Chapter 15- Homecoming
"I know you already took a Vow of Chastity, Sebastian, so how about you try your hand at a Vow of Silence?"
When did everything fall apart?
She had been beyond tired when she'd returned to the mage encampment; ready for a solid night of sleep before the mandatory briefing Carver was certainly waiting to give her. So her surprise at hearing the news that her brother had gone to meet with a group of Templars from Wycome was genuine, especially since her veiled warning had in fact directly told him not to risk engagement with this particular group.
She'd been there less than five minutes when she learned of her brother's madcap quest. What the Blight had he been thinking? Had she not worded her warning strongly enough or had he simply decided he wanted to evaluate the risk himself? And why in the name of all things sacred had he decided to go and take Merrill of all people with him?
Then the terror had come, full and blind as it always did. Visions of Wycome, of Lydia and the others… all of their screaming faces replaced with that of her kin. She'd already lost Father, lost Bethany, lost Mother… she couldn't lose Carver. That wasn't fair. There was no way she would permit anyone to steal her brother away from the waking world as well.
Margot had been off leading some tracking exercises with some of the other Templars. Marian hadn't even bothered to wait for her to weigh in on the situation or to offer any sort of assistance- there was no time to consult the other woman directly. If Carver was ambling into these men's clutches, then time was already deathly short. Margot's new job was to move the base somewhere safer and, thankfully, Marian didn't have to be there to tell her as much.
There was no telling what sort of information Maison could extract from her brother, no telling how many Templars could be on their way before she could even hope to get there. She watched the group commence their frantic packing with dull dread pitting itself deep in her stomach. There was no telling what could happen but she already had a heaping dose of suspicion as to what was awaiting Merrill and Carver. Her return was concluded with a frantic passing off of Owen and a barked command to relocate the camp as quickly as possible. When she'd placed the boy into another mage's hands, the elf simply began screaming, reaching out for her and crying her name over and over again, tears streaming down his red face as he worked himself into a brilliant fury.
If something happened to her, she was certain Owen would be integrated into the camp- the rebellion was disinclined to turn away strays, mage or otherwise. As much as she tried, however, she couldn't push that memory from her mind as she and Tobias raced to Fort Fitz at a breakneck pace.
This wasn't happening, she kept repeating to herself as she and Tobias tore through the daylight and into night over and over again. This couldn't possibly be happening. But it was happening and for all her frantic wishing, she was a mage and not a genie. Carver had a six-day head start on her and the fort was roughly seven days by horse- so Carver would beat her there, barring any unforeseen circumstances that will have slowed him down. To date, she still had no idea how long she'd been held captive by Gerard but one thing was certain, every second she wasted was precious time that her brother may not have… and Merrill was bound to have much, much less.
There was a sliver of hope. Carver and Merrill had taken three others with them. In her haste, she hadn't bothered asking who they were. To her, they were just three more people who could help defend Carver and Merrill. If Maison saved Carver for last, made him to watch the slaughter of his party the way he'd forced her to do, then perhaps if she was fast enough she could save at least him. But if something happened to Merrill, Hawke knew for certain that Carver would never forgive her.
Hawke and Tobias made it there in four days. Hawke refused to rest, refused to stop unless her steed was wheezing and stumbling. During those brief periods of rest, which to her felt all too long and the horse certainly felt to be overly short, she couldn't bring herself to sleep. Her nerves were burning, alight with dread that refused to be lulled into slumber, leaving her with this lasting sense of queasiness.
With sleep inaccessible to her, she chose instead to plot.
It was suicide, she instinctively knew, to charge into a Templar headquarters and face this particular bevy of enemies head-on. It was not just mere suicide; it was also incredibly stupid- especially if they were holding the party captive. These men's allegiance with Maison was not yet written in stone but she knew she had to prepare for this meeting with that possibility thoroughly accounted for. A frontward breach could be ended with a single command to slaughter any prisoners. Then she'd be captured. That simply would not do, could not happen. She wasn't prepared to face Maison again but the circumstances that brought her ever closer to Fort Fitz told her that her personal readiness wasn't exactly something she should count on waiting for.
So her options were limited. Attacking directly was out of the question and subterfuge had never especially been a strong suit of hers. She'd never had a reason to attempt to wipe out a large group of Templars before. Fortunately, she'd known one man who had- who'd created dozens of plans to accomplish that very deed. The translated copy of his journal had been left on the Veiled Blue and now it was gone, never again would she set her eyes upon it. However, there was one tool left in her arsenal- her memory. She'd poured over his journals for countless hours in a frantic attempt to reconcile the heinous Templar Solution with the man who'd crafted it.
Anders had always been the superior alchemist; she wasn't yet foolish enough to convince herself otherwise. There was just no substitution for a bona-fide Circle education paired with their resources. But Hawke, as Anders had commented countless times, had a tack-sharp mind and what she lacked in basic potions-making theory she made up for in intuitive leaps. So when she'd come across a scrawled missive in the margins denoting the effects of magebane on lyrium addicts, she'd mentally filed that particular gem of information away with the confidence that at some point during this wretched war it was bound to come in handy.
Lo and behold, she was absolutely right.
Apparently, while magebane had rather serious consequences for mages, its effect on Templars was more like that of a powerful sedative. It was a correlation she'd never made herself but one that still made complete sense- lyrium was a conduit for magic, ergo something that would interfere with a mage's abilities should also have an effect on someone addicted to the stuff. She'd rifled through her pack and found a few reagents that could craft the poison before she haphazardly mixed them together.
If she'd crafted this whilst she was apprenticing under Anders, she had little doubts that he'd be hiding in a corner and shrilly questioning whether she intended to destroy all of Darktown. She'd always rolled her eyes and called him overdramatic when he put on such a display. Really, one extremely minor explosion and Anders was terrified of letting her mix anything. Besides, it had only damaged the door… and those bookshelves… and that table... okay, maybe it minor wasn't precisely the right word. Still, she couldn't have been the only person who'd ever confused elfroot with deathroot and it had been just one time… well, twice if she counted that other time, but nothing had exploded then.
Anyways, it wasn't like she hadn't paid to have it all fixed.
"Maybe I should just turn you loose on my storeroom and see how long it takes for you to build me a brand new clinic," Anders had grumbled once the repairs had been completed. At the time, Hawke suspected he was only half-joking.
Six years… had that really only been six years ago?
She forced further thoughts of Anders from her mind. Dwelling on the past would do her no good here. After a few botched attempts, though those were thankfully lacking any fireworks, she managed to craft a half-decent poison. While it lacked the precision and finesse of the concoctions she'd mixed under Anders' careful eye, it still had that same familiar stink that told her she'd made proper work of it. Having never had any reason to craft magebane before, she felt this to be a major accomplishment.
Once they'd arrived at the fort, it was a simple matter of sending Tobias in to dump the venom into the water supply. For everything that made her entirely uncomfortable about Tobias, she had to admit the man had a disturbing knack for vanishing while still being wholly visible; several times she'd been startled when she'd turn and find him standing directly behind her. That was something she'd never noticed about Tranquils until spending the better part of the last weeks with one- Tranquils couldn't be sensed the same way she could sense other mages. The Fade was blocked from him, inaccessible in every way. The one time she'd decided to reach out with her mind to find him, instead of feeling the Fade being restrained, she felt nothing more than a black hole, sucking in the Fade around it- suffice it to say, she did not attempt it a second time.
Poisoning the water supply of Fort Fitz had taken Tobias less than ten minutes. When he returned, she hadn't even bothered asking if he'd been noticed. He hadn't. Tobias was really only noticeable when he chose to be so. It was just another aspect of him that, while both dark and terrifying, was also proving incredibly useful.
Based on Anders' notes, she had figured the poison would need several hours to take, which was a blessing as it meant there would be a wider dispersion of the toxin ingested before anyone was the wiser. She'd figured by the time night took its full hold most of the Templars would be incapacitated. Any that remained would doubtlessly be found in a state of hopeless confusion. That would make them easier to take down. If luck was on her side, she may not have to kill anyone.
She wasn't entirely sure how she felt about that.
They hovered at the edge of the woods, safely housed within the cover of trees, while Hawke's stomach churned, nerves mixing with bitter bile, and waited impatiently for night to fall. Twilight had barely descended when she realized something had gone horribly wrong; when a series of small explosions illuminated along the upper windows for only a second before the glass exploded outward and hailed onto the dirt below.
"Move!" she shouted, but Tobias was already sprinting from the woods and toward the massive structure. It had taken precious minutes to break down the massive iron door to the fort, minutes more to strike down the single confused sentry. It wasn't until she entered the Great Hall that she realized what an unbelievably stupid error she'd made.
She hadn't accounted for mages. In all her furious, frenzied plotting, she'd completely forgotten that mages could be held captive here… and they'd obviously taken the opportunity to strike down their oppressors in so much blood-spattered gore. It was an unforgiveable error to say the absolute minimum. While Carver and Merrill still resided within, potentially incapacitated without hopes of defending themselves, this turn of events sent her into an even greater panic, if that was even possible.
Unwilling to think too long on the very real consequences this could hold, she immediately located the dungeon and, finding only two dead guards there, raced back into the foyer until the sounds of battle made their way into her sensitive ears. Tobias had made it there first, shielding Merrill from one of the charging abominations as Hawke took the opportunity to rain hellfire over it.
Merrill was safe, she kept repeating to herself as she focused on decimating her enemies with the entirety of her abilities. Her reserves were already spent when Carver's voice reached through the din and into her tired ears. Another silent thank-you was sent to the Maker before Hawke thunked the blade of her staff into another wretched beast's skull with a life-ending finality, the woman unbelievably tired and almost inhumanly exhausted.
It wasn't until then that she noticed her brother's company. She'd only stayed in the camp long enough to hear that Carver and Merrill had taken a small entourage with them to this wretched place. It never occurred to ask whom they'd taken. Varric wasn't a surprising addition- if something horrible was happening, the dwarf was almost guaranteed to show himself.
But Fenris? What was he doing here fighting alongside her brother? Her memories of that warm cabin nestled in those cold woods came flying back at her, the memory of running from him in Lydes… and the nightmare that had come next when she made port in Wycome. Had Isabela been right? Should she have waited? Had the paranoia that sent her tearing into the night been just another grievous blunder?
For everything that made her want to believe she'd been right to run, him standing here, covered in blood and fragments of bone, brought that decision into serious question. It seemed like everything was brought into question as of late.
Fortunately, Sebastian broke that train of thought with a shout and a raised weapon. She blasted the prince backwards before he could unleash another strike against her- only this time is was an physical arrow aimed at her head instead of a metaphorical knife plunged into her back. Realizing a moment too late that her armor marked her as an Imperial stranger, she untied the cowl covering her face, stating simply, "Well, Sebastian… good to see you, too."
Hawke could not bring herself to resist smirking as Starkhaven's regent stumbled gracelessly to his feet and regarded her with such miserable confusion. Certainly, she hadn't needed to knock the man down quite so hard but she would not deny relishing in having the opportunity to do so. She hadn't thought much on Sebastian since that day in front of rubble that had once been Kirkwall's Chantry- actively defied thinking about him in fact.
"Hawke?" The prince winced as he rose to his feet. Covered as he was in what had to be seriously painful bruises, Sebastian Vael certainly looked like he'd seen better days. "It's you."
She was almost startled by the wave of anger that washed over her as she regarded the man she'd once considered a dear friend. After everything she'd done for him, after everything they'd been through together, after they'd spent hours together at those dreadful, stuffy balls in Kirkwall and made fun of everything from Fifi de Launcet's wretched hats to Seneshal Bran's peculiar choice of company. After everything, he'd turned on her like it was the easiest thing in the world, like the history between them meant absolutely nothing, like the world was a simple black and white with no shreds of grey to taint their ideals. Maker, the world was just a haze of uncompromising grey now- any space for absolution was covered in that ugly monochrome fabric.
The crushing, overwhelming desire to close her fist and bash it into the prince's face was stayed by Merrill's delighted cry. "You're back!" Merrill beamed, rushing forward to crush her in a fierce hug, "We were so worried! Where have you been?" Hawke's arms automatically rose to embrace the elf before she felt the heavy collar on the other woman's neck. Startled, she drew away to inspect Merrill's face. "Marian?" Merrill finally asked, startled into question by the apostate's peculiar actions.
No brand, Hawke noted clinically. Thank the Maker- Merrill had been spared. Without thinking, Hawke brought her hand up to stroke the side of Merrill's face- the side that she'd feared would bear the same mark Hawke's did. Part of her wanted to cry then, not from relief but for the incredibly selfish, horrible part of her that desperately wanted not to carry the burn alone- the part of her that needed someone to understand what happened to her without her having to actually talk about it.
But Merrill had been spared and that would be enough. Marian's suffering was unshared and she'd be happy for it. No one should have to suffer Gerard Maison.
Merrill's face took on a look of confusion. "Marian?"
Wait… Merrill had asked where she'd been. "What do you mean, 'Where have you been?' I've been in Tevinter. I told you as much," she answered bluntly, dropping her hand from the elf's face. She dared a glance at Carver and asked, "Speaking of that, which part of 'Don't trust anyone from Wycome,' did you fail to grasp?"
Carver gave her an odd look and replied, "The last I heard of you was from Isabela. She told me she put you on a ship heading into Minrathous. Then you got off in Wycome and never got back on. What happened, Marian?"
She closed her eyes, felt Hoppers resting against her skin and let him calm her from the anxiety that threatened to overtake her. Now was certainly not the time to discuss everything that had happened in Wycome. "I got pinned down by a group of Templars and missed the boat. I ended up on another." Knowing Carver would not let the matter end that easily, she turned to Fenris and asked, "What about you? Did you receive my letter?"
Fenris tilted his head slightly and answered, "You wrote?" Green eyes narrowed slightly, although if it was confusion or calculation she'd never been able to rightly tell.
Ripping her gaze from the elf and forcing her roiling emotions back, she faced her brother again, letting her voice fall back into cool professionalism. "How long have they been with you?"
"The better part of three months," her brother replied.
Three months, she'd sent off her correspondence from Minrathous nearly a month and a half ago… the carrier birds were fairly quick, usually taking no longer than a couple weeks to reach their intended targets. While it was possible one of the birds could have been waylaid in Tevinter for a multitude of reasons, it was extremely unlikely that both birds would have failed to get there unless…
… unless someone had been intercepting the letters.
"Have you written to me?" she inquired of Carver.
"Several times," he answered. When Hawke shook her head, indicating that his correspondence to her had similarly been lost, her brother paused, coming to the same conclusion she just had. "Oh shit… Marian, we've vetted all the Templars."
She turned her gaze eyes back to the prince of Starkhaven and grumbled, "Yet I find you standing here with two men I wouldn't trust any farther than I could throw them."
"Hawke," Sebastian stuttered, "I would never…"
She cut him off with a snarled, "So a 500 gold dead-or-alive bounty is fine but Maker-be, mail-tampering is strictly forbidden by your bizarre moral code? Is that what you mean to tell me, your highness?"
Sebastian's head fell and he made no effort to defend himself.
Carver whipped his head and his blade to face the lapsed priest and growled, "You put a bounty on my sister's head? Dead or alive?"
"He did," Hawke replied, giving Sebastian the nastiest glare she could possibly muster. Tobias and she had run into them nearly the instant they'd set foot in the Free Marches… those bastards had nearly taken Owen's ear with one of their stupid arrows. Then she had been left with the unenviable task of explaining that the men hadn't been slavers with Tobias' translations, although the boy remained somewhat unconvinced, still certain that the men had been there to take him. "There were two groups looking to take it," she concluded, "we fought one and ducked the other- they seemed rather keen on the 'dead' part. I'm only letting you know because it is likely going to come up again."
"Explain yourself," Carver demanded of Sebastian as he brought his blade closer to the prince's neck. Fenris made a move as to step forward but Sebastian bade him off with a long look. Interesting… seems Fenris had gone from Little Wolf to royal guard dog; she really shouldn't have been surprised.
"Allow me," she interrupted before allowing her native accent to take on a pathetically phlegmy mimicry of Starkhaven's brogue, "You see, I have a grudge against the woman who avenged my family and helped pave the way for my return to Starkhaven because I am a pompous, arrogant dick."
Merrill's squeaked once before stifling her giggles. Varric snorted, attempting to disguise his chuckle with a sudden bout of feigned coughing. Her Starkhaven accent definitely needed work, not that she cared in the slightest at the moment.
Sebastian sighed heavily before responding. "I was angry, Hawke. I withdrew it after speaking to our Knight-Commander. Obviously they'd already left the area when I took the notice down. I'll send word to Starkhaven to have the matter sorted out."
Her eyes rolled almost of their own volition. "Pardon me for not holding my breath," she sneered, not even bothering to hide her immense irritation at this sudden turn of events, "but don't you think you could sort this out more quickly if you did it in person? You know," she added, "in Starkhaven?"
"Sister," Carver interrupted before the prince had an opportunity to answer her implied dismissal, "a word, please." He escorted her to the corner of the room, just enough distance where a hushed whisper wouldn't be overheard clearly. "We need him," he told her bluntly.
She deadpanned, positive for a moment that her ears had betrayed her as well. "Need him? For what," she asked, desperately veiling how deeply dumbfounded this whole situation had made her.
"Starkhaven is a powerful ally," her brother explained with an uncharacteristic patience. Even after they'd reconciled and united to spearhead the rebellion together, Carver and Hawke still usually resorted to shouting matches when they were at odds. After all, old habits die hard. "I'm sure I don't need to remind you that we don't exactly have a lot of them."
"We don't need allies who are going to turn around and stab us in the back!" She'd aimed her voice at the prince and increased her volume for those last words, making damned sure Sebastian heard them. The man winced but resigned himself to saying nothing yet again, apparently content to let Carver fight this battle for him. If it was even possible, his silent countenance made her angrier.
Carver shook his head, drawing her attention back. "He's seen Anders. He knows the threat that's looming over Starkhaven. I don't think he would compromise that. Margot and most of the others are already onboard."
She scoffed, still unwilling to believe that her brother of all people was telling her to play nice. "So I don't get a say in this? He betrays me, tries to kill me, and it's all 'bygones-be-bygones' now because he's got a big army and we don't?"
"Be sensible. Try thinking of it this way," Carver compromised, "if we keep him close then at least we know what he's doing. We'll discuss it again once we're back at the camp but for now, he's staying."
She glared her unreserved anger at her brother and returned the gaze with a nod of miserable understanding. He understood this was difficult for her, she knew, but seemed confident that this was the most prudent course of action. Little as she liked the current situation, she wasn't running the rebellion alone- for that at least she was incredibly grateful. Regardless, she stormed away from her brother, letting him trail behind her, and announced to the prince, "Well, since I clearly don't get a say in how things are running here, I guess you're staying for now."
"Hawke," Sebastian started, "I know you're angry…"
She cut him off with a declared with a painfully feigned cheeriness, "I know you already took a Vow of Chastity, Sebastian, so how about you try your hand at a Vow of Silence?" The way his jaw snapped shut with a soft clack nearly scored a chuckle from her but she was far too furious to let him score any sort of points with her.
"Hawke," Merrill interrupted before the quiet could become too awkward, "do you feel the breach?"
Hawke took a moment to close her eyes and urged her mind into stillness until she felt the Veil, ripped as Merrill told her, and felt the screaming fury on just the other side. That explained why she'd felt so horrible in this place, discomfited beyond what her nerves had already inspired. She noticed rather abruptly that Hoppers felt warm against her chest, hot even. Bringing her hand up to cloth that concealed where the pendant lay against her skin, it was obvious that wasn't just an imagined sensation. She could feel the heat against her fingers. Hoppers was reacting to the Fade. That did not sit well with her.
She heard Tobias reply with a simple, "Breach?"
"The Veil's ripped," Hawke explained, dropping her hand from Hoppers and dismissing the warmth. She'd think more on it later. "Anyone else who comes here is going to be a sitting duck for demons and the like."
Merrill pressed on, "Do you know any way to repair it?"
Hawke shook her head no before turning to Tobias and saying, "Well, Tobias, you're my resident expert on all things evil and terrifying. Any advice?"
Tobias considered for a moment… or at least she thought he considered. Even without the mask covering his face, his dead eyes made it fairly difficult to pinpoint what was going on in the scholar's head. His body was unusually still, even for him, as he thumbed through his mental inventory, searching for a solution to her query. "Generally," he answered at last, "the best way to alter the Fade is to alter the world around it. It's not always effective but it holds the best chance to closing a rift."
"Meaning," she asked with a dull dread as to exactly where this conversation was going.
"Destroy the building and with some luck the rift will be destroyed as well."
She took a moment to take in the room they were currently in. This place had to be centuries old if not much, much older. "What can we hope to do that time has already failed to accomplish," she mused aloud.
"Time didn't have Drakestone and Sela Petrae," Carver answered quietly, so softly in fact that she had difficulty hearing him until the syllables pieced themselves together in her ears and set her jaw to dropping.
"You're kidding," Hawke replied bluntly as the implications of his words. "You're joking right?" When Carver shook his head, Hawke released a long, angry stream of profanity before finishing with, "Are you fucking insane? How are we supposed to convince the Chantry that we didn't have anything to do with what happened to Kirkwall's Chantry if you're waltzing around carrying the Blighted bomb that did it?"
Varric, Fenris, and Sebastian all snapped their heads toward Carver, who kept his gaze evenly upon her. How could he even think about doing something like that? Between her mental discomfort stemming from the Fade and her brother's incredibly foolish actions, a headache manifested, throbbing against the backs of her eyes.
"Calm down! I'm not carrying a fucking bomb," Carver snapped before adding, "Just the components."
"Just the components? Just the components? Are you fucking stupid," she screeched before she turned to the others and demanded, "Did anyone of you even know about this?" The others only shook their heads dumbly. It appeared even Merrill hadn't been clued in to this abysmal plan.
However, Carver's diplomacy had its limits and being called stupid tended to throw him straight past them. He gave something like an angry snort and snapped, "Oh, like you were completely honest before you went to the Frostback Mountains to fuck your boyfriend?"
"Watch it, Carver," she heard Fenris growl somewhere behind Merrill's startled gasp.
"You stay out of this," she snapped at Fenris, even as she felt the blood start rushing to her face. Maker, he'd gone and told everyone? At least now it was out in the open but she couldn't deny that having that night phrased so indelicately brought a very real pang of shame. Redirecting her focus on her brother, she ground out, "It is complicated. Do not presume to understand my relationship with him."
"I understand that you roll onto your back every time he drops his pants," her brother sneered back.
She heard Merrill cry out something but it was lost on her ears as she lunged at her brother, striking out with her fists as she was so disinclined to do. This day had been so hard, so unbelievably long, and the opportunity to lash out at someone, anyone, was almost impossible to resist. Even if it was the one person she'd worried so thoroughly over, that made the release almost better… because she'd suffered so much anxiety on his behalf and he had the nerve to show up completely safe and then be a complete ass on top of it. Her nerves had been humming for the last several days, bottled up so precariously that nearly anything could have set them to boiling over- that something happened to be her complete twat of a younger brother.
Carver retaliated beautifully, punching her once in the stomach before she managed to kick him solidly in the groin. Then she bowled him over in a rough tackle, tumbling the two of them inelegantly to the floor. They rolled across it, neither keeping the advantage for more than a few seconds as they continued bashing their fists against each other. Merrill was screaming for them to stop but both were content to ignore her. Marian landed a few quick jabs against her brother's jaw before he landed a solid open palm between her breasts, directly against her sternum, and knocking the breath out of her.
"You little shit," she wheezed painfully, "you're stealing my moves now, too?"
Soon as the words were out, she felt his retaliation in the form of blows against her face. Her eye socket exploded in pain. Her nose gushed blood. Blast it, her magic may have rendered her into the larger threat between the siblings overall but when she was willing to abstain from its usage, Carver undoubtedly had the upper hand. He'd always been the stronger physical fighter- sure, Hawke could hold her own against most of the people she was likely to come up against but Carver wasn't just anybody; he was a trained soldier and a Templar to boot- he hadn't been born a fighter but he'd managed to craft himself into a remarkable one.
She hadn't been born a fighter either, she realized rather abruptly. Anders had made her one. Kirkwall had made her one. Poverty had made her one. Father had made her one. Her head pounded harder, she heard demons hissing at the edge of her mind, egging her on into an even greater fury.
Not now, she wished frantically. Maker, not now.
She groaned, wincing against the headache and the bruises as she futilely tried to force her mind back into stillness while still raining her fists down onto her brother. She felt completely out of control, spinning wild circles in the pitch black her mind kept trying to drag her into. She was overwhelmed with the unshakable compulsion to break something, to obliterate anything, to tear down the pillars that upheld her, to destroy, decimate, ruin, wreck…
Breathe, Marian, she heard, you have to breathe.
And with a sharp intake of air, it was all over. Her mind went mercifully blank, cleansed of the rage as abruptly as a sandcastle submerged in the waves. It was disconcerting. She felt dizzy. Her face throbbed with the beginnings of a brilliant bruise. But it was okay now. It was over.
Strong hands grasped her about the waist, lifting her like a ragdoll off her thrashing brother. The brief skirmish ended with Fenris and Sebastian physically prying the siblings apart, Carver still swinging at the air in a futile effort to land the final blow. She felt Fenris pulse the lyrium against her stomach once as he wrapped his arms around her and hoisted her from the ground to pull her farther away- a warning. She didn't fight him, didn't help him, just let him drag her. When her feet touched the ground again, she just sagged back against him, her mind and body utterly drained as the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from the last several days finally caught up to her. She felt his arms clutch around her midsection more tightly, clearly preparing for her to make a break for it.
Neither he nor Carver made any effort to activate the Silence, both of them apparently knew that this battle wasn't meant to inflict any permanent damage- they believed that it was a simple, angry rage that needed to be vented. But it wasn't simple and it wasn't just rage. They didn't know that there was a poison somewhere in her that just wasn't passing. What was happening to her?
Merrill's uncharacteristically stern voice brought her out of her thoughts. "Stop it! You two are acting like children," Merrill scolded as she placed herself between them.
Carver fell still, shoving away Sebastian as the prince lowered his arms. "She started it," Carver grumbled angrily.
She snapped her head up at that and retorted, "Did not!"
"That's enough!" Merrill barked the command in such a manner that had both Hawke siblings snapping their mouths closed and staring guiltily at the ground. She felt Fenris' arms fall from her waist but linger, stroking his palm over her hip in a way she wasn't entirely certain was accidental. "Now you two are going to apologize to each other and then you are going to blow up this building and then you are going to check up on the camp and then we are all going to save the world and you will like it!"
"Yes, Merrill," Carver answered dumbly.
"Of course," Marian answered simultaneously.
"So go make this bomb and stop your whining," Merrill growled.
Marian grabbed her pack and strode into the other room, she didn't have to look back to know that Carver was hot on her heels.
Marian and Carver spent the next two hours crafting the bomb in silence. Carver had brought Anders' journal and was consulting it step by painstaking step. Her own had been a copy, she'd transcribed it herself as she poured over each and every page, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to reconcile the man she'd known with the man who'd so thoroughly violated her guileless trust. Her reasoning had been simple- there was just too much information for one person to take in and Carver's perspective, while tainted with his inherent dislike of the author, was a valuable one. She'd decided the original tome was too valuable to risk losing and bade her brother to keep it safe. Now her own copy was gone, the inherent sin washed away with the seas of ocean and blood somewhere outside Wycome. Sometimes she really hated being right.
They were in the final stages of crafting the bomb before she had the gumption to ask, "Did that seriously just happen?"
He'd just set the hourglass, gifting them with a few moments of glorious impunity, so she used the opportunity to clear the air. The number of times she and Carver had come to blows could be numbered off on one hand- once when she'd carelessly made fun of his obsession with Peaches, again when he'd stormed into the Amell Estate and blamed her for Mother's murder, and just now. The awkwardness was palatable… and she didn't need that right now. She needed Carver, needed her brother back, needed to know that even if they were each of them loath to verbally forgive each other, the blood-bond between them couldn't be broken from a few angry bruises and bloodied noses.
Carver withdrew from the concoction- it would need several minutes to set before it would be ready for administering the Sela Petrae- and he chuckled. "I've wondered myself if blood-magic may have tempered her mood a bit. She's far more stubborn than I ever gave her credit for."
He met her eyes and gave a soft grin. She sighed gratefully and returned the gesture. He'd chosen to interpret her words to regard Merrill instead of their fight. They were okay. All was once more quietly forgiven and forgotten.
"Maybe the demons calmed her," she mused. "I don't know."
Carver sat back on his haunches, letting a whimsy expression grace his face. "She's a piece of work, isn't she?"
"Yes. Yes, she is," she replied, crossing her legs to sit more comfortably on the floor. Carver had always asked her how she could bear to sit like that. She wasn't sure, maybe it was all the dancing she'd done in her youth, but she was always more comfortable sitting that way. Robes made the position more difficult, binding her thighs lest she hike up the skirts and flash her undergarments to anyone in the vicinity. Her Imperial armor, little as she liked it, involved pants, so the position was much safer.
Carver leveled his gaze at her and asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"
She sighed, feeling the headache start up once more before Hoppers heated against her chest. Then it was gone again. Why hadn't she told him about Fenris? For the same reason she wasn't telling him about this. Their relationship, while stronger now than it had ever been, was always going to be a finely crafted, fragile thing. Her own mental state, questionable as it may be, sought to foster it as best she could. The rebellion had few allies, Carver had bee right on that point. She, it seemed, had even fewer… and she couldn't bear the thought of losing Carver again.
"I can't keep my head straight around him," she stuttered, hating herself for the weakness of her words. "It just… happened. I don't think there was any rhyme or reason to…"
His head bowed, the sudden move shocking her tongue into stillness. What had she said wrong? Her brother considered his hands, calloused and vicious as they'd been so recently, and replied, "I mean with Anders."
Dread crept up on her, sending her stomach to turning. "Anders?"
"I know, Marian," he answered softly, "I know you killed him." He reached out to her hand delicately. It was a move she immediately identified with mistrust. But there were no misgivings to be found. Carver had blindly revealed his hand, outstretched to her, questioning, waiting for an honesty she'd selfishly kept from him- honesty that could have spared Keili and saved Enid… yet another horrible mistake on her part. His face wasn't accusing or angry, just dolefully sought some sort of reason from her… an explanation she couldn't rightly give. She couldn't excuse keeping her part in Anders' current state secret.
Now the sin was known. The deed was done… or botched at the very least. That particular weight lifted away from her chest. Yet he still looked at her with the naïve hope she'd come to expect from him. Carver had always been a bit of a dreamer, as much as he tried to deny it. Now he was locked into the battle of wills she'd inadvertently lured him into. She felt the carpet dragged from beneath her, wished the sky would reach down to swallow her up as it had so many years ago. There was no answer she could form, no justification, no defense that would pardon her dreadful omission.
Still, she tried- choked out half-syllables and half-words that meant nothing at all- until Carver interrupted her stammering. "I'm not…" he started but then backed off before trying again. "I never… I didn't."
She twined her fingers with his and uttered, "Just say it, Carver."
"I get…" he murmured, "I know I haven't always been there for you but I'm here now, Marian. I'm never going to fawn over you like the mages- fuck, I don't always even like you- but please don't doubt that I'm here."
"Carver…" she started.
"Don't think you're the only…" he started but paused for a moment, like he had very suddenly reevaluated his word choice, before he just dropped his head and stated, "You're not alone. You don't have to shoulder this alone, Marian. I just want you to remember that."
"I…" she stammered, completely at a loss for words. Shame brought her head down to regard the ground, she'd come into this conversation from a position of undeniable weakness… but Carver was forgiving it. They said grace found the sinner in unexpected places; she supposed this was just one of them. Finally, she answered, "Thank you, Carver," and squeezed his fingers affectionately.
But she was alone, she knew. No one could understand what she'd been through. Maison had left no one alive who would. She hadn't suffered the same torture the others had. She wondered for the first time if the bastard's punishment had ultimately been for her to survive, broken and terrified as she'd never before been, forced to carry a permanent memento of her catastrophic failure to save those she'd sworn to protect.
"You don't have to tell me about Wycome," Carver said… like he was ripping the thoughts straight from her mind. His eyes shifted from hers to move slightly left, to the scar that would forever mar her face. Of course he'd noticed it, probably noticed it the moment she'd opened the cowl to reveal her mutilated face. She felt her lip quirk at that, accenting the healed wound as she knew it would. Carver was far more intuitive than he played and as a soldier, he knew such an injury, while physically mended, might never fully heal. "But if you want to talk about it," he finished as he brought his eyes back to hers, his candor open and on display for her scrutiny, "I'm here, Marian."
She flexed her fingers around his more tightly, answering only, "Thank you." She felt another heavy breath leave her. Even if Carver wasn't demanding an explanation, he needed at least to be told the framework of what happened in Wycome in order to better protect both himself and the camp. "There was a Templar in Wycome named Gerard Maison. They stormed the house the apostates were hiding in," she swallowed then. "He killed them all, Carver. He just… I don't know if he was acting under orders. I don't know if he's affiliated with these men but when I heard you'd come here…"
"You thought it was a trap," he supplied. When she nodded, he snorted, "You were right. I'm just glad you showed up when you did. I rather like living."
She didn't bother telling him that dying was only a small part of the reason she'd been so terrified, that mere death had been a simple relief Gerard reveled in denying his victims. Her brother had given her the chance to say nothing and that was something she wasn't prepared to speak to yet. The scar itched and she absently scratched at it, surprised that for once that the motion actually soothed it. There was a trace of wetness in his eyes as he disentangled their fingers and rose from the floor, knees creaking against the movement. Maker, they weren't exactly children anymore, were they?
"Timer's up," he said with a forced nonchalance. "Back to work."
"Yes," she agreed. "Let's blow this place sky-high and then finish saving the world."
With earnest, if slightly cautious grins, they set back to work.
It was hours later when the bomb was completed. At some point, Fenris and the others had excavated the rest of the fort and found the key to Merrill's collar, as well as several other useful items. As much as she adored Merrill, she couldn't bring herself to overly care. Nothing of note had been discovered and Maison hadn't been here- Merrill's whole condition had inadvertently told her as much. The entire party now gathered to look upon the bomb with a perverse sort of fascination. Fine as she'd felt after her conversation with her brother, a sickness came over her as she looked for the first time upon the final product. It looked harmless, looked like it was just a small package of vials and nothing more.
It was so much more than that. It wasn't just a bomb. It wasn't just the machinations of a madman reaching out to scorch everything she touched. She understood that she was looking for the first time upon the mechanism of her ultimate demise, the thing that had torn her entire world asunder while a mad spirit laughed at her confusion.
She ducked her head, looking away from the device, furiously denying her foreseeable fate. This was the thing that would inevitably kill her. This was the unforgivable sin she'd inadvertently partaken in. This was innocent blood and panicked screaming and unbridled terror. This was the fire and brimstone she could expect on the other side. This was every bit of what she'd endured in Wycome, meted out senselessly against people who just wanted to live their lives. It was as unexpected as it was terrible.
She understood now why she'd been so furious at Carver for carting around the ingredients for this unholy concoction with him. It hadn't destroyed his life; he'd had his own life apart from her. This… this thing represented everything she'd suffered since Kirkwall. It represented the betrayal of her trust, her startling naivety, the lost innocence she so dearly missed, the odd torture, the inherent mistrust, the wretched paranoia- it all sat here benignly before her, waiting for her to activate it and render a different building to ash and rubble.
She looked at Anders' journal, clutched in Carver's arms, staring in hopes that the closed leather cover could offer her some reassurance. Had it been so simple for Anders? Had this been an easy thing to do? The journal never deemed to give her a proper answer.
After several long minutes of silence, Carver spoke her name. "Marian…" he said, "Merrill can do this. We can…"
"I have to do this," she whispered before taking the book from her brother, stroking her fingers over the worn leather cover. "I know we're here because… I know you hated him but…" and she choked, trying to stifle back the sob that threatened to break free, "I just need a moment, please."
"Hawke," Varric tried before Carver cut him off.
"Take all the time you need," her brother murmured, coming forward to give a strong squeeze to her shoulder. "We'll be just outside."
"Thank you," she answered, feeling that numbness she'd come to expect when it came to her dealings with Anders. It was her burden. This was her weight to bear.
When they'd gone, she felt her knees give, collapsing to the floor as she took Anders' journal into her lap, stroking her fingers over the worn leather cover before opening it to the dog-eared passage she'd read hundreds of times before. A mage came into the clinic today, it read. Cheeky little chit's got her mind set on excavating the Deep Roads. Shame, she's really quite cute.
Their first meeting… it felt like a lifetime ago. He hadn't trusted her at first- years of running had honed him into a man who'd learned to believe little and chance even less. After everything that had happened with Karl, she was beyond surprised that Anders decided to accompany her into the Deep Roads. Maybe he'd done it to spite all his misgivings. That was just the sort of man he was, she'd supposed- someone she could count on to put his personal feelings aside to work for the greater good.
Or so she'd thought.
It was all here, she knew, scribbled in this flowing, elegant script- the day they'd met, the day he'd offered to teach her what he knew, the day he'd finally managed to wrangle a half-decent healing drought out of his clumsy apprentice. Anders wrote about her with a frustrated fondness, documenting each success and failure, detailing his annoyance at her naivety regarding the corruption of the Circles and whimsically recalling his own all-too-brief innocence. Anders had just wanted to be free. Now he was trapped in an altogether different way, his corpse hosting a monster he, too, had trusted.
Maybe they weren't so different. Maybe they were both haunted by something no one could rightly explain.
She'd spent most of her spare moments in the last year reading her copy of this book not to learn more about the mechanics of what he'd done but to try and divine just what had driven him to it. But there were no answers to be found there… just the fervent ramblings of a mage increasingly unhinged from the real world, the insane strategies of the very man who'd taken her under his wing and turned her raw talent into a craft the envy of other mages, the same man who turned in those lonely woods after the obliteration of Kirkwall to see the tears in her eyes as she gripped the knife in her quivering hand and simply whispered, "Marian?"
"You don't get to fight with us, Anders," she'd answered with tears welling up in her eyes, "And you don't get to be a martyr. You're a monster."
His eyes flattened with a look of resigned understanding. She saw him watch her hand shake against the butt of the blade, causing it to waver in the air, a one-winged bird working up the courage to fly far, far away. He'd strode toward her, coming closer until the point of the knife touched his chest, bringing one hand up to cup her wrist and stabilize it. "It's okay, Marian," he'd whispered, using his free hand tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "I understand."
"It isn't okay," she'd choked out and brought the knife down, unable to keep it stable without his gentle hand to steady it. "None of this is okay."
Anders had shushed her and taken her into his arms, holding her gently as he was so careful not to do. He'd only held her this way twice before- after she'd confided in him what had occurred with Fenris and again after her mother was murdered. He'd even gone so far as to physically fight Fenris after their disastrous first night together… he never told her what he'd done but she'd caught him nursing a few bruises and swollen knuckles less than a week after the elf had left her alone, shaking with the kind of heartbreak that could only be born from a hopeless, life-altering kind of love. When she noticed Fenris encumbered with similar injuries, she put two and two together but remained silent on the issue.
He'd tended to her broken heart the best way he knew how- letting her sleep, eat, and breathe her apprenticeship, allowing her to stay in the clinic from sunrise till deep into the night, challenging her to absorb waves of knowledge until her mind so was overfilled she had little chance to think on anything else. Anders had always been careful with her, vigilantly keeping their mutual affection platonic, carefully tending to her psyche when she was overwhelmed. It wasn't until weeks after she'd… when she'd finally screwed up her courage enough to read his journals that she understood how deeply he'd cared for her… cared so much that he'd done everything in his power to conceal it, to protect her from the thing he knew he was becoming, lest the little girl tempt the monsters beneath her bed to manifest themselves into full-blown terrors.
"Remember when we accidentally gave Merrill the clap?" he'd whispered into her hair then. His lips quirked against her neck and she knew he'd smiled… Maker, it felt like it had been weeks since he'd done that.
She'd started laughing then or at the very least gave some weird combination of sobbing and giggles. They sourced some of the, errr, rarer ingredients for some potions from the ladies at the Blooming Rose… one bad ingredient later and a sort of epidemic of venereal disease exploded amongst their patients. She'd rather enjoyed watching Seneshal Bran's squirming when he came to the clinic. It wasn't until Merrill complained that they'd realized their folly. The faulty batch had been destroyed, burned on the Wounded Coast safely away from the populace. They'd laughed… laughed so hard at the simple, stupid error… it felt like a hundred years ago… a thousand years… a million years.
"Remember when I nearly exploded your clinic?" she'd snuffled into his shirt. "There was fire everywhere."
"I do," he'd murmured and flexed his strong arms around her. "I remember everything you've done."
And then her anger and anguish finally turned to confusion. "Then why?" she'd sobbed as she gripped him tighter in an embrace that had already failed. If he'd asked to be saved, she'd have done it in a heartbeat. But he'd never asked and now the scene was over; the draft was sent to the publishers and was just awaiting the printing. "Why did you do this? How could you do this to me?"
"I did it for you, Marian, for all of us. At least, I thought I did," he'd conceded at last. "I'm sorry, love. I'm so sorry."
She gripped the knife tighter in her palm, clenching her fist over it like a beating heart that needed to be crushed. She'd pressed her lips against Anders' neck and held the blade tighter, tighter… tighter… tighter. Then he'd seized against her, drew his face away to stare into her eyes, warm blood leaking over her hand. "It's okay, Marian," he'd whispered as he stroked a hand over her face, brushing the wetness away from her cheek, "It's okay."
"It's not okay," she'd choked back. "Nothing is okay."
He hadn't reacted with shock… or with anything she'd have called confusion. He'd sunk to his knees, face resting against her belly as he began coughing his life's blood from his filling lungs onto her empty stomach. It was wet, warm as it penetrated the dark cloth and stained her skin. And she'd held him, cupping his head against her belly. Absently, she'd run her fingers through his hair, knocking his ponytail loose, and made soft, comforting noises as Anders instinctively clutched at her buttocks, looking for something to anchor him in this world, kneading them weakly as he began vomiting blood onto her stomach.
"Shhhhhhhh," she'd whispered, repeating it all back to him. "It's okay… It's okay, love."
"Hold me," he'd managed to choke out. "I don't want to be alone."
So she'd ducked into the dirt and embraced him, cooing and cuddling him long after he'd stopped twitching. She couldn't remember everything that happened next- her vision was bathed in hot tears. Anders, lax and inanimate, was clutched in her arms, she distantly heard a lioness' lowly yowl for the loss of her kin. There was no telling how long she'd held him suspended in infinite waiting, only knew that when the voice had startled her from the scene that Anders had long been gone, cold and dead in her clenched arms.
"Hawke?" Varric had asked as he approached the scene of slaughter. She heard his footsteps falter as he looked upon what she'd done. "Holy shit… Hawke…"
Then she'd begun wailing, unable to keep the howling quiet for a moment longer. First Fenris and now Anders… she was utterly alone. The details were long gone, lost in the inferno of grief. She remembered Varric brandishing a shovel but had no memory of where it had come from. The dwarf had pulled her away and she'd mindlessly clawed back at the man she'd… that she'd… she'd…
And then she was lowering him into the grave she didn't fully recall digging. She remembered Varric watching as she clawed at the hard earth with her fingers to make space for his shoulders. She remembered grabbing Anders' coin purse from his hip and emptying it into her outstretched hand… but all it held were a few runes and a locket. She remembered reaching for her own, pulling out a handful of coins. She remembered as she wrenched his stiffening jaw open and shoved a small fortune of gold inside his mouth and down his throat… because Father had told her it was tradition to bury the executed with money. It was said the coin allowed them a chance to bribe Death for an audience with the Maker to plead their case- even though the Chantry considered it blasphemy to be buried with it.
Maybe that had been an Imperial tradition, she realized now. Not that it mattered.
She'd regarded him one final time, his face peaceful and still with his mouth full of money. Then she dumped him into his grave face-down, so his dead eyes could gaze upon his soul in the Void. She'd never been particularly religious- being an apostate meant she couldn't attend services- but she understood the Chantry considered a face down burial to be the gravest insult. She'd snorted to herself through her tears as she began scooping dirt onto Anders' body… gravest.
At some point, it had begun raining. The water and mud soaking into her Champion's armor disguised the dark bloodstains over them. No one had questioned where Anders was when she returned to camp covered in muck, even though she felt the dirt from his shallow grave sticking beneath her fingernails. She'd almost hoped someone would ask, that she'd be forced to either lie or confess… but no one did. She said she'd let him go. It had been the biggest lie she'd told to date. She hadn't let him go- he was still there hanging in the air just over her shoulder, critiquing her potions and techniques, inserting his opinions and diagnoses as surely as he had before… Anders was irrevocably gone but, just like his husk of a corpse, still entirely here.
She'd missed Aveline the most then- the older woman understood what it meant to strike down a loved one. While she'd never begrudge the Guard-Captain staying her post in a ravaged Kirkwall, Marian had really needed her right then. Varric didn't understand. No one could understand. Only Aveline could have… and she'd left Marian sailing away on the docks of the Gallows… wishing Marian well… if only she'd known….
But no one should ever know. This was her burden. The world cared not for it and she cared less to share.
It was her intention that Anders' body wouldn't be found. She was determined that he be remembered as a coward, committing a single act of mass murder and then retreating into the shades never to return. He'd be a shadow in the night, a boogeyman to children, a threat and a warning about desperation and demons. While burying the man who had been her closest friend placed yet another heavy weight on her heart, leaving his body face-down in his grave was the only part of it she ever confronted herself with enough to regret- and it would not come onto her until much later when she let her anger pass and realized that Anders' first and final victim had been himself. He'd selected her as his executioner and she'd… she'd…
… and she'd killed him.
She'd killed him.
She'd killed Anders. She'd slain her teacher… a man who before that final day in Kirkwall she could count on to be her only ally in a sea of suddenly menacing faces.
She'd known it- known it the moment that she'd done it. She was no ignorant amnesiac. She remembered the flex of her hand, remembered the knife nicking Anders' ribcage as she forced the blade in, remembered his soft, almost relieved, gasp when it pierced his lung as he pulled her even closer. She had suffered the guilt ever since, had admitted it to the Imperial Divine himself…
… but some piece of her had kept her from fully admitting it to herself. Maybe that was why she'd never admitted it to Carver. Maybe that's why she hadn't been completely gob smacked when she met Fenris again. It never really felt like her hands had been the ones that slayed them. Some other Marian Hawke had done those things- some other woman who existed in some other time and place, immune to scrutiny, immune to the guilt that paralyzed her present counterpart. She'd conned herself into believing that she was not the same Marian Hawke who had committed such acts… but she was and she had.
She was the woman who'd blindly placed her trust in an abomination. She was the woman who'd had tears streaking down her chin as she struck down her furious lover before he could do the same. She was the woman who had murdered the author of this insane and beloved manifesto as he whispered her name like a blessing upon so much sin, telling her that it was okay, forgiving her for what she did.
She'd spent so much of the last year in frantic escape, fearing every second she rested, waiting for the inevitable moment her deeds would drag her down into Anders' empty grave. Now Marian was left dealing with a dead man who wouldn't die, who'd taken opportunity at her stalled tongue to murder even more. All she had to show for it was this book- the final document of a man possessed, refusing to relent or grace her with a modicum of peace even when its author had long since gone.
She hesitantly set the journal on the table next to the bomb. There was no sense in what he'd done, no justification for his actions that she could see. There were measures civilized society took to deal with injustice. Even if she'd seen them fail before, even if she'd actively defied authority when it didn't take… she's always believed they were there and held faith in them, horribly flawed, as she'd known them to be. A thousand years of mage oppression, men like Maison running about unchecked. There was little wonder why Anders had found her naivety frustrating but surely this was not the answer, this could not be the future Anders had wanted.
She'd obsessed over the book, looking for answers that simply were not there. The man she'd loved so dearly was not housed within them and his dead tongue would offer her no answers. There was no telling when Anders began losing his fight to Justice, perhaps he'd lost the moment he harbored him, perhaps Anders had never taken a pen to these pages at all. Perhaps, as Fenris had once said so long ago, she'd never truly known him.
But she couldn't shake the feeling that she had… that she'd known some side of Anders that only she'd been privy to. It made this whole ordeal that much harder.
"I miss you," she spoke aloud to the book. It was a stupid thing to do, senseless as it was, but this had nothing to do with sense. This was grief, grief she'd never allowed herself to fully feel, never permitted herself to fully acknowledge. As she turned to walk away, she felt Hoppers ignite his warmth over her chest. He told her that this was the right thing to do- that she couldn't bring herself to fight whatever had become of Anders if she was still carrying this torch for a man long dead.
The realization sent her straight to her knees, her stride interrupted by a sudden, heart-wrenching ache. She wouldn't look back. It was just a book. Anders was dead. She'd killed him. The sobbing that erupted from her chest wracked her body. She collapsed to her side, curling into a fetal position, and she let the tears come as they hadn't since the night she'd plunged the knife into him. The pain, long suppressed, washed over her like a tidal wave. She bit her knuckles in a frantic effort to keep the noise of her pained mewling at bay, bit until she tasted blood flooding her mouth.
She rose then, grabbing random objects only to fling them against the wall, uncaring of how valuable they may have been. She ignited a bookcase. She blew the windows out of the wall in a beautiful telekinetic wave. Only the slightest ounce of caution prevented the bomb from being disturbed. It made no sense. It wasn't supposed to make sense. It could not possibly make sense. The world was tilted on its side, the universe slanted into a terrible macabre tableau, sight and sound was inverted and manifesting into a terrible screaming sound into the indifferent quiet. There was no fighting it, no silencing it- it was simply there, repulsive and hurting and pounding and screeching.
Hoppers blazed his heat against her chest but no demons made a move against her mind… this was born of a heart-crushing love- those monsters had no place in it. She threw more objects, uncaring of how or where they landed. Anything to ease this horrible ache. She hurled some delicate glass bauble against another window, amplifying its shattering a thousand-fold.
She couldn't stop it- she was almost a third party, listening to the agonized wailing from some place beyond herself. Dimly, she realized one of her hands was leaking blood, cut from something sharp that she clutched painfully in her tight fist. Focusing her will, she forced her fingers apart and let the bloody shards of glass fall from them, tinkling to the floor with a soft, sad sound. Her throat fell still, stalled from her screaming. Her blood made a soft patting noise as it dripped from her fingers onto the ground, easing over and off her fingertips as easily as rainwater. She didn't recall whatever it was that she'd been gripping to cause such an injury. A beaker, perhaps? Whatever it had been, there were still pieces of it imbedded in her flesh.
Then the fury died down and Hoppers lay cool against her chest. Only then did she wonder how long she'd been there, hurling trifles and trinkets against the walls. The moon seemed higher, more beautiful, she noted as she gazed out the broken window. There was a quietness filling the air with a soft volume that only came at midnight. Breaking beautiful things only assuaged her confusion for a brief while, she knew. The catharsis fixed nothing, just offered a few moments of blessed relief. But looking down at her bloody hand, she finally realized something that could.
The wound on her heart, like the oozing wounds on her hand, couldn't heal until she brought herself to pull out the shards that set them to bleeding so furiously. Shards of glass were difficult enough to remove… but how should one endeavor to remove an entire person, an entire history, she wondered as she gingerly plucked the glass from her fingers and healed the cuts closed with a quiet, whispered spell.
"I'll pray for you," she promised the book, daring to gaze back to that last vestige of her mentor. "I'll pray the Maker won't forsake you for what you've done."
And she summoned every ounce of her courage, set the bomb ablaze, and went to leave the room, pausing at the door for a long moment. He was gone forever. He'd made his bed, buried beneath a scant six feet of dirt, and now it was up to her to make him lie in it for good.
She had to let him go.
It was the only way to move forward… and she couldn't afford to dwell on the past anymore. Steeling herself she opened the door and strode through it and past her concerned onlookers, not looking back at where Anders' journal still sat open on the table.
That was the word for how she felt as they awaited the sky to ignite in furious brimstone. She'd simply gone through too much today, so her greater mind had shut down in a manner of speaking, letting her ride absently alongside her body as it went through the motions. No one had said anything to her regarding her outburst- even though they'd all undeniably heard it. They'd all decided to remain blissfully silent on the matter. She was grateful no one attempted to question her- although Varric stayed closer than he usually did, pressing his warm palm against her back as he guided her away from the building.
When the inevitable fireworks were due to go off, she slunk away and sank against a tree, facing her body away from the fort. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back toward the sky. She hadn't been this tired since the night she'd taken Owen.
It was Merrill who approached her then, gently inquiring, "Are you going to watch?"
Hawke shook her head and answered only, "No. I saw it once."
"I'll sit with you then," the elf replied and seated herself beside the apostate, "I think once is enough." Minutes later when the detonation sounded, their hands found each other, squeezing tightly. Marian felt tears prick at her eyes and then spill over, a cup overfilled, a sinner's mouth flooded with coin.
Hawke said nothing else, just let the tears fall quietly. At some point, Merrill curled up beside her, wrapping an arm around the apostate's waist and tucking her head beneath the human's chin, letting the tears that failed to drip across her forehead seep into her hair. Marian brought a hand up to absently stroke Merrill's cheek with her palm. For the countless dangers out there now, they were safe for the moment. She felt the rip in the Fade dissipate with the boom of the explosion. Tobias had been right. The rift had been corrected with this singular, heinous act.
"Your nails look awful," Merrill commented sadly, doubtless feeling the ragged edges scratching against her skin.
"Been biting them," Hawke answered dumbly, accepting Merrill's observation without feeling particularly compelled to justify it. "It's been a rough week."
"I know, falon," the elf whispered. Falon- that meant friend, if Marian recalled correctly. "It's been a rough year."
Marian let her head sink further against Merrill, nuzzling the former blood-mage and just taking in the comfort the elf was giving. "It has," she agreed.
"I found a new nail lacquer I think you'll like," the elf continued softly. "It's this dark red you but when the light catches it, it looks almost like copper. I bought it off one of the Dalish vendors a few months back. We'll get your hands fixed up once everything calms down a bit."
"I'd like that," Hawke replied. It was a small offering but one that would give Hawke at least a fleeting moment of normalcy.
Merrill said nothing further, just curled herself closer against Hawke's body as they listened to the fort crumbling to pieces behind them. Her heart ached, her head felt muzzy from the residual headache, her eyes reached for more tears, her mind begged her for sleep, her very soul screamed, loudly and fiercely, at the injustice of all that had happened here tonight… but the deed was done. The damage was done. Another hole had been blown into the world… only this time, she couldn't feign ignorance for it or deny her responsibility for the corpses inside.
Carver eventually came to duck before her, looking at her with a gravity she'd only recently come to expect from him. "We need to get back to the camp," he prompted carefully. It was neither gentle nor stern… just a reminder that the universe wasn't centered on this one destroyed fort. There was a whole world of other, unspeakable dangers lurking in the shadows and this despicable act hadn't shattered the planet itself.
She pulled away from Merrill and rose to her feet. She wiped her tears onto her sleeve and cocked her head up to regard her brother. The time for weakness had passed. She shuttered her emotions safely away, they could continue pestering her another day, and gave her brother a quick nod to assure him that she was fully prepared to fulfill her duty to the rebellion.
After a bracing breath, she straightened her spine to give her every inch of her height. Carver's eyes warmed a bit as he witnessed her casting off her demons. "I already told them to move," she informed him with a cool professionalism. "We'll hit the river and go west until one of the lookouts spots us."
Carver looked at her, still slightly unsure as he assessed her face and quietly inquired, "Are you okay?"
She thought on it. The lie would be easy enough to deliver but she owed her brother so much more than that, especially after being thoroughly caught in a pretty spectacular one. "No," she decided after several seconds before assuring him, "but I will be."
He nodded his approval before he turned back to the rest of the party and instructed them to start making a path for the river. Their progress that evening was a slow one. Between the darkness and her exhaustion, they barely covered a mile before stopping for sleep. It wasn't until Marian bedded down for the evening that she realized her brother's motivations for their immediate trekking back to the camp. He'd been trying to protect her, shielding her from having to sit and look at the destruction Anders' device had wrought, from having to face down another exploded building.
With that knowledge solidly in her mind, Marian slept better than she had in months.
It was the third night when a nightmare drew her once more from her sleep. Not Anders this time but Fenris. A quick inspection of the camp told her that she hadn't shouted, hadn't waked the others. If she had managed to rouse them, they were at least feigning slumber. She sighed, sitting up to wipe a tired hand over her face. It was a full moon and it left the clearing eerily bright. Deciding another solid night's sleep would continue to elude her, she shuffled to her pack, drew out a deck of cards, and slunk away.
She found a new clearing about a hundred feet away and plopped down onto her bottom, pulling out the cards. This had been Aurelius' final gift to her, they'd belonged to her paternal grandmother and Malcolm… Marcus… had entrusted them to the man he'd considered a dear friend rather than keep that reminder of his past life. She suspected that if she pressed Tobias for answers regarding her father's exile from the Imperium she may actually get them; but Aurelius' words had struck a painful chord with her. She would endeavor to remember her father as the man she'd known him to be- not the man who'd cast blood magic to imprison a demented dead magister and not the priest who'd done something so terrible he'd had no choice but to flee his homeland forever.
That drew her back to these cards. The light of the moon wasn't enough to allow her to read them clearly, so she cast a magelight and shuffled the deck. She drew the first- the Archer- then the next- the Chapel- and the final- the King of Staves. She sat back and considered them. She didn't pretend to know much about card reading other than the bare minimum. According to both Father and Anders, it was generally expected that every mage would try their hand at fortune-telling at some point in their lives. Diving the chaos of the universe into something foreseeable was a talent most mages wanted to master. She'd had no luck with any of it in the past. Tea leaves almost always implied some sort of death, palm-reading usually told her that everyone was going to live to a ripe old age, and cards generally produced little more than gobbledygook.
Father had fervently encouraged her exploration into these talents. It wasn't until Aurelius informed her that her grandmother was unusually deft with her cards that Marian realized why. Her grandmother, Leila Demitrius, had been considered something of a prodigy. Her enrollment in the Imperial Chantry meant she seldom utilized her gifts but Aurelius implied that she'd foreseen her only child's actions, done everything in her power to prevent it, and died, babbling and insane, when unwavering Fate manifested itself and her son's unforgivable sin and inevitable exile came about.
She tried to think back on everything she'd ever learned about the cards but found her limited and abandoned experience rendered her unable to understand the elemental aspects of the card. So she reasoned with her mind instead. The Archer was a warrior, skilled and deft, striking with an inherent precision. The weight of his arrows was light. The Archer was unencumbered, free to strike as he pleased. However, every card had a negative aspect as well, so she considered them carefully. The Archer was also sentenced to the shadows, striking unexpectedly- an unforeseen wound to the back. It was also one of the few named cards, unassociated with any of the elements that conducted the others, which meant it acted of its own accord; it was a wildcard, so to speak, and couldn't be expected to act in accordance with the typical aspects of the elements. There was a something dark in that.
The Chapel indicated just the opposite of the Archer's caprice. It was heavy responsibility, solemn and constant. It was faith, resolute and stubborn, as faith often was. Faith was a weighty concept and she reasoned it meant something was unshakable, pure and true as she new it to be. It also meant judgment, prejudice, and unreasonable principle. The Chapel could mean a thousand things but faith… faith was something entirely different. Faith was a drive that could power one through unspeakable hardships. It was also completely irrational, an immovable object struggling against an unstoppable force for no purpose other than the very nature of its existence.
Then the King of Staves… Staves were a fire element if memory served her right. That meant thirst, conviction, and also lust and an indisputable callousness. Fire was governed by passion but Kings were also leaders- so there was a fiery principle at play in this hand. The King of Staves was a man who acted on his beliefs and used them to shape the world around him… but passion could also be ill-conceived and result in worlds of regret.
So what could it mean? She pondered these cards, drawn at random without any of the pomp and circumstance she only vaguely remembered. She'd diddled with them a bit during her trek back into the Free Marches, never finding anything resembling a proper answer, but they made her think. It felt like she'd been doing a lot of that lately. Returning to logic was a blessed release.
Suddenly, she heard a rustling in the bushes behind her. She looked back and saw Sebastian emerge from the woods. He gave her swift look before taking a seat beside her. Dumbly, she looked at the cards again. Okay, that was weird. That was really weird.
She wondered for a moment if the cards were enchanted somehow but then immediately dismissed it. Divinity spoke most loudly to an impressionable mind. Sleep-deprived and morally wounded, she felt she definitely fell into that category.
She gathered up her cards, packing them carefully back into the deck and tucked it neatly into her breast band. Then she waited for the prince to say something. He didn't, just took up a seat beside her and sat in silence as she considered him. The King, the Chapel, the Archer… it felt to be so undeniably him… but she'd never had a talent for fortune-telling. So she waited for him to say something, anything. Sebastian, however, appeared content with the stillness and said nothing instead. He just looked at her, waiting for her to speak.
Finally too irritated at his continued quiet, she turn and snapped, "Are you going to say anything or are you just going to sit there and stare?"
He turned his head, raised an eyebrow, and replied simply, "Vow of Silence."
She felt a growl attempting to emerge from her chest and retorted, "Perhaps I should have aimed higher and gone for a Vow of Invisibility as well." It did tickle her a little to realize rather belatedly that Sebastian had not said a single word within her earshot ever since she'd said that. A small smile graced her face at that.
Sebastian bowed his head, clasping his hands before him in a mockery of prayer, and uttered, "Hawke… I'm sorry."
Those words set her mind tumbling. Sorry? Like that was supposed to fix everything? "Is that all you came out here to say," she spat, not even attempting to hide the bitterness from her voice.
"No," he replied softly, "but I couldn't hope to say anything else until I told you that. I let my anger get the better of me. I allowed rage to cripple me. I permitted it to turn me against someone I considered the dearest of friends. For that, I am truly sorry."
She shook her head and retorted, "Would you be saying that if your precious Starkhaven weren't at risk? Would you even be talking to me if I hadn't killed him?"
Sebastian sat back, thinking on her words before he answered, "I do not know. I would like to believe I would."
"But you don't know," she replied angrily. "You don't know for certain."
"No," he admitted with a whimsy sort of sadness. "I truly don't."
It wasn't much. It was hardly a comfort… but brutal honestly seldom was. After everything that had happened, a stupidly selfish part of her wished Sebastian would make a token effort to insulate her, to placate her. But a broken fantasy was just that- broken- and a house of cards built upon a foundation of lies held an even smaller chance at longevity.
It hadn't always been like this. She'd considered Sebastian amongst her most beloved of friends. He escorted her to countless galas thrown in her honor and proved himself to be jolly good company. They'd made fun of the nobility with rampant gusto, his station preventing potential suitors from making advances while she impatiently waited for Fenris to come around. Sebastian had single-handedly meted out her inoculation into Kirkwall nobility with a grace she never expected from him. He'd even begun campaigning for her to take the title of Viscount before that final day she'd spent in Kirkwall. Even though she was a mage, he'd believed she could lead the city into a new era of leadership.
And in one single day, all that faith simply vanished- smoke in the wind, tears in the sea. He'd condemned her, persecuted her, screeched petulantly for her very death. Those things were not easily forgotten, especially when she recalled Owen's cut ear… the boy hadn't even been the target. He'd simply been collateral damage to the mercenaries the prince had set upon her.
She thought on those things as stared at the dirt where the cards had just been. Then she finally asked, "Do you believe in me?"
"I do, Hawke," he immediately answered. Whether it was false or truth, she wouldn't rightly know until the hand played out. If his candor was any indicator, she was inclined to trust him. Then, completely out of the blue, he said, "Fenris is still in love with you."
She chuckled, wrapping her arms around her midsection. "You didn't see the fighting we did when we last met," she reminded him.
"No," he replied, "but I saw the aftermath. He didn't tell me everything that happened but it was easy enough to guess. Your brother also figured it out on his own- gave Fenris quite the black eye for it. He never offered it, Hawke. It was obvious."
Fenris had always been a terrible bluff. It was slightly reassuring to know that hadn't changed. "He hates what I am," she murmured and propped her head back to look at the moon, white and silvery like the subject of this discussion. "He's got every reason to. Even if he…" she snorted, unwilling to say that particular word aloud. "How could that ever be enough?"
Sebastian reached out and took her hand, holding it gently. Even though impulse screamed that she should yank her hand back, she left it there. "Love is enough," Sebastian assured her and stroked his thumb across her tense palm. "He wouldn't be here if it weren't. He wouldn't be here if he didn't believe in you, too."
She rose then, uncomfortable thoughts racing through her head as Sebastian's words sank in. She hadn't given herself much of an opportunity to think about Fenris' presence and everything that could mean. The elf had made no attempt to approach her and though she knew a reckoning was imminent, she wasn't sure what, if any, resolution it would bring. "I think I'll go back to bed," she murmured absently over her shoulder as she turned to head back to her bedroll.
"Go ahead," the prince said, leaning back upon his hands and letting her leave. "I'll stay out here a bit longer."
She nodded at him then, feeling just a hint of the easiness they'd had before, and continued back toward the campsite. Even if anxiety kept her awake, she'd pretend to sleep- if only to avoid the incredibly awkward situation Sebastian had put her in.
Fenris apparently still carried a torch for her. For every despicable thing they'd done to one another, that bond had never fully been broken. Part of her suspected that it would never truly break. She realized as she settled once more into her bedroll that Fenris was not actually asleep. He tended to make a deep breathing sound when he slumbered, not precisely snoring but something just this side of it. His eyes were closed, feigning slumber, avoiding her, giving her space.
Her heart banged, unwelcome against her ribcage. There was no hope to be had between them. This love was a weight shackled around both their necks. Even if it hurt, hurt like the burning fires of the Void itself, she had to keep her head on straight for once. But her heart thumped… thumped for him, thumped as she looked upon his pretend sleep, thumped as she did every time she thought of him.
It was the same earth-shattering love it had always been- something that could stand as the rest of the world disintegrated to pieces around them until only it remained. She couldn't afford to let the Thedas crumble further around her. She wasn't just the Champion anymore. She was a leader of Anders' rebellion. She was sought out for destruction, marked for death and things much, much worse. She was a fire in the night of these wretched circumstances- a beacon, a symbol. She was a warrior, a fighter, an unforgivable apostate, a guardian to a frightened elven boy, a victim of a heinous act she didn't quite understand… definitely damaged, very possibly crazy…
… and it all petrified her. Life hadn't necessarily been simple before Anders had detonated the bomb in the Chantry but it had felt much more stable. Maybe she hadn't always been right but she'd never before had reason to question her motivations. She'd always endeavored to do good… now she kept secrets, withheld valuable information just to keep the soul-crushing of guilt at bay, called her own sanity into question every time she heard a button speak softly against her troubled mind.
She wasn't cut out to be the recipient of this sort of love. Perhaps she'd never been. Perhaps Fenris had intuited something within her that one night so many years ago. Perhaps it hadn't been a lapse in his fugue-state but just an unconscious understanding that they were utterly terrible for one another.
She watched Fenris play at his sleep, knowing irrefutably that he was watching her with both eyes closed. It was wrong that he was encumbered with it as much as it was wrong that she still felt it. But she kept coming around to the same question she'd asked herself at the fort. How did you erase a person, an entire history?
She didn't know.
She'd play it safe, keep him at arms' length until this sick feeling abated. He was an ally now, that much Carver certainly believed, so she'd keep him on for the time being. Maybe in time these feelings would pass. Maybe their hearts could heal with some distance. Maybe eventually, they could go back to being just colleagues.
But what of Owen? She'd vetted every rational defense she could for avoiding passing the boy onto Fenris. Starkhaven was dangerous, run by a hateful prince who wanted nothing other than her destruction. That reason had just proved false, otherwise Sebastian would have fired that arrow at her head the moment he'd regained his footing or at the very least done it when he'd discovered her alone and vulnerable. Fenris hated her… but she remembered the delicately forceful way he'd removed her from her brother. That hadn't been an act of aggression- it had been oddly tender as he was so inclined to be when it came to her. Sebastian's words had only doubled the elf's impact.
She missed Anders then. He'd always been rather deft at distractions. He was gone now, faded into something she couldn't hope to understand but, Maker, she still hoped he'd moved on to something sweeter than this sickening acid candy she found herself childishly suckling.
She needed Owen- she could admit it now… a new secret she'd have to selfishly harbor. He helped keep the mindless rage at bay. Owen saved her as surely as she'd saved him- his demand for her helped keep her mind steady. If she was tasked to guard him, nurture him, care for him, then the darker things that clawed at her couldn't grasp at her so tightly. With her mind in such indisputable disarray, any sort of grounding force was necessary. That force happened to be a child-slave she'd promised to protect. It was Owen.
She wasn't the boy's mother… but he needed her. She needed to be needed in the way only the boy could hope to do. What if she told Fenris and he took the boy, took that small light away forever? She couldn't give him up just yet. A mild sickness came over her as she contemplated keeping this piece of information from Fenris. She wanted to retreat into the woods and vomit, wanted to rouse Fenris and confess his sister's murder… but not more than she wanted to keep the boy with her just a little longer.
Just a little longer, she promised herself. She'd keep the secret of Owen to herself just a little longer.
Seven days later, the lookout spotted them. It had long been approaching dusk when she'd noticed the single blue arrow protruding from the ground and sent up the blue flare to indicate their status as friendly.
Four refugees materialized out of the wood, they looked tired, hungry. Her heart ached as she looked upon them. Most of the Circle mages had little to no skills in terms of basic survival. They couldn't hunt, couldn't fend for themselves, couldn't even sew a simple button onto the face of a tattered, stuffed rabbit. Anders would have killed these people if she hadn't risked the chance to take them in. The defected Templars attempted to teach them most of their skills but it was still a lacking endeavor. How should you teach a life-long scholar to take up a bow and hunt?
Now a viper rested amidst them- eating their food, wearing their clothes, sharing in their stories and secrets.
There was no telling where the traitor laid dormant. Every face was now carefully catalogued; every pledged ally was called into question. Still, she couldn't deny her inevitable conclusion any more than her brother had refused to voice it. The mole was no Templar…. The traitor had to be a mage. It was the only explanation for the interference in the mail but it was also something that couldn't be openly spoken. Only mages had any hope of understanding the delicate communication… and they were beyond spooked to begin with. To actively investigate them was tantamount to driving a wedge between the mages and their keepers. This had to be quiet, utterly silent to the populace.
Soft inquiries were made of the Templars she and her brother both considered wholly-trusted, Margot, Hastings, and Nedrine, outstretched with the demand for discretion. If anything, Hawke was confident that those individuals were unshakable in their loyalties. Both she and Carver had long discussions with all of them and deemed them safe.
They all swore to keep a vigilant eye. Then she'd asked where Owen was sleeping and slunk off to meet him there in the tent he'd occupied. The boy's eyes had blearily cracked open as she shucked off her clothing and changed into a pale white shift. Typically she was loath to undress around the boy- the propriety of their relationship was already something she questioned deeply- but she figured tonight could be one of those compromises. Without another word, she lowered herself to the bedroll beside him. The boy curled against her, nuzzling her breast as he fell back off to into sleep again, where she quickly followed.
She didn't sleep long. She woke unexpectedly, cold, shivering even… her body wasn't prepared for the abrupt ejection from the Fade. She sat up, shuddering from the unexpected ice. It had been temperate when she'd gone to sleep, chilly perhaps but nothing like this. She was positively freezing. Looking over at the elf beside her, sleeping peacefully against her, she wondered what had caused her to awaken.
She crawled away from Owen, disentangling herself from the boy before her movements could wake him, rising to her feet just outside their tent. She didn't bother pulling on a robe to cover herself, standing outside with just the overlarge tunic covering her to just above the knees. The camp was quiet, the fire burning lowly at the heart of the site. Two of their Templars moved along the edge of the camp, patrolling for danger. It was quiet. Everything seemed normal enough. So why did she feel so cold?
The answer manifested when she recognized heaviness of the air as it abruptly took on a sharper, malignant aura… not cold. Silence. She barely managed to shriek out a warning when a cloth sack was dragged over her face, a drawstring tied tightly around her neck. She heard chaos erupt around her, saw flashes of light and heard blades clanging against metal. She felt her body being dragged across the ground, her bare feet futilely gripping against the rocks and dirt as she violently struggled to get away.
A sharp pain exploded over her side and her mana, already inhibited from the lingering Silence, ebbed from her completely. Poisoned. Of course it was. Her fists flailed, desperately striking against the air as she felt her body being hauled farther and farther away from the camp. She felt her feet become wet as they passed over some body of water. She had no idea how much time had passed when, finally, her fist landed against a blunt object just behind her back, a handle blessedly solid against her palm. She gripped it furiously, praying to every deity she'd ever named and forgotten, and swung her hand wildly into the air once before aiming her hand slightly to the side of her neck.
She felt the weapon connect with some soft being, and her progress away from the camp was temporarily impeded as she was dropped to the ground. She swung forward, feeling the heavy object in her grip collide with something else. Frantically, she reached out with her other hand and felt the object in her hand to be sharp, a heavy orb of sharp metal. Gripping the drawstring around her neck, she carelessly cut through it, nicking herself in several places as she struggled.
After painstaking seconds, the mask was gone and her eyes, already adjusted to the dark, could finally survey the scene. The weapon in her hand was some manner of mace. She'd never had cause to carry one before thus was shocked at how utterly heavy it was to wield. How had Aveline managed to carry this thing? A Templar lay wheezing on the ground, his throat inexpertly punctured slightly left of his windpipe. Another stared at her with a similarly bloody bicep… that simply would not do.
She gripped the mace in both hands and swung out again, lunging out to catch the second Templar this time directly into his face before he could draw his blade. He choked for a moment, his last words little more than stifled obscenities as blood exploded out of him, soaking her in dark, rich fluid. With some difficulty, the mace was pried from the dead face courtesy of her foot braced against his neck. Bits of bone and brain clung to the spikes. She turned to survey her first attacker- his wounds were not survivable- death would be a mercy he may not rightly deserve. While she hadn't been dragged into these woods to mete out any kind of justice, she couldn't risk him summoning help. He was on his back, strangling out a few nonsense syllables as he tried to duck away from her.
She knelt, straddling him, whispering only, "Shhhhhh… it's okay. It's alright," before she brought the mace above her head, let loose a cry, and slammed the end of the weapon into his eye-socket, ending him for good. When he looked up at her with that one, terrified eye, blood gurgling from the wound on his neck, she thought she detected a smidgen of relief. Maybe that was wistful thinking- she didn't rightly know.
Staggering on her feet, she realized her surroundings were unrecognizable. Everything was all woods and night. The blade that had pierced her side had fortunately missed any major organs- apparently its intent had been to administer the poison and nothing more. Noting the drag-marks that undeniably came from her feet flailing against the ground, she followed them backwards, praying they'd lead her back to the camp. They couldn't have moved her too far, struggling as she'd been. She staggered drunkenly, blindly, unwilling to cast a magelight to assist her. There could be others looming in the shadows to drag her back into the night. Revealing her location was not an option at present- not that she was sure she even had the strength to cast it.
Her mind was hazy, she realized far too late, when the footprints disappeared into a creek she didn't quite remember. The poison left her unbelievably dizzy. There was a river near the camp but she recalled no creeks. Having no other direction to aim herself, she followed against the stream. She'd been dragged down so uphill seemed a perfectly reasonable direction to target. Her foot caught some manner of root and sent her sprawling into a nest of brambles, scratching and tearing at her as she fought to right herself. Once she'd taken to stumbling, her body became all the more inclined to do it, hurling her to crawl on her hands and knees over stones and dirt at the slightest bump along the path. It was all she could do to avoid sprawling on top of the weapon clutched in her hand.
She could barely stand by the time she saw lights in the distance, had no idea where she was or how far she'd traveled or if they came from her allies or her enemies. After several minutes, she heard a man calling out, heard several voices screaming their confusion into the darkness.
"Everybody calm down," the voice ordered over the din. "It's over! If you're injured, get yourself to Hawke or Elon. Everyone else, get to the fire for roll call."
Against the unrelenting dizziness and discomfort, she forced herself on, pursuing the sounds of chaos where she was increasingly certain the attack had originated. Dimly she felt the pain start to ebb away. Logically, she understood this to be the onset of shock. That meant she couldn't count on staying awake for much longer. She pushed past the darkness that hovered at the corners of her eyes until she finally caught sight of a campfire through the trees, saw the shadows frantically dancing around it. She heard rustling in the bushes and managed to turn in time to see a Templar emerge from them with a weapon drawn.
The Silence was over but with the poison in her veins, she only had one shot she could take to end this. Dropping the mace, she managed to conjure a single flame in her hand before a startled voice extinguished it, "Hawke? Maker, is that you?"
She recognized the voice and answered only, "Margot?" before the other woman rushed forward, placing her shoulder beneath the apostate's arm and hoisting her weight against her armor. She assisted Hawke as they staggered closer to the camp, Margot only opening her mouth to bark out, "I've got injured! Where's Elon?"
"No healer," Hawke stuttered, shuddering from a cold that had nothing to do with Silence or weather.
"You've been stabbed," Margot hissed angrily, her tone brokering no room for armument. "I'm getting you a healer."
"I am a healer," Hawke argued regardless. "How many are injured?" Elon was the only other healer residing in the and he'd be overwhelmed if too many people had been hurt. When Margot didn't answer, Hawke shook her head and assured her, "The worst is the magebane. I've got an antidote in my pack. Get me that and I can take care of myself. Let Elon focus on the people who need him."
Margot cursed as she continued to half-help, half-drag Hawke back to the camp and depositing the mage neatly in front of the campfire before retreating to fetch the antidote. People stopped to openly goggle at her. She must have been a sight to behold. The light of the fire allowed her to see the dozens of bleeding cuts gracing her bare arms and legs. Her shirt was more red than white now. Absently she pulled the torn, oversized tunic down to cover as much of her legs as possible. She felt a particularly nasty wound on her neck seep blood down into the collar, although that injury had in all likelihood been her own doing when she'd cut the bag free.
"Marian, we need you to…" she heard Carver's voice trail off as she turned to see him staring at her with unbridled horror. "What happened?"
"Don't look at me like that," she snapped in spite of her chattering teeth. Everything was cold. Shock. Fantastic. "I gave it better than I got. Besides, you should see the other guys… very dead," she finished with a drunken giggle.
Carver detected the slight slur in her words. "You've been poisoned," he observed before turning back to the others and shouting, "Stop your fucking gawking and bring me a blanket!"
Margot chose that moment to return with both the antidote and, already foreseeing the need, a blanket as well, which she tucked over the shivering mage's shoulder. Hawke unstopped the vial and lifted the side of her tunic, completely uncaring that she was flashing her underclothes to most of the camp. With a grit of her teeth, she poured a fraction of the fluid over the knife-wound to negate any of the toxin that lingered near the surface. A low whimper escaped when she felt the mixture burn and fizzle over the open wound, reacting to the poison. When that passed, she pounded the rest of it in two heavy gulps.
Instantly, she felt her mind start to right itself, the dizziness ebbing away slowly as the potion worked its magic through her system. Maker, she really hated magebane. It was like Silence and dwarven ale mixed into one debilitating concoction. The burning of the antidote was almost worse… almost.
Carver crouched before her and repeated, "What happened?"
She groaned, answering, with a gesture at her person, "Trust me, most of this is the result of running half-naked through the woods at night. That and, well, smacking two Templars in the face with a mace." She chuckled a bit and added, "Those things are heavy."
Carver ignored her quip, lifting the side of her tunic to press a cloth against the puncture in her side. "You went after them?" When she shook her head, she heard him grumble, "So the attack was a distraction."
"I was just coming to that conclusion as well," she admitted as fury rushed up at her, lending her its strength as she quickly healed the worst of her injuries. The knife wound couldn't be fully healed until the potion took its full effect but for now the blood oozed sluggishly from it, hindered by the beginnings of recovery.
"They waited until you were back. They went straight for you- we didn't even know you were gone," Carver muttered and gave a quick look at the refugees before whispering, "We've got to find the traitor."
She'd been the intended target of this raid- that much was obvious enough. "We probably know who it is," she thought aloud.
"You do? Who?"
She stared at her hands for a moment, still covered in the remnants of her injuries. "I don't know, she replied, "but we just got back. If this attack is as haphazard as it seems, then it stands to reason that our arrival stood to throw a wrench into a greater plan."
"That… makes sense," Carver admitted before asking Margot, "Have we had any new arrivals?"
"No," the older woman replied. "We've been too refocused on moving the camp to even look for new recruits. Everyone here was already on the rosters before we left the old campsite."
"Then it's you," Carver muttered to his sister. "You've got to know who this person is. The rest of us have spent a fair amount of time here."
She opened her mouth to remind the two of them that Fenris and Sebastian were still wildcards in their midst but closed it again before the words could come out. Logically, she had to discard that as a possibility. If Fenris or Sebastian had wanted to take her out, they'd had ample opportunity to attempt to do so already; and, if she was completely honest with herself, she had to admit an attack with Starkhaven's backing would have been far more devastating. Furthermore, Carver's rendition of Fenris' involvement in releasing the prisoners from the dungeon at Fort Fitz effectively moved him from her mental category of Completely-Untrusted to the Just-Slightly-Trusted one.
Almost like the universe was eavesdropping into her thoughts, she felt a heavy gaze on her. She turned her head slightly to observe Fenris staring at her. She could see the blood shining on his armor, reaching up the elbows in some places. He also had the grace to look extremely disoriented, bedraggled and tired as she, too, felt. The expression itself told her that Fenris had been as surprised to be roused from his sleep as she'd been. She couldn't even imagine what she must look like through his eyes right now. Bloody, tired, smudges of dirt everywhere, probably more than a few twigs and thorns sticking out of her hair… surely she was far from a Paragon of womanly wiles as humanly possible.
"He took out two of them. Sebastian got one," Carver informed her. "Doesn't strike me as an effective way to handle this attack if they were behind it."
"I'd already figured that," she answered. "We need to lock the camp down. Nobody comes or goes until we get this sorted out."
"The mages are going to suspect something if we don't at least pretend to move the camp," Margot reasoned. Hawke sighed, grateful for Margot's input. The woman was endlessly calculating and she made a good commanding officer precisely for shrewd insights like that.
"Then we throw it all out in the open," Hawke said, hating the rampant paranoia this course of action was guaranteed to bring. "The time for subtlety has passed- we've got to find the spy before they can guide any more Templars back into the camp."
The three of them were shocked out of their quiet conversation when she heard a small voice calling her name. She barely had time to register the small elf barreling toward her until he threw himself onto her, face worried and on the verge of panic. She shushed him, using her tone to assure him gently that everything was fine until he burrowed under the blanket with her, half-straddling her lap and hiding himself from the countless curious eyes that tracked his movements. For the most part, Owen didn't like being observed, sometimes not even by her. He'd known the dangers lurking around his former home and trained himself to be little more than a shadow whenever he was thrust into a situation that frightened him. That particular skill was doubtlessly the reason why the slavers hadn't found him when they came for Varania.
Carver gave the lump resting at her side an appraising look and ventured, "I'm guessing this isn't our mole."
She chuckled as she felt Owen remove his head from beneath her chin and stare defiantly out at Carver, narrowing his eyes slightly as he tried to figure out who this new person was before ducking back under the blanket again to rest his head on her shoulder. She wrapped her arms around him gently, tucking the fabric over his head and absently running her thumb over the small, healed notch in his ear. "He is a bit of a burrower," she admitted, "but not a mole per se. I found him in Minrathous. I'll fill you in on all the bloody details after we've found our traitor."
"Marian," Carver started warily, "I don't know if a kid…"
"He was a slave," Hawke answered before Carver could say anything further. "I couldn't leave him there."
Carver released a low whistle before sending a quick glance back toward Fenris. "Well, you're nothing if not consistent."
She ignored the feeling of her former-lover's eyes boring holes through her, watching her curiously. It was ironic in a way- she'd left for Minrathous with the very realistic concern that she might be pregnant and even though she wasn't still somehow managed to return with a child regardless… and one that rightfully belonged to him. All her conviction from the other night flew the way of the wind. She couldn't keep this from him forever. She'd just… have to find the right time to tell him.
That was not a conversation she looked forward to. Fortunately, there were plenty of good reasons to postpone it. Even if withholding was going to make it worse, she just couldn't bring herself to have that discussion just yet.
"Our priority is finding the spy," she spoke, almost more to herself than to the present company, as she stroked a hand over Owen's tangled hair, uncaring that she was certainly smearing her blood over it. "Trust me," she promised her brother, "these men have not even begun to realize just who they're fucking with."
Author's Notes- Whew! That was a doozy! Many thanks to BuriedBeneath for tackling this for me. And as always, thanks to everyone who reads and reviews. Thank you's will come up sometime tomorrow!