Lothering was quiet, and the children were laughing and playing in the large harvested fields that had recently been overgrown with wheat and corn. James Hawke stood by and watched over them, leaning against a tree. There was an air of calm in the late summer heat, and he could smell a storm on its way; the electricity of it also tickled the hairs of his arms, awakening the power inside of him. He concentrated and pushed it away, returning to a sense of calm. For now, he was simply charged with watching over the children as they played; teaching, he would have to work for, and revealing himself as a Mage would almost certainly ruin that as well as get his entire family run out of town.
The Mages had once been a religious order, a cult that experimented on their captives until children started to be born with powers that were dangerous and otherworldly. Most captives fled, raising their children as normal as they could until the abnormalities were revealed. The Chantry was formed under a cultist named Andraste, and she used fear of the new mutant mages to draw in members. The Chantry trained soldiers called Templars to hunt down mages where they were either killed or enslaved. Soon, Mage no longer meant the cult, but the genetic condition, and those who still held to the old ways were Blood Mages. Mages hid and raised families, and soon it was nearly random for a Mage to pop up in a bloodline. Andraste died, but her faithful remained, still razing Thedas in search of their enemies.
James Hawke was lousy with the Mage gene on both sides, Amell cousins on his mother's side and his own father Malcolm has been a Mage, his younger sister as well. James was the bravest Mage in the family, trying to push it aside and join society the way he believed he deserved. He wanted to teach, and so he had put in the time and the effort, and was right on the verge of his first big break.
And then the war had broken out. A small battle his brother's division had been assigned to spiraled out of control, and thousands of monstrous Darkspawn had descended on Lothering, leaving the residents helpless. The school had been a massacre, and James had barely survived himself, crawling over bodies and rubble to reach the exit. Lothering was dying, a screaming, writhing spider covered in poisonous ants that wielded swords and ate half of their victims. James avoided most of the spawn, using his powers to keep them away when they took interest. He fought his way to his family, relieved to find them alive. Carver was there, and Bethany was trying to heal his bigger wounds, "Nice of you to join us. I thought you died at that school of yours."
"I'm sorry. I came as fast as I could. It's a war zone out there. Mother, we have to get out of here, out of Lothering."
"Everywhere South of here is burning. Are we supposed to take our chances in the wilderness?" Carver said.
"Kirkwall, we have family there," Leandra said.
"Mother, Kirkwall is heavily controlled by the Chantry. If they even smell Mage on us we'll all be slaves," Bethany said.
"I know that, but its a good city. There are good hospitals and good schools."
"As long as you aren't a Mage," Bethany muttered.
"We can talk more when we're safe," James begged, "They'll be here any moment."
"I have the photo albums," Leandra said, "And your father's things."
"I bet the cabs aren't running," Carver muttered sarcastically.
"We can find a car once we're out there. I'm fairly certain no one will care if we steal a dead person's car," James said, "There are plenty."
"Shit, everybody just stay behind me until we find one," Carver snapped, loading his shotgun, "I have six rounds, that's all."
"I'll help," James offered, "I'll watch our backs."
Carver nodded and kicked the door open, leading them into hell.
"James look!" Bethany cried, leaning forward to the front seat and pointing, "People!"
There were two people, man and woman, on the side of the road. The woman was in army fatigues that matched Carver's and the man was in civilian clothes, his shirt was shredded over his shoulder and blood soaked the cloth. James slowed and Carver elbowed him, "They aren't our problem!"
"I have to help," James said, screeching to a halt.
They didn't give him time to reconsider, hopping into the backseat. Bethany tried to tend the man's wound as the woman spoke, "You're a sight for sore eyes," the woman said, "We wouldn't have made-"
"Mage!" The man hissed at Bethany, and James could see the Templar tattoo under his left eye in the rearview mirror, "Avert your eyes!"
"Wesley!" the woman scolded, "They saved us; Andraste understands."
The man calmed, and James raised an eyebrow, "Is he alright?"
"I'll be fine," Wesley said, but Bethany knew better than to try her healing again.
"I bandaged it as best I could. My name is Aveline; the last member of Cailen's ground force."
"Second-to-last," Carver said, "Sorry to disappoint."
Aveline turned to him and recognition flooded her face, "Do you have ammo?"
"One shell," Carver said, "You?"
"Two rounds," Aveline said, "Wesley lost his gun."
Wesley winced, "Just as well, I won't be shooting anything any time soon."
Bethany looked relieved, and James cleared his throat, "Where did you two come from? South?"
"No, we came down the road from the interstate. It's blocked completely by the Darkspawn. We'll have to find a side road around it if you plan that route."
"We are going to try for the coast, catch a boat to Kirkwall," James said.
Wesley laughed, "A Mage going to Kirkwall? You must tire of living. It's just as well; the Chantry will-"
"Shut that up!" Carver snapped, "As right or wrong as you may be, you're being saved by a Mage so lay off!"
"Wesley this isn't like you," Aveline said with a frown.
Wesley's eyes had dulled and the skin around them was black, his lips were purple and his face pale, "It's the Blight," Carver whispered.
"No," Aveline said, "It's just the smoke. He'll be fine."
"He'll infect us all," Carver said to James.
"He's right," Wesley said, coughing up black blood and wiping it away with the back of his hand, "I can feel it Aveline... please. It's tearing me apart from the inside."
"We can get you to a hospital," Aveline said stubbornly.
"Even if we could, there's no cure. They said to kill anyone you find with the Blight," Carver said.
Aveline found James' eyes in the mirror, "It's your decision," James said, pulling to the side of the road.
Aveline climbed out behind Wesley, "Are you sure about this? It's the only way?"
"Yes love, I'm sorry. The Blight means a slow death... I'll turn mad. Please... remember me as I am, the man you married. I love you."
"I love you, Wesley," Aveline said.
Wesley took Aveline's gun and placed it in her hand, lifting it to his head. Aveline's eyes welled with tears, but it only took a bit more pleading for her to pull the trigger. Bethany and Leandra let out quiet little screams as the shot rang out.
Wesley's body fell and Aveline climbed back into the car, "I'm sorry, Aveline," James said.
"I think I'll stay with you, if its all the same," she said.
They made it to Gwaren with little more incident, abandoning the stolen car outside of the metropolis and using public transportation to reach the docks. Carver and Aveline used their IDs to get ammo rations, enough for an emergency, and a few medical supplies that could come in handy on a boat. The doctors on passenger ships were few and far between and usually inexperienced, but they had Bethany.
After pooling their meager resources they managed to get passage on a ship headed for Kirkwall directly. They would share one room with three beds and nine meal vouchers a day. Leandra and Bethany shared a bed, Aveline and Carver on their own. James slept on the floor nearest the porthole, murky moonlight helping the waves rock him to sleep that first night and all the nights following on their long journey.
Kirkwall was no vacation spot, large and loud and impatient; it's spirit was reflected in its people. Several immigrants fleeing the Blight had piled up here, and the city had stopped taking those without passports. Leandra had the presence of mind to bring hers and Carver's, but James and Bethany-being mages-had no paperwork whatsoever. The passport screenings were very thorough and tiresome, something almost no Mage could overcome in secrecy, especially young mages. And so while Leandra and Carver went into the city to find her brother Gamlen, the three of them waited amidst the thousands of refugees.
Gamlen was far from the wealthy family connection they needed, more of a grouching leech than a relative. He sold James, Bethany and Aveline into servitude to some illegal merchandisers in exchange for fabricated passports. For a year, they worked, and James did his best to keep the family together, but like all islands will, they drifted. Aveline joined the police force. Bethany went to work at a bar called the Blooming Rose, a place specializing in herbal teas and "healing" massages. When James' work for the smugglers was done, he simply fell into the cycle of eating and sleeping that had made Carver so grouchy over the past year until finally Leandra stepped in, "You need to get out more. You look terribly bored cooped up in here. It's a bit safer here in Kirkwall, easier to disappear into a crowd."
"Mother," James sighed.
"Well why don't you go and apply for a teaching job? Maybe helping the refugee children?"
She prodded, nagged and hinted until James could stand it no longer, "Alright, I'll go out. Thank you, mother."
Leandra touched his shoulder as he opened the door, "Take your brother."
James tensed but nodded without turning; with Carver trailing him, he left their government housing and stepped into the harsh sunlight.
Lowtown was abuzz with merchants, drifters, the downtrodden and the wicked. Keeping his mind focused, he tried to comb through the crowd without brushing up against any pickpockets or prostitutes. Carver remained quiet, to his credit, and the walk up the stairs to Hightown was pleasant if a bit tiring. Weaving through markets and nobles, James came to a stop outside of the city square, the crowds crawling to a standstill as traffic jammed in the entrance, "Come on," James said, "We'll cut through here."
They broke from the crowd and went through an archway that was decorated with a language he barely recognized. James couldn't help but feel a tinge of excitement-an educated excitement-at the sight of so many dwarves. Carver wrinkled his nose, "Dwarves."
James glanced at his brother but kept quiet as he made his way through the dwarves in the midst of arguments and business deals. A young human man bumped into James and he instinctively reached for his money, turning to see the man running, "Hey!" He shouted after him and gave chase.
Before the man got far, a loud shot made the entirety of Hightown fall silent. A dwarf stepped forward, holding a large, impressive firearm, "I once knew a guy who could take every coin in your pocket just by smiling at you," he said, taking the money back from the pickpocket before letting the boy scramble away. He tossed the money to James, "He was an Antivan crossdresser, made more money in a night of hooking than anybody else I knew made in a week. The name's Varric Tethras."
"Hawke," James replied, "Thank you."
Varric nodded, shouldering his gun, "Why don't you join me for a drink at the Hanged Man in Lowtown later? I'm in the second floor suite."
James smiled, "Alright, drinks it is."
Carver watched the dwarf leave and wrinkled his nose, "I'm not going to a bar so you can score with a dwarf."
James turned back toward the square, "You weren't invited."
A/N: Not much to say yet; one tiny FYI, the chapter titles are dance song titles that sometimes but not always elude to the chapter's happenings. Hopefully i didn't miss any glaring typos but if I did feel free to point them out! Thanks for reading and reviewing!