varric said.
"Do not act like this was unplanned," Fenris remarked dryly.
"No matter," Misery answered, her practical side taking over. "It's been several days since leaving the Warden outpost, and we know now we're a week from Kirkwall. If the Dalish will suffer our presence, and if we can suffer theirs, it would be good to take a day to rest and resupply."
And if she was lucky, Keeper Marethari or another with healing skills would be able to do something for her weakened middle finger. Anders had displayed great skill just in salvaging the finger on the battlefield, as bad of shape as it was in, but two and a half weeks later she still had very little strength in that digit.
If she was the optimistic type, she'd have chalked up her worry to impatience and think the strength would return in time, but she wasn't. She questioned if even going back to a shortbow with its lighter draw would be enough for her to be a competent archer again.
Varric noticed his fellow rogue's expression subtly shift as she got quiet and began moving in the direction of the camp, but he maddeningly had no idea why. She'd been almost painstaking in maintaining her mask of serenity since leaving the Warden outpost, careful not to let even him see the real Misery behind it. Other than a few subtle slips here and there, she was back to keeping the world at arm's length emotionally. She wasn't unpleasant or difficult, simply all business and apparently not interested in offering anything more than that.
"Stay with her, Varric," Sunshine had said to him during their few minutes alone while saying goodbye. "She needs you, and one of these days she'll realize how deep that need goes, that she cares about you the way you do her."
He'd laughed, mainly laughing off the matchmaker's uncomfortable implication that he had those types of feelings for her sister. While he had stopped denying that to himself, he wasn't yet at the point of fully coming to terms with his feelings. But within that laughter was also a skepticism that his feelings, regardless of what they were or were not, even mattered. As much like pulling teeth as it had been just to get Misery to accept friendship, he figured she'd die of old age before letting anyone get intimately close.
Seeing her withdraw once again only reinforced that belief, and after the second day he quit trying to get her to open up. Besides, he had enough of his own crap to worry about without obsessing over her issues on top of it.
Bartrand was still at the forefront of his mind, and Varric burned with desire to kill him. Blood or not, Bartrand's life was forfeit for the betrayal and its results. And in perfect irony, killing the bastard was going to thrust Varric right into the spot he never wanted – needing to take over the family business and representing Tethras interests at the Dwarven Merchant's Guild. He'd already serious contemplated hiring someone to play his cousin and deal with that for him. Or invent a cousin if nothing else.
There was also the question of what to do with Bartrand's estate. He'd inherit of course, assuming he wasn't stupid enough to get the murder pinned on him with enough evidence to stick. Varric had no intention of moving into that place though. He was quite content with his suite at the Hanged Man. It was the perfect location for an information broker such as himself, with the popular Lowtown hangout being a hub for all manner of residents and travelers, a veritable jewelbox of gossip, rumor, news, and assorted information.
Even with Norah providing extra eyes and ears to the ground, she wasn't as savvy when it came to picking out the really subtle details. And for as much free booze as he was keeping the Rivaini in by covering her bar tab in exchange for information, she rarely brought him anything profitable. So he intended to keep working that beat himself, even if those close to him would wonder why he bothered with as rich as he would be after liquidating Bartrand's assets and making a mini-expedition back for the treasure they'd left behind in the Deep Roads.
Still, ambling down the mountain trail soaking in the sun and breeze that felt much more pleasant than he'd let on, Varric found his cluttered thoughts drifting back to that enigma of a woman that kept drawing him in without any awareness to what she was doing. He quickened his pace enough to catch up with her, nudging her in the arm to get her attention.
"Hey… did I tell you about the fru-fru wine your boy Junar introduced me to last time I was here?"
Misery shook her head, raising an eyebrow quizzically when Anders started to laugh knowingly. Varric chuckled as well.
"It's this fruity thing that tastes all sweet, like berries and such. But just when you think that's all there is to it and let your guard down, wham! It sucker punches you and knocks you on your ass."
"What was it you said?" Anders interjected. "Whudda thought elves would know a damned thing about fermenting?"
"Mmm… don't remember actually. Shit packs a punch and doesn't taste like stale piss. You up for some, Miz?"
Misery smirked. "I suspect we could all use a drink at this point. Maker knows I sure could."
The thought also crossed her mind that it might be another in with Junar, whose skill with a bow had impressed her even though she'd bested him in their little competition.
Her eyes went briefly to her right hand and then back towards the camp. Dalish archery skill was legendary. It was perhaps a foolish hope, but hope flickered nonetheless that she'd earned enough respect on her prior visit to receive help in learning to compensate for her hand when firing a bow.
She doubted the others would understand her intense desire, no need to regain her combat prowess. After all, she was now a noblewoman of sorts with a Hightown estate and a fair amount of wealth, wealth which would grow significantly after recovering the remaining Deep Roads treasure. Why did it matter if she could no longer silently drop a target from thirty yards, or could no longer take on a mob of foes solo with twin blades?
It just did. It didn't have to be rational. She couldn't explain it anyway, even if she had to. She just knew that she felt violated. Something was taken from her against her will.
And she was determined to take it back.
Misery flopped into the easy chair in Varric's Hanged Man suite, running her fingers through her hair while sighing wearily. Varric, who was sitting at the table reading over some documents, glanced over briefly before chuckling and returning his attention to the page in front on him.
"You know," he began, "for someone who finally got to sleep in a bed again, you sure don't look rested."
They'd finally arrived in Kirkwall early the previous day, and after Anders departed for his clinic the remaining ones went straight to Bartrand's estate. Much to their chagrin, not only was Bartrand not there, but there were no house servants or evidence of recent activity. A cursory examination of the estate and talking to a few neighbors and people that knew Bartrand well suggested that Bartrand had returned, gathered his servants and a few possessions, and then immediately left Kirkwall. At that point the plan was left off with Misery going to her estate to see her Mother while Varric tapped into his network to get information on Bartrand's whereabouts. Then they would regroup at Varric's place the following morning.
The female scowled. "I didn't sleep."
She pulled a small leather sack ball given to her by Keeper Marethari from her pouch and began to spin it in her partial hand, occasionally squeezing down tightly on it with her remaining fingers. The contents contained within the pliable, stitched leather exterior were squishy yet firm, providing a degree of resistance when she squeezed.
Along with some new archery training from the Dalish chief hunter, Misery had been told by the keeper to use this sack ball frequently as a means of regaining her hand and finger strength. Even then it would be awhile before she could fire as consistently as she could prior to the injury.
Varric set down the stack of papers and looked over with a more concerned expression. "How'd it go with your mother?"
"Oh, on a scale between 'I never want to see you again' and 'I am so glad you are safe', I'd rate it as a 'you are a failure'."
Misery waved her hand dismissively. "About what I expected. What of Bartrand?"
"He definitely skipped town, but it isn't clear to where. I'd have thought Orzammar if anywhere, but I got a tip from a contact in the Guild that said Bartrand was heading for Rivain – that's completely the opposite the direction of Orzammar."
Misery frowned. "Do you trust your tipster is telling the truth?"
"I don't know… ordinarily I'd say yes, but it just doesn't make any sense. Why Rivain?"
"Where can I find this contact of yours?"
"So I can go find out if he or she is telling the truth."
"How are you going to know that?"
Misery's expression turned dark. "I will get the truth, even if I need to bleed it out of them."
"Maker's breath, Misery… I still have other irons in the fire, there's no need to go torturing anyone."
"Fine…" she grumbled bitterly. "So I'll just sit around being perfectly useless until you deem my help is needed."
"Ummm… where did that come from?"
"Forget it," she answered, waving her hand while standing. "I take it we're done here?"
Varric stared at her curiously. "Do you mean with this topic, or in general?"
"You tell me."
"I don't know what you want from me here. Surely you don't think I'm going back on my word about sticking with you after the expedition?"
Misery's glare faltered and she put her face in her hand. "I… I don't know… no, that's not true. I trust you, I really do. I just… I'm just sort of… lost right now. It's like someone took all the pieces of my life from a month ago, threw them in a pot, and mixed them to the point of being unrecognizable. Everything is different now."
When Misery lowered her hand and looked at him expectantly, he continued, "I'm still here."
She nodded slowly. "Thanks, V."
"Hey… don't worry. Worst case I'll have people watching for Bartrand. He won't be able to sniff Kirkwall without me knowing about it. And if I get solid info on where he's gone, we'll make sure he meets his end there."
She didn't say anything in reply for several long moments before sighing deeply. "Then I guess that's the end of it for now?"
Varric chuckled. "For now, perhaps. But I have a feeling there's still a lot more to the story yet to come."
AN: Varric's right, this is both the end and not the end ;)
'Hurtled into Chaos' is complete anyway, now that we've reached the conclusion of the first act. We'll pick up Act II in a new story, 'The Precipice of Change', and since I have chapter 1 of it about 3/4 done I'm intending to have it ready to post on Friday (U.S. time).
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed, alerted, or even just read this story. When I began it, I admit I had a bit of concern that Misery would be too off putting for people to care enough to stick with her story. That was actually one of the reasons I gave Bethany and Varric such prominent roles right off the bat, to provide balance to Misery's character. Anyway, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well Misery has been received and greatly appreciate all the support I've received along the way. Next stop, Act II! Thanks again!