Prologue

"There are men who embrace destiny; these are the ones who will change the world forever."

Marian Hawke glowered at the mess around her. For just one moment, she stewed, just one single moment, I would like for it to not feel as if I've just lost everything...

The Gallows courtyard was piled high with broken bronze figures, illumined by a silvery moon and a demonically crimson husk of what had once been Knight-Commander Meredith. The Templars were creeping forward from wherever they'd hidden themselves or had otherwise been engaged fighting, and all it did was make Marian's glower darker. Knight-Captain Cullen was matching her expression even as he looked at her, and it made the warrior grit her teeth to not break down. She didn't need yet another friend-or at least someone she regarded as a friend-upset or turning away from her.

She'd lost her home to the Darkspawn...then her brother to an ogre...then her sister to the Deeproads...then her mother to a crazed blood mage...then the Arishok to his honor...then a compatriot to his own overzealous stupidity. As she stood there, staring at the lyrium-scorched corpse of the Knight-Commander, she felt like she'd just lost everything else there was to lose: her purpose, her will, and any last vestige of love in her heart.

Just before the final onslaught, she had hoped beyond hope that Sebastian would finally return her affections. But it was to no avail. He spoke to her as if there had never been a thing between them, no plans for the future, no underlying emotion. Prior to that, she'd caught wind of things he had said to the others, that the Chantry was still somehow his calling in life no matter how much Starkhaven needed him. And now? Now, even as she stood there in the middle of the courtyard heaving breath and choking back tears and oozing blood from flesh wounds, the mighty Prince of Starkhaven maintained a chaste and polite distance.

Marian found herself wishing that she could spit that far.

Cullen's gaze was still upon her, and she found herself almost shocked to realize that it had been only a moment since the Templars had come forward and her mind buzzed with such thought. One Templar, a young female recruit, had hesitatingly gone up to Meredith's body to examine it, to see what exactly had happened. Was Cullen's look judgmental? Did he suspect that she, Marian Hawke, had done something to cause this? No. The Knight-Captain's look wasn't an accusing one. His expression was very much the same as hers, one borne of weariness and loss beyond accounting. There was a heavy weight now on his shoulders, for Meredith's position had become his.

The warrior tightened her grip on her sword and shield as the Templars drew closer around her group. Even with Anders dead, Marian couldn't forget that she harbored a mage in her ranks-and a blood mage, at that. Merrill seemed to sense the threat as well and shrank back. Then, taking them all by surprise, Cullen dropped to one knee with his sword point-down before him. The other Templars followed suit in a clanging wave of burnished steel. Isabela was immediately at Marian's side, her daggers still drawn and pointed all around as she cautiously sidestepped a protective circle about her dear friend.

"Why are they doing this?" the pirate whispered. "Not that I mind men on their knees before me, but what did you do, Hawke? Or..." Her voice trailed off as she thrust out her jaw in Sebastian's direction.

"Why would Templars defer to a prince that isn't even of this city?" Marian hissed back, hoping that she was right in her way of thinking. But if that was the case, why were they all kneeling?

"Lady Marian Hawke," Cullen's voice announced, echoing easily throughout the silent courtyard, "Due to your actions and your unswerving loyalty to this city and its people, the Templar Order has reached the unanimous decision to instate you as Viscountess of Kirkwall. May the Maker guide your steps."

From somewhere behind her, Marian was certain she heard Bianca's bowstring plink in disbelief.

She took a few deep breaths to steady herself. It was quite true that she had stepped forward a number of times when the city desperately needed guidance, and Meredith's approach (and grip on reality) was clearly failing. But, being as she was Fereldan, she had never truly anticipated that the Free Marchers would see past where she came from or her mercenary tactics. A unanimous vote from the Templars was much more than she had ever dreamed even when...even when she had overheard Sebastian arguing the point so fervently with Aveline.

"And may He guide us all out of this darkness and into a bright new day," she announced in return, hardly recognizing her own voice. It betrayed none of her tiredness or her emotional pain. It was firm, determined, forceful, everything she had been for nearly a decade in spite of all that fate had mercilessly thrown against her. She had clawed against it. She had resolutely climbed to where she now was, and she regretted none of it. But for once, for just once, she wanted fate to give her something other than yet another title useless beyond the walls of Kirkwall.

As the Templars cheered, the Champion of Kirkwall and new Viscountess turned and shouldered her way out of the Gallows courtyard and down to one of the small ferries. For the first time in years, she didn't give a single thought to who might have bothered to follow along.