Chapter Title: Epilogue
Written by: FenZev, Wintryone, LucienGrey, & Erana
Beta'd by: Erana
Chapter Summary: One journey's end leads to new beginnings.
The view was very much the same.
It was a bright, cloudless morning, and a pungent breeze sifted through her hair. The high, black cliffs of Kirkwall rose on either side of the ship, carven statues of bound slaves suspended from the rock above; tortured sentinels, an appropriate symbol for the city of chains. This time, however, instead of looming ever closer as the city had done so long ago, now Kirkwall was receding into the distance, growing ever smaller, until the ship finally broke through the narrow channel and into the open sea.
Suddenly, Kirkwall was no longer her home. From this point forward, it would be no more than a memory, just like her life in Ferelden had faded into the distant recesses of her mind. Yet, what a difference the years had made. She was no refugee, running from the Blight. Instead, she had made a clear and conscious choice to create a new life. One with honor, purpose and commitment, all within the Qun.
"I'm not sorry to leave that place behind," said Tallis with a grin.
"Agreed," said Fenris.
They'd been standing on the deck together, in silent farewell. Now, however, as the coastline slipped farther and farther into the distance, they turned to face each other.
"How long before we reach Par Vollen?" Hawke asked Tallis. With everything that had been going on, she'd never thought to question how long the journey would take.
"For most ships? Nearly a month," Tallis replied. "But Qunari handle everything more efficiently. Depending on wind and tide, I'm betting we land in Qunandar in less than a fortnight."
"Tallis, Hawke, you are summoned by the Arishok," said one of the soldiers she'd fought with back on the docks.
"I'll see you later," Hawke said to Fenris before turning to obey the summons.
Fenris nodded, and turned back to stare out at the open sea, one hand lifted to his brow to block the rising sun.
Over the next two weeks, Hawke spent most of her free time with Tallis and Fenris. Though she hadn't admitted it outright, Hawke suspected Tallis had arranged it with the Arishok, for which she was grateful. There was no doubt that she must part with Fenris, perhaps forever. The Fog Warriors of Seheron fought against Qunari rule bitterly, so in a way they were to become enemies, though in her heart that would never be so. Still, she was glad to spend this time aboard ship with her friend, without worry or pressure. Though Hawke was viddathari, she had not yet been assigned her role within the Qun, leaving her plenty of time to do with as she wished.
It was the last night aboard ship. The sentry's call had informed them they would see the shore with the sun's rising, the next morning. Tallis excused herself early, saying she had reports to write about the incident at Chateau Haine, which left Hawke and Fenris standing together at the railing near the stern. For a long time the only sound was the waves lashing against the hull, and the creaking of the sails as they caught the northward blowing wind.
It was Fenris who finally broke the silence. "Nearly fours years," was all he said.
Hawke looked up, only to be caught by the intensity of her friend's gaze. Once held, she could not look away.
"It's been an interesting journey," she said, attempting to lighten the mood.
Hawke was relieved when Fenris' lips curved into a smile. "Most interesting," he agreed, then paused thoughtfully before continuing. "When I first came to Kirkwall, my only thought was to stop running. To find Danarius and kill him, so that I might finally be free."
Hawke's gaze turned towards the ocean, the sudden surge of guilt making it impossible for her to face him. "I'm so sorry that never happened, Fenris."
His smile deepened. "It no longer matters," he admitted. "The hold my former master once had on me has been broken, thanks to you."
"Me?" Hawke scoffed, meeting his eyes once more with disbelief. "All I did was bring a whole new set of troubles into your life."
"Exactly so," he replied. "Perhaps you do not understand how much that helped me. It gave me the chance to work toward something good, something that mattered."
"Now Fenris," Hawke said with a wry smile, keeping her voice low. "I know you have no love for the Qun."
"No," he agreed. "It was never the Qunari that mattered to me... It was you. I did not think to find someone, find a friend, who truly upheld those rare qualities of honor and integrity. Through your actions, Hawke, you have taught me that a better life is possible."
"Bah," she said. "You have all the credit for that yourself, my friend. In fact, it is I who owe you thanks. Your unwavering support kept me going more times than I can say."
Fenris nodded slightly. "Perhaps we should call it even, then?" he suggested.
"A fine idea," said Hawke. She struggled briefly with the sadness of their impending parting, before she added. "I couldn't have asked for a better friend, Fenris."
His smile was bittersweet. "The same is true for me," he told her. "And whatever comes, that will always be so."
Hawke did not reply, only nodded her agreement. The rest of the evening, they spent speaking of other things - things they had seen together, times they had shared. By the time Hawke retired for the evening, she felt that she'd taken the final step in releasing her old life, and was ready, even eager, to begin anew.
The Arishok led the way, his second beside him carrying the tome of Koslun. The path they traveled on was sandy, silencing the footfalls of the many Qunari at their back. Hawke and Tallis were directly behind the Arishok, Tallis watching Hawke's eyes widen in wonderment at their exotic surroundings. They had arrived on Par Vollen, and for those that had never been there, it was a world unto its own.
The land itself was wild, overgrown with dense vegetation. Trees ascended far into the sky, seeming to touch the sun at some points. They walked beneath a canopy of leaves, which blocked most of the natural light, giving the area a feeling of dusk or dawn even in mid-afternoon. Raptors flew overhead, emperor butterflies hovered just out of reach, and many insects Hawke had never seen before moved along the branches. The Arishok had been hurried in returning to the city, but he slowed their pace when he heard Hawke gasp at the beauty that was now her home, allowing her a moment to take it all in.
Off in the distance Hawke could see large structures, seemingly abandoned, given the amount of moss and vines that encompassed the stone. The Arishok turned to her before they continued on.
"There will be time for exploration later," he told her. "For now we continue on to Qunandar."
"It's just so beautiful," Hawke whispered.
"It gets better," Tallis told her.
They continued walking in silence for a time, Hawke amazed at the sheer amount of verdant life there was surrounding her. The ocean waves were still audible in the distance, as they moved past the settlement closest to the dock. She'd said her final farewell to Fenris before the Arishok had begun his march; her friend had managed to find a ship heading to Seheron less than ten minutes after stepping off the Arishok's vessel. Hawke had been relieved to find, as she moved out of the fierce embrace of Fenris' arms, that she wasn't at all sad to see him go. She had faith that he would be fine, happy even, back among the Fog Warriors he'd always remembered with such fondness.
Just as she knew she'd find her own happiness among the followers of the Qun.
Hawke's eyes widened as they reached the top of the hill they'd been climbing, and she got her first glimpse of what had to be Qunandar. There was a giant structure up ahead, what looked like a thousand brick arches all lined up together in a row, as well as on top of each other. She let out an audible gasp as she realized these massive arches continued on further than she could see in both directions, and there were more of them than she could even imagine counting.
"The main aqueduct," Tallis said, beside her. "It's magnificent, isn't it?"
Hawke could only stare, her mouth open in shock, eyes wide with awe. It was beyond magnificent, beyond her wildest imagination.
"It supplies water to the city from a spring about a mile away from the ocean," Tallis continued. "Ocean water itself is far too polluted to use," she added, seeing the unspoken question in Hawke's eyes. "I spent hours pestering the Arigena into explaining how it works after I first saw it."
Hawke shook her head. "I thought, at best, the Qunari were about equal to Kirkwall, technologically speaking," she explained, her cheeks warming with shame. "I never would have believed they were so advanced." She couldn't begin to imagine how a structure like the one before her worked, but she knew one thing for certain - nothing like it existed in the Free Marches.
Tallis smiled. "You had only a small, emergency settlement to judge by," she reassured Hawke. "Believe me, you're not the first to assume so."
"It is to our advantage," the Arishok said, startling Hawke. She hadn't realized he was still so close. "The less an enemy knows of our abilities, the more they will underestimate us in battle." He gestured with his head, indicating they should continue the journey, and Hawke nodded back, resuming their march.
It was several hours before they finally reached a set of large gates, blocked by two Qunari guards. They moved out of the way immediately upon seeing the Arishok, nodding a greeting, and the gate opened to reveal the city proper.
Hawke stared around her in amazement. The massive structure of the aqueduct was no less impressive for being beneath its arches. Up ahead she could see several dozen massive domes of various shapes and sizes, made from a variety of materials. Some glistened in the sunlight, practically blinding her with their sheer, sparkling beauty. Others were dull, made of brick and mortar, no doubt, but still astounding. Set between these large structures were more mundane buildings and houses, not so unlike the compound where Hawke had first met the Arishok.
The city itself was a bustle of activity. Scouts had obviously reported the Arishok's pending arrival, because many had come out to greet him, and those who had returned with him. The antaam immediately broke off into several directions, and Hawke watched as the converts were led to one of the larger buildings.
"Do I go with them?" she asked Tallis.
"No," the Arishok replied instead. "Come."
Hawke gave Tallis a questioning glance, but the elf only smiled as they followed the Arishok. Tallis knew where they were headed, and her excitement grew with each step.
The smaller dome they entered was dimly lit, decorated in maroon colored tapestries on the walls, and black marble floors beneath their feet. The long entrance corridor veered off into two directions, and the Arishok made his way down the left hall. Hawke followed him, and Tallis nudged her from behind whenever she slowed her pace. Whatever was waiting for her in the room at the end, Tallis seemed eager to get her there.
The Arishok was greeted by a tall, slender woman, and Hawke took a moment to appreciate her beauty. The first female Qunari she had seen since arriving, Hawke was stunned at how different she was from the males. She, too, had horns; smaller, and only one set, but they were intricately decorated with silver ribbons, which wrapped around the graceful curves in a criss-cross pattern. Her hair was mostly white, with a few strands of black that stood out in stark contrast. And while Hawke had grown accustomed to seeing all Qunari in armor, the woman instead wore dignified black robes, with a dark red trim that almost seemed to glow in the dim light.
"The Ariqun," Tallis whispered in her ear as the Arishok stepped forward and bowed to the woman. She returned the gesture, glancing over his shoulder at Hawke briefly, before the two continued off to the corner of the room.
Hawke shifted under the scrutinizing gaze of the Ariqun as she spoke in qunlat with the Arishok. Cursing herself for not learning more of the language from Fenris before they parted, Hawke strained to hear any words that she might recognize. It was pointless however, as the two continued to speak in hushed tones.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Ariqun finally spoke loud enough for Hawke to hear. "Meravas," she said to Hawke, though the warrior had no idea what the word meant.
"Is all this a good thing or a bad thing?" Hawke whispered to Tallis, wondering if the woman had just insulted her.
The Arishok turned to address Hawke before the elf could reply. "With my recommendation, the Ariqun has chosen you to become Ben-Hassrath," he explained. "As you have already fought beside Tallis, she will become your besrathari."
"Isn't that what you called Salit?" Hawke questioned Tallis.
"Yes, he was my mentor, as I am now yours," Tallis said with a grin.
Hawke wasn't sure what the proper response to such an honor could be, but she turned to both the Arishok and the Ariqun and bowed. "Thank you both. I won't let you down."
"Come on," Tallis said, grabbing her hand. "There's still some fun we can have before the real work begins. Let me show you around."
The newest member of the Ben-Hassrath looked back at the Arishok, who gave her a nod of approval. Hawke smiled as she allowed Tallis to lead her out of the building, relieved that the meeting had gone as expected and she had been granted her role within the Qun. Tallis had assured her that she would excel as one of the Ben-Hassrath, able to apply both her knowledge of human culture and her warrior's skill.
The Ariqun watched the two depart, then turned to the Arishok. "Was her conversion as... challenging as the elf's?"
The Arishok did not withhold the truth. "It required the same task," he stated. "I felt it a necessity."
"Then she is now bound to you," the Ariqun said, returning to her desk. "See to it her needs continue to be met. We will reassign her besrathari to prevent conflict."
He exited the building without another word, catching sight of Tallis and Hawke just before they disappeared back into the jungle outside the city. The Arishok had not anticipated that this day would ever come, when he would once again breath the air of Par Vollen, and he owed it all to Hawke. He hadn't expected to ever return and yet this human, whom he now considered as Kadan, made it possible for him to come home. The knowledge of becoming bound to her, to continue to fulfill her physical needs should she require it, was also not expected. Nor was his realization that he looked forward to their next encounter.
Witnessing her interactions with the Qunari in Kirkwall, on the ship to Par Vollen, and once they had arrived in the city, the Arishok knew that all of his decisions leading to her conversation were for the greater good; the advancement of the Qunari and their role within Thedas. She would integrate well within their society, and prove to be an invaluable member of the Ben-Hassrath.
And she was his.
._.\'/ THE END \'/._.
Fenzev: First and foremost I must thank my co-writers Wintryone and LucienGrey for taking on this project with me. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, trying to write a story with two other people, but the outcome has been so rewarding. I feel very blessed to have worked with both of these talented writers; if you haven't read their individual works, please go check them out now that you're done with this ;)
Another special thank you to Erana, the one who had the near-impossible task of keeping up with all three of us, correcting our mistakes, and making sure each chapter sounded as though it could've been written by one person. You, my awesome sister, are a miracle worker!
Also thanks to olivegbg, for allowing us to use one of her amazing creations for the cover art. Check her out here and on Deviant for oodles of DA goodness!
The overwhelming response to this story has been amazing, so I thank every reviewer and follower for supporting this story and giving it as much love as we have put into it. So many reviews have been thought provoking, spurred countless discussions (some crucial to the story - thanks Ekocentric!), and kept the strength of this story going. It isn't an easy pairing to imagine, and the fact that so many embraced it anyway is awesome. Thank for for taking this journey with us.
Wintryone: Ever since we began this story back in February, Basalit-an took over my imagination. So much so that most of the time, it felt like it was writing itself. We made two rules at the beginning: No hurry, no pressure, and both have served us well. I couldn't have ask for two finer, more talented writers to collaborate with, and I thank both Fenzev and Lucien with all my heart for inviting me to take this journey with them.
A very special thank you to Erana, who not only was an amazing beta, but really did help to guide this story along, always keeping us true to this tale, and making each chapter sparkle and shine so beautifully. Also my gratitude to Ekocentric, who stepped willingly into a lively debate with us, which was of immeasurable help, and also to olivegbg, for her stunning artwork.
The reader response has been utterly fantastic. I tried to respond to each review, but if I missed you somehow, I thank you now. You all have been awesome, providing so much great insight and feedback, all of which has been appreciated so very much.
Ataash varin kata: In the end lies glory.
LucienGrey: The honor of working with two of the most compassionate writers has been mine during this collaboration with Wintryone and Fenzev. To have one's opinion respected, one's talents praised, and one's imagination pushed beyond limits is a rare gift, and I have received all of this through writing this story - times two. My love and blessings to you both, and to Erana for keeping it all together.
The ladies above have summed up eloquently any words I could have contributed to this note of thanks, but please accept my gratitude as well.