Once upon a time, after they'd both finished their playthroughs of Dragon Age 2, tarysande and w0rdinista got to talking about the things they loved about the game and the things they didn't love quite so much. As it happened, their ideas overlapped quite a lot. At some point in this fateful conversation, w0rdinista said to tarysande, "Wow, our Hawkes could be sisters!" and tarysande replied, "I know, they really could."
For whatever reason, this moment stuck with them. They chatted about similarities and differences and love interests. Later that day, w0rdinista sent tarysande an amusing little snippet of dialogue set at the end of one of tarysande's Kiara Hawke fics, as if their Hawkes really were sisters, with her mage, Amelle, slipping into the little sister slot originally occupied by Bethany. Tarysande replied in kind. This went back and forth for several days. Then the bits of present-tense conversation grew a plot! And that plot began to thicken! Suddenly pieces of story were being written back and forth in past tense, with proper punctuation and everything! An AU backstory formed, because it was decided that these Hawke sisters weren't going to be separated by Deep Roads or Circle.
And From the Ashes was born. Welcome! We hope you enjoy the ride.
For the purposes of this story we're going with Rite of Annulment because we like it better, and it's used both ways all over the franchise.
Also, this chapter began its life as a different fic, so if it seems familiar, you're not crazy, but it has gone through a vast number of changes and additions since then!
Afterward, with the stink of burning city and burning lyrium and burning flesh still defiantly tainting every breath, Kiara Hawke watched her companions walk off into the fire-lit darkness of the city without her. She saw their concerned looks, their troubled looks, their sorrowed looks. She felt their grief, because the same hammered away in her own breast, hard and sharp and strong as a hammer wielded by an expert smith.
She sent them away, all of them, with all of their looks.
And then she drank.
Her house she found whole, but empty. The facade was defaced, and though the fires were not as bright here—she dared not turn, dared not name the glow on the horizon, dared not think too hard about what caused that glow—she was certain at least some of the marks were painted in blood. The oaken door still stood sturdy on its hinges, however, and most of the windows were whole.
For some reason, the unbroken windows and the unshattered door disturbed her greatly. Even with defacements painted in blood and shit and Maker knew what else, her house was still standing. For years she'd carefully built a life centered around this pleasant house she'd striven so hard to reclaim (for Mother, whispered her sister's voice, how desperately she wanted her home again), but tonight had ended it all.
The Hawke-Amell estate ought to be a smoldering wreck, like the rest of Kirkwall. That it was not seemed… unjust.
But Kiara could not bear even to think the word justice now. Not yet. Not sober.
So she scoured her empty, whole house for liquor. She found half a dozen bottles of aged Antivan brandy buried under the rest of the junk she hadn't yet found the time to sell or dispose of. A nice bottle of wine sat on her desk, untouched, next to piles of letters she'd been meaning to answer for days. She supposed the answers would be unnecessary now. Half the correspondents would be dead; the rest would no longer wish to hear from her. Grabbing the bottle, she abandoned the letters, and turned instead to the kitchen.
She found wine there, too, though of an inferior vintage, one best left to cooking. It didn't matter; she added it to her collection. She knew she'd find better wine in the cellar, but the cellar made her think of the secret passage, and the secret passage made her think of—no. No, for now she'd make do with what she found in the house proper, be it bad brandy or cooking sherry. She'd drink the bottle from her desk first. It was a good one. Hopefully by the time she'd drunk it all, her tongue would no longer rebel at the inferiority of the rest.
Even with her arms full of bottles, she was afraid there wouldn't be enough drink in the world to drown the thoughts she wanted drowned.
Kiara hadn't expected to find Bodahn and Sandal still at the estate, but she was surprised to find Orana gone as well. The little elf girl rarely left the house, and even then always reluctantly. Kiara hoped the girl ran of her own accord. She hoped Orana found somewhere safe to stay—is there any place left that's safe after what you've done?—and never returned.
In her mind's eye she saw her companions again, walking into the dark, walking into the fires, walking away from her, and part of her hoped they would all disappear, too. Someplace safe. Someplace hidden. Someplace far. After what you've done—
It didn't matter. Not really.
Kiara knew she would be gone by the time anyone came looking. She'd leave them all, and they'd be safer for it. She hoped.
Even your sister? said a voice in Kiara's head that sounded eerily like that of her dead mother. Her dead father added, you promised, kit. You promised to protect her. Her dead brother echoed, you have to, Kiki. You're the only one left. It's so much worse now than it ever was before, even when there were ogres.
"She's better off without my kind of protection," Kiara said aloud, daring the voices of her dead family to argue with her. They didn't, and she smiled a fierce, terrible, triumphant smile.
She knew she had to run. They knew it, too. Run or die.
Later, though. After the drinking.
Victory wasn't supposed to feel like this.
Even three bottles of wine in, Kiara was pretty certain of that. She knew the tales of the Archdemon's defeat, after all. She'd heard the bards and street-singers and even Varric telling stories of the woman who slew the monster and saved the world, earning herself a king and a kingdom and the title Hero.
Kiara dreaded the tales they would tell of her, of this night. Champion of Kirkwall. Never in all the years she'd worn it had the honorific seemed more absurd. Champion. The woman who'd named Kiara Champion was dead now, but it hadn't been glorious. It hadn't been a cleansing beam of light from atop the tallest tower; it hadn't been a dragon with a glowing sword through its massive, hideous skull. It hadn't felt like the kind of victory storytellers made tales of.
No, Kiara had watched a woman go mad, and die of it. Kiara had helped kill her. If she was honest—and drink made her honest—Kiara had wanted Meredith Stannard dead a long time. She wasn't sad the Knight-Commander's reign had ended. Not even a little bit. She was only sad it had come to blood and fire and the deaths of innocents.
Then again, didn't it always? Even the Hero of Ferelden had dealt in blood and fire and the deaths of innocents.
Cullen would be Knight-Commander now. Kiara shook her head. It was growing fuzzy with wine and sad thoughts. Cullen's intervention might buy her a day or a week or a month, but there would be no cheering crowds for the victor—or was she merely a survivor? An instigator? The distinction grew blurry—of tonight's debacle. It was risky to stay even one night, but templars or no templars, she would grieve this life before she fled it.
"Where will I go?" she asked the bottle she was drinking from. When it didn't answer, she merely gulped down another too-sweet swig and scowled.
Not Starkhaven, certainly; she did not doubt Sebastian's vow of vengeance, even if it was somewhat misguided. Her teeth clenched when she thought of it. She was angry, true, but only a small part of that anger was directed at him. She was angry he'd left without letting her explain, angry he'd turned his back on her, angry he'd assumed…
Mostly she was angry along with him, though. As she would have explained, had he bothered to wait, bothered to listen. Her anger simply hadn't taken the form of making martyrs.
Tearing a page from Fenris' book, she dashed the bottle of wine against the wall. It made a beautiful crash, and an even more beautiful stain, but she regretted the action as soon as she realized she'd gone through the wine and was now left to the Antivan brandy she didn't like half so well.
Antiva. She contemplated running to Antiva for a moment, until she realized her life would be just as forfeit there, given her previous dealings with the Crows. The King of Ferelden had intimated she'd always be welcome home, but she wasn't certain the offer stood if she arrived with holy war in tow. No. King Alistair would have trouble enough without her adding to it. They all would. Her turncloak, murderous mage had seen to that.
Orlais might do. Perhaps she could even join the Chantry, to hide in plain sight. Surely they wouldn't look for her amongst the ranks of lay sisters or Revered Mothers.
Even as she thought it, she knew she wouldn't do such a thing. Joining the Chantry really would mean leaving her sister behind, and…
The voices of her dead family did not speak, but nor were they silent. She could hear their reproach loud and clear. Oh, Mely. What are we to do? What are we to do now?
Putting her head in her hands, she felt the room spin, but the thoughts did not stop and the darkness of the palms against her eyes did nothing to erase the fresh horrors running rampant across her eyelids. All her memories were tinted red. The red of her adopted city burning once more, the red of Meredith's mad eyes and lyrium-idol sword, the red of mages turning to blood magic again and again and again.
The red of the terrible, terrible power that had leveled the Chantry and killed the Grand Cleric along with countless others. Countless innocents. Countless, countless.
Even though she had been an unwitting, unwilling participant, accessory to murder was a terrible mantle to wear. It was far heavier upon her shoulders than Champion of Kirkwall ever was.
A sound brought the dance of memories to a crashing halt. It was a small sound, only a footstep and the brush of fabric against floor. She swallowed hard, not wanting to look up and see what she already knew she'd see.
Perhaps it is only Amelle returned home again, she thought desperately, knowing it wasn't true. Amelle would have spoken. Amelle would never have attempted silence. Amelle knew better than to sneak up on her.
It wasn't Amelle, of course. Kiara knew she ought to be surprised when she looked up from her hands and saw Anders kneeling at the cold hearth. Brief sparks danced at his fingertips, lighting the kindling Orana had left waiting, but even after the fire was lit he remained on his knees, head bowed, neck bared to her.
Kiara knew she ought to be surprised, but instead she simply felt weary and sad and old beyond her years.
I could kill him, she thought. I could kill him here and no one would know. No audience. Just the silent, ignominious death he deserves. That would be justice.
But her bow was not to hand and there were words yet to be spoken.
Without looking at her, Anders said, "I am glad you were victorious, Hawke. All the city is talking about it."
Bitterly, she retorted, "You mean the parts of the city that aren't talking about what you did? The parts of the city still alive to talk at all?"
"Of course you're glad. I've been a good little pawn for you, haven't I?"
I believe I have a formula for a potion that can separate Justice and me. Without killing either.
And she'd been fool enough to believe him.
If the deep lines around Anders' eyes were any indication, she was not the only one who had been aged by the night's horror. He barely managed to meet her gaze before he turned his face once again to the fire.
"We're friends, Kiara. I never intended—"
There are always dangers with magic. But I believe this will be worth the cost.
Kiara remembered Elthina, and could not agree. Not even a little.
No, no ritual. Just mix the ingredients up and… boom. Justice and I are free. And we can take our rightful place among free mages.
What aren't you telling me? she had asked, and he'd answered with a jape, a jest, a deflection.
She should have known. She should have suspected.
She could kill him now. She could. No one would see. No one would know. No cause to take up his name. No martyrdom. That would be his justice.
"No," she said calmly—more calmly than she felt; she thought it must be an effect of the wine. Her limbs were heavy, but her mind was oddly clear. "I have had quite my fill of your words. It is your turn to listen to me, Anders. Perhaps you failed to notice, but we have not been friends for quite some time, if ever we were friends at all. I believe I can date it exactly, if you'd like me to. Friends don't lie to each other. Friends don't resort to blackmail to get what they want. And friends answer honestly the questions asked of them, even if those questions have difficult answers. Perhaps especially if those questions have difficult answers."
Kiara watched him prepare to defend himself. It was so predictable; she had witnessed this selfsame transformation dozens of times. His shoulders straightened and his back stiffened. A muscle jumped in his cheek as he clenched his jaw. His eyes narrowed, and she thought she saw a flash of blue deep within their depths, just for an instant. He crossed his arms over his chest.
Before he could speak, however, she continued, "I know what you're going to say. And you're right. I wouldn't have understood. I still don't understand. I don't want to understand. I will never understand. Until the day I die—likely sooner rather than later, if the templars have their way—I will regret not pushing harder for the truth. I will regret not knowing enough to stop you. Perhaps you deluded yourself into thinking me a friend, but friends trust each other, Anders, and if I ever trusted you that time is long ended. Your story is too full of inconsistencies. Even I can see that. My greatest regret will be having ever trusted you at all."
"This isn't about me. The mages deserve—" he began to protest, singing the same old song he'd always sung, but she silenced him with a swift, cutting motion.
"I supported the mages," she retorted sharply. "My father was a mage. My sister is one. One who disagrees with you on nearly every point—"
Anders snarled, "Easy enough for her to do, given that she's never spent a day locked away in one of the Chantry's prison Circles. She has no idea what it's like for us. She has no idea—"
Her fingers twitched with their desire to clench into fists, but she did not let them. "Anders," she warned. "Don't even—"
"I don't know why I ever bothered," he snapped, the blue in his eyes now definitely more than a mere flash. "You may not wear their flaming sword upon your breast, but you're templar through and through."
She could kill him. She knew she could. With her bare hands, if she had to. It would be worth it, even if he took her with him.
Instead, coldly, she said, "If you had listened to me speak instead of nursing your frustration because I wasn't doing things exactly as you wished, you would have heard me support the mages time and time again. The only thing I refused was to capitulate to extremism and madness. From either side."
Kiara wanted to close her eyes, to turn away from the raw, almost mad look on Anders' face, but she was afraid she'd see the images of the monster Orsino had become. Worse, she was afraid she'd see the light going out of her mother's eyes. Necromancy. Blood magic. Insanity. How well did you guard your own mother? Meredith had asked, cruelly. Did she not die by a blood mage's hands? Cold corpses speak louder than abstract freedoms, do they not?
The First Enchanter had seemed so reasonable, especially standing opposite mad Meredith, but he'd betrayed her trust. Kiara was not the only accessory to murder, oh no. Orsino's hands had dripped with her mother's blood, only she'd been too blind to see it. So she'd supported the mages—her father had been a mage, her sister was a mage—because Meredith was mad and because the Rite of Annulment was inhumane, not because Anders ranted and raved and frothed at the mouth. Maker's breath, she'd supported the mages in spite of Anders.
Damn the templars. Damn their Rite. And damn the mages, too.
Much as she wanted to wash her hands of all of them, she knew no amount of scrubbing would ever, ever completely remove the stains.
Just mix the ingredients up and… boom.
What aren't you telling me?
Swallowing to moisten her suddenly dry throat, she added, "There's a thing called diplomacy, Anders, and you're the one who spat on it time and time again. Elthina was being careful so as not to incite unnecessary trouble, but she would have listened. I believe she would have listened. How does it help the plight of mages to kill the only reasonable person in Kirkwall? Was that your aim? To undermine the possibility of rational discourse?"
Coolly, he replied, "Talk is cheap. Talk changes nothing."
"And cold-blooded murder changes everything, yes. Thank you for clarifying that. When they're pulling the corpses of children from beneath the broken stones of the Chantry, I'll be sure to plead your case."
One corner of his lip curled, but the expression was neither smile nor scowl. It was some ugly thing caught between the two. "You keep using the word murder, but yet you didn't kill me when you had the chance. If you truly thought my methods wrong, you could have executed me. No one would have stopped you. Your precious princeling would have applauded instead of leaving you." At the mention of Sebastian—and oh, how it stung—Anders did sneer. "But then, you never could choose sides, could you, Hawke? No wonder you got on so well with the wavering princely priest. No wonder you weep for the Grand Cleric. The lot of you would have waited and talked and taken your tea with sugar until every mage in Kirkwall was dead, or Tranquil."
Tilting her head until the back of her skull rested against the warm wood of her chair, Kiara asked mildly, "Is that it? Have you come to finish the job then?"
His robes rustled. She almost smiled. She'd managed, at last, to startle him. After too long a pause, he said, "It was never about you. You were collateral damage. In a way… in a way, so was she."
She noticed he was careful not to mention the others. And there would be others, she knew. All the Chantry folk, certainly, but also Kirkwallers caught in the crossfire. Innocents. Children. So many innocents.
She should have killed him the day he almost killed the girl, Ella. She should have known, then. Amelle had certainly never looked at him the same way afterward, but Kiara had been foolish—she'd thought him capable of reform.
An abomination isn't capable of reform, her father's voice said.
Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, glinting in the golden light of Anders' fire. She wondered how long they'd been there. It seemed sad, somehow, as though the house was already certain of its fate, and was already fading toward it.
"I didn't spare your life because I thought your cause just or because we were friends once. I certainly didn't spare you because I agreed with your methods. I spared you because I didn't want to hand your cause a convenient martyr to rally around. And because I had no wish to be painted the villain in the tales they'll tell of you." She twisted her head just enough to see the stricken expression slide across his face. "That's your problem, Anders," she admonished. "You never think through the consequences of your actions. Tell yourself whatever helps you sleep at night, but knowing what I know now? I think you refused to tell me your plans for the Chantry not for my own good, not because you wanted to protect me, but precisely because you knew I'd think through the consequences for you. All the consequences, not just the ones you wanted. I'd have asked questions you could not answer. I'd have doubted you, and you did not want to acknowledge even the possibility of doubt."
Anders said nothing.
Sighing, she put her hands to the arms of the chair and pushed herself upright. The room remained surprisingly steady. "You came to congratulate me on my victory, and you have done so. I'd like to thank you for the courtesy, but the triumph is bitter, and I'm afraid it's not one to be savored."
I could kill you, she didn't say. I want to kill you.
"I wanted to—"
She interrupted, before he could speak words she could not unhear. "Given your thanks, I cannot think what other possible reason you might have to intrude on my solitude. I can only hope you have not come seeking understanding or, Maker forbid, absolution. We have set the world alight tonight, you and I. The Maker only knows what will rise from the ashes. We have to live with that."
"Leave now," she commanded, ignoring the pain in his eyes. Once upon a time she'd allowed herself to be taken in by his pain, and she had regretted it ever since. Not for herself, no. Hers was the least of the lives destroyed by this one man's incendiary, all-consuming pain. Like a fox in a trap, he had long since gnawed off his own leg in his desperate bid for freedom. When she'd agreed to take the little fox in, she'd had no idea how rabid it was. She knew now. She would not allow herself to be taken in again.
Papa used to call me kit. His cunning red fox. He said it like an endearment, but what does it mean about me?
Steeling herself, Kiara added, "This is the third and final time I will let you leave with your life. I think it best you disappear. If I see you again I will put an arrow through your eye before you can defend yourself, and I will make your body vanish before anyone can think to martyr you. That is my promise."
By the determined set of his chin she thought he would resist, protest further, but he only stared at her. The blue light was gone from his eyes, leaving only hazel, slightly baffled. She wondered if, like she did, he saw a stranger looking back at him. He might wear a similar mien, but the man standing before her was not the man she'd laughed with over drinks in The Hanged Man, or whom she'd beaten at cards, or whom she'd fought back to back with in so many battles. The man staring at her was not the man who'd saved her life countless times, whose hands and whose magic had brought her back from certain death more than once.
No. That man had died when the Chantry did, if ever he'd truly lived at all.
The man standing before Kiara now was the man who'd killed the one person in the entire stinking cesspit of Kirkwall she'd respected, who'd cost her Sebastian's friendship, whose actions would likely cost Aveline her captaincy and Donnic his position in the guard. This mage's actions rendered the lives of all mages, Amelle—oh, Mely, what will we do?—and Merrill included, forfeit. He had weaseled his way in and then he'd wantonly destroyed them all. He'd brought the whole damned world down around their ears.
The bastard. The bloody bastard.
He was no friend of hers.
Even if he refused to see the truth in anything else, she'd be damned if he didn't understand that before he left.
A particularly large log snapped in the hearth, sending a dizzying swirl of sparks into the chimney, and pulling Anders' gaze from her at last. His eyes shone in the flare of light. She did not look too closely.
Very quietly, he said, "I understand."
"Do you?" she replied, just as quietly. "I do not think you do. Do you remember what Isabela said?"
He frowned. "I doubt it. Isabela says a great deal, and very little of it is worth heeding."
Kiara looked away from the fire. One of the full bottles of brandy rested near her foot and she kicked it lightly, watching it roll. Liquor, and the oblivion promised by it, had lost its appeal. She'd find no absolution in the bottom of a bottle. She knew that now. She ought to have known it all along, really.
Ignoring the snide cruelty in his tone, she said, "You were haranguing her about regrets, about the desire to fix past mistakes, to right past wrongs. She turned to you and said, 'Our mistakes make us who we are' as though it was the most obvious thing in the world."
"If you're wanting an apology from me, you'll be waiting a long time, Hawke."
Our mistakes make us who we are. Oh, she had made mistakes and she knew it. For the most part, her mistakes made her stronger, because she would not allow them to make her weak. The entire city of Kirkwall was an object lesson in the cost of mistakes, but these mistakes sapped the city's strength, left it a rotten carcass torn at by the opposing extremes espoused by mages and templars, ripe to feed slavers and bandits and thieves and corruption.
Our mistakes make us who we are. Not his. His mistakes are his own.
He watched her, wary and sullen, and she found herself almost smiling. He'd murdered one voice of reason, but perhaps she might be another. Perhaps it was a mantle it would not shame her to wear. His mistakes were not hers, after all.
Perhaps running was what he wanted her to do. Running would make her look guilty, just as killing him would have made him a martyr. The Grand Cleric had refused to run, had refused to leave Kirkwall, though she knew staying put her at risk. The people needed her, Elthina had said, and so she'd remained.
The people still needed someone.
Perhaps Champion of Kirkwall could be more than an empty appellation, after all. Perhaps she might make the title real, make it stand for something more than a tip of the hat for services rendered. If anyone needed a champion, an advocate, it was Kirkwall.
Much as the title had chafed in the beginning, it was part of her now.
The Maker never gives us more than we can carry, Kiara, but He does like to push us past the edges of what we think we can do, just to see us grow.
Her father used to murmur those words when she was throwing a tantrum about her inability to shoot an arrow straight, or when she was angry about having to take care of her brother and sister again instead of running off to play with the older village children.
He'd said those words to her when Amelle's magic had so brightly manifested, the fear in his eyes mixed with pride and love and determination.
They were the first words she'd thought when she realized he was gone—really gone—and wasn't coming back again.
"You don't understand at all," she said, unable to keep the wonderment from her voice. "Maker's breath, Anders, you really don't. You poor bastard." Anders took a step away from her, and would have taken another, she thought, but the hearth was behind him and the hem of his robes was already too close to the flame.
To run now would be a mistake. The kind of mistake that would invite weakness instead of strength, and that would change her in ways she did not wish to be changed.
That's my kit. That's my fierce, brave girl. It's easier to hide, but sometimes it's better not to.
Kiara heard the door slam open downstairs, and wondered if it was looters come to finish their dark business. A moment later, though, she heard Amelle call out. Anders winced.
"You should have run," Kiara said. "But I won't. Not for your mistakes. Not now. Not ever. If Aveline is with them, I won't stop her taking you."
"If she kills me, I'd still be the martyr you don't want me to be."
I could kill you. Amelle would help me. They'd never find your body.
Kiara raised her eyebrows. She could hear Amelle on the stairs, her voice strained as she shouted.
"I'm in my room, Mely," Kiara answered. Then, lowering her voice, she added, "You escaped the Circle seven times, but you can't escape the Hawke estate? Did Varric embellish your abilities, too?"
"I could burn this place to the ground."
"You could. But you won't."
He glared at her. "Maybe I will."
She shook her head. "No, you won't."
"You seem certain of that, considering you're an unarmed woman facing an awfully powerful mage."
Kiara narrowed her eyes. "You'd have to look me in the eyes as you murdered me, abomination, and you've already proven you don't have the guts for that. So no, you won't. Unless, of course, you've already laced the passage to the clinic with drakestone and sela petrae. That I'd believe you capable of."
Anders turned white—a terrible, inhuman shade—but Kiara only looked toward the door as Amelle pushed her way inside.